Update: Earlier this week, we told you the strange story of 92-year-old Edwin Barfeld, who appeared to have blown himself up in a house whose location is commonly referred to as a ghost town; see our previous coverage below.
Now, authorities have concluded that Bartheld took his own life in an act that was supposed to cause his entire home to explode but failed to do so. Continue for more photos and the bizarre details.
As we've reported, Bartheld's body was found in a crawl space of his home on September 12, although he appeared to have died several days earlier. Deputies on the scene initially thought he'd committed suicide before discovering a large cache of explosives and chemicals in the area.
It took more than a day, as well as the efforts of multiple HAZMAT and bomb squads, to render the residence safe enough to remove Bartheld's remains.
The CCSO is now revealing that dangerous materials officers encountered included ammonium nitrate and several homemade detonators inside the area near the body. Indeed, one detonator found inside a bucket of the chemical had actually ignited, scattering ammonium nitrate powder. In addition, Bartheld had a .25 caliber handgun in one pocket and a .45 caliber handgun close by -- and a .22 caliber automatic with a live round in the chamber was found under his body, along with several magazines.
Investigators doubted the latter weapon could have been used in a suicide bid because the live round was so corroded a deputy could barely open the breech, suggesting it couldn't fire. But discovery of a spent casing during a subsequent exploration of the crawl space on Tuesday revealed that Bartheld had made it work. They now believe that what they thought was corrosion was actually ammonium nitrate mixed with his blood.
An autopsy confirmed that he'd shot himself in the throat, with the bullet passing at an upward angle through his carotid artery, severing his spinal cord and lodging in his skull, presumably killing him instantly.
But law enforcers believe he had even more destruction in mind. They speculate that he planned to simultaneously kill himself and trigger a catastrophic explosion to the home. However, the residence failed to ignite in quite the way he'd imagined.
As for a motive, the CCSO surmises that he was afraid his home would "soon be developed against his desires. He and his late wife, Jean Bartheld, who died on Christmas Eve 2012, had built the house near the "ghost town" of Turret, not far from Salida, in the 1970s -- but in 2008, they sold it to a couple in Florida for $50,000.
The transaction had a proviso: the Barthelds were allowed to live in the home "until death or until an agreed upon time. No selling of or development of the property for seven years from the date of July 29, 2008."
Contractually, then, Bartheld may have thought he had less than a year before he'd have to vacate the place where he'd lived for decades. And he appears to have decided to try to take it with him. Continue for our previous coverage of Edwin Bartheld's death, including photos and a video. If this doesn't turn out to be the strangest story of the week, we've got a lot of weirdness ahead of us....
Yesterday, authorities shared details about the death of 92-year-old Edwin Bartheld, whose body was found in the crawlspace of a home in a Colorado community commonly referred to as a ghost town. The cause appears to be the detonation of homemade explosives that he kept for reasons law enforcers think they understand but aren't sharing yet.
The report comes to us from the Chaffee County Sheriff's Office, based in the modest-sized community of Salida; the 2010 census listed its population at 5.236. However, Bartheld is said to have been a resident of Turret, a spot on the map about twelve miles from Salida that most online references (including this one) label a ghost town.
Here's a video offering a look at the area.
Despite the "ghost town" designation, assorted homes are for sale in the area, and Bartheld was living there prior to what the CCSO describes, accurately, as "a bizarre series of events."
Friends of Bartheld had grown concerned about his well-being after not hearing from him for a week, the sheriff's office notes. So one of them headed to his home and made a grisly discovery confirmed by deputies dispatched after a 911 call at around 3:30 p.m. on Friday, September 12.
Bartheld's remains were found in a crawlspace beneath his house. The body had apparently been there for several days.
In the beginning, sheriff's office personnel surmised that Bartheld had died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. But this theory was "revised," a release confirms, after folks searching the property found "a large cache of explosive devices and chemicals commonly used for manufacturing explosives" inside the home.
Upon making this discovery, the responders got the hell out of there and reaced out to the Colorado Springs Regional Explosives Unit and HAZMAT crews from Park and Teller counties, whose members explored the property the following day.
The experts subsequently located "large quantities of chemicals commonly used for manufacturing explosives, along with several homemade detonators and homemade explosives," the CCSO reveals. They were taken away only after the assorted squads determined that they were stable enough to move without exploding.
Only then was Bartheld's body removed, and upon closer inspection, investigators theorized that he died when one of the devices detonated unintentionally.
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to Westword's mission. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Denver's stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
Their conclusion will be put to the test later this morning, when an autopsy on Bartheld is scheduled. As for what he was doing with so much dangerous material, the CCSO states that "information obtained by authorities...suggests a motive for the man's actions, but the case remains under investigation."
Until then, Turret has one more ghost -- and this one apparently still has some secrets.
Send your story tips to the author, Michael Roberts.