The front porch light at 1925 Ouray St. in Grand Junction has burned night and day since Aug. 23, the night Linda Miracle and her children disappeared from the home.
Across the street, in the back yard of the home where Patricia Botham lived until she disappeared the same night, the sunflowers are bent and shriveled.
“It was strange,” said a neighbor. “Last week the flowers just bent over and died.”
The porch light, the unkempt garden and the small blue bicycles in the front lawn of the Miracle home are constant reminders to residents of Ouray Street of the unsolved quadruple homicide which has created widespread fear in the Western Slope city.
The bodies of Mrs. Botham, 25, Mrs. Miracle, 25, and her two children, Troy, 5, and Chad, 3, were recovered from the Gunnison River about 15 miles southeast of town between Sept. 26 and Oct. 3.
All the bodies were weighted down with railroad iron. The two children were shot before they were thrown in the river. Law enforcement officials have declined to comment on how the women died, but it is believed they were strangled.
The murder followed on the heels of a brutal July 25 slaying of another Grand Junction woman – who was an acquaintance of Mrs. Miracle – and her 5-year-old daughter. Mrs. Linda Benson and her child were found dead in their apartment of multiple chest wounds. The two murdered women attended Grand Junction High School together.
Mesa County Sheriff Dick Williams said law enforcement officials have found no links between the two cases, but that the eight investigators assigned to the Miracle case – including two from the Colorado Bureau of Investigation (CBI) – are probing the Benson murder as well.
“We’re not overlooking the possibility of a connection,” said Williams.
The two cases are unquestionably linked in the minds of Grand Junction residents. The fact that the children were killed both times and that the women were about the same age and acquaintances has sparked gossip and speculation. And the fact that both murders took place within 2 ˝ months of each other has sparked fear in Mesa County, where ordinarily only one or two such violent crimes occur in a year.
Gun shop owners in Grand Junction report that the sales of small firearms have increased. Bud Vermilyea, owner of Redlands Country Corner, said men whose business takes them out of town have been buying small guns for their wives.
And locksmiths also report that business is on the rise.
“People are beginning to get afraid,” said Ray Simmons, owner of Simmons Lock and Key Shop. “They want new locks and better locks on their doors.”
Other typical reactions include that of a waitress who used to allow her 7-year-old to walk to school alone. Now she insists that the child be accompanied.
“I know it’s silly,” she said, “But I feel better doing it.”
Strangers at lunch tables in the town mall discuss the case. Neighbors on Ouray Street who used to only wave to each other now drop into each others’ homes to discuss the progress of the investigation.
None of the several residents of the street who were interviewed wanted his name to be used. All said that they were too afraid.
“I used to leave the front door open all the time,” said one woman. “Now it’s locked. And I’m getting new locks. My husband insists on it.”
“I can’t sleep at night,” said another, “I keep hearing noises.”
Periodically a curiosity-seeker drives slowly down the street, pauses in front of the two houses, then drives on.
Kenneth Botham, the 29-year-old husband of the murdered woman, has drawn the green and red curtains in the front windows of the home. He and his three young children now stay at his parents’ house. During the day he works as vice-president of a firm which manufactures electrical ignitions.
When the phone rings he says he wonders if it’s a customer inquiring about an order or police calling him downtown for another session of questions.
“Everyone’s a suspect,” he said, “and that includes me.”
He discusses the murders in detail. His face and voice register little emotion as he speaks of the weeks since his wife’s disappearance and their often unhappy life together.
“It’s like a dream,” he said, running his hand through his short-cropped hair. He puzzles how to tell his 5-year-old that his mother is dead.
“He remembers when his brother was born,” said Botham. “He thinks you can just go to the hospital and get a new mother.”
As the interview ends Botham says abruptly, “If it weren’t for the children, I wouldn’t care about anything anymore.”
Botham says he was in Ouray, about 90 miles from Grand Junction when his wife disappeared. Delbert Miracle, the estranged husband of Linda Miracle, reportedly was on his way to California.
The publicity given the case, as well as the fear that pervades Grand Junction, has put law enforcement officials under pressure to make an arrest and close the case.
“Sure there’s pressure,” said Williams, a burly man whose case it became because the bodies were found outside the city limits. “They know and I know there’s a killer on the loose.”
Added to these pressures is the criticism of the city’s police department – particularly by friends and relatives of the families – for their initial handling of the investigation.
Between Aug. 23, when the four persons disappeared, and Sept. 26, when the first body was recovered, the police treated the matter as a missing persons incident. They stated publicly that there was no indication of foul play and are said to have speculated that the women – both of whom had less than happy marriages – may have left together to start a new life.
Consequently no check was made for fingerprints in the homes, and the painstaking search for evidence didn’t take place at the time.
Those who knew the women were convinced from the start that their disappearance was highly suspect. They pointed out that Mrs. Miracle, a heavy smoker, left her cigarettes, purse and eyeglasses behind. Four partly eaten dinners were on the table, and a burner on the stove was on, according to the police missing persons report.
“They handled it very badly,” said Mrs. Dewey Miracle, the dead woman’s mother-in-law. “Obviously something was very wrong.”
She noted that her daughter-in-law and grandchildren apparently had left the house barefooted.
“I bought the children every pair of shoes that they have,” she said. “They were all in the house. So were Linda’s.”
A neighbor on Ouray Street said she was convinced that the women were abducted upon learning that Mrs. Botham had left her children alone in the house.
“She would never do that,” said the neighbor. “She thought the world of her children.”
Police Chief Ben Meyers, who came to Grand Junction from Oregon more than a year ago to help modernize the department, stands behind his investigation.
“There was no evidence of foul play,” he said. “Even looking back on it, I wouldn’t have handled it any differently.”
He said his department assigned three men to the initial investigation. Law enforcement officers have also determined – but wouldn’t name – who dined with Mrs. Miracle and her two children the night they were abducted.
Asked to comment on how the initial investigation was handled, Dist. Atty. Terrance Farina shifted in his chair.
“No comment,” he said, then added, “I don’t want to judge it or not judge it. The police department did an extra amount of investigation.”
There is no question, however, that the six-week time lag has seriously hampered the investigation. The decomposition of the bodies made it difficult to obtain precise data on the murder weapon. Evidence along the riverbank may have also been destroyed my railroad crews who spent three weeks in September repairing the tracks that run parallel to the Gunnison.
“It’s hard to say what’s relevant,” said Williams, noting that his men have combed the banks, picking up every rag and bottle cap in the hope that something may prove important.
Law enforcement officials have maintained a wall of silence, carefully pruning press releases and answering questions with a curt “No comment.”
“I’m not allowed to say anything about it,” snapped Chief Meyers. “That comes as a direct order from the district attorney’s office.”
“Have you talked to the sheriff?” asked DA Farina. “I don’t want to tell you anything he wouldn’t tell you.”
The information that is available suggests the following picture of the women and the circumstances surrounding their deaths.
The 1900 block of Ouray Street is a tree-lined avenue of one-story bungalows in the northeast section of town. The Bothams moved into their green clapboard house three years ago. The Miracles already were living in the blond brick house with pink trim almost directly across the street.
Women very different
The women were very different, and their friendship was never a deep one.
Mrs. Botham was reared in a strict Baptist home. Her father is a professor at Bob Jones University in Greenville, S.C., a school which heavily emphasizes Christianity. She socialized mostly with women from a nearby Baptist church which she attended regularly, but she had few close friends.
Her marriage to Botham was an unhappy one. She returned to Greenville with her children for six weeks last summer, but came back home in the fall. Several times she considered filing for divorce, but she feared losing custody of the children.
“Just the thought terrified her,” said a friend.
The marriage in the Miracle home was equally tumultuous. At the time of Mrs. Miracle’s death a divorce hearing was pending. Neighbors report that the house was in a constant state of disorder, that meals were forgotten and that Mrs. Miracle was given to staying out late at night and sleeping late in the morning. There was a constant stream of friends and boyfriends in and out of the house, and the children – who spent a considerable amount of time with their grandparents – were reportedly often neglected when they were at home.
Despite these differences, the women often spent time together. They would do laundry in each others’ homes, shop together for groceries and give each other emotional support in times of stress. Mrs. Miracle in particular was inclined to telephone at strange hours of the night urging her to come over and visit. Sometimes Mrs. Miracle would put on her robe and go across the street.
About five weeks before their disappearance, Mrs. Miracle was rushed to St. Mary’s Hospital in Grand Junction bleeding from the mouth and with blood in her lungs resulting from a strangulation attempt.
“We always thought she knew who did it,” said Mrs. Dewey Miracle, “but every time we’d ask her about it she said she didn’t want to talk about it.”
Police investigators are uncertain about the time the women disappeared. They place it between 11:30 p.m. Aug. 22, when Delbert Miracle spoke to his wife on the telephone, and 4:30 p.m. the following afternoon, when Kenneth Botham returned home from his trip and his 5-year-old boy called out from the yard, “Where’s mommy?”
Several neighbors – including a teenage boy who had just returned from his job at a fast food place – reported hearing a scream shortly after 11:30 p.m.
There is speculation that Mrs. Botham – either being pursued or trying to help her friend – ran across the street sometime during the night. One of her tennis shoes was found in the Miracle home, the other at her house.
Law enforcement officials don’t know – or aren’t saying – when and where the murders actually occurred.
Working in favor of the investigation is the probability that the killer isn’t a transient but a local person who knows the Grand Junction area well.
He drove his victims east on U.S. 50 toward Delta. Shortly before reaching the Mesa-Delta county line, he turned off onto a dirt road which winds for about three miles toward the Gunnison River.
Road Follows Tracks
Running parallel to the river are the tracks of the Rio Grande Railroad. The road follows the tracks briefly, then crosses over and continues along the banks of the river.
Near the crossing is a stockpile of sections of railroad tracks and angle irons which hold the railroad ties together.
It is believed the killer took four pieces of iron from behind the pile, loaded them in his vehicle, then followed the dirt road for about another half a mile along the river to an old wooden bridge which crosses the Gunnison.
A piece of iron was tied to the pelvic area of each of the victims. It is uncertain whether they were dropped from the bridge, but authorities are analyzing a dark spot on the bridge which may be blood.
Mrs. Miracle’s body was recovered Sept. 26 after being spotted by a member of the railroad crew. It was found about a mile and a half downstream from the bridge. She was wearing a shirt and underclothing. Mrs. Botham’s body was recovered the following Thursday further upstream. She was wearing a nightgown. The boys, in cut-offs and shirts, were found the next day just downstream from the bridge.
Authorities maintain they have no firm suspects in the case. The fear they all express privately is that they might not be able to get enough solid evidence to build a case because of the six-week lag.
Memorial services for Mrs. Botham will be held at 3 p.m. Sunday at the South Sheridan Baptist Church at 875 S. Sheridan Boulevard. Gifts may be made to a memorial fund set up by the church.
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