Longform

A Cold Case Frozen in Time

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Paul and the girlfriend who'd moved with him settled in Westminster. Their only furniture was a mattress on the floor and a dining room table, but Paul had to have the corner two-bedroom apartment. "That's the way Paul was. He was always into style and how he came off to people," says Jerry Bybee, who lived downstairs in the apartment complex.

Paul was tall, lanky and almost always wore a mustache. He used fashion as a way to make himself stand out from the pack; he didn't want to be like anybody else. He wore suspenders and a leather vest, rummaged through secondhand stores for deals on designer jeans and had an eye for antiques. He had a memory like a steel trap when it came to names and faces, which was probably how he managed to have so many friends. "He was my best friend, but I wasn't necessarily his," Jerry says. "He knew hundreds of people."

When they met, both men were out of work and only Jerry had a phone, so every morning, Paul would come downstairs and they'd go through the classifieds together, looking for jobs and making calls. That routine didn't last long, though. Paul got a job with a company that made baby buggies, then one that installed sprinkler systems. When he ran into a friend who worked for Student Movers, he switched jobs again — and something about this line of work clicked. He left Student Movers for another moving gig, and when his boss decided to get out of the business, Paul offered to buy his trucks. "He had places he wanted to go, visions of what he wanted to be in life. He came a long way in the fifteen years I knew him," says Jerry, who ended up working for Paul.

Tuff Movers was built around Paul's personality. He was responsible and meticulous, outgoing and a gentleman, the kind of guy moms fell in love with and Denver Broncos trusted with their valuables. "You could count on him," says Eron Johnson of Eron Johnson Antiques, who used Paul for all of his moves. "If he said he was going to do something, he found a way to do it. If there was a decorating emergency or someone had to have something quickly, he would figure out a way to do it. Very seldom would he say no, I can't help you." The exception was anything that might conflict with Paul seeing his daughter, and that impressed Johnson, too.

Paul was firm but fair. When something broke, he showed his temper — but he was also willing to give anyone a chance. "Paul would give you the shirt off his back," says longtime friend Bob Martinez. "That's how he was with his employees. He hired some shady folks, but it was because they needed help, they needed work. He just treated people great."

Bob included. They'd met while installing sprinklers and had quickly become close, so much so that Bob named his son after Paul. When Bob's wife decided she had to confront her husband about his drinking, she went to Paul first. "He knew I was going to rehab before I did," Bob says. "Paul was always there for me. In fact, he was the only friend I still hung around with after rehab, the only one who was nice enough. If it was hard on me, then Paul made sure nobody drank."

Rich Lesmeister was another close friend, someone Paul met soon after he moved to Colorado. When Rich's cancer-stricken wife died, Paul was there, helping as much as he could with their kids. And when Rich met the woman who would become his second wife, Carol, Paul made her and her kids feel welcome. "Paul had the biggest heart, polite and willing to help anyone," Carol says.

But Paul had his own heartaches. He'd met Michelle Russell when he worked for Student Movers, when he was still with his longtime girlfriend from Minnesota and Michelle was dating one of Paul's co-workers. Soon after Paul's relationship broke up, he and Michelle got together, and things moved quickly. She moved in with Paul right away. In a couple of years they were married, and in 1989 they had a daughter, Sarah. By then the marriage was already failing, and Michelle moved a hundred miles away, to Granby. The divorce was bitter, with lots of trips to court as Paul fought to see his daughter as much as he could. That turned out to be Wednesdays, when he'd drive to the mountains to pick up Sarah after school and spend the night at a hotel — always with a swimming pool — as well as every other weekend during the school year and Sarah's whole summer break. Paul never missed a visit, winter weather be damned.

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Jessica Centers