Monday, December 15, 2014

THE CURIOUS DISAPPEARANCE OF PAIGE BIRGFELD- UPDATE

There was some news last month about the Paige Birgfeld case.


Lester Ralph Jones, 63, was arrested in Grand Junction on November 21, 2014 at his workplace. He had been named as a person of interest at the time of the original investigation into Paige Birgfeld's disappearance in 2007.  In 2012 her body was discovered in a gulch near Delta, CO.  Here is a link with more details about the arrest.  Jones has been identified as a client of Paige Birgfeld's escort service.

  Interestingly, investigators had obtained a court order for a GPS tracking device to be placed on Jones' car, but he discovered the device and returned it to investigators at some point in the intervening years.


   Jones has been charged with two counts of murder (first and second degree) and additional charges of arson and kidnaping.



   Sometimes the wheels of justice turn slowly, and the case still awaits trial, but it is good to know that there has been some movement in this highly publicized case.  Hopefully the person responsible for Jack Gordon's death is still looking over his shoulder as well.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

THE CURIOUS DISAPPEARANCE OF KRISTI RICHARDSON

[Editorial note: Although there are some obvious differences between the case of Jack Gordon and the case I am about to relate, there are also some astounding similarities. Reading some of the accounts of Kristi Richardson's disappearance we were struck by the emotions expressed by her family, to a degree that brought back memories of thoughts that passed through our minds when we were searching for Jack, back in 2008.  Our prayers go out for Kristi's family, asking that they find some answers.]


Disappeared without a trace-  On October 7, 2014, 61-year-old Kristi Richardson of Casper, WY did not show up for work at the family trucking company.  Her daughter and son-in-law went to Kristi's nearby house fearing that she may have taken ill.  What they found was an unoccupied house. Kristi's cars were in the garage.  Her purse was on the counter (with $800 cash still in it).  Her cell phone was in the bedroom.  However, Kristi was nowhere to be found.  She was last seen by family on October 6 2014, when she dropped by her daughter's house to deliver a birthday card. Over two months later, the curious disappearance of Kristi Richardson remains a mystery.




Here is the full story as told by Kristi's daughter to the Casper Star-Tribune. An excerpt:


   The phone rang as Amber ate breakfast with her husband, Pete, in the kitchen of their Casper home. On the other line was a dispatcher from Richardson Trucking, the business started by Amber’s parents, Kristi and Ron, in 1979. Kristi, the dependable boss who arrived at 7:15 every morning, hadn’t shown up to work.  Amber and Pete drove the half mile to Kristi’s home on East 24th Street, an affluent neighborhood where the homes have pillars and three-car garages. Amber opened the garage and noticed none of the cars was missing.
   “I started screaming for her,” Amber said. “When I first went in, I thought I would find her in bed, ill, or the thought of her taking her life came across my head, just because I didn’t have any other explanation.”  Pete went straight to Kristi’s bedroom. Amber found her mother’s purse on the kitchen counter, a cellphone missing from the bag. She used her own phone to dial her mom and heard Pete shout from her mother’s room.  The phone was in Kristi’s bed, which police say was stained with what appeared to be blood and urine. Police have not confirmed what caused the stains.


BACKGROUND- 
  • Ron and Kristi Richardson were married in 1972.
  • They founded a family business- Richardson Trucking Inc. in 1979. 
  • Based in Casper, the company's major business involved support for the oil fields, hauling camphouses, drilling rigs, pipe, etc.
  • The Richardsons were big boosters of University of Wyoming Cowboy athletics. 
  • Ron Richardson died in April, 2013, and Mrs. Richardson remained involved in running the business
  • A mysterious fire broke out at Richardson Trucking Inc. in November 2013. 
  • Mrs. Richardson's father died at age 88 in June, 2014. According to his obituary, he spent much time in his later years hanging around the trucking company offices and was well-liked.
  • Kristi lived in a nice neighborhood in Casper, a short distance from her daughter.
  
 
TIMELINE OF KRISTI'S DISAPPEARANCE
  • Afternoon of Oct. 6 -- Kristi drove to her daughter's nearby home to drop off a birthday card for her daughter.
  • 7:45 p.m. Oct. 6 -- Richardson took a routine phone call from one of her drivers.
  • 11:00 p.m. Oct 6 -- A call from a business contact went unanswered.
  • 7:45 a.m. Oct. 7 -- Richardson does not show up for work, daughter contacted
  • ~8:00 a.m. Oct. 8 -- Richardson's daughter and son-in-law arrive at Kristi's house to find her missing.

PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION
Mrs. Richardson is described as 5'4" tall, weighing less than 100 lbs.  She may have been wearing a University of Wyoming sweatshirt at the time of her disappearance.
 
SETTING:
Casper, Wyoming is a town of 55,000 in central Wyoming.  Interstate 25, the major north-south interstate in the Rocky Mountain region passes through Casper. There has been a boom in oil and gas exploration and production in the last few years.
 
CONTACT INFORMATION:
Anyone with information regarding the mysterious disappearance of Kristi Richardson is urged to call Casper Police Department at 307-235-8278.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

The Original Appearance of Seamus Muldoon

Seamus Muldoon was a product of Jack Gordon's fertile mind. Way back on Labor Day Weekend in 2000 I sat down with Jack at his property on Luke Road in Costilla County near Fort Garland, Colorado and shot this video footage.  Now there is no denying that he had a curious appearance, what with the "aw shucks" grin, the shaggy beard, unruly white hair and bushy eyebrows, but the playful spirit and at least half the wit of Seamus Muldoon comes through, despite the poor video and sound quality (my apologies on that count). 

Little did I know at the time that this would turn out to be the only recorded video memory we have of Jack.  But this is noteworthy for being the first public manifestation of the character Seamus Muldoon.  His final words on this video are fitting for the manner of his curious disappearance eight years later.




Saturday, April 5, 2014

THE CURIOUS REAPPEARANCE OF CRISTOBAL FLORES

    In 2002, skeletal remains were found in Boulder County Colorado. Initial characterization of those remains was consistent with a young adult male, perhaps 17-20 years old at the time of death.  Those remains have recently been identified by DNA testing as Cristobal James Flores (Longmont Colo Times-Call March 26, 2014)

     Young Mr. Flores had gone missing from his family's home in Aurora (eastern suburban Denver area) way back in September 2001. There is not a lot of information about his disappearance, but his curious "reappearance" thirteen years later via DNA has some interesting aspects.

     How do investigators identify a particular set of remains as being a particular individual? This field is sort of a merger between pathology and anthropology, under the rubric of forensics.  I would say that the distinction between a forensic pathologist and a forensic anthropologist is mainly a matter of how long the victim has been dead.
Here is a nice elementary review related to identification of MIAs from the Vietnam War.  Here is an example of the steps taken to identify remains in a general investigation.


So what can we determine about a set of skeletal remains?

1. SPECIES: 
Skeletal remains can range from a single small bone fragment to nearly complete skeletons. Initial forensic analysis focuses on identifying the remains as human or non-human. The more complete the remains, the easier it is to make this distinction.  Even with single bones however, both macroscopic and microscopic features can be analyzed to make this determination.  Although other large mammals such as elk or bear can have bones that are similar in size to a human, generally a determination can be made with confidence.
Here are some of the features used for macroscopic (anatomic) determination:
and here is an abstract link to a publication describing microscopic (histologic) determination.

2. CONTEXT:
The location where skeletal remains were found can be used to help make an identification, in a general sense.  Obviously, the likelihood of skeletal remains found relatively close to the last known location of the missing person will have a higher likelihood of being that person than remains found halfway around the world. Equally obviously, this does not prove identity. Items found in the vicinity of the remains (clothing, personal items, etc) can also give clues to the identity.

3. INDIVIDUAL CHARACTERISTICS:
 -SEX
 -RACE
 -AGE (at the time of death)
 -HEIGHT
 -WEIGHT
 -IDENTIFIABLE INJURIES OR PATHOLOGIES
While determination of individual characteristics does not allow specific identification of an individual, it can allow the forensic investigator to narrow the possibilities. If your missing elderly Aunt Edna was not 6'3" tall and male, she can be eliminated from consideration when the discovered remains have those characteristics.

4. SPECIFIC INDIVIDUAL IDENTIFICATION:
There are two main techniques utilized by forensic investigators to confirm an individual identity, dental comparison and DNA profiling. Both of these techniques require an unknown sample to be matched with a known sample.  In the case of dental records, this control sample is usually written dental records and previous X-rays, that can then be matched to specific findings in the teeth of the unidentified remains.
In the case of DNA testing, the control sample can be from the personal effects of the missing person (hair from a hairbrush, dried saliva from a toothbrush, etc.) or from first-degree blood relatives (parents, siblings, offspring). 

I will talk more about DNA testing on a future post.