Original Sin

Page 6 of 10

When the Hancocks arrived at the apartment, Matthew was on the phone with the police.

Although Ainsworth thinks it's ridiculous that Matthew didn't phone the police earlier, Longmont police dispatchers didn't seem eager to help when he did call. According to tapes of Matthew's 911 call to police, he had to plead for someone to help.

"My wife left the house three hours ago and hasn't been back, and I'm worried," he told the dispatcher. "It's just not like her."

When the Hancocks arrived and told Matthew that Natalie's car was at Safeway, Matthew relayed the information to the dispatcher and asked that an officer go check the car.

"I want someone to look at the car, okay?" he said. "If that's okay, I'd like to have a cop look at the car and maybe dust it."

"We wouldn't do that unless a crime's committed," the dispatcher told him. "We don't dust for prints on somebody who's three hours late."

Matthew and Troy then drove to Safeway and checked the car. "We were looking for signs of a struggle after we knew she wasn't in the store," Troy says. He opened the car door with his knife, so as not to disturb any fingerprints that might be present. He did not notice anything amiss other than some leaves and debris on the front seat.

Finally, officers arrived to check the car.

"I pointed out some damage [on the outside of the car] to the officer," Troy says. "It looked like scuff marks on the passenger side. Nothing was broken or bent, but it looked like a shoe scuff mark, like someone had a rubber-soled shoe and put it up on the hood and down the side and up one of the windows."

A crime scene investigator snapped photos of the car's exterior and took a quick look at the interior before ordering the vehicle towed to the police department for processing and a more thorough search, Ainsworth says.

Although the police had not been quick to respond initially, church members were. By daylight, they had made up fliers with Natalie's name and photograph on them and were putting them up around town. Members of Troy's father's church drove up from Woodland Park to help look for her.

And Janet Hancock kept a vigil at Matthew's house, watching the baby and busying herself by cleaning up and starting a load of laundry. She woke Nehemiah about 4:30 that morning, she said. Matthew hadn't bothered to wake him and tell him that his sister was missing.

By dawn, Longmont was a beehive of activity. In New Mexico, however, Natalie's family was unaware of her disappearance.

"We had just gotten up and were getting ready to go to church when a phone call came," Enselma says. Her husband picked it up. It was the mother of one of Natalie's Colorado friends. "She said she was sorry, that she'd heard Natalie was missing," Enselma recalls.

Enselma and Matthew's mother, Patricia Mirabal, drove up to Longmont that same day. Enselma's mind raced the entire way.

"I was trying to think of so many things," she says. "I thought maybe she left him, or she was probably just scaring him. To me, she was not dead. I kept trying to pray, to think of good things. My mind was filled with so many things that could have happened. But I never thought about her being dead."

By the time the two women reached Longmont, police already knew that Natalie was dead. But the family would not be told for hours.

At 11:48 Sunday morning, while Enselma and Patricia were still less than halfway to Denver, Ainsworth received a page: A couple looking for landscaping rocks had come across a body in Lefthand Canyon west of Boulder.

It was a gruesome scene, even for veteran investigators.

Natalie was lying on her back, still clad in the black, knee-length skirt she'd worn to Boulder the evening before. Her white, blood-stained shirt had been wadded up and left on her chest.

They found her head about ten feet away.

The callousness with which Natalie had been treated was shocking. The Boulder county coroner would later testify that Natalie had been struck on the back of the head with a blunt object. Her lip and left eye were bruised, and she had been manually strangled. She had been decapitated with a single stroke.

Based on evidence at the crime scene, police theorize the killer had laid Natalie's body across a long metal screen and decapitated her there. He then dragged her body by the ankles and left it in some underbrush. It appeared as though her killer had then cleaned his knife by wiping it on the shirt he'd torn from her body.

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Karen Bowers