Heather Garraus Murder: Latest Recycling of a Colorado Crime Story

A portrait of the late Heather Garraus.
A portrait of the late Heather Garraus.
Internal Affairs, a podcast spinoff from the long-running news program Dateline NBC, is correspondent Josh Mankiewicz's six-episode exploration of a Colorado crime: the 2007 murder in Greeley of 37-year-old Heather Garraus.

This is hardly the first time this story has been told. Internal Affairs' version of the tale, which went live yesterday, September 20, has been recycled more than half a dozen times and counting over the past decade and a half, by large broadcasting services and shoestring operations alike. The assorted variations on the same theme demonstrate in vivid fashion how the popularity of the true-crime genre can turn tragedies into content capable of living on and on and on — unlike the subjects at the center of the action.

The sequence of events laid out by Snapped, a program on the Oxygen network, shows why producers remain fascinated by Garraus's demise. The account notes that Shawna Nelson was working as a 911 dispatcher when she met and married Weld County Sheriff's Department deputy Ken Nelson. But after giving birth to a pair of children, Shawna fell for another law enforcement officer, Greeley Police Officer Ignacio Garraus, husband of Heather, and became pregnant by him shortly after Ken discovered he'd been cuckolded. Ignacio refused to divorce Heather, however, and Shawna subsequently reconciled with Ken, who agreed to raise her lover's child as his own — but according to Snapped, she continued to be obsessed with Ignacio.

Then, on the evening of January 23, 2007, Heather Garraus was murdered execution-style as she was leaving her job at a Greeley credit union. According to prosecutor Cliff Riedel, the killer made Heather get down on her knees, said, "You've ruined my life," and shot her twice in the head.

Suspicion soon fell on Shawna, especially when police found a grim reaper mask under the seat of the family truck. But after Shawna was arrested for the slaying, she successfully (for a while) threw suspicion onto her best friend, Michelle Moore, with whom she claimed she'd been having an affair. Shawna also allegedly tried to blame Ken for the killing, but thanks in part to the testimony of Moore, who pleaded guilty to an accessory beef, she was convicted of the crime in early 2008.
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A candid shot of Ken and Shawna Nelson.
During Nelson's trial, TV types were already circling; a March 2008 9News report notes that representatives from Dateline NBC and Snapped were present as the jury deliberated. That May, Dateline NBC aired an episode about the Garraus case helmed by Mankiewicz. Snapped followed suit that August.

These two broadcasts were just the beginning. On the Case With Paula Zahn, a staple of Investigation Discovery, got into the act in December 2010. Nearly eight years later, in October 2018, Oxygen reshaped the material for Murders A-Z, described as "a collection of true crime stories that take an in-depth look at both little-known and infamous murders throughout history."

And this year, the Heather Garraus case has been popping up all over. The snarky YouTube channel That Chapter, which boasts that it's "all about reporting on some of the craziest cases out there, with maybe a joke or two stuffed in between," produced a package on the murder in March. Three months later, Nelson's actions were detailed by YouTuber Kendall Rae, whose profile says she "uploads videos on various content like free thinking, true crime, unsolved mysteries, politics, world travel, space and ocean exploration, history, astrology, strange incidents/phenomena and paranormal activities." And in July, the third installment of Love Triangle Murders, a podcast by Simone Taylor, was devoted to Greeley at its most gruesome.

The Internal Affairs edition is built upon interviews conducted for the original Dateline NBC piece in 2008; network types clearly realize that old TV programs can be chopped up to create new podcasts. Its summary of the case is pure tabloid: "It happened on a frigid winter night. First, a sudden moment of terror. Then, a frantic search to find a costumed killer. Internal Affairs, Dateline’s next original podcast series, takes us to northern Colorado, and into an obsessive and deadly romantic affair. Reported by Josh Mankiewicz, it’s a story about bad choices, a fatal attraction, and men and women who proudly wore badges at work — while living lies at home. And when the day of reckoning came, the people with the badges had to investigate their own."

As for the woman behind the murder, Colorado Department of Corrections records reveal that Nelson, now fifty, remains an inmate at the Denver Women's Correctional Facility, where she's serving a sentence of life without parole.
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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts