Longform

A Cold Case Frozen in Time

Page 3 of 11

"Paul and Sarah were beautiful together," Bob says. "They were like a Hallmark card. Sarah was Paul's whole world. He'd do anything he could for that girl. Sarah was always happy, full of spunk."

Sarah was sweet, too, happy to ride her bike or rollerblade around the neighborhood. When Paul hosted one of his frequent barbecues, Sarah was the polite hostess, serving drinks and making sure everyone was comfortable. On weekends, they'd ski, snowboard, go camping or hunt for treasure. Paul tried to make everything feel like an adventure.

Dozens of pictures of the smiling little girl warmed Paul's house when she wasn't there. His brother Gordy counted seventy. Once, on a job, Jerry saw Paul spot an old rocking chair by a dumpster and throw it in the van so that he could have it reupholstered for Sarah's room. "She was always on his mind," Jerry says.

Sarah was the love of Paul's life, but there was another girl competing for his affection.


Jerry had introduced Paul to Teresa Donovan at a Halloween party not long after his divorce, and the two dated on and off for years. Teresa was ten years younger than Paul, and didn't work because she was disabled. When the arthritis in her legs acted up, Paul would carry her up and down the stairs. She sometimes stayed with Paul and Sharon for weeks at a time, an arrangement that was often strained because Sharon and Teresa didn't get along. "I hated my son being with her, because I wanted to see him with someone more suitable," Sharon says. "He needed somebody decent. I didn't like her around Sarah." Teresa slept a lot and didn't help around the house. When Paul had people over, Teresa would stay in bed.

Paul and Teresa had been broken up for several months when they got back together for a night in early 1998. Weeks later, Teresa told Paul she was pregnant.

Paul rented a trailer for Teresa to stay in that April, then had her move into the house just before her due date in November. When Gordy flew out to Denver after the birth, Paul told him that he doubted he was the father and planned to get a paternity test, but in the meantime, he wanted Teresa and the baby in the house because he was worried that she wasn't capable of caring for a child. Sharon helped when she could, but she'd been traveling back and forth to Minnesota to deal with her mother's death.

In early February, Rich and Carol Lesmeister went to Paul's house for dinner. After they ate, Paul and Rich went down to the basement, and Paul started complaining about Teresa. He said he'd come home from work to find her still in bed or partying next door with a neighbor, leaving Sarah to take care of the baby, Rich remembers. He was going to seek a paternity test, kick Teresa out of the house and sue for full custody if the child was his.

On Saturday, February 6, Paul kept an eye on Jerry Bybee's eleven-year-old son, Matthew, while Jerry went out on a moving job. Matthew later told his father that he and Sarah had stayed outside in the playhouse to get away from the loud argument that Paul and Teresa were having inside. Jerry, one of just three Tuff Movers employees at the time, was scheduled to work the next day, too, but he asked Paul if he could take Sunday off so that he and his siblings could get together to order flowers for their grandfather's memorial service. Paul told Jerry that he'd cover for him, even if he had to take his daughter along on the job. "He really didn't like to work when he had Sarah, but sometimes he did," Jerry remembers.

On his day off, Jerry had lots of time to reminisce with his family — a little too much time. He got so drunk that his brother had to drive his car home, and Jerry puked on the way. He had to drag himself out of bed Monday morning and then clean the mess out of his car, so he was late to work. It was at least 9:30 or 10 when he got to the Tuff Movers yard — a fenced-in parking lot at 72nd Avenue and Raleigh in Westminster where Paul kept his trucks. Jerry was supposed to go on a job with Paul and Lorenzo Chivers, but they weren't there.

Right away, Jerry noticed that the big moving truck Paul always backed into a specific spot had been pulled in front first and crooked. "Paul was a neat freak, anal about everything, so I'm thinking, 'Oh, I can't wait to hear why the truck's parked like that' — because Paul would have a story," he says. "That guy could tell a story about anything. He described things like nobody else could. He'd describe food to you and you could actually taste it. I was waiting for him to come in ranting about something that had gone wrong. It looked like somebody had just pulled in the yard at 50 miles per hour and hit the brakes."

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Jessica Centers