The smell of manure, sweet and earthy, permeates everything in and around the tiny farming enclave of Wiggins. Its musk is carried in the wind as it blows across the brown, dusty fields and then settles in the streets and stores and tiny backyards of the houses in town--an appropriate stamp for a place carved from the prairie and dependent upon crops and cattle.
Townsfolk claim there are still 600 people here. But only a half-dozen shops still survive along Main Street, and the concerns that line the road leading into and out of town--the bank, post office, a cafe and a grocery store--seem to do a desultory business. The only real signs of life radiate from the belching semis pulled up to the Farmer's Co-op elevators and from the schoolyard, where aspiring athletes can be seen hustling up and down the playing fields year round.
There isn't much to do in Wiggins, which sits just off Interstate 76 on the northeastern plains. Denver is more than an hour's drive to the southwest, and Sterling is almost as far in the opposite direction. Adults can choose to drive out to the Oasis Bar for a beer and a game of pool. Teenagers are pretty much limited to walking over to Main Street to buy a 35-cent pop from the Pepsi machine in front of the lawn and garden store--or, if they have transportation, a trip to Stub's Gas and Oil out on Highway 39 to rent a video. The closest fast-food joints and other teen hangouts are fifteen miles away in the county seat of Fort Morgan.
That geographical isolation may be why high school sports have become so important in the town. Any kid with decent grades and an acceptable level of coordination and determination is encouraged to participate in at least one varsity sport, and the teams tend to play before large, enthusiastic crowds, even at away games, which often draw traveling caravans of hometown boosters. The Wiggins High School Tigers have brought home state championships in baseball and basketball, and the school is especially proud of the several state championship wrestlers it has produced over the past quarter-century. Last year, before an audience the town manager estimated to include half the population of Wiggins, the Tigers won their first state 2A wrestling championship. And this past February, the wrestlers took second place at the state tournament in Denver, causing some folks to speak excitedly in terms of a dynasty.
Within 24 hours, however, the celebration was over. A 28-year-old farmer and volunteer firefighter named Jeff Lousberg--the older brother of Wiggins wrestler Jim Lousberg--lay dying, the victim of a brutal beating. Charles "Butch" Allee Jr., the father of wrestler Charles Allee III, was already in jail, charged with the attack. And within a week, 17-year-old Charles was also under arrest, accused of helping kill the brother of his former best friend and teammate, Jim Lousberg.
The Allees are claiming self-defense. The Lousbergs say it was out-and-out murder, as do the authorities, who've charged the Allees with second-degree murder and have decided to try teenager Charles Allee as an adult. Throughout town, people are taking sides and chewing over the facts of the case. The one thing they're sure about is why Lousberg was killed. It started with an argument over high school wrestling.
That Butch Allee languishes in the Morgan County Jail facing a murder charge does not come as a great surprise to some of his neighbors. "In my opinion," says one woman, "it was going to happen sometime, just because of the way he was. He was always out for somebody, and somebody was going to end up killed."
In a town of ranchers and bean farmers, where work shirts and flat-tops are the standard uniform, the 46-year-old Allee flaunted his long hair and biker clothing. He unnerved residents with his quick temper and gaudy tattoos, and he offended them with his seeming aversion to steady work.
Lawyers for Butch and Charles Allee won't let their clients talk about the case, and members of the Allees' immediate family also decline comment. But it's clear that Butch didn't have to move to Wiggins to stand out in a crowd. His forehead is emblazoned with a band of tattoos that appear to make flames lick his face. His chest and stomach are mostly obscured by a tattooed landscape complete with mountain peaks, the sun, a stream, rolling plains and an eagle in flight. Cobwebs adorn each elbow. His forearms, too, carry inky decorations, and Wiggins police chief John Fryar says he believes the backs of Butch's arms are etched with the words "Fuck" and "White Power."
The word around town is that Allee used to be hooked up with a biker gang, and some people think he might have ridden with the Sons of Silence or even the Hell's Angels. But according to police, Butch wasn't a Hell's Angel--or any kind of angel, for that matter. His mother, Lea Allee, who lives in Commerce City, says her son hasn't run with the biker crowd "for a long time." Even back when he was growing up, she says, he was a regular boy whose early run-ins with the law were limited to "petty little things, like most kids." His arrest record, however, belies Lea's rose-colored memories.
Shortly before his seventeenth birthday, Butch was arrested on a delinquency charge and thrown in the state juvenile hall at Buena Vista, a facility reserved for more serious young offenders. In the 29 years between then and his arrest in the Lousberg case, he would become well-acquainted with numerous county jails.
The Allees lived in Commerce City when Butch was growing up and going to school. But when Butch and his siblings were older, Lea and Charles Sr. moved out to the country near Wiggins. Townspeople were wary of Butch almost from the moment he arrived. "He was pushy," recalls one longtime resident. "He did things I wouldn't have allowed my kids to do."
It was a bit of a scandal when Butch met and married Cindy Graff, a local girl who'd grown up in a tiny yellow frame house on Dickson Street. Cindy's parents won't talk about their son-in-law to reporters, but others say the Graffs were none too pleased when their daughter hooked up with Butch. Even the neighbors were relieved when Butch took his bride and moved back to Commerce City.
In the early years of his marriage, Butch seemed to settle down and steer clear of trouble. In 1977 Cindy gave birth to their first child, Charles Bentley Allee III, named after his father. During the next several years, two daughters were born to the Allees.
When Butch reached his early thirties, however, he began landing in more and more legal jams. By the time he was 41, he'd been arrested at least fourteen times, including busts for assault, damage to private property, resisting an officer, harassment and disturbance.
A change of scenery seemed a viable option, if not a necessity. When Charles was still in elementary school, the Allees moved back to Wiggins, into the house where Cindy had grown up.
Butch's return to Wiggins signaled the beginning of his reign as the unofficial town bully. "When he's upset, he rages," says police chief Fryar. "Since I've been here, there've been incidents where people refused to make complaints because of a fear of him. Or we've asked for information and they've refused to give me particulars about what happened. But he's not a guy I had a lot of problems with," Fryar continues. "I never had to put him in jail."
Charles Allee III spent most of his formative years as the son of the town tough. Strong and wiry like his dad, he found release for his adolescent aggressions on the wrestling team and football squad. He proved an especially valuable addition to the wrestling team--"tougher than a boot," according to one of the squad's followers.
But Charles wasn't as popular with his teachers at Wiggins Junior/Senior High as he was with the town's wrestling fans. He could be difficult to handle and was often in trouble for "mouthing off," says one parent, who, like many others in town, will speak about the Allees only on the condition of anonymity. Charles also had a reputation for intimidating younger, smaller kids. And he didn't like to hear anything bad about his dad.
Just last November, Charles broke the nose of a younger but bigger classmate, ostensibly because the boy had referred to Butch Allee as a "worthless bastard." Charles was cited by police for disorderly conduct. "He always thought highly of his dad," a parent says of Charles. "He would brag about how tough [Butch] was and how he could paint cars. I guess that was his thing."
In his own way, Butch displayed a similar loyalty to his son. "It is a close relationship," says Pat Vance, the Greeley attorney who has been assigned by a district court judge to represent Charles on the murder charge. "It's pretty obvious that the son represents everything to this father."
Butch would often show up at wrestling meets to cheer on his boy. But he had a funny way of going about it. "Butch would be as obnoxious as hell," says one parent who regularly attends the school's athletic events. "He'd holler out things like, `Kill him! Hurt him!'" Other spectators have been known to do the same, the parent acknowledges. "But the way Butch did it, it was center-stage."
Like the Allees, the Lousbergs didn't settle in the Wiggins area until their kids were older. The family had done some farming near Boulder, where Jeff's father, Bill, also worked as a contractor. But when Jeff's younger brother, Jim, was in sixth grade, they moved to the town of Hoyt to settle on 400 acres of farmland that had been in the family for years. The older boys, Joel and Jeff, helped work the fields, which are used for growing alfalfa and pinto beans and raising cattle.
Hoyt, which sits about fifteen miles due south of Wiggins, can't rightly be considered a town, especially since the store and post office were closed up. There wasn't even a firehouse until the Lousbergs moved in and donated land for the purpose. Bill and Jeff built the substation themselves.
Jeff was one of the first volunteer firefighters from the Hoyt area, and he seemed to like the work. He received training in first aid and took additional classes to become a "first responder," just one step below an emergency medical technician. "He enjoyed helping people when he could," says Leroy Dilka, who serves as both the area's fire chief and the Wiggins police department's only deputy. "At times, he got frustrated because there were some bad accidents. Between accidents and heart attacks, you end up seeing people you know. Last year we had seven fatalities, the most we ever had. Four of those were people from the county, people we knew. It hit us pretty good." When Jeff Lousberg died, it was Dilka's duty to attend the autopsy and help conduct the investigation.
Jeff was a big man, standing six-foot-one and weighing close to 240 pounds. "But to me, he was a Gentle Ben," says another firefighter. "I think it would take an awful lot to get him mad, and I never saw him mad." Jeff was known to toss back a beer or two or three, but he didn't have a reputation as a drinker--he had too many other things to keep him busy.
There was the farm work, for one, and his desire to one day own a spread of his own. He bottle-fed calves at the house he had in town, taking them back out to the family farm when they got big enough. He was devoted, too, to his new wife and her two young sons. On July 2, 1994, Jeff married Becky Johnson, a young Wiggins divorcee with boys aged seven and five. Jeff was "really close to the boys," says his sister-in-law, Debra Grosz, and he planned to adopt them. "He was coaching them in wrestling. They start them young out here."
Jeff had wrestled some himself back in high school in Boulder, Grosz says, and he still liked to keep a hand in the sport. He was an avid fan and could often be found at Tiger wrestling matches cheering on his younger brother, sixteen-year-old Jim.
Jim Lousberg "is probably what every parent wants in a kid," says the father of another Wiggins high school student. "He's down-to-earth, real respectable, always listened, never argued. He was a piece of work."
When Jim first moved to Wiggins with his family five years ago, he was a bit of an outcast. "You know how the new-kid thing is in a small school," says classmate John Bates. Because Bates himself was a new kid, he and Jim hit it off from the first day they met.
"Basically, I think Jim is the nicest guy," says Bates. "He's not perfect--several times he went out drinking--but he's not the kind of person to try to influence you about that."
Charles Allee, on the other hand, was the kind of guy to try to put pressure on a friend, says Bates. If he refused Charles's offer to have a drink or smoke some pot, Bates says, Charles would accuse him of being wrapped around his girlfriend's little finger. "He wants somebody to be involved, too, so he doesn't take all the responsibility," says Bates. "He doesn't want to be the only one in trouble. He wants to take somebody down with him."
That's not to say Bates disliked the younger Allee. The two of them began hanging out together in the summer of their seventh-grade year, spending those first months engaged in such mischief as "bumper hitching," grabbing on to the back of a passing car and sliding along behind it. A couple of times, Bates says, he and Charles hitchhiked to Greeley "just to go somewhere and be different."
When the 1992 school year came around, Bates, Charles, Jim and a few other boys formed a group so tight that they sometimes referred to themselves as brothers. Jim and Charles had a special bond: their love of wrestling.
Charles was the kind of guy any wrestling coach would like to have on his team. Although he was undisciplined--he skipped practice on more than one occasion--he was the kind of wrestler who would never back off. "He was very physical," says one Wiggins fan. "Even if he lost, he'd hurt you. The tougher they were, the more physical he'd get with them."
Charles did well enough in the 1994 season to qualify for the state meet. Though he didn't take home a personal title, his performance helped the Tigers win the state championship. His buddy Jim was on the junior varsity team that year and didn't participate in the state tournament.
In the spring of 1994, toward the end of Charles's freshman year, the boy and his father packed up and moved to Las Vegas, says Bates. According to neighbors, the move was precipitated by troubles Butch was having with Cindy. Charles chose to go with his father.
"If Charles had stayed with his mother and if Butch had stayed out of the picture," says one acquaintance, "things might have turned out different." But Butch and Cindy patched things up a few months later, and that summer he and his son returned to Wiggins. By then, Charles was said to be sporting a big chip on his shoulder.
According to John Bates, the friendship between Jim Lousberg and Charles Allee got rocky late in the spring of 1994. Charles, Bates says, got angry because Jim hadn't helped him work on his Pontiac Firebird, even though he'd helped work on Jim's car. Angry words led to a fistfight in which both boys were scraped and bruised. "Three or four weeks later," Bates says, "they were friends again. With guys, you can fight for a while and then be friends. It was cool."
By the time wrestling season started the next year, both boys seemed to have forgotten about their earlier tiff. Jim had moved up to the varsity team, and he and Charles were teammates and buddies. Then the truce between them broke.
According to Bates and others, Butch Allee was directly responsible for inflaming the situation between Jim and his son. Because he apparently felt it was necessary for Charles to prove how tough he was by whipping Jim in a fight, Butch brought up the matter of the boys' respective manhood whenever he saw Jim.
The situation worsened in early February, during the first day of the regional wrestling championships at the high school in Akron. Butch, who'd showed up at the meet with Charles's friend Tracy Dutton, started a ruckus.
"He wanted Jim and Charles to get in a fight," Bates continues. "He said [to Jim], `My son wants to box your ears.' He said, `Wrestling is one thing, and street fighting is another.' He said, `Let's see who's really bad.'" Bates and other witnesses claim that Butch got so loud that he was asked to leave the school gym.
The following day, when Charles arrived to wrestle his first match of the meet, he was both tired and wired. He told teammates that he, his father and Dutton had spent most of the previous night cruising the streets of Fort Morgan and Greeley looking for a street fight. "I guess he found one," Bates says. "That's what [Charles] told some of the guys."
Whether or not the trio actually found themselves a rumble, the night of prowling took its toll on Charles. So, apparently, did a piece of his father's advice. "[Charles] was down by four points in the last match," Bates recalls, "and Butch told him, `Don't worry about the points. Muscle it.' I think if he didn't listen to his dad, he could have won."
But Charles did listen to his dad, and he lost. He ended up placing sixth, too low to qualify for the state meet to be held in Denver later that month. Jim, however, did qualify.
Jim "was on a roll this year," says one Tiger wrestling fan. "He was coming on strong." Jim got sick the week of the state tourney, however, and was too ill to wrestle his first match. He did wrestle the next day, says one Wiggins fan, but he got pinned and was out of the tournament. Says the fan, "If he'd been healthy, he might have placed."
Despite Jim's misfortunes, however, the team as a whole piled up enough points to bring home second place. Coming on the heels of the first-place finish the year before, it was cause for celebration, and the last night of the state championship found both Jeff Lousberg and Butch Allee at the Oasis drinking beer. The two of them ran in different circles and had dissimilar interests. Their support of the wrestling team may have been the one thing they had in common.
Witnesses who were at the bar that night later told investigators that Butch and Jeff engaged in a "discussion" about Charles and his wrestling career. "Lousberg liked the kid," says police chief Fryar, "and he thought he could help Charles. Jeff thought that Butch was a bad influence on his son, and he told him so."
When Jeff made that point, says Fryar, Butch whipped out a straight razor and used it to make a point to the man who had questioned his parenting decisions. "Basically, he made a statement to the effect of, `This is all my son needs,'" says Fryar. "He said, `My son will learn what he needs to know [by] street fighting.'" Despite the presence of the weapon, says Fryar, witnesses described the argument between the men as "subdued."
But when Fryar was called to the Oasis in his police cruiser to tend to another matter, Butch apparently felt it was time to clear out. Before leaving, however, he reportedly issued an invitation to Jeff to come over to the Allee place and "continue the discussion."
Jeff had come to the bar with Becky and his brother, Joel, neither of whom felt it was in Jeff's best interest to go to the Allee place. Instead, they took him home about 10:30 p.m. (The bartender later told investigators that Jeff was "significantly intoxicated" when he left.)
Once at home, Jeff continued to drink beer and to talk about the Allees. Sometime before 1 a.m. he told his wife and brother he was going out to check on the calves. But when they heard his pickup truck pull out of the yard, they knew he was headed for the Allees' house.
Charles Allee was driving down Main Street when he saw Jeff's pickup pass by. Like Becky Lousberg, Charles guessed where Jeff was headed. He immediately dumped his passenger, picked up his pal Tracy Dutton and headed for the Allee home.
When Charles arrived, Jeff Lousberg was knocking futilely at the front door. But when Jeff spotted Charles, he stepped away from the porch and headed for the Firebird.
Charles later told police that Jeff lunged at him and that the two of them began fighting. Dutton then allegedly rushed inside the house and awakened Butch, who dressed hurriedly and ran to the front yard.
According to court documents, Butch told Fryar that he pulled Jeff off Charles and that he and Jeff then began to fight. Butch admitted that he hit Jeff in the face with a lawn sprinkler and "whatever else he could get in his hands." During the fight, he told Fryar, Charles and Dutton retreated to the safety of the house.
During the course of the fight, Becky and Joel Lousberg pulled up to the Allee home. Becky later told investigators that when she arrived, Jeff was in the seat of his pickup truck and that it appeared to her he was trying to get away. She said Butch then reached into the truck, pulled Jeff out and threw him to the ground. The fighting ended, she said, when Joel rushed to his brother's side and warned Butch to back off.
Cindy Allee was watching from inside the house, and a police dispatcher took her call for help at 1:10 a.m. The report of a "fight in progress" got Fryar out of bed, and the police chief says he managed to get to the Allee home within minutes.
When Fryar arrived, he found Butch holding a .22-caliber rifle that Charles had apparently brought from the house. Jeff Lousberg was bare-chested and bleeding from cuts over his eye. His forehead was swollen and his chest bruised and scraped. Jeff was conscious and lucid but admittedly "hurting," says Fryar, and the chief placed him in the back of his police cruiser and called for medical assistance. Within five minutes, Jeff's condition worsened--he lapsed into unconsciousness and was rushed to the medical center in Fort Morgan. Within hours, the dying man was en route to Denver General Hospital via helicopter.
Based on what Butch told Fryar that night, it appeared to the chief to be a clear-cut case of self-defense. The Lousbergs were trespassing, after all, and Butch said he'd been forced to defend himself, his son and his property. In fact, because Joel Lousberg was angry and verbally combative when Fryar arrived, the chief initially arrested Jeff's brother and headed to the Fort Morgan County Jail with him in tow (Joel was later released without being charged). Fryar also seized for evidence a lawn sprinkler and a two-inch metal ball attached to a chain, a weapon that authorities would later say was a holdover from Butch's biker days.
But with the light of day came evidence that pointed to a scenario far different from the one Butch had laid out for Fryar. For one thing, witnesses at the bar told police that Jeff had been "invited" to the house. And though Butch and Charles claimed Jeff attacked them, there were virtually no marks on their bodies. That was a surprise, particularly since Jeff was much taller and about 100 pounds heavier than either of the Allees. In addition, Jeff was unarmed, though he did have an unloaded gun in the rifle rack of his pickup.
Investigators would also later discover blood on the dashboard, driver's door and steering wheel of Jeff's pickup truck, evidence that appeared to support Becky Lousberg's contention that Butch pulled her husband from the vehicle. Butch was arrested that Sunday on charges of first-degree assault. A charge of second-degree murder was added when, on Monday morning, Jeff Lousberg died of brain injuries consistent with blunt-force trauma.
The day of Jeff's death was a school day in Wiggins. Jim Lousberg was absent. Charles showed up as usual, though classmates say his attitude had undergone a radical change. "It was like he didn't care about anything," John Bates says. "He threatened several people that he heard talking about the death of Jim's brother. What I heard was that he threatened to break a guy's jaw for talking about it. He said, `Watch out, or the same thing will happen to you.' It was like he had no heart."
The case took another bad turn for the Allees Friday, February 24, when Fryar obtained statements about the beating from two additional witnesses. Tracy Dutton and a young neighbor who witnessed the fight told Fryar they'd seen Butch and Charles attack Jeff Lousberg with an aluminum baseball bat. According to court documents, both Dutton and the neighbor said they'd watched as Charles struck Lousberg in the leg with the bat, and that they'd seen Butch use the bat to strike Lousberg on the head. The bat, they noted, made a metallic "pinging" noise with each blow that landed.
Charles was arrested that Saturday. His bond was set at $75,000, the same as his father's.
Charles didn't remain behind bars long. In a motion for bond reduction, his attorney Pat Vance argued that "the facts of the case indicate that both [Charles] and his father were acting in self-defense and in defense of one another."
District Court Judge Douglas Vannoy heard the motion March 7 in an emotional hearing during which Lousberg's parents and widow pleaded for Charles and his father to remain in jail. Vannoy, however, reduced Charles's bond (he declined to reduce Butch's). Charles was released after his grandparents and an uncle put up his bail.
By then, the case had become clouded with allegations from the Allees' attorneys. Butch's lawyer, public defender Mike Emmons, filed motions for a dismissal or for a special prosecutor based on claims that Fryar allegedly coerced the statements from Dutton and the other witness. Dutton has since left town. Depending on who's doing the telling, he either fled from fear of the chief or from fear of retribution by the Allees.
The case will return to court April 3, when both Allees are scheduled for a preliminary hearing.
Including the death of Jeff Lousberg, Wiggins has seen only three slayings in the past sixty years. The earlier killings--a domestic quarrel in 1992 between a transient worker and his girlfriend, and the unsolved 1935 murder of a local woman--didn't hit the town with the same horrendous impact. Residents didn't really know the people in the 1992 case, and they never found the perpetrator in the first one.
This time around, however, the townspeople apparently feel the need to choose sides. "Some people talk about it," says high school sophomore Christy Neufeld. "But not very openly. So it's hard to say who's for what side."
Nobody appears eager to offend either the Lousbergs or the Allees. A benefit chili dinner has been organized to help Becky Lousberg pay the huge medical bills from her husband's brief hospital stay. The newlyweds had no insurance or health coverage, and an incomplete accounting of the bills already shows a balance due of $40,000. Jeff's grave in the windswept Hoyt Cemetery remains without a marker due to the family's financial problems.
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Since Jeff's death, the Lousbergs have attempted to reach out to the Allees. According to Morgan County District Attorney Chris Hefty, Jeff's mother, Sherry, wrote to Cindy Allee expressing her belief that Jeff's death was a tragedy for both families.
And Becky Lousberg's sister has struggled to find some compassion and understanding in her heart as well. "I really believe," Debra Grosz says of Charles, "that he wanted to impress his father."
Charles has always idolized Butch, agrees John Bates, so much so that if "anything ever happened to his dad, Charles would lose it."
Whenever Butch Allee dies, continues Bates, "it will be like Butch is still there. Because they're so much alike--they're like twin brothers.