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.

"It was unbelievable," Van Dolsen says. "It was even more unbelievable that the community tolerated it. I would go over there and find from eight to sixteen adolescent boys, unsupervised, at any hour of the day or night. I knew it was going to lead to trouble."

Cody didn't see anything wrong with the situation. He'd assembled an awesome collection of vinyl, and his friends were a ready audience for his deejaying efforts. They'd turned a storage area into a place they called the Green Room, a place to talk and just...hang. The Green Room smelled funky and wasn't always that clean, but so what?

"Not too many girls like to go in there," one of the visitors, Wade Hammond, later told police. "It's not really a great place, but it's somewhere to go."

Jacob Richards helped Moses Greengrass and others plan the Clark's Market robbery.
Jacob Richards helped Moses Greengrass and others plan the Clark's Market robbery.
Moses Greengrass
Moses Greengrass

Van Dolsen knew that the Willes were trying to cut Cody a little slack, slipping the grief-struck kid a few bucks, giving him his own space. "Cody's fine," Yuri Ognacevic told Van Dolsen hotly. "We don't need parents."

She was struck by how much the teens resented her inquiries. One time Jacob Richards answered the door, took one look at her and hollered, "Sabra alert!"-- as if to warn the miscreants within to hide the weed and the Jack Daniel's, pronto.

"These kids had no boundaries," Van Dolsen insists. "They'd lost the sense of having adult authority. It was Lord of the Flies. Some of these kids would have gotten in trouble anyway, but the Willes created a black hole for these guys."

In Aspen circles, Raoul's family and Kim Wille have been sharply criticized for letting the Green Room turn into a den of thieves, a place the robbers could meet to hatch their schemes and then divvy up the loot. But it isn't that simple, Kim says. She was there frequently and did monitor activities in the Green Room, but saw nothing awry. Much of the planning of crimes may have happened elsewhere; in any case, Kim says, the larger issue has to do with the number of teens who had no parents watching over them at all.

"There were a lot of kids in there who had rich parents who weren't around," she says. "We had so many kids coming by, and parents never called to see where they were. I fed up to twenty kids every night. I was kicking kids out at eleven every night."

Mayor Richards did check up on her son and even visited the Green Room. But she was the exception. Several of Cody's friends, like Yuri, no longer lived with their parents. Others had grown up in a constant state of transition from one stepparent's household to the next and had achieved a high degree of independence by the age of seventeen or eighteen. They had friends, wheels, jobs or generous allowances. What did they need parents for?

By February, Van Dolsen was so distraught over Cody's situation that she sought out various advisors to the Wille family, including a psychologist and two attorneys involved in managing Raoul's estate and Cody's trust fund. She says one of the lawyers told her, "I'm not responsible for Cody, I'm only responsible for his money." None of them pursued her contention that Cody might be a victim of neglect. She believes she was regarded with suspicion because of possible common-law claims she might make against the estate.

"Everyone's concern centered around money instead of Cody's daily welfare and safety," Van Dolsen says. "I recently discovered that all three of those people are what you call 'mandatory reporters.' They're required to report [suspected] neglect to the authorities. There are now five kids in prison because professionals in this community didn't execute their professional responsibilities."

By May of 1999, Cody's junior year, the Green Room had become a regular stop for a certain crowd, mostly graduating seniors at Aspen High. The school's open-campus policy and undemanding schedule gives some seniors entire days off, and spring, from an eighteen-year-old's perspective, is a particularly boring time in Aspen. "You can't snowboard," notes Yuri. "It's too muddy to bike. There's not much to do. Kids get wild."

Many of the kids in the Green Room had already hiked every peak, jeeped every jeep trail, fooled around every abandoned mine in their vicinity. They began to talk about outrageous things they could do before heading off to college -- brainstorming, Jacob Richards called it. It might have remained just talk, if someone hadn't come along who could turn the talk into reality.

He wasn't a leader, exactly. More like an inspiration. Someone who could stir your curiosity about what it felt like to go a little crazy. Someone you might follow into the wilderness.

His name was Moses.

When the gentle people of Aspen talk about their sons getting mixed up with a bad element, the bad element they tend to have in mind is Moses Greengrass. But Moses didn't consider himself to be truly bad. Exuberant, perhaps, and weak in the face of temptation, but not bad.

"Like I said," he told the police last fall, "it was greed. The devil stepped up in front of me, and I was going in his direction, and he was liking it."

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