‘Lenado Man’ murder victim identified 33 years later
ASPEN – Lenado Man is no longer an unidentified murder victim.
Thirty-three years after the man was shot to death and dumped in the forest near Lenado, he has finally been identified as Donald Theodore Allison, Pitkin County Sheriff Joe DiSalvo said Wednesday. Allison was killed one month shy of his 50th birthday. Surviving members of his family recently visited what had been Allison’s unmarked grave in Red Butte Cemetery in Aspen, according to the sheriff.
Investigators with the Sheriff’s Office have worked what has been a “cold case” for more than three decades and finally were able to enter enough information about the victim in a national database to match information independently being entered about a missing person, DiSalvo said. Once there was an apparent match, fingerprints from the victim’s preserved hand were compared to fingerprints provided by the family of the missing person. The identity was finally confirmed.
The identification was made through the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System.
“Cyberspace found the match,” DiSalvo said.
Now that the victim has been identified, the vigor of the investigation has returned. Investigators will seek answers on motive and try to figure out who pulled the trigger.
“We think there are some pretty viable leads in this,” DiSalvo said. “The way I’m treating this is – this happened yesterday.”
For that reason, DiSalvo wouldn’t say where Allison was living at the time he disappeared, and he was cautious about any information connected to the leads. There are people the Sheriff’s Office wants to talk to about the case, he said, including at least one in prison.
Allison’s body was found Aug. 18, 1979, by people hunting mushrooms off Woody Creek Road, which goes from Upper River Road to the national forest road system above Lenado. The site was reported as 14.1 miles up the road, which would make it roughly seven miles past the cluster of cabins at Lenado. The body had one .22-caliber bullet lodged in its chest. A second .22 bullet entered the victim’s right eye socket, the Aspen Times Weekly reported five days after the body was discovered. Then-Sheriff Dick Kienast immediately ruled the case a homicide.
It’s never been determined if Allison was shot at the scene or killed elsewhere and dumped in the woods, according to DiSalvo. The body was found 218 feet below the road embankment and was partially covered with tree limbs, the Aspen Times Weekly reported. The body had partially decomposed; authorities estimated that the man died as many as 18 days before he was found. It rained extensively between the death and the discovery of the body.
Doug Carpenter moved to Lenado in 1978 and still lives there. He recalled Wednesday that a distraught couple knocked on the door of his cabin and wanted to use his phone to call authorities and report their grisly find.
“I do remember them being freaked out,” Carpenter said. “It had to not have been a pleasant find for them.”
He didn’t have a phone, so he sent them to a neighbor’s house. The quiet settlement – one step from a ghost town – became a hive of activity for the next several days during the investigation.
Carpenter said only about 12 people lived in Lenado then. He vaguely recalled people feeling slightly unsettled though not fearful for their own lives.
“It’s a little disturbing for them to find a dead body above your house,” Carpenter said. On the other hand, residents figured it was a deliberate act of the type that wouldn’t affect them rather than a killer running around their area.
“At the time, everybody thought it was a drug hit,” he said.
Authorities said in 1979 that the murdered man was 6 feet tall and 170 pounds with dark blond hair. He was wearing a red T-shirt, a blue work shirt, Levi’s and a pair of moccasins. There was no identification on the body, and it appeared that the pockets had been turned inside out, authorities told the newspaper.
Later reports said the scene included a bloodstained bedspread, a “Colorful Colorado” map, a map of Rocky Mountain National Park, Ernest Hemingway’s “The Fifth Column” and a European watch. The victim’s teeth indicated he smoked a pipe and had extensive dental work performed.
Investigators thought there might have been a blindfold used in an execution-style killing. Initially, it was thought the victim suffered a third gunshot wound to the back of his head, but that was later dismissed, DiSalvo said. There were only two gunshot wounds.
The Sheriff’s Office worked with a forensic anthropologist from the University of New Mexico to come up with a drawing of the victim’s possible facial features. The photos were circulated around Aspen in January 1980, but the case was never cracked. It eventually became a cold case that was technically open but not actively investigated. It is Pitkin County’s only unsolved murder.
The skull was kept, and the hands were treated by a laboratory so fingerprints could be preserved. The office has an accordion file with loads of information about all aspects of the case.
“This case has been a rite of passage for everybody that’s passed through the investigators’ office since 1979,” DiSalvo said. That includes him. He was an investigator before he became undersheriff and then was elected sheriff.
When investigators had extra time, they would look at the Lenado Man file with the primary goal of providing closure for any family possibly waiting to learn what happened to their loved one, DiSalvo said.
Crime fighters have much more sophisticated tools to use now compared with when the murder occurred. The Sheriff’s Office and Pitkin County Coroner’s Office in recent years have sifted through evidence left at the scene to determine if old information could provide new clues. Information such as the description of the victim, his clothing and other evidence at the scene was entered into the missing-persons database.
“Information put into the database by investigators matched several elements of those entered by a law enforcement agency outside of Colorado in relation to Allison’s disappearance, ultimately leading to the identification of the remains as Allison’s,” a statement from the Sheriff’s Office said. DiSalvo said information also was entered into the database by a family member of Allison’s.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation was asked in December to check the fingerprints of the murder victim and those of Allison. The department received confirmation from the FBI in April that the fingerprints were a match.
When a reporter noted the identification of the murder victim was sort of like a “CSI” television show, DiSalvo concurred but noted that it happens in 60 minutes on TV rather than 33 years. He said he was proud the Sheriff’s Office stuck with the case all these years and took advantage of technological advances.
DiSalvo said he was in contact with a daughter of Allison’s when it appeared that there was a match of the body and the missing man. Investigators in his department have met with family members since the confirmation.
He wouldn’t disclose where the family members live because the case is now active again.
“I have to be cautious. I can’t taint the investigation,” he said.
The Sheriff’s Office hopes the identity of Allison will lead to additional clues to his murder.
“If anyone knew Allison, or has any information regarding the homicide, please call the Sheriff’s Office at 970-920-5300, or send an email to email@example.com,” the statement continued. “Even the smallest piece of information has the potential to solve this cold-case homicide.”
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