Getting Credit (or Not) for Finding Rebecca Bartee's Killer After 18 Years

Rebecca Bartee and Robert Lee Williams, the man arrested for her murder.
Rebecca Bartee and Robert Lee Williams, the man arrested for her murder. Photos courtesy of the Arapahoe County Sheriff's Office
More than eighteen years after 18th Judicial District deputy DA Rebecca Bartee's June 7, 1999 murder, authorities have made an arrest, booking Robert Lee Williams, a seventy-year-old who was still living in the apartment building where the slaying took place. The case was broken thanks to a tip received by CBS4 reporter Brian Maass earlier this year, yet multiple news agencies in Colorado aren't giving credit where credit's due.

We told you about the Bartee case in a 2012 roundup of unsolved Colorado murders highlighted by the indispensable Families of Homicide Victims & Missing Persons website. The FOHVMP item about Bartee provides a succinct overview about her background and tragic death.

"Rebecca Bartee was born in Topeka, Kansas and graduated from Hayden High School there," the excerpt begins. "Rebecca earned her undergraduate degree as well as her Juris Doctor from the University of Kansas. After graduating in 1984 she worked for Kansas Legal Services as a staff attorney. Rebecca enjoyed hiking and the outdoors. Her dream was to live in Denver. She received accolades for her work in child support enforcement in Western Kansas while living in Hays."

The narrative continues: "Rebecca moved to Colorado on May 14, 1999 to accept the job of Assistant District Attorney in Arapahoe County running the child support recovery unit. She told her sister, Peggy Brockington, "You know, moving is hard, but I'm looking out my window at the mountains; life couldn't be better." Peggy called her sister "The spark plug of our family." Rebecca was last seen driving home from work on Friday, June 4, 1999. Three days later her body was found in the bathtub of her home. She had been strangled. Becky's survivors include her daughter, Kate (who was 13 years old, multiply handicapped and adored by her mother), three sisters, three brothers and her mother."

click to enlarge Rebecca Bartee on the job. - COURTESY OF THE ARAPAHOE COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE
Rebecca Bartee on the job.
Courtesy of the Arapahoe County Sheriff's Office
Investigators believed that Bartee's killer had staged the scene in her bathroom to make it appear that she had committed suicide — a ruse that soon fell apart. But clues about the crime were few and far between until this past February, when a source contacted CBS4's Maass about the unsolved case.

According to Maass, the man, who claimed to have cancer and wanted to "clear his conscience" before he passed, lived with Williams at the 6500 South Dayton Street apartment complex where Bartee also resided. According to him, he saw Williams leaving Bartee's place around the time of the murder and characterized him afterward as "being strange and suspicious." He added that Bartee had been sexually harassed by Williams.

CBS4 put the witness together with Arapahoe County Sheriff's Office personnel, and after gathering what's characterized as "new evidence," the ACSO arrested Williams on suspicion of first degree murder.

We don't know the specifics of the evidence against Williams, since the arrest affidavit has been sealed. But it's clear that the other television stations in town weren't eager to acknowledge CBS4's role.

click to enlarge A casual photo of Rebecca Bartee. - COURTESY OF THE ARAPAHOE COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE
A casual photo of Rebecca Bartee.
Courtesy of the Arapahoe County Sheriff's Office
Take Fox31, which details the break in the case like so: "Deputies said a tip from someone to a local news reporter, forwarded to sheriff's investigators, led deputies to dust off the old files and develop enough probable cause to arrest Williams."

Denver7 took a similar tack. Its piece notes: "But recently, a tipster brought new evidence forward in the case, according to the sheriff’s office, and investigators were able to obtain a warrant for Williams’s arrest."

Likewise, 9News mentions only "a tip given to police via a local news reporter"

Indeed, the only major metro area news agency to immediately credit CBS4 was the Denver Post, which named the station and Maass and even embedded a copy of the outlet's report in its own offering. This is particularly noteworthy, since the Post has a content-sharing agreement with Denver7.

As such, prior to this report, the Post was virtually alone (aside from CBS4, of course) in accurately reporting what took place, rather than omitting a key detail about why the Bartee cold case heated up nearly two decades after her death.
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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