Shades of Black

Page 9 of 16

Mark Pautler, a deputy district attorney, was at home on call when he got word to report to a crime scene that would later turn out to be a murder-suicide. Before leaving, he called the sheriff's dispatch to check on the status of a search warrant so that he could enter the scene. "Which scene?" the dispatcher asked. That's when Pautler learned there'd been another apparent murder, this one at a townhouse at West Chenango Drive.

Pautler went first to the murder-suicide scene with a search warrant, then reported to the West Chenango townhouse, where he discussed the situation with the lead police investigator while they waited for a search warrant. Pautler decided to find out what he could looking through the sliding doors.

The prosecutor had seen some grisly, disturbing crime scenes during his sixteen years with the Jeffco DA's office, but this one jumped ahead of all others. The body of a young woman sat in a chair facing the door, staring with sightless eyes. A blanket covered part of her, but Pautler could see that she had been duct-taped to the chair; there was a terrible-looking wound to her head, and blood was pooled on a blanket and the floor. He could see another body by the fireplace; a white plastic bag had been put over what looked like the head, and it was filled with blood. What appeared to be a third body was wrapped in plastic garbage bags by a wall.

At that point, all the police had was the name of one of the possible victims, Rebecca Holberton, who owned the property; no one knew who the killer might be. Canvassing the neighborhood, police had learned that a man lived at the apartment, but none of the neighbors remembered his name.

But then Grund contacted the sheriff's office, and Jeffco authorities had their suspect. A few minutes later, they got a call from the Denver Police Department, which said it had three kidnap victims -- one of whom said she'd been raped and forced to watch a murder committed by Cody Neal. Pautler headed off to interview those victims, leaving Charlie Tingle, who'd later be assigned as lead prosecutor on Neal's case, to walk through the townhouse with sheriff's investigators. They noted the blood and brain matter on the floors and walls. There was even blood on the ceiling, left there when Neal swung the maul up in an arc before bringing it crashing back down.

By the time Pautler reached Denver, Suzanne was in a squad car, talking with a detective. The Jeffco DA spoke with DPD investigators and the other two hostages, who told him what they and Suzanne had witnessed. Pautler learned that there was a tape-recorded confession; he also heard that Neal had a handgun and, because shells had been found, was presumed to have a shotgun as well. The investigators were concerned enough about Neal returning to shoot the witnesses that they moved the interviews out of any potential line of fire.

It was early evening by the time the detectives were ready to page Neal and try to get him to give himself up.

Neal returned the page from a cellular telephone, speaking first to his girlfriend and then to Jeffco sheriff's investigator Cheryl Zimmerman. Neal talked to Zimmerman for about an hour, while Pautler and other detectives listened to her side of the conversation and read the notes she was taking. Neal was up and down: One minute he was the great killer, scion of a Mafia family (he is actually the son of an Air Force officer); the next he was calmly asking if he could have cigarettes and a private cell if he surrendered; then suddenly he'd be back claiming that he'd already murdered 500 people and would kill again if provoked.

After that first hour, Neal asked to speak to a specific lawyer. It so happened that Pautler knew that lawyer and knew that the man had given up the law and was now a Denver sous chef. They called his former office anyway, only to get a message that he was no longer practicing.

After that information was relayed to Neal, he asked for a public defender. This request worried the police: A public defender might tell Neal to quit talking or might try to cut deals to get him to surrender. Nobody wanted Neal on the streets for a moment longer than necessary. The police were already concerned that they might lose contact with him; he was on a cell phone that could cut out at any minute, and no one knew where he was or if he was planning more killings. They did know he was armed.

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Steve Jackson