Grand Junction, Colo. – A young mother narrowly escaped being killed by an assailant just two months before she and three other persons were murdered here recently.
In a case that has baffled a small army of investigators, the latest disclosure by relatives of one of the victims adds yet another mysterious note to the multiple murders in this Western Slope city.
Bodies in River
The four victims’ bodies, each weighted down with railroad iron, were found not far apart in the Gunnison River about 26 miles southeast of here between Sept. 26 and Oct. 3.
The victims, who had been missing since the night of Aug. 22, were neighbors – Mrs. Linda Miracle, 24, Mrs. Patricia Botham, 25, and Mrs. Miracle’s two sons, Troy, 5, and Chad, 3.
Mrs. Miracle’s parents-in-law, Mr. and Mrs. Dewey Miracle, who live on the east edge of Grand Junction, disclosed during an interview that the young woman was almost killed by strangulation during a struggle at her home in June.
“She bled from the mouth and had blood in her lungs,” Mrs. Miracle said. The young woman recovered in a hospital, they said.
But, they added, she never would say who tried to strangle her or why.
In the police report that had to be made about the incident, Mrs. Miracle said she didn’t know the man and that he was an intruder in her home.
The parents-in-law are among the many murder-jittery Grand Junction residents who have private theories about the quadruple killing and the knife murders of another young woman and her 5-year-old child July 25.
They say their daughter-in-law, grandsons and Mrs. Botham disappeared sometime between shortly before midnight on Aug. 22 and the early-morning hours of Aug. 23.
Both husbands reported they were away at the time, Miracle on a trip to Los Angeles, Calif., in his job as a truck driver, and Botham on an overnight trip to Ouray, Colo. To conduct business for his electronics firm.
The Miracles were separated pending a divorce hearing Sept. 8, and the husband is living with his parents.
Relatives were deeply concerned at the disappearances, the parents-in-law said, because the condition of both homes made it obvious that the women had left abruptly.
Both women left their purses, and there was no indication that either took extra clothes. The Miracle car was in the driveway and there we no signs of a struggle in either house.
Mrs. Miracle left her glasses and cigarettes. The in-laws said she was very near-sighted – “She couldn’t see across the room without her glasses” – and that she smoked heavily.
The women were close friends and their children played together almost every day. Their homes were across the street from each other.
Mrs. Botham’s husband, Kenneth, told police he arrived home the afternoon of Aug. 23 and found his two sons, Thad, 2 and Thayer, 5, alone. His report to police led to the discovery the Mrs. Miracle and her children were missing. Mrs. Miracle’s husband, Delbert, was informed of the disappearance when he returned to Grand Junction the following day.
The in-laws said they understood the oldest Botham boy awoke sometime during the night and discovered his mother was gone.
They said their sons, Delbert, frequently checked on the boys by telephone when he was on trucking trips and that he called their home and his wife’s home from Los Angeles between 11 p.m. and 11:30 p.m. on Aug. 22. A friend was with his wife at the time, they said, and the friend reported that the young mother told her husband the boys were fine and were in bed.
The in-laws said two neighbors on two corners in the same block where the murdered women lived reported hearing what they thought was “a scream or two” and a car “taking off” sometime after 11:30 p.m. Aug. 22. But the neighbors who live next to the Miracle home said they heard nothing, the in-laws said.
Mrs. Miracle said she thinks that either Mrs. Botham heard Mrs. Miracle scream and ran across the street to help or that “someone was after” Mrs. Botham and chased her across the street to the Miracle home.
Grand Junction police said their investigation after the disappearances turned up no evidence of foul play. Besides, police said, there was no evidence then that the women left together, meaning that it could be a coincidence that both housewives left about the same time.
The police department treated the situation as missing persons cases, but the Miracle family offered a $5,000 reward for information leading to the return of Mrs. Miracle.
Since the discovery of the bodies, the case had been turned over to Sheriff Dick Williams of Mesa County.
“A lot of people have a lot of theories,” he said, but he and Dist. Atty. Terry Farina aren’t telling the public what theirs are.
In fact, their “no comment” replies to questions seem to tell more than their infrequent answers. For example:
– What clothing, if any, were the women wearing when they were found, which might be an indication of a sex crime? “No comment” on the clothing, but from Farina, “We have no indication this was a sex crime.”
– What other possible motive then? “No comment.”
– What evidence has been found by the dozens of men who have searched the river every day for a week? “No comment.”
– Have officers learned anything significant from their questioning of neighbors and the Botham boys? “No comment.”
Both Williams and Farina point out the tough investigative job they face now that the murders are about six weeks old.
“We’re about six weeks too late,” the sheriff says.
“We’re looking at a whole lot of alternatives,” says Farina. “To reconstruct a quadruple homicide after six weeks is tough. It takes a lot of investigation and a lot of effort.”
If effort is the answer, the case should be solved. Dozens of men from the sheriff’s department, police force, district attorney’s office and the Colorado Bureau of Investigation (CBI) are assigned to the case.
In addition, several lawmen have volunteered to work overtime and on their days off without pay. Firemen and kayak fans have volunteered to help in the river search, and they have covered the river for a 22-mile stretch downstream from where the bodies were found.
Williams said they have found what might be blood stains on an old wooden bridge across the river at a point called Bridgeport, just upstream from where the bodies were discovered. He has scraped the wood off beneath the stains and sent the slivers to the CBI laboratory in Denver for analysis.
But, he points out, ground squirrels run frequently across the bridge and it is a favorite spot for varmint shooters, indicating that the stains could be animal blood.
Neither the sheriff nor Farina will say they believe the bodies were thrown off the bridge, but it is noteworthy that most of the searching is done just downstream.
The searchers are using stong [strong] magnets and snagging gear.
Williams even had the gates at Morrow Point Dam closed as far as the law would permit in hopes of drying up the river so searchers could walk the riverbed on foot.
But the river is carrying an unusually heavy flow of water this year and the effort didn’t help much. Williams also has tried using a county bulldozer to divert the river flow. That has resulted in making the water shallower in places, but it didn’t divert all the water.
The sheriff and district attorney said their big concern now is to gather evidence. Among the evidence they are awaiting is a report from a pathologist in Montrose, Colo., who is examining the four badly decomposed bodies.
So far, he has been unable to determine the cause of death. On the time of death, he can say only “three weeks to months.”
With all this to do, Williams says, it is impossible to say when an arrest will be made.
The in-laws say they are convinced they know who the murderer is, and they have relayed their suspicions to investigators.
But, whoever it is, they say, he apparently knew the country well.
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