Evan Ebel: John Hickenlooper knew dad of alleged Tom Clements-Nathan Leon killer

Update: The tale of Evan Ebel, the man shot during a gun battle with law enforcers in Texas on Thursday (see our previous coverage below), seems to grow stranger with each passing day. Hours after Ebel was taken off life support, as evidence that he had killed both pizza-delivery man Nathan Leon and Tom Clements, the Department of Corrections' executive director, we learn that Governor John Hickenlooper, who appointed Clements, knew Ebel's father -- and knew of the troubled son who may have just killed the man he considered a good friend.

As we've reported, Leon, who worked at a Domino's Pizza branch near East 40th Avenue and Colorado Boulevard, was sent on a delivery over the weekend, but never returned. His body was found in an open-space area near a Golden recycling plant. The Denver coroner's office has established that the cause of death was multiple gunshot wounds.

Nathan Leon and his wife, Katie.
Nathan Leon and his wife, Katie.

At about 8:30 p.m. the following Tuesday in Monument, a town many miles south of where Leon was slain, a seemingly unconnected act of senseless violence took place. Clements, who was appointed to head the state's prisons in 2011 and was widely regarded as a reformer, answered the door and was shot in the chest.

Clements and Hickenlooper worked together regularly, as is clear from this video showing the two of them taking part in a discussion about the Fort Lyon Correctional Facility, which had been marked for shuttering.

Hickenlooper ordered that flags throughout the state fly at half-mast in honor of Clements while police departments of every description made finding his assassin their first priority. However, cops in Texas eventually brought in Ebel -- but only after he shot and severely injured a deputy who pulled over his 1991 Cadillac, precipitating a car chase that ended with the vehicle crushed by a semi-truck and the alleged former member of a white supremacist prison gang shot in the head. He was kept alive long enough to harvest his organs, than allowed to die.

The Cadillac is now being analyzed by Texas authorities.
The Cadillac is now being analyzed by Texas authorities.

The latest? CBS4 reports that shell casings found in Texas are of the same sort found near Clements's home, and confirms that a pizza jacket or shirt and a pizza carrier were found in the car. Tests will be done in an attempt to link them to Leon.

Finally, past 8 p.m. last night, Hickenlooper's office released a statement revealing that the governor has known Ebel's father, Jack, for three decades -- well enough to have heard tales about the troubled boy they tried to control but couldn't. Here's the surprisingly heartfelt and emotional statement, which also pays tribute to Leon:

"Every killer has a mother and father, usually with broken hearts. I met Jack Ebel some 30 years ago when working for an oil company soon after moving to Colorado. Jack is one of the most kind and generous people I know. His son had a bad streak that I know he tried desperately to correct.

"Although Jack loved his son, he never asked me to intervene on his behalf and I never asked for any special treatment for his son. Based on information we received today, we understand that Evan Ebel served every day of his original sentence and was released on mandatory parole at the end of the time he was ordered to be incarcerated.

"The events of the past few days have been devastating for all involved. I am in shock and disbelief about how everything seems connected in this case. It makes no sense. Tom's death at the hands of someone hell-bent on causing evil was tragic in every way. It also now appears Tom's killer may have had another victim. Our hearts and prayers are with Nathan Leon's family as well. We are most appreciative for law enforcement at all levels in Colorado and Texas and are anxious to learn more as the investigation continues."

Look below to see the aforementioned CBS4 report, followed by our previous coverage.

Continue for our previous coverage, including photos and video.   Original post, 6:18 a.m. March 22: Although the murders of Nathan Leon and Tom Clements took place during the same week, they seemed to have little in common. Leon was a Domino's employee who went out for a delivery and never returned, while Clements served as the Department of Corrections' executive director -- and the slayings took place many, many miles apart. But authorities aren't dismissing the possibility that the pair were killed by the same man: Evan Ebel, a reported member of a white supremacist prison gang left brain dead after a crazy chase in Texas. Photos, video and details below.

As we've reported, Leon, known by his friends and family as Nate, was working at a Domino's Pizza outlet near East 40th Avenue and Colorado Boulevard in Denver's northern quadrant when he was called on a delivery.

Nate Leon with his wife, Katie.
Nate Leon with his wife, Katie.

When he didn't come back by 2 p.m. on Sunday, his fellow employees called the police. His body was later discovered in an open-space area near a Golden recycling center, devastating his wife, Katie, with whom he had young children.

Then, at about 8:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Clements, who lived in a well-to-do section of Monument, a city well south of Denver (it's actually closer to Colorado Springs), answered his door and was shot in the chest.

Tom Clements, center, with Governor John Hickenlooper, left, at a meeting about the closure of the Fort Lyon Correctional Facility.
Tom Clements, center, with Governor John Hickenlooper, left, at a meeting about the closure of the Fort Lyon Correctional Facility.

Afterward, as noted by the Denver Post, authorities revealed that a dark Lincoln or Cadillac had been seen in the vicinity of Clements' home around the time of what appears to have been a targeted assassination.

Colorado officials were still expressing shock at Clements' killing on Thursday when reports started surfacing about a Texas incident involving a black Cadillac with Colorado license plates. According to CBS11 in Dallas-Fort Worth, Montague County Sheriff's Deputy James Boyd pulled over the vehicle, prompting its driver, Ebel, to shoot him three times; he's said to have been hit three times, with two bullets striking the bulletproof vest he wore and the third impacting his ear. Ebel then fled the scene.

James Boyd.
James Boyd.

Boyd, who was conscious after the attack, alerted other law enforcers about what happened, and before long, officers from the Texas Department of Public Safety, the Wise County Sheriff's office and the Decatur Police Department were in hot pursuit of the Caddy, with speeds topping 100 miles per hour.

Continue for more about Evan Ebel, Nathan Leon and Tom Clements, including photos and video.   Ebel finally lost control of the vehicle and crashed into a semi-truck near the intersection of Highway 380 and U.S. 287 in Decatur. But while the car was destroyed, Ebel was in good enough shape after the crash to come out shooting, firing more shots in the direction of the cops chasing him. Said Decatur Police Chief Rex Hoskins, "He didn't plan on being taken alive."

The crash site, courtesy of CBS11.
The crash site, courtesy of CBS11.

This apparent goal wasn't quite accomplished, but close. Ebel was shot in the head, and while he's wasn't dead at last report, machines are doing all the work of preventing him from reaching that state. He no longer has any brain function, and he's being kept alive so that his organs can be harvested for donation.

So what's the connection to Leon? 9News reveals that a Domino's pizza box and, more suspiciously, a jacket from the chain were found in the Cadillac.

After Leon's body was positively identified, Bernadette Alness, his mother in law, told 7News, "They didn't take his phone. They didn't take his car. Twenty bucks and maybe a pizza? That's worth his life?" If it turns out Ebel only wanted his jacket so that he could pose as a delivery man when knocking on Clements' door two days later, the murder will be even more shockingly unnecessary.

A closer look at the crushed Caddy.
A closer look at the crushed Caddy.

What's Ebel's story? He reportedly has a rap sheet that starts in 2003; highlights includes busts for robbery, menacing and assaulting a correctional officer. But the Post quotes an informed source as saying that the paroled Ebel had been a member of a prison gang called the 211s.

A 2009 Associated Press report posted on the White Prison Gangs blogspot quotes officials as comparing the 211s to the Aryan Brotherhood prison gang. Members are thought to have included Nathan Thill, who murdered African immigrant Oumar Dia in 1997; Thill is thought to have been pals with Jeremiah Barnum, who went down in a blaze of bullets at a Denver Walgreens in February 2012.

An excerpt from the AP article suggests that 211 ties aren't broken by release from prison:

To join the gang, inmates were required to attack someone, Lopez said, and if released from prison, they were required to send money to members still behind bars. Members outside prison sometimes were required to intimidate witnesses in cases against other members, and they could be targeted for violence themselves if they refused or failed to raise money, Lopez said.

Members most often raised money through gun and drug trafficking and communicated through coded letters and telephone calls.

Is it possible that Ebel was under orders from his 211 fellows to kill Clements -- and he murdered Leon as part of completing this scheme? Investigators are analyzing evidence found at the Texas crash site with an eye toward making the connection.

If they succeed, these two apparently separate cases will be forever linked in violence and tragedy. Here's a larger look at an Ebel mug shot and the CBS11 report about the chase and crash:

Evan Ebel.
Evan Ebel.

More from our Colorado Crimes archive: "Tom Clements, Department of Corrections chief, murdered at home: Assassination?"

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