Can't Buy a Thrill

Aspen's bizarre crime spree sent some of its favorite sons to prison -- and left the town wondering what went wrong.

Occasionally he had brushes with the law over his drug use, but no serious jail time. Locals still talk about the day in the early 1990s when Raoul, in an altered state, whipped an oversized van across narrow Castle Creek bridge on two wheels. The police pulled him over on Main Street and handcuffed him just as the cross-country boys' team -- Cody included -- that he was supposed to be coaching that morning drove by. "It was never in the paper," Kim notes. "All he had to do was go to rehab."

"He was the king of the good old boys," says another veteran Aspenite. "The town revered him. He was a rebel. He was a legend. If anybody suggested he shouldn't be coaching kids, well, that person wasn't too popular."

Raoul and Kim divorced in 1990, when their son was seven. The split did not deprive Cody of either parent. For years he shuttled between them, although as his mother moved farther from town -- first Aspen Village, then El Jebel, building her own business as a caterer while working up to three jobs at once -- he tended to spend more time with Raoul at the Tyrolean. Their relationship was particularly close, if sometimes combative.

His first burglary was such a rush that Yuri Ognacevic agreed to be the wheel man on an armed robbery.
Brett Amole
His first burglary was such a rush that Yuri Ognacevic agreed to be the wheel man on an armed robbery.
Clark's Market
Brett Amole
Clark's Market

Raoul wanted his son to get serious about cross-country racing; Cody took up karate instead, becoming a state champion in his age group. And as he got older, Cody was more inclined to confront his father about his furtive addictions, taking him to task whenever he found spoons with "melted stuff" on them. Cody himself was adamantly drug-free, a true-blue, just-say-no kind of kid. When he was fourteen, he and a buddy found a wallet containing $800 and turned it over to the police, like real heroes. At a party school such as Aspen High, clean-cut Cody was much in demand -- as a budding composer and DJ and, later, as a designated driver.

As her son grew older, Raoul was "hitting and verbally abusing Cody in front of people," Kim would claim. One of the most public scenes occurred on Cody's sixteenth birthday. Cody had been looking forward to the day for a long time; his dad had promised him a car. Instead, Raoul showed up at Kim's place with nothing but a glazed look in his eyes. He started an argument, tossed the cake against a wall and stormed off.

"Everybody ended up crying in the driveway, with Raoul yelling at us," Kim recalls. "Two days later, Cody called him on his drug use."

Cody soon reconciled with his father, but the two had little time left. In the fall of 1998 Raoul joined an expedition seeking to climb Mount Baruntse, a 23,688-foot peak in the Himalayas. At 16,000 feet, he began to succumb to pulmonary edema, an acute swelling of the lungs associated with altitude sickness. He collapsed and died before he could be transported off the mountain. He was 45 years old.

His father's death plunged Cody into a chronic state of depression. It also hurled his living arrangements into confusion. Kim wanted her son to live with her, but Cody pushed to stay in town as much as possible, close to school and his friends. A compromise called for Cody to spend some time in El Jebel and some at the lodge in Aspen, cared for by his uncles and Kim, who would commute when possible. But for several reasons, the arrangement rarely worked the way it was supposed to, and Cody was often at the lodge with minimal supervision for days at a time.

He wasn't really alone, of course. He had a few friends he'd known since he was a toddler, friends who became even more important to him after Raoul died. They were snowboarders, mountain-bike racers, risk-takers. Guys like Yuri Ognacevic, whom Cody considered practically a brother -- a tall, earnest athlete who'd frequently stayed with Cody and Raoul. Yuri's parents moved to California during his junior year, but Yuri wanted to finish school in Aspen and had come back on his own and was living with friends. And guys like Jacob Richards, the mayor's son, and Alex Cassatt, son of the Aspen Times cartoonist. They were his family now, Cody figured.

Two months after Raoul's death, Cody showed up unexpectedly at Kim's workplace. He was exhilarated, more energetic and upbeat than Kim had seen him in a long time. He announced proudly that he'd been suspended from Aspen High for streaking the school Christmas concert.

Kim was bewildered. This was not the old Cody. She says, "I remember thinking, 'This is a total Raoul Wille thing to do.'"

Sabra Van Dolsen didn't see much of Cody Wille after his father died. But what she did see alarmed her. Every time she came by Cody's place, across the alley from the Tyrolean, it seemed like there were more teenage boys hanging around than had been there the last time. More boys, and no adults.

Van Dolsen was Raoul's longtime girlfriend. She had lived with him for years, and had always related well to his son. After the tragedy in Nepal, things got a bit awkward -- Van Dolsen moving out of the Wille family complex and Kim moving back in with her former in-laws to look after Cody -- but Van Dolsen made a point of checking in with Cody when she could. Yet she never had a chance to talk to him alone. There were always other boys there, listening to music or playing video games.

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