Original Sin

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"The baby was not planned," Ainsworth says. Natalie's pregnancy "was a source of stress. They worried about money, about the way a baby affects your life. It was fear of the unknown. Enselma and several others said they [Natalie and Matthew] had wanted to wait for a while."

But Enselma's memory of her daughter's pregnancy has harshened with time. Matthew "didn't want any children at all," she says. "He wasn't happy that Natalie was pregnant."

Ainsworth and others believe that Matthew was upset about the pregnancy for another reason, as well. They say that Matthew had begun an affair with his sister-in-law, Lisa Mirabal.

The Mirabal brothers and their wives had always been close. Lisa and Natalie had known each other since they were adolescents and had grown up together in the church. When the Hancocks and others moved to Longmont, Matthew moved in with his brother and Lisa until his marriage to Natalie.

The couples spent a great deal of time together, sharing dinner at each other's homes, shopping, attending church.

According to Ainsworth, however, Lisa and Matthew spent a lot of time together without their partners. At Matthew's trial, several neighbors would testify that they often saw Matthew enter his brother's apartment shortly after Marcus left for work.

But if there was any tension among the four young people, it wasn't apparent to those closest to them. They continued to do things as a group, right up until the night Natalie was murdered.

Saturday, September 25, 1999, was a busy one for Natalie Mirabal. She spent much of the day with Janet Hancock, driving to garage sales in search of bargains. She hosted dinner that evening for another young couple from church.

After dinner, a group of them headed to Boulder for the evening: Matthew, Natalie and their infant daughter, Mikela; the Mirabals' dinner companions; Marcus and Lisa Mirabal and their daughter; and Natalie's fifteen-year-old brother, Nehemiah.

(Nehemiah had come to live with Matthew and Natalie that spring, after he reportedly had gotten into some minor legal trouble. Enselma says that Natalie missed her brother and wanted him to come be with her. But Marcus and others say that Enselma sent the boy up to Longmont because she felt the church would be a good influence on him.)

The couples drove separate cars and met up in Boulder, where they went to the Pearl Street Mall. "There was a fall fest or something like that," Marcus Mirabal says, "and we looked at the art booths and watched the street performers. We went to Starbucks."

It was after 11 p.m. when the group headed home, about 11:30 when they made it back to Longmont.

Matthew generally didn't drive at night because his right eye is permanently dilated, making him sensitive to headlights from oncoming cars. "When he was three, a boy accidentally stabbed him in the eye with a pocketknife," Marcus says. "He's legally blind in one eye, and he's going blind in the other."

But Matthew did drive that night. "I remember him honking his horn at us at the stoplight," Lisa Mirabal says.

Nehemiah went up to bed -- he slept in a loft over the Mirabals' bedroom -- as soon as they arrived home. Matthew and Natalie stayed up.

Lisa says she remembers Natalie mentioning that she wanted to go to the grocery store that evening to get some potatoes for the next day's potluck dinner at church. "She said she needed to get them and slow-cook them overnight."

Matthew would later tell police that Natalie left the house about midnight to drive over to a nearby Safeway and pick up a few items. Matthew said he stayed home to watch the baby and fell asleep. When he woke at 3 a.m., he noticed that Natalie was not home and began to panic.

"He called his brother first, but [Marcus] didn't answer the phone at first," says Ainsworth. "But Marcus thought maybe something was wrong with the baby. He hit *69 and called his brother back, but the line was busy."

By that time, Matthew was on the phone with Troy Hancock. He told him that Natalie had left for the supermarket three hours earlier and hadn't returned.

The preacher and his wife immediately hopped in their car to help look for Natalie. They checked the parking lots of several grocery stores along the way. Two blocks from Matthew's house, at the Safeway at Ken Pratt Boulevard, they spotted Natalie's red Toyota.

"They [the Hancocks] looked in the car but didn't open the door," Detective Ainsworth says. "They went in the store and asked them to page [Natalie], and they checked the aisles to see if she was in the store. Then they went to Matthew's house."

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Karen Bowers