Ten unsolved Colorado murders on National Day of Remembrance: Read victims' personal stories
Today, on the National Day of Remembrance for Murder Victims, families and loved ones of those whose lives were so cruelly cut short, including Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, whose sister was slain in 2002, will gather from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. outside the new Denver Crime Lab, 1371 Cherokee Street.
Click on victim names for more details, including law-enforcement contact info if you can help finally bring their killers to justice. And in the meantime, remember.
The Bennett family.
"Bruce Bennett married Debra, then joined the Navy. He served four years at Pearl Harbor between 1976 and 1980 as a sonar analyst. Bruce and Debra had two children, Melissa and Vanessa. After he got out Bruce moved his small family to Aurora and worked at a family-owned furniture store.
"'They led a very quiet life,' said his mother, Constance Bennett. 'They worked hard and stayed home at night.'
"Bruce enrolled in college and was trained as an air traffic controller. He was excited about the prospect of getting an assignment at a local airport, his mother said.
"On January 15, 1984, several family members got together and had a birthday party for Melissa, who was going to turn 8.
"Later that night intruder(s) entered the home some time between midnight and 6 a.m .
"'It was a blitz attack for no reason,' said Marvin Brandt, who investigated the case as a homicide detective between 1984 and when he retired from the Aurora Police Department in 2002. Bruce confronted an intruder on the stairs, investigators said. He had deep gashes on his arms and body. Blood that splattered and smeared up and down the staircase marked the running battle. Debra's body was found in her bedroom and Melissa and Vanessa were both found in their beds.
"Bruce Bennett lost the battle with a killer who pummeled and sexually assaulted his 26-year-old wife, Debra, and 7-year-old daughter, Melissa. The attack also shattered the face of their 3-year-old daughter, Vanessa. Though Vanessa's jaw was crushed, sending jagged bones into her windpipe, she survived after her grandmother, Constance Bennett, checked on the family later that morning when they didn't show up to work at the furniture store. 'It's just like it was yesterday,' Bennett said. 'It's something I'll never get over. It's scary what people can do.' Small Vanessa went to live with Bennett after a lengthy series of operations that left scars on her arms, face and head.
"An investigation in which more than 500 people were questioned did not uncover any leads to solve the case. If you have information that may relate to this triple homicide, please call the Investigations Division of the Aurora Police Department, 303-739-6018."
In September 2010, DNA evidence surfaced linking the Bennett and Smith murders, although both remain unsolved three years later. This text is from our blog post headlined "Patricia Louise Smith and Bennett family 1984 murders: DNA evidence points to same killer."
"50-year-old Patricia Louise Smith was an out going, friendly, sophisticated woman, who had recently started her own interior decorating business. Smith left behind a husband, children and grandchildren with questions of who would have wanted to murder Patricia.
"Patricia Smith was murdered inside her residence, located at 12610 West Bayaud Avenue, Apartment 5, currently known as the Panorama Subdivision, located in the City of Lakewood on January 10, 1984 between the hours of 1:00 p.m. and 3:00 p.m. Previous investigative leads in this case have failed to identify who is responsible for murdering Mrs. Smith.
"If you have any information regarding this case, you are encouraged to contact the Lakewood Police Department Cold Case hotline at (303) 987-7474 or e-mail at email@example.com."
Continue for information about more unsolved Colorado murders on the National Day of Remembrance for Murder Victims.
"Jessica Ann Arredondo, 21, liked to care for her brand new 1988 Mustang convertible that she had just purchased on her own. It was her pride and joy. She was also very fond of her dog, Frosty.
"Jessica was employed by US West as an Information Operator. On the evening of Nov 25, 1988, she and her boyfriend were going to meet some friends, but she decided to drop him off instead and pick him up later. An eyewitness saw Jessica being followed or chased by one or two cars. She was involved in a minor car accident at the corner of 7th & Jackson in Denver. Her car was found there, locked with flashers on.
"The next day, her body was discovered just off Highway 36 near Estes Park. No one has ever been charged with this crime. Five years later, waitress Rhonda Mallony was kidnapped and murdered by Robert Harlan who is now on death row in Cañon City. Harlan was an Information Operator at US West in 1988. He denies killing Jessica."
"Roy Bowden was raised in Denver where he attended West High School. He joined the Air Force and served in Korea as an Air Policeman. Roy earned the Korean Service Medal and the United Nations Service Medal. Upon his discharge, he returned to Denver and worked as produce manager at Miller's Grocery. Very personable, Roy's career included stints as a dealer for Salad Master, a salesman for Borax and a trail bike dealer. Roy's first marriage produced two sons, four daughters and lasted 13 years. Following his divorce, Roy married Patricia Ruby. They started Aero Chem with Ron Blake, a partner who provided financial backing. The business supplied chemicals for swimming pools and ski resorts. Ron & Roy each owned 49% with Patricia holding the other 2% of Aero Chem. There was life insurance payable to the other partner if one died.
"On June 6, 1977, Roy & Patricia Bowden were gunned down in their Perry Pines home near Sedalia, Colorado. Evidence suggests they knew their killer as there were no signs of forced entry. The CBI was called in to assist the rural Douglas County Sheriff's Office. Although there was more than one suspect, no arrests were made. Blood samples collected at the scene produced no DNA profile of the killer. Some documents appear to be missing from the case file. This double murder awaits informants to come forward and call the Douglas County Sheriff's Office tip line at 303-660-7579 or Lt. Darren Weekly at 303-660-7548."
Continue for information about more unsolved Colorado murders on the National Day of Remembrance for Murder Victims.
"Twenty-six-year-old Monique La Suer was working as the night auditor at the Palmer House at Fillmore & I-25 in Colorado Springs. On August 30, 2000, her beaten body was found in the main office where she worked. Monique had been hit over the head and strangled in an apparent robbery. Police have no leads. If you have information about this crime, please contact Detective Derek Graham at the Colorado Springs Police Department, 719-444-7561." Steven Romero
"Steven Eugene Romero (Gino), 13, had graduated from 7th grade at Panorama Middle School where he learned wrestling. Gino enjoyed playing Nintendo and Sega Genesis with friends. They also loved riding his mini-motorbike. On May 24, 1997, Gino and three teens were joyriding in a borrowed car. Several gang members chased the car and riddled it with 25 bullets, one of which hit Gino in the back of the head. He died a few hours later, the unintended victim of a shooting that was meant for the car's owner. This murder occurred at Circle Drive and Lela Ray. Fear of the gang silenced the witnesses. A grand jury was convened resulting in ten perjury indictments. Two years later, the first arrest was made in Gino's shooting. The driver, Juan Candelaria, was found guilty of 1st degree murder and 12 other charges. He was sentenced to life plus 241 years. On May 9, 2003, Ernie Medina was sentenced to 72 years for conspiracy to commit murder. His family erupted in court and came after Jennifer Romero, Gino's mother. Four of them were arrested as they started to fight deputies attempting to subdue them. Jennifer has also been harassed by members of Candelaria's family. The two shooters, Vinnicio Martinez & Socorro Guiterrez, remain at large. Socorro Anselmo Gutierrez, 33, 5'7", 140 lbs, hazel eyes; and Vinnicio Rafeal Martinez, 29, 5'10", 195 lbs, brown eyes. If you have information as to their whereabouts, please contact Detective Derek Graham at 719-444-7561. Jennifer Romero is a leader of Mothers of Murdered Youth (M.O.M.Y.)." Continue for information about more unsolved Colorado murders on the National Day of Remembrance for Murder Victims.
"A concerned citizen in Colorado Springs brought this case to the attention of FOHVAMP. She said her mother and 'Cassie' were friends before the Valentine's Day murder in 1985. 'I am not sure why, but I feel like this case has been forgotten.'
"Cassandra Rundle was enrolled in pre-law and had a semester to go before attending law school. She was a former 'Miss Morgantown' (WVA). She also worked for the Rape Coalition in Colorado Springs. Her Aunt Nancy says 'she was a beautiful person inside and out.'
"On February 14, 1985, Cassandra Rundle's ex-husband, Dave Peltzer, went to her home on LaClede Street in Colorado Springs to deliver Valentines. He found the bodies of Rundle, her son Detrick Sturm, 12, and her daughter Melanie Sturm, 10. All three had been strangled; the mother and daughter had been raped. The children had been beaten with a hockey stick. Although Colorado Springs P.D. still has suspects, the crime remains unsolved.
"If you have information regarding this crime, please contact Detective Rick Gysin, 719-444-7500."
"Jennifer Lee Watkins (nee Skinner), 23, was the second of four children. Her youngest brother, Joseph, was closest to her heart. Jennifer graduated from Hanover (CO) High School. She liked to hang out with friends and she loved her animals. Jennifer enjoyed volley-ball and wanted to help people. She loved music and played clarinet in the school band. Jennifer wanted to be a nurse. It was after she enrolled in Barnes Business College in Denver that Michael Watkins, with whom she had gone to grade school, moved in and 'her life went downhill from there,' according to her mother, Irene Skinner. Michael had problems with drugs. Jennifer was a victim of domestic abuse, requiring emergency room treatment on more than one occasion. They were married about three years when Michael got a job in maintenance at Memorial Hospital in Colorado Springs. Jennifer followed and got a job there as a dietician. On November 8, 1999, her body was found under a staircase leading to the helicopter pad at the hospital. She was wrapped in a sheet covered with construction plastic which was duct-taped closed. Jennifer suffered blunt trauma to the head. In addition to her mother, step-father and brothers, Jennifer left her children, Michael Jr., 3, and Mariah, 11 months. Jennifer is loved and missed by her family very, very, very much. If you have any information that might be pertinent to this murder, please call Detective Derek Graham, 719-444-7561." Continue for information about more unsolved Colorado murders on the National Day of Remembrance for Murder Victims.
"Roger M. Dean, 51, was shot in the driveway of his home on November 21, 1985 after the killer had entered the home at 8266 Bighorn Court in Lone Tree and tied up Dean's wife. No arrests have been made in this case. If you have information that would help identify the killer, please call Lt. Alan Stanton at 303-660-7586." Mary Vialpando
"Mary Lynn Vialpando, 24, was born and raised in the Colorado Springs neighborhood where she died. Mary excelled in track at Coronado high school where she graduated in 1982. She married Robert Vialpando and they had a child, Coral. "The little girl was very cute, said a neighbor. Mary loved to ride her bicycle and often took Coral, wearing a helmet, riding on a child's seat. 'She was a very outdoors type person,' said her mother, Faye Renkel. 'They went camping a lot.'
"Mary was studying sports medicine at Denver Technical College in Colorado Springs. She rode her bicycle to attend classes and was doing very well in her studies according to her mother.
"Following a wedding reception Mary and Robert attended on June 4, 1988, the couple picked up their daughter from Grandma's and went home in the early morning hours Sunday, June 5. Mary decided to go for a walk. 'Ever since she was a youngster she would go off for a walk and feel safe,' Mary's mother explained later.
"Mary Vialpando was raped and beaten to death in a darkened alley in the 2600 block of Colorado Avenue in Old Colorado City about four blocks from her home. 'I heard it as plain as day,' said the resident of a nearby apartment, 'but I didn't do anything about it. She wasn't screaming, she was yelling. She yelled something four times. They were short yells, not long yells. I couldn't tell what she was yelling.'
"Colorado Springs Police said they conducted an extensive search for witnesses in an eight block area around the crime scene. The crime remains unsolved. If you have any information relating to this murder, please contact Detective Derek Graham at 719-444-7561. Or, if you wish to remain anonymous, call Pikes Peak Area Crime Stoppers, which offers a reward for information, at 719-634-7867."
More from our Mile High Murder archive circa April: "Ten unsolved Colorado murders: Read personal stories of the victims."
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Westword's biggest stories.