False leads, dead ends, and stone walls.
That’s as far as the Grand Junction police department has been able to get on two cases which have kept the community buzzing during the summer – the late July murder of a mother and daughter and the mysterious disappearance in late August of two neighbor women and two young children.
And though Police Capt. Robert Burnett, spokesman for the department, notes, “You can’t judge the overall efficiency of the department based on these two situations,” he also admits, “I think we’re feeling the pressure.”
Burnett says much of this pressure on the police is self-imposed, particularly in the stabbing deaths of Linda Benson, 24, and her five-year-old daughter, Kelley.
In the days following the July 25 discovery of the victims’ bodies in the Grand Junction apartment, police spoke often of the large amount of physical evidence found at the scene.
And Burnett is still optimistic that someday this evidence will come in handy.
But as for the immediate chances of cracking the case, he says, “We probably are at the point where we’ll just have to get lucky on this one.”
The unexplained disappearance on Aug. 23 of Mrs. Patricia Botham, 24, and Mrs. Linda Miracle, 25, both of the 1900 block of Ouray, and Mrs. Miracle’s two young children has presented police with a unique problem – namely, the department doesn’t know whether it’s investigating a crime or not.
When the disappearances were first reported by relatives, police responded with a routine “missing persons” investigation. They also maintained that the vanishing of Mrs. Botham and Mrs. Miracle and her children was “unrelated.”
A few days later, however, police “beefed up” their investigation, and currently two detectives are assigned full time to the disappearance, Burnett said.
The police captain also now says that he personally believes the disappearances are related, though he adds all that could have happened is the two women both decided it was a good time “to start a new life” and left town together.
Regardless, after what Burnett estimates as 600 man-hours spent investigating the disappearances and interviews with past acquaintances of the women living as far away as Mexico City, he says the department has found “nothing to even indicate what they’re looking for.”
Two detectives are also still working fulltime on the Benson murder case, and at least they have some idea what they’re looking for, though it’s not much.
Early in the department’s investigation, the Federal Bureau of Investigation was contacted for a profile of the killers in similar murders.
Burnett told newsmen late last week that according to that profile, the killer was most likely “a loner” who may not have intended to commit murder when he entered the Benson apartment.
This profile, along with the fact that neither female was sexually assaulted, makes it very possible the murders were “a hit and run situation;” committed by a prowler who may be long gone from Grand Junction, Burnett says.
But after mentioning this possibility, Burnett adds, “That would be a real cop-out, saying it was some kook that ran through town.”
Still, after interviewing about 100 persons who in some way were connected to Linda Benson and delving far into her past, Burnett says that not once has the department been close to arresting a suspect.
A possible reason for the slayings also baffles the police. Says Burnett, “We can’t find a motive, particularly with the little girl.”
The one solid clue the police have made public, the discovery at the murder scene of a blood type different than that of the victims, has also drawn a blank.
Burnett said checks with emergency hospital rooms throughout the Western Slope and train stations, bus depots, and airports for any information about a man with an arm wound all turned out negative.
In the disappearance cases, the police also contacted the traditional travel departure points and also ran a check to see if either Mrs. Botham or Mrs. Miracle bought a car anywhere in Colorado.
Again, the police have found nothing and, since neither family car is missing, the department does not know how the women and the children may have left Grand Junction.
Despite all the unanswered questions in the disappearance case, Burnett says the department still has no evidence of foul play.
Because of this Burnett says that though relative and friends have been interviewed, the department has gathered no physical evidence from the missing women’s houses. “We saw no need to,” he says.
And in talking about both the Benson murders and the disappearance case, Burnett points to national statistics.
He notes that across the county, police departments are solving serious crimes at a rate of only one in five.
As for the disappearances, he says, “You hear of people dropping out of society daily.” He also points out it is normally easy for a woman to start a new life somewhere else than it is for a man since a future employer is more likely to believe a woman has never worked before and so has no past employment records.
Burnett also insists the failure to solve either case is not frustrating the department. He says the department is proceeding on the assumption that “somewhere down the road,” both cases will be cleared.
Of the Benson murders in particular, he says, “There’s bound to be the string there somewhere, the thread that you pull that gives you the answer.”
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