We Are Capitol Hill

Stephen Elliott's five-year-old daughter, Isabel, wanted hamburgers for dinner, and so on April 17 last year, a little after 5 p.m., they headed for Alfalfa's grocery store in Capitol Hill.

The two had spent the warm Saturday afternoon at a birthday party near Sloan Lake. Isabel was still wearing her purple party dress that flared out at the waist and was decorated with patterns of small kittens, along with her dress Mary Janes. Even though they'd eaten well when they'd arrived at the party around noon, Elliott had stayed late with the party's adult hosts, as he was known to do -- talking, debating, smoking a cigar out in the backyard. When they got into his 1991 white four-door Honda Accord, they were the last to leave the party.

Elliott could have stopped at several grocery stores on the way home: the Safeway at 26th and Federal; the King Soopers at Speer and 14th; the King Soopers at Ninth and Corona. But Elliott shopped at Alfalfa's three, four, five times a week. He and Isabel's mother, E.J. Yodder, were regulars at the alternative food market at the center of Capitol Hill.

At about 5:30, Elliott and Isabel pulled into the U-shaped lot and chose a space near the corner on the west side, the side that borders Emerson Street. Directly across from them as they exited the car, on the north side of 11th Street, young hipsters sat out on the patio of the Park Tavern and sipped beers. On the opposite side of the lot, across Ogden Street, customers in a hurry rotated in and out of the 7-Eleven, Big Gulps and Slurpees in hand. And north of the 7-Eleven, renters washed and dried clothes at the Capitol laundromat, which, as usual, stayed busy on the weekends.

Elliott and Isabel spent a few minutes inside Alfalfa's collecting their goods.

As they left the store, Elliot carried two bags of groceries and told his daughter he had a surprise for her later that evening. At age 42, Elliott had recently returned to smoking a pipe, and during the sixty or so paces from the automatic glass doors of Alfalfa's to his parked car, he told Isabel that that night he was going to smoke from "the big pipe" in his collection, the one that she had been pestering him about.

Elliott unlocked the passenger-side door for his daughter, put the groceries in the car, walked around to the driver's side, got in the car and closed his door. As Isabel was about to click in her seatbelt, she turned to her father, who was leaning forward to insert the ignition key.

Elliott never started the engine.

A loud boom came from directly outside Elliott's rolled-up window. Isabel looked past her father -- the window wasn't there anymore; all of it was blown into tiny shards now -- and she saw the torso of a man, from his shoulders to his waist, with a large gun in his hands.

Isabel watched the man run away. She looked at her father's face and noticed his eyes were still open. She knew he was dead. She said, "Daddy, I'm going to miss you."

Isabel climbed out of the car, walked a few steps away from the vehicle and then started screaming.

Within a few seconds, a female shopper scooped up Isabel and dialed 911 on her cell phone. An Alfalfa's employee out on a smoke break also rushed toward the car, as did customers from the patio across the street and several stunned customers who were leaving the store. Within a few minutes, police were on the scene, surrounding the neighborhood with patrol cars. Within a few hours, television crews and print reporters jammed into the area, knocking on the doors of Elliott's friends and neighbors. Within a day, Elliott's murder had made the Sunday papers, and the video clip of his empty car behind yellow police tape led several newscasts.

But within three days, as of Tuesday, April 20, Stephen Elliott was a forgotten man. His murder remains unsolved.

The initial frenzied reports portrayed Stephen Elliott as a simple man -- but he was an eccentric. He grew up in Arvada, the son of a rugged outdoorsman, a gregarious man whom family and friends likened to Ernest Hemingway. An only child, Stephen was nothing like his father -- he was slight of frame but taller than most of his peers, and he was intellectually superior to kids his age. Stephen's father worked for the Colorado Division of Wildlife, but Stephen took to playing the piano and reading. His mother was a housewife -- a generous woman, friends say.

Elliott attended the University of Denver on an undergraduate scholarship to study classical piano. Once he got his degree, he enrolled in the master's program for mathematics. He became friends with a student in the English department named Mark Asimus. Like many other people, Asimus didn't like Elliott when they first met. "But by the end of the week," Asimus recalls, "I was having lunch with him every day. And continued to do so for the next ten years."

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Justin Berton

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