Ten unsolved Colorado murders: Read personal stories of the victims
The Families of Homicide Victims and Missing Persons website draws attention to unsolved murders, and we tried to do likewise in three posts last year -- in May, September and November. The ten crimes featured in this installment include two of the most famous unsolved crimes in Boulder history: the deaths of Sid Wells and Dorothy Howard, who was buried as "Jane Doe" and not ID'd for more than a half-century. Click on victim names for more details, including law-enforcement contact info if you can help finally bring their killers to justice.
Susan Becker, 20, graduated from Boulder High School in 1979. She worked at the Good Earth store at 18th & Pearl in Boulder and was learning about herbs. Her brother, David, remembers she had a good sense of humor, enjoyed the mountains and liked cats. The last time Susan was seen alive was on June 19, 1982. She lived in Boulder but had been staying with a friend. Her body was found in Boulder Canyon on July 1, 1982. She died from a knife wound in the neck. Miss Becker had worked as a packager at the Pearl Street Market. If you have information relating to this crime, please contact the Boulder County Sheriff's Office.... Commander Brian Rosipajala 303-665-5506 x 4140.
Army to close 7-year investigation of ex-Carson soldier [from Colorado Springs Gazette] Army investigators plan to soon formally close their investigation into the death of a former Fort Carson soldier, claiming to have "exhausted all leads" after his body was found seven years ago blocking a pipe inside the post's sewage treatment plant. The move to stop actively investigating Joseph Barker's death rescinds a $15,000 reward for tips leading to an arrest and conviction in the case, said Christopher Grey, a spokesman for the Army Criminal Investigation Command at Quantico, Va. No exact date for the closure was given. The decision outraged the veteran's mother, who called it "horrible" and another sign that agents reneged on a promise to figure out what happened to her son. "I've worked on this case with them all this time, for results," said Barker's mother, Lynda Carlock. "And now I feel seven years later, that it was for nothing." The answer to how Barker ended up in the post's sewage treatment center has eluded a revolving door of Army investigators since the grisly discovery on Feb. 21, 2006. Barker visited the post often after being discharged from the Army in 2005 -- relishing the chance to spend time with friends who could relate to his 2003 deployment to Iraq with the 3rd Brigade Combat Team. On Feb. 7, 2006, he was partying with friends off post and then went to the barracks. His friends recalled seeing him sleeping in a bed the following morning while they left for physical training. Barker was last seen being led from the barracks "to a dark colored vehicle." Medical examiners found cocaine in his system, Grey said, but were unable to determine the cause and manner of death. His estranged wife reported him missing six days later. Since then, few clues have been released. "It's extremely challenging," Grey said. "You've got a very badly decomposed body...the variables that could have happen to this young man, there's quite a few of them." In late 2011, the Army raised its reward from $10,000 to $15,000 -- upping the incentive for tips while issuing a promise. "We are confident that someone out there knows something about the death of Mr. Barker and we are not resting or giving up until we determined exactly what transpired," said Christopher Vitatoe, an Army investigator, in a 2011 news release. Even with the case classified as "closed," investigators will continue to "periodically" review Barker's case file, and special agents will pursue any new tips, Grey said. But without a reward, Carlock said people won't have incentive to phone in tips. "There has been no closure," Carlock said. "And I don't know if closing the case without any answer is closure either."
Mark Francis, 23, grew up and attended school in Clear Creek County. When he was 15, he moved to Leadville, CO. An avid outdoorsman, his friends called him "Mountain Man." Mark worked in construction as a frame carpenter. He was a quick learner, creative and smart. He built log furniture and was a self-taught mechanic.
Naturally athletic, he was a fearless snow-boarder, a gonzo wakeboarder and a slalom water skier. Mark mountain biked, climbed fourteeners and was a rock hound. He loved Lake Powell and its sunsets.
Mark lived with few possessions other than his Toyota 4-wheel drive pickup and what he could carry with him. He had been staying at his sister Stephany's til the end of February this year. He left to go to Leadville to make some money. But when he didn't show up for his 24th birthday, March 7th, his family became worried.
His truck was found on March 5th. Mark's body was found March 19 in a remote area north of Idaho Springs, near a cell phone tower that was serviced every two weeks. He had been shot. As of April 2004, four men are jailed in connection with this murder: Brent McKellip, the alleged triggerman; Zach McKellip; Troy Santerelli; and Justin Reents. Mark leaves his mother, Diane Francis, of Wheat Ridge, father Pat Francis of Georgetown, sister Stephany Francis of Lakewood and a host of friends in Leadville.
Shelley Robertson, 23, graduated Arvada (CO) High School in 1969 and then spent one year at a mission in Biloxi, Mississippi run by the United Church of Christ. When she returned to Colorado, she attended Red Rocks Community College where she studied Spanish. Her whole class spent a semester in Mexico, living in Barra de Navidad, a fishing village. She returned there several times during her life. Her friend, Susan invited her to go to Alaska where the girls worked in Clam Gulch processing fish for one year.
When she was growing up, Shelley told her mother, Roberta Robertson of Arvada, "Someday a white horse will come down the road and he will be mine and I'll name him 'Brownie.' Sure enough, one day she ran into the house and announced to her mother "There's a white horse out there!" But this grandson of Trigger belonged to a rodeo clown. When he heard Shelley's story, he helped the little girl get a little fillie she named "Bonnie." Shelley rode the dove gray mare bareback as she grew up.
On Monday, June 29, 1975, Shelley Robertson disappeared without a trace. Seven weeks later, her body was found in a mine shaft near Georgetown.
Clear Creek County investigator Bob Denning went to Salt Lake City to interview serial killer Ted Bundy. Bundy was serving time for kidnapping a girl there. She escaped as he was handcuffing her. Bundy was tried and convicted in that case. Denning asked Bundy about Shelley Robertson. Bundy is reported to have replied, "I don't want to talk about that." Denning has said he is 99% sure that Shelley's killer is Ted Bundy.
Brandon Browne loved sports. He played baseball and soccer as a child, football and basketball in jr. high and high school. Brandon graduated from Coronado High School in Colorado Springs in 1999. He hung drywall with his dad, Lance Browne, for three years. Brandon's last job was at DMS Custom Counter Tops. He loved children and his heart's desire was to marry and have a family. But Brandon wanted to have a good career and a house before he married.
Brandon was known as a quiet person. "When he spoke, people stopped to listen," said his mother, Marla Browne.
In the early morning hours of November 26, 2004, Brandon was with friends in a Denny's Restaurant parking lot on North Academy Boulevard in Colorado Springs. Brandon's friends got into a verbal altercation with others. Brandon, who was standing several yards away talking to his girlfriend and her sister at their car, was shot once in the chest. The shooter and another male fled before police arrived. The twenty-three-year-old victim was taken to Memorial Hospital where he died.
In addition to his parents, Brandon is survived by two sisters and a niece.
If you have information regarding this murder, please call Detective Richard Gysin, 719-444-7500. Or, if you wish to remain anonymous and qualify for a reward, call Crime Stoppers: 719-634-7867.
Cecilia "C.C." Cipriani graduated from James Madison Memorial High School (Wisconsin) in 1976. She participated in track and field. C.C. played the harp in the school orchestra and with the Madison Symphony Orchestra. C.C. graduated from the University of Wisconsin at Platteville in 1981 with a degree in Criminal Justice. Although she had aspired to a career in law, she became interested in a police career after taking courses in criminal justice and working as an intern at the local police department.
Following graduation, C.C. vacationed in Colorado where she looked up a college flame, Terry Faherty, who was in the Army. They married late that year and settled in Colorado Springs. C.C. was hired as a deputy by the El Paso County Sheriff's Office in February 1982. She divorced Faherty in 1983 after he hocked her jewelry and gun to pay for an addiction and went AWOL.
C.C. was promoted to Deputy I in 1984. In 1985 she transferred from the patrol to investigations where she was assigned the task of investigating sexual assault and child abuse cases. Colleagues described C.C. as driven, dedicated and compassionate.
Robert F. Benefiel, a Colorado State Trooper, courted C.C. and the couple married in April 1985. In early 1987 C.C. resigned her job to move with her husband to Durango, CO where she worked as an investigator with the La Plata County Sheriff's Office. She returned to Colorado Springs in November, was rehired by the Sheriff and assigned to homicide. There she quickly became known for her investigative skills and her professionalism in the court room where she often testified.
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C.C. was selected to head the newly created Planning and Research unit in July 1988. There she pursued grants for DUI and drug enforcement projects. She was promoted to Sergeant one year later. Sgt. Cipriani returned to the patrol division in May 1990 and took up duties as a field supervisor. On November 1, 1990, Cecilia Cipriani was promoted to Lieutenant, becoming the first woman to ever attain that rank in the El Paso County Sheriff's Office. She was made a watch commander in the patrol division.
Lt. Cipriani was having a difficult year in 1990 as her mother was dying of cancer and marital problems arose. In July, Robert Benefiel asked for a divorce and gave C.C. 30 days to move out. She bought a secluded house on a bluff in Ivywild where she lived alone. Their divorce was to be final on November 19, 1990.
But on November 16, Lt. Cecilia Cipriani, 32, was shot to death in her home shortly after she got off work at 1:30 am. She had been sitting at her dining room table in her police uniform with her gun still holstered when she was shot twice with a .22 caliber handgun. When she failed to show up at work for two shifts, she was found on the floor by two deputies. Investigators believe she knew her assailant and let him in the home.
Her husband was the prime suspect in C.C.'s murder. He was off duty that night, had no alibi and flunked his polygraph according to press reports. Detectives said there was insufficient evidence to arrest Robert Benefiel and the District Attorney declined to call a Grand Jury. Mutual Life Insurance Company of New Jersey denied Benefiel's claim for a $65,000 life insurance policy because he was a suspect in the death of the insured.
Trooper Benefiel was placed on paid administrative leave for six months after a domestic dispute involving a gun on July 15, 1993 concerning he and his new wife, Erma. He resigned from the Colorado State Patrol in January 1994 and moved to Texas. The murder of Lt. Cecilia "C.C." Cipriani remains unsolved.
If you have information pertinent to this case, please call Detective Derek Graham, 719-444-7561, at Colorado Springs Police Department, or Crime Stoppers 719-634-7867.
Karen Kay Hathaway-Johns was born in Fort Wayne, Indiana. She graduated from High School there and later married Frank Cary. Karen enjoyed photography, embroidering and her Labrador dogs.The couple had friends in Colorado Springs so they moved there. In 1978 Frank Cary was killed in an automobile crash. A few years later, Karen married Darrell Johns, a serviceman at Fort Carson. They divorced in 1989. She had lived at the same apartment in southeast Colorado Springs for at least the last 12 years. Karen, 45, was well liked and the apartment manager said she was a good tenant. Karen had a love for animals and had taken in two stray dogs and two cats. She worked for the American Red Cross and liked to spend her lunch hour in Monument Valley Park. Shortly after 2 pm on May 21, 1991, Karen was shot in the back of the head by an unknown assailant. Her car, running and in gear, jumped a curb, scraped a tree and started down a hill toward a softball field in the park. No weapon was found and police reported they could not learn of a motive and had no suspects. If you have any information about this murder, please contact Detective Derek Graham at 719-444-7561. Or, if you wish to remain anonymous, please call Crime Stoppers, which offers a reward for information, at 719-634-7867.
Thomas "Tommy" Kinslow, 20, was born in Colorado Springs and graduated from Harrison High School there in 2003. Tommy played basketball and lettered in baseball. He completed two years at Pikes Peak Community College and was looking forward to enrolling at the University of New Mexico where he would study to be a math teacher.
Tommy Kinslow was a fan of the Dallas Cowboys and the North Carolina Tarheels. He loved the outdoors and video games. "Tommy was an all-around good kid," said his mom, Pam Kinslow. He lived with his family in a townhouse community and enjoyed attending activities at the clubhouse even though most of the other attendees were older. "Everybody cooked well and Tommy liked food," explained Pam.
Tommy was shift manager at Hollywood Video, about two blocks from home, where he had worked for about a year. On the night of November 21st he locked up, setting the alarm at 1:41 AM. At 1:45 AM, a neighbor of the Kinslows in the 3900 block of Constitution in Colorado Springs heard gunshots and called 911. Tommy, who had just parked his car, had been shot dead.
There had been some auto breakins in this neighborhood. Tommy's car had been broken into about six to eight months before he was shot. "It upset him," said Pam. "If he had seen someone messing around with a car, he may have confronted them."
In addition to his mother and father, Frank, Tommy leaves a sister, Mindy. No one has been prosecuted for this murder. If you have information, please call Detective Pete Quick, 719-444-7557. If you wish to remain anonymous, please call Crime Stoppers at 719-634-7867.
In 1954, Boulderites were shocked by the brutal murder of an unidentified young woman. After a futile attempt to establish her identity, as well as that of her killer, citizens donated funds for the woman's burial in Columbia Cemetery. She's still there today, with "Jane Doe" engraved on her headstone.
Police didn't have much to go on. Two male CU students hiking along Boulder Creek below Boulder Falls found her body lying on rocks at the bottom of a 29-foot embankment.
"At first we thought it was a store window dummy," one of the students was quoted as saying. "We didn't think it could possibly be a human body." But it was. They jumped in their car, rode into town, and returned with a skeptical sheriff.
All identification had been removed from the slender young victim, estimated to have been 20 years old. She had been stripped, beaten, and left to die, and then was exposed to the elements for three or four days. All that remained of her personal belongings were three bobby pins in her long reddish-blonde hair.
There were no fillings in her teeth, so there could be no dental records. The only clue was a scar from an appendectomy.
Police combed Boulder Canyon and nearby mountain areas for her clothing,but nothing was ever found. Requests for missing persons went out all over the country. Several parents, whose own daughters were missing, traveled to Boulder, but no one could identify her.
Note: Jane Doe was identified as Dorothy Howard more than a half-century after her death, and in 2010, a memorial service was held for her. Click to read the Boulder Daily Camera article on the commemoration.
Sid Wells, 22, was a fifth year senior at the University of Colorado at Boulder. His dream was to be a broadcast journalist. Sid worked as a waiter and as an intern at Channel 7. He was real energetic and fun-loving but very serious about his school work and career. Sid's mother bought a condo at Spanish Towers, 805 29th St. in Boulder as an investment. Sid would live there through college, sharing it with two other young men. But one of the others graduated early so Sid moved upstairs with his girlfriend of three years, Shauna Redford, and advertised for another roommate. Thayne Smika answered the ad and moved in. Sid described Thayne to his mother as "rather strange, from Akron, CO." Smika kept to himself and had occasional seizures. Sid had trouble collecting his rent. On August 1, 1983, Sid was to meet his mother for lunch but did not show. At 4 PM Boulder police walked in and asked her "Is there any reason your son would have committed suicide?" Sid had been shot in the back of the head. Smika, a suspect, was found at his parent's house in Akron. He reportedly asked police "What took you so long?" The shell from the bullet that killed Sid matched the gun found in Smika's parents' home. Smika was arrested. Because he believed evidence was mishandled by police, D.A. Alex Hunter refused to take the case to trial. Smika was released and never prosecuted.
Note: In 2011, an arrest warrant was finally issued for Smika, although his whereabouts remain unknown. Read more in "Sid Wells murder: Arrest warrant for Thayne Smika issued in notorious 1983 Boulder murder."
More from our Mile High Murder archive: "Ten more unsolved Denver murders: Read victims' personal stories."
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