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William Macumber, convicted killer freed by justice project, back in jail for child sex assault

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Is it possible that 78-year-old William Macumber is both innocent of an Arizona double-murder for which he spent nearly four decades in prison and guilty of sexually abusing a Colorado child who's also a member of his own family?

That's among the possibilities in a case that's shocking on every level. Continue for details and photos about the original story and the incredible reversal.

The Arizona Republic first revealed that Macumber has been in Arapahoe County Jail since last October -- the same month the Phoenix New Times, a sister paper of Westword, published a feature article entitled "After 38 Years Behind Bars, Bill Macumber Joins Those Freed by the Arizona Justice Project."

The Republic learned of Macumber's incarceration from Carol Kempfert, his ex-wife -- and the woman thought by some to have framed him during the mid-1970s for the 1962 murders of a young couple, Tim McKillop and Joyce Sterrenberg.

Here's how writer Weston Phippen described the killings:

In spring 1962, a man and a woman left a Scottsdale home for gas at about 8:30 p.m. After filling their tank, the engaged couple drove to a subdivision of houses for sale, where a security guard eyed them as they passed in their 1959 Chevrolet Impala.

After looking around, the couple then drove to Bell and Scottsdale roads, continuing on a dirt path and stopping 300 feet from the main road at a popular lovers' lane, perhaps to kiss and discuss their upcoming marriage and the home they longed to buy.

They were the all-American couple: both twenty years old, him with blond hair and blue eyes. That night, she wore a white-and-yellow blouse to match her white tennis shoes and yellow capri pants.

"Victim No. 2 was neatly dressed and appeared to have been shot twice in the head," a Maricopa County Sheriff's Office report noted about her later.

She collapsed only seven feet from her love -- who'd also been shot in the head -- staring up at the night sky, the class ring she'd been given still secure on her index finger.

Cut to 1974, after the Macumbers had separated. A gunshot was fired near William's home, nearly striking him, and investigators began exploring the possibility that Carol had fired it. In the meantime, however, Carol, who was then working at the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office, had information of her own. She told law enforcers that Macumber had told her he'd killed McKillop and Sterrenberg.

The path by which Macumber was ultimately convicted of these slayings was long and labyrinthine, as were the Arizona Justice Project's efforts to free him; Phippen's feature does a fine job of negotiating all the twists and turns. But finally, in late 2012, Macumber pleaded "no contest" in the case -- a decision that may not have been the complete exoneration for which his many supporters had hoped, but one that led to his release and seemingly ensured that he wouldn't die in prison.

The following year, Phippen spent time with Macumber in the Denver area, where he'd moved to live with his son, Ronald, and two grandchildren, ages nine and eleven at the time of the New Times article. When Phippen asked him about the no-contest plea, he said, "I'm sure it was the right choice.... I know it each time I hold my great-granddaughters on my lap."

This last comment is extremely unsettling given the latest allegations.

Continue for more about the child-sex-assault arrest of William Macumber, including additional photos. Ronald Macumber spoke extensively to the Republic for its latest article. He told the paper that young family members were initially excited about William coming to Colorado, but by last August or so, they said they didn't want to be around him anymore.

The reason was alleged sex assaults thought to have taken place between April and August.

After learning about these incidents, Ronald says he confronted his father and kicked him out of the house. William then tried to move in with another relative -- until Ronald told this person what had happened. Word quickly spread to the second relative's family, including a deputy sheriff who reported Macumber's behavior. Macumber was arrested in October on a charge of sexually assaulting "a young female relative."

These developments make Ronald "angry to no end," he told the Republic, "for the twelve years I spent to get him out of jail, to do what he did. When he's found guilty, he can rot in prison. He's lost everything as far as I'm concerned."

Indeed, Macumber's reputation as a victim, as told in the 2010 documentary film Life: The Bill Macumber Story and Manifest Injustice, a 2013 book by Pulitzer Prize winner Barry Siegel, contrasts strongly with the latest headlines. And once again, dying in prison is a very real possibility.

Here's a look at Macumber's latest booking photo.

Send your story tips to the author, Michael Roberts.

More from our Follow That Story archive circa August 2013: "Robert Dewey, wrongly convicted of murder, to receive $1.2 million compensation?"

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