Vincent Groves may have slain 24 women: Colorado's most prolific serial killer?

Update below: The Denver District Attorney's Office has announced that it's solved four cold cases: the murders of a quartet of women between 1979 and 1988.

The slayer: Vincent Groves, who may be the most prolific serial killer in the state's history.

Groves, who died in prison circa 1996, was convicted of three killings before he breathed his last. Now, thanks to the Denver Police Department's cold case review team, which received federal funding in 2010 to review 250 unsolved homicides between 1970 and 1984, DNA evidence has provided post-mortem evidence of Groves's guilt in the deaths of Emma Jenefor, 25, found dead in her bathtub in March 1979; Joyce Ramey, 23, whose body was discovered in an industrial park that July; Peggy Cuff, twenty, located in an alley in November of that year; and Pamela Montgomery, recovered from a different alley in August 1988.

That makes seven murders definitively associated with Groves. But this sum may be only the beginning of his lethal activities.

A study entitled "A History of Law Enforcement in Douglas County, 1858 to 2007," maintains that Groves was linked to the murders of seventeen prostitutes. And while a 1990 Rocky Mountain News article republished on Groves's Murderpedia entry doesn't confirm that number, it comes close, referencing fifteen homicides to which Groves had been connected between 1978 and 1988. According to reporter Mark Brown, the string of murders was interrupted for five years -- a span during which Groves was behind bars for a 1981 murder. And they didn't stop again until he was arrested in September 1988 -- the year when two more victims, Juanita Lovato, nineteen, and Diann Mancera, 25, turned up dead. His typical M.O.: He would pick up a woman (perhaps a prostitute, maybe an acquaintance), strangle her, and dump her body.

Here's the other thirteen women on the Rocky's list, supplemented by Brown's description about the likelihood of charges against Groves in relation to the slayings.

* Rhonda Fisher, 30 -- Found in April 1987 in Douglas County. Investigation continuing, but no charges imminent.

* Pamela Montgomery, 35, Denver -- Found Aug. 14, 1988, in a Denver alley. No charges expected.

* Carolyn Buchanan, 35 -- Found Aug. 12, 1988, in rural Denver. No charges expected.

* Joyce Ramey, 23, of Denver -- Found July 4, 1979, in a field east of Stapleton International Airport. Charges unlikely.

* Faye Johnson, 22, of Denver -- Found in Arapahoe County on Jan. 30, 1988. Charges unlikely.

* Jeanette Baca, 17, of Denver -- Found June 11, 1978, in Jefferson County. Charges unlikely.

* Zabra Mason, 19, of Lakewood -- Found September 1987 in Lakewood. No charges to come.

* Robin Nelson, 25, of Denver -- Found in June 12, 1988, in Fort Lupton. Turned out to be an accidental overdose with no connection to Groves.

* Karolyn Walker, 18, of Aurora -- Found July 5, 1987, in Aurora. Groves was initially a suspect, but later was cleared.

* Juanita Mitchell, 25, of Waco, Texas -- Found in April 1981 in an Aurora motel room. No charges likely.

* Pamela Morgan, 17, of Denver -- Found June 2, 1981, in an Aurora motel room. No charges likely. Morgan's and Mitchell's deaths were initially linked by Aurora police.

* Norma Jean Halford, 21, of San Jose -- Body never found; car abandoned in Clear Creek County in August 1979.

* Cynthia Boyd, 19, of Denver -- Found in Feb. 1980 in Adams County. No charges filed; case still open.

Shockingly, only two of the cases just closed -- Montgomery's and Ramey's -- appear on here; there's no reference to either Jenefor or Cuff.

The Rocky report kicks off with details about Montgomery. But while the killer was seen in that crime, the witness was unable to positively identify him. Thus, Brown wrote that Groves "will probably never be charged with that death" -- and he was right. However, Montgomery's murder has now been added to his gruesome roster.

Update 11:22 a.m. March 7: Moments ago, we spoke to Denver District Attorney's Office spokeswoman Lynn Kimbrough to get more of a sense about the lethality of Vincent Groves. She quotes Denver DA Mitch Morrissey as estimating that the total number of victims could be "as high as 24... I've heard Mitch say he could be Colorado's most prolific serial killer."

Right now, detectives in the Denver Police Department, as well as investigators in other metro areas, are actively trying to connect Groves to more unsolved homicides that took place between the late '70s and late '80s, and Kimbrough expects some of them will succeed in much the same way DPD staffers did when they were able to close the cases of Jenefor, Ramey, Cuff and Montgomery. But even with technology that's infinitely better than during Groves's prime killing years, there's no guarantee every murder he committed can be taken off the books.

"Part of the problem is that not all of the unsolved homicides may have biological evidence or DNA evidence," Kimbrough says. "So we want to strike a balance when it comes to holding out hope for some families that still have a loved one who is a victim of an unsolved homicide. We would not want to offer false hope to people who are still waiting for answers. But at the same time, what Mr. Groves did was so prolific. He was indeed a serial killer.

"Are there some other unsolved homicides that might be attributed to Mr. Groves?" she asks. "And will we be able to say that definitively? Without biological evidence in every case, it may be very difficult to give definitive answers to to every family. But we're doing our best."

Look below to take a larger look at a Groves mug shot circa 1995, a year before he died.

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More from our Colorado Crimes archive: "Colorado's cold case backlog: 1,518 murders still unsolved."

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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.
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