2002 Wal-Mart murder may be handed to state agency
Aspen Times Weekly
The next phase of a five-year-old murder case in Glenwood Springs might be to turn it over to a new “cold-case unit” at the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, said Glenwood Springs Police Chief Terry Wilson.
But if that happens, Wilson cautioned, readers should not automatically expect the kind of results achieved by actors in television dramas such as “Cold Case” or “CSI,” in which investigators miraculously solve complicated crimes in a 50-minute time frame.
“You’d be amazed at how many people think we should be able to do things like that,” said Wilson recently, while discussing the 2002 murder of Tom Lubchenco at the Glenwood Springs Wal-Mart.
“It’s caused an impact in jury trials and everything else,” Wilson said of the TV crime dramas.
Wilson said the Wal-Mart case remains an “open case on an unsolved homicide,” and that occasionally a new tip will come into the office, prompting the detective in charge to update files and check out the tip.
But the detective only brings out the file and goes to work on it “when there’s something to work on,” Wilson explained. “There’s not a daily flow of information.”
According to published reports at the time, the murder took place on Father’s Day, June 16, 2002. Lubchenco, 56, was an accomplished local artist who was shot late at night while working as a stock clerk, described as a “side job,” at Wal-Mart.
According to employees interviewed at the time, Lubchenco was shot at approximately 11:30 p.m. on a Sunday night, in a part of the store located up a set of stairs from the lay-away department on the building’s east side.
Police at the time issued a description of the sole suspect ” a white man, about 5 feet 10 inches tall, wearing a black baseball cap and black jacket and possibly a ski mask ” based in part on the story of Lubchenco’s widow, Ruth, who was in the store at the time and was grabbed by the suspect and taken upstairs at one point before her husband was shot.
The suspect also reportedly hit another worker on the head with a shovel while leaving the building.
One worker said the suspect’s motives were hard to imagine, since all cash goes into a safe at the end of the day and the night crew, which cleans the store and stocks the shelves, has no way of getting into that safe.
“I don’t know what he thought he was going to do, steal a sleeping bag?” remarked employee Phil Riley. “It’s pretty strange.”
Riley guessed that the suspect could have hidden somewhere in the store while it was still open, coming out of hiding sometime after it closed at 9 p.m.
“It seems like the person who did this was hiding in the attic where we store shelving,” Riley said.
Wilson told reporters at the time that he had “a large team of investigators” working on the case, but no one was ever arrested or charged.
Looking back, Wilson said recently, there have been “a couple of ‘persons of interest’ in the case, but one of them has died.” No other new leads have come up lately, he said.
In general, he told The Post Independent in Glenwood Springs earlier this year, “It’s definitely a solvable case. It’s going to be one of those … where it comes down to that one piece of information.”
According to Lance Clem, the CBI’s public information officer, the cold-case unit has been authorized by the state Legislature to look into old, unsolved murder cases perplexing police departments around Colorado, dating back as far as 1970. The unit is just being set up now, he said, and an agent currently is reviewing the major unsolved cases around the state “to see what’s out there” and to determine which cases to accept.
Clem said that preliminary work has begun on a couple of cases submitted by area police departments, but the Wal-Mart murder is not one of those.
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