A jury has found Christian Gulzow guilty of second-degree murder in the 2017 slaying of Brian Lucero in the parking lot of Torchy's Tacos near 11th and Broadway, and its members reached this conclusion without any help from me. I can now reveal that I was subpoenaed in the case but didn't wind up testifying.
The reason prosecutors wanted me to participate involved our coverage of the startling crime, which took place a block from Westword's offices. We revealed that Gulzow was a familiar figure on the local death-metal scene by way of his association with a band called the Undertakers, whose vocalist, Zombgora Lilith, described him as "the short fuckhead that dressed like the devil at our shows." She added, "Hope this piece of shit burns in hell for this."
According to a probable-cause statement in the case that's accessible below, officers were called about a disturbance at 12:49 a.m. on May 23 of last year. They arrived at the crime scene to find Lucero, 29, who had a visible stab wound to the throat. He was transported to Denver Health Medical Center but failed to respond to treatment. Time of death was 1:11 a.m.
In the meantime, witnesses were interviewed at Denver police headquarters. They told investigators that Lucero had gotten into an argument with a man with white facial makeup marked by black streaks, and gloves with blades estimated at two to three inches in length extending from each finger.
The spat reportedly began at the Corner Store at 1001 Broadway, after the gloved man threatened Lucero. Attempted punches were exchanged before Lucero headed north up the alley behind the convenience store. Gulzow allegedly followed him to the Torchy's parking lot, where other witnesses saw Lucero collapse.
A search of recordings captured by nearby HALO cameras provided the next lead. Video showed a man matching the attacker's description riding a scooter on the 900 block of Galapago and tossing an object into the bushes. That object turned out to be a knife covered in blood.
Also bloody was the clothing worn by Gulzow when he was taken into custody near the intersection of Alameda and Lipan. During a subsequent interrogation, Gulzow is quoted as saying that Lucero had tried to steal his scooter, leading to a physical altercation and a hard fall. He speculated that Lucero had been hurt when he'd jabbed a glove in his direction — or perhaps he landed on a spike from his wrist bracelet.
Investigators didn't buy this explanation, and shortly thereafter, Gulzow, who boasted a criminal record going back to the year 2000 and had been jailed as recently as 2012 on an assault charge, was arrested and later charged with first-degree murder.
More details about Gulzow were shared with Westword by Zombgora, who recalled during an interview last year that "he made multiple accounts on Facebook just to threaten me. He would say, 'I'll slit your throat' — threaten me, threaten my kids, threaten to go to some of our shows and shoot up everybody. It got to the point where I was going to get a restraining order. He's an awful person — an awful person."
Not that Zombgora and fellow Undertaker mainstay Boo the Ghost always felt that way about Gulzow.
"He lived across the street from me, and we pretty much grew up together here in Denver," Boo said in that same 2017 conversation. "We were best friends. We were like brothers. We used to drink and smoke pot, and when we started getting into music, doing rap music, we started a group."
That group was the Undertakers — but as time passed, Boo continued, "Chris had a son, and he had a girlfriend, and he started doing his own thing. So him and me lost contact for thirteen years."
During that period, the Undertakers evolved into a metal band with rap influences. "I got into the goth thing, which I wasn't into back when we were growing up," Boo noted.
Then, a couple of years before the Torchy's attack, Boo stopped into a pizza restaurant and was surprised to discover that Gulzow worked there — and after that, "we started hanging out again," he recalled. "That's when Zombgora met him. She was already in the band, and he wanted to be a part of our show. So we let him get a taste of being on stage. He was kind of a stage prop, where he dressed as a devil and would dance around as we performed our music."
"He was obsessed with the devil, with demons, with the occult, stuff like that," Zombgora added about Gulzow, who used the nickname Diablo. "And he's obsessed with weaponry, too. He's got a lot of issues."
In short order, Gulzow started pushing to do more for the Undertakers than simply act as a hype man. "He wanted to do music, but he's not a musician at all," Boo argued. "Anything he did musically, I pretty much wrote it, or I would help him write it. He was trying to learn how to growl and do the screaming thing, like Zombgora does, and he really tried to be goth — really tried to be me. That's when he started wearing makeup and trying to express himself that way."
He also began to exhibit envy toward the main two Undertakers. "When we'd write songs, he'd want to get into it," Zombgora allowed. "He'd always say, 'You act like it's all about you and Boo.' But it was about me and Boo. It's our band. He puts the rap into it, I put the metal feel into it, and we've been best friends for over a decade. But he got jealous, and one thing led to another."
Gulzow wasn't exactly homeless, but he didn't usually have a fixed address. Zombgora and Boo said that when he wasn't staying with his mother or a neighbor, he'd crash on Boo's floor or with friends of the Undertakers from whom he'd sometimes steal — "which was embarrassing," Boo acknowledged.
As for how Gulzow made his own money, "he used to order knives off eBay that were really cheap and then try to sell them on Facebook for more," Boo said. "He was really into weapons and knives and things like that, and he always had a knife or spiked rings or spiked gloves or spiked boots — something that he could hurt someone with."
About a year prior to Lucero's death, Gulzow finally wore out his welcome. He was made an administrator on the Undertakers' Facebook page, but Boo remembered that "he would mostly post things about himself, and not really about the band. So the band finally said, 'We've got to take him off.'"
How did Gulzow react to this decision? In Boo's words, "He got really mad. He started talking to other people we know and tried to make us look bad, saying he'd written all of our songs and tried to make it seem that the Undertakers wouldn't be where they are today if it wasn't for him. He was pretty much trying to take credit for everything."
At that point, Boo went on, "we kicked him out of the band and stopped hanging out with him. And that's when he started sending death threats to us and the people we know."
Online, Gulzow "would even make fake profiles as Boo the Ghost. He'd get an old picture of me for the profile picture and then, when we were promoting our shows on Facebook, he'd type on them that 'I'm going to be there and do this and that.' But we knew it was him, so we just ignored him, pretty much. We really didn't feed into his bullshit. We weren't going to stoop to his level, and just tried to stay away from him as much as we could."
Indeed, both Boo and Zombgora admit they thought Gulzow's threats were mainly for show. "I'd be going through my timeline on Facebook and I'd see a girl saying, 'This guy is threatening to kill me,' and I'd look and it would be Chris," Boo maintained. "And I'd be like, 'He won't do anything.' To me, it was all talk — because we knew him, I guess, but also because I'd seen him get beat up multiple times when we were younger. He'd always try to act tough, and then he'd get beat up."
Added Zombgora: "I thought he was a joke."
The pair hadn't been in direct contact with Gulzow for about a year when the news broke about the May 23 killing.
"Zombgora walked in and said, 'Someone killed someone wearing spiked gloves and face paint,' and I automatically thought of Chris," Boo conceded. "It just came into my head — like, that sounds like him. I didn't think any more about it after that, but later on in the day, Chris Dellinger" — a local guitarist for the band Lola Black, as well as frontwoman Lola's husband — "gave me a call and said, 'Chris apparently killed someone last night.' So I started checking out stories online, and sure enough, they were talking about Chris. And I was like, 'Wow, what an idiot.'"
Boo made a point of expressing his condolences to Lucero's friends and family. "It was so sad to see people posting stuff about him," he said. "I was like, 'He really didn't deserve that.'"
For her part, Zombgora remained surprised by the twists the various relationships had taken: "There was a time when I considered Chris to be my brother, too. We would see him every day, and when we were getting ready to do our shows, we used to have a lot of fun. I never thought he'd be capable of doing this kind of thing to anybody."
Cut to this month, when a Denver District Attorney's Office representative contacted me in advance of Gulzow's trial. During our conversation, he mentioned that investigators had been trying to track down Zombgora but had been unsuccessful — and he also noted that there was a subpoena with my name on it.
I've been subpoenaed in the past to testify about articles and posts on which I've reported, and under such circumstances, Westword's attorney has either advised me to decline or has offered to submit an affidavit in which I would confirm the accuracy of the published material rather than essentially reading it in a court setting. That seemed to satisfy the DA's office this time around, and when a subpoena was delivered to our headquarters, I was advised to disregard it. After all, there was plenty of evidence against Gulzow. My contributions wouldn't determine if he wound up behind bars or walked free.
In the end, prosecutors' attempts to nail Gulzow for first-degree murder fell short. However, the second-degree murder beef stuck. He faces a possible sentence of up to 48 years in prison.
Gulzow will learn his fate during a sentencing hearing scheduled for August 10. Click to read the original Christian Gulzow probable-cause statement.
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.