By Joel Warner
By Michael Roberts
By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
Linda Donelson pulled into her driveway at six o'clock on a wintry Monday evening in March. She'd just picked up her seven-year-old grandson, Caleb, from daycare, and he was eager to see his mom.
But before Linda could open the garage and go in the house, she noticed a piece of blue paper taped to the door. When she first saw the crest for the City of Aurora, she wondered what the officials wanted this time. They'd already required Linda and her husband, Everett, to replace their fence abutting Hampden Avenue earlier in the year. But the handwritten note simply told her to call a Denver number regarding her daughter, Sherri Majors. Another blue note with a similar message was taped to the front door.
Thinking Sherri had been in an accident, Linda rushed inside and dialed the number. The line was busy. After several more frantic attempts, a man's voice finally answered. It was the Denver coroner's office.
Linda begged the man for information about what had happened to her daughter, but he'd just started his shift and didn't know anything about a Sherri Majors. A few minutes later, the man called back: Sherri's body was in the morgue.
Fifteen minutes later, a Denver police detective called and told Linda that Sherri's body had been found that morning in an alley off 24th Street between Blake and Walnut. She had been beaten and strangled to death.
It took Denver police just two months to identify a suspect -- 51-year-old truck driver Chester Leroy Todd -- and to issue a national warrant for his arrest. But that was back in May 1996, and the case has since gone cold. After agonizing over their daughter's murder for seven years, however, the Donelsons are finally feeling some hope. A private investigator they met through Families of Homicide Victims and Missing Persons (FOHVAMP) says he's hot on the trail of Chester Todd -- and may nab the fugitive before Christmas.
Sherri Majors most likely met Chester Todd for the first time on the night of March 16, 1996.
Sherri had asked her parents to watch her three sons -- Caleb was seven at the time, and her twins, Mitchell and Joel, were five -- so she could spend the weekend with her boyfriend, Brian. She needed a break, some time off, and she and Brian needed to work on their relationship. The 27-year-old had moved back in with her parents two years earlier, after she and the boys' father had divorced, and she was struggling to support her children on her own.
Even though her parents didn't like Brian -- "He was abusive," Linda says -- the Donelsons agreed to care for their grandsons.
On Saturday night, Sherri and Brian went to the Happy Chinaman, a Commerce City restaurant and pool hall. But they got into an argument, and Sherri demanded to go home. Brian refused to take her. Upset, Sherri walked down the block to the Town Line Pub, where she called various friends for a ride. The Donelsons say Sherri probably had too much pride to call them. "She knew we didn't like Brian," Linda says. "In some ways, I'm glad she didn't call us, because I don't know how we could have lived with ourselves if we'd have said 'No.'"
Sherri didn't have much luck reaching anyone that night. Her friend Fred came home late to find a message on his machine, but by then, Sherri had probably already left with Chester Todd, a Town Line regular who had overheard her phone calls and offered her a ride. She had little reason to be leery of Todd, an older man with a kind face, particularly since he was a trucker. In her family, someone who drives a big rig is someone who can be trusted.
But on the morning of Sunday, March 17, an employee at a manufacturing company on Blake Street discovered Sherri's snow-covered body. When the Denver police responded, they couldn't find anything -- Sherri's body was concealed behind a cement barrier and visible only from a garden-level window inside the building -- and left. When the employee returned to work on Monday morning, Sherri's body was still there, and he called the cops again. This time, they found her.
The Donelsons and their grandsons were expecting to see Sherri that evening. Caleb, in particular, who was very close to his mother, was excited for her return. "I half expected her to call me Monday afternoon, because she'd do that; she'd call and ask what I wanted her to make for dinner, because she'd get home from work first," Linda says.
Of course, no such call came.
As soon as Linda and Everett learned that their daughter had been killed, Everett began having chest pains and had to be hospitalized for the night. The Donelsons decided not to tell the boys anything until the next day, when they could think more clearly. However, Mitchell, now thirteen, says he knew something was going on. He remembers seeing his relatives crying, but he thought it was about money.
After Everett was released from the hospital the following day, the boys' father, Jeff Majors, stopped by the Donelsons' house to comfort his sons and help break the news to them. Caleb, who is now fifteen, has a hard time talking about his mother's death, but the twins say rehashing it helps. "I started crying," Mitchell says of his reaction when he heard the news.