Daniel Stetzel, Escapee, Reportedly Killed Mom Before Authorities Started Looking for Him

Last week, we told you about the arrest of Daniel Stetzel for the brutal murder of his mom, Grand Junction resident Kathleen Stetzel. Now, however, information has emerged revealing that Stetzel, a multiple arrestee for violent offenses, had actually escaped from a halfway house weeks before the killing -- but the state's fugitive unit didn't start looking for him until the day after Kathleen died. The disturbing details plus photos and a video below.

See also: Video: Nathan Leon's Widow Livid at Mistaken Early Release of Killer Evan Ebel

As we've reported, Daniel's family says he suffers from schizophrenia. He's also been arrested more than a dozen times over the years, with charges against him including robbery and resisting arrest.

Among Daniel's past victims was Kathleen. An arrest affidavit accessed by KCCO-TV notes that he punched her in the face circa 2008, earning himself a five-year jail sentence.

According to 7News, Stetzel eventually wound up in a halfway house -- but on June 26, his parole officer was notified that he'd escaped. The following day, a warrant was issued in his name, but nothing appears to have been done in an effort to track him down prior to July 10, when the parole officer put in a call to his emergency contact: Kathleen. And it wasn't until July 23 that the fugitive unit got more actively involved.

By then, however, it was too late. Kathleen had been listed as missing the day before, July 22, with Stetzel immediately identified as the chief suspect. He was at large for several days, but on July 28, he was arrested by members of the Grand Junction Police Department near a boat ramp at Blue Heron, a section of the Colorado River Trail. Here's a look at the area courtesy of the website

At the time of his arrest, a GJPD release says officers found "drug paraphernalia with residue in it in a bag in Stenzel's possession." He initially provided a fake name, but later offered up his real one, at which point he was busted on suspicion of possing a controlled substance and drug paraphernalia, criminal impersonation, a parole violation and, perhaps most notably, being a fugitive from a warrant from another jurisdiction.

Meanwhile, Kathleen's body was found in the desert about four miles from the family home, in an area where the family had enjoyed target shooting.

For several weeks, Daniel remained mum regarding his mother's death. But in late August, he agreed to speak -- and reportedly admitted to attacking Kathleen after spatting over a cigarette.

"She went a little too far," the affidavit quotes Daniel as saying -- and "out of reflex, I attacked."

In response, he went on, Kathleen "freaking slapped me in the face, like hard." At that point, he said, he reached for a nearby screwdriver and stabbed her" -- and when she attempted to defend herself by choking him, he did so again.

The stabbings didn't kill Kathleen. Indeed, she was still able to speak, reportedly telling Daniel that she was going to call the police.

Upon hearing this statement, Daniel apparently acknowledged losing control: "It all flashed back to me.... You know, when she did this in 2008.... I don't know, I just, I just...I grabbed the sheet -- you know, there was a sheet on the couch -- I just grabbed it and freaking...just wrapped it around her neck and strangled her, I guess. Basically, uh, choked her to death."

Afterward, Daniel loaded his mother's body into his car, drove to the desert, said a prayer over the body and split. He later returned home, but after family members asked him about the sheet, he "got nervous and ran into a corn field" before vanishing, the affidavit states.

This horror might have been prevented had authorities made a greater effort to find Stetzel earlier. The failure to do so recalls the case of Evan Ebel, a prisoner mistakenly released early -- and he took advantage of his freedom by murdering Nathan Leon, a pizza delivery man, and Tom Clements, head of Colorado's prison system.

Afterward, officials pledged to work toward preventing such tragedies from taking place again. As the tale of Daniel and Kathleen Stetzel demonstrates, they still have a long way to go.

Here's a 7News report, followed by the most recent Daniel Stetzel mug shot.

Send your story tips to the author, Michael Roberts.

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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