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Denver Cold Case Killings: Nineteen Solved, 748 Unsolved in Half Century

The cold case murders of Gina Gruenwald and Kristen Swanson have been solved.EXPAND
The cold case murders of Gina Gruenwald and Kristen Swanson have been solved.
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Last week marked fourteen years since the unsolved killing of Ken Gorman, a hero in the marijuana-reform movement — and it's hardly the only Mile High murder that has not yet led to an arrest. Indeed, it's incredibly rare for justice to be done on behalf of Denver victims of the ultimate crime, as well as their friends, family and loved ones, years or even decades after the fact.

Proof can be found on the portion of the Denver Police Department website devoted to cold-case homicides.  The page includes murders dating back to 1970, more than fifty years ago. Of the 767 listed, only nineteen are designated as solved, while 748 are categorized as unsolved. An investigation is typically dubbed a cold case if it remains unsolved for three years or more.

Arrests in cold cases are so infrequent that they tend to make headlines. Witness our coverage of Kristen Swanson, a 22-year-old whose body was discovered on October 28, 1980, inside a 1968 Chevy Malibu in the 3800 block alley between Oneida and Olive streets. She'd been sexually assaulted and killed by a single stab wound to the chest. Aside from a report about a man seen leaning against a car outside Summerfield's, the disco where Swanson worked, the night before she died, evidence was in short supply. But a friend of Swanson's eventually convinced the Denver District Attorney's Office to perform a cold-case review, and in 2010, DNA from the scene scored a hit with Roderick Elias, who'd been arrested that year in Topeka, Kansas. In June of the following year, he was convicted for killing her.

Months later, in August 2011, similar lab work led to the arrest of Billy Jene Wilson, a 42-year-old homeless man, for the 2004 murder of Gina Gruenwald, a former Oklahoma State softball player with a bright future ahead of her. The key to this breakthrough was a bite mark on the victim's left wrist, which personnel from the crime lab swabbed in order to preserve any possible DNA evidence — and that April, authorities linked it to Wilson, who'd recently been busted in San Francisco. Bay Area police had already released him by the time the discovery was made, but they were able to track him down again. Wilson's conviction was upheld by an appeals court in 2016.

Not all of the solved cold cases resulted in an arrest. Sixty-seven-year-old Surle Goldfogel's body was found "lying on the pantry floor with her head in a puddle of blood" at her 57 South Jasmine Street home on January 25, 1997, according to the DPD. An autopsy later determined that she'd died from blunt-force trauma of the head and chest.

The murder cases involving Surle Goldfogel and Sherri Majors have been closed by the Denver Police Department.EXPAND
The murder cases involving Surle Goldfogel and Sherri Majors have been closed by the Denver Police Department.

Little progress on the case was made for more than a decade, despite efforts to retest and review evidence in 2007, 2009 and 2010. But a positive step took place in 2011, when a tipster called the cops to point the finger at Jonathan Clinton, a heroin addict who lived with his grandmother across the street from Goldfogel's place. Clinton had died of drug-related causes in 2003, but investigators discovered that he'd been interviewed in the immediate aftermath of Goldfogel's death. At the time, he'd denied any wrongdoing, even passing a polygraph test — and he'd also given the cops four other names of people he thought had been committing burglaries in the area. But when these former friends were quizzed, they said Jonathan was the actual burglar and his mother had acted as his fence. In September 2014, the mother confirmed that Jonathan had killed Goldfogel, leading the Denver DA's Office to declare the case closed early the next year.

And then there was the matter of Sherri Majors, the subject of our 2003 cover story  "A Cure for the Common Cold Case." The article documents Majors's March 1996 murder — the 27-year-old had been found beaten and strangled to death in an alley off 24th Street between Blake and Walnut — and the DPD's conclusion that truck driver Chester Leroy Todd, 51, had committed the crime. Although a nationwide warrant for Todd's arrest was issued in May 1996, he evaded arrest until 2011, when he was nabbed in Las Vegas. But in November 2013, the suspect, then 69, died of natural causes while awaiting trial.

At least the Majors family has answers, unlike those left behind in the DPD's 748 unsolved cold cases stretching back to 1970. Here are the number of cases still lingering for each year between 1970 and 2016, listed in descending chronological order.

2016: 14 unsolved
2015: 15 unsolved
2014: 10 unsolved
2013: 10 unsolved
2012: 5 unsolved
2011: 11 unsolved
2010: 12 unsolved
2009: 8 unsolved
2008: 13 unsolved
2007: 17 unsolved
2006: 15 unsolved
2005: 16 unsolved
2004: 32 unsolved
2003: 25 unsolved
2002: 14 unsolved
2001: 11 unsolved
2000: 7 unsolved
1999: 23 unsolved
1998: 10 unsolved
1997: 19 unsolved
1996: 18 unsolved
1995: 20 unsolved
1994: 23 unsolved
1993: 22 unsolved
1992: 28 unsolved
1991: 16 unsolved
1990: 2 unsolved
1989: 4 unsolved
1988: 12 unsolved
1987: 19 unsolved
1986: 22 unsolved
1985: 17 unsolved
1984: 9 unsolved
1983: 25 unsolved
1982: 10 unsolved
1981: 32 unsolved
1980: 36 unsolved
1979: 17 unsolved
1978: 17 unsolved
1977: 15 unsolved
1976: 20 unsolved
1975: 14 unsolved
1974: 14 unsolved
1973: 13 unsolved
1972: 11 unsolved
1971: 8 unsolved
1970: 17 unsolved

If you have any information about a cold case, contact Metro Denver Crime Stoppers at 720-913-STOP (7867).

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