Sheriff: Autopsy confirms body is that of Will Graham

Scott Condon
The Aspen Times
Will Graham was remembered as being extremely loyal to family, friends and Aspen.
Courtesy photo |

Pitkin County Sheriff Joe DiSalvo said Friday that an autopsy confirmed that the body recovered Thursday from the Roaring Fork River east of Aspen was Will Graham.

The identification was made from tattoos and dental records, DiSalvo said.

Will’s mother, Geraldine Graham, said the confirmation brings painful closure to her son’s disappearance June 4. It was suspected that he jumped into the river in the Devil’s Punchbowl during high water. However, the body couldn’t immediately be located in the turbulent spring runoff.

She said she clung to the fantasy that her son had somehow suffered an injury and was being cared for in a cave by a mother bear. Her fantasy ended with Will emerging from the woods and returning to his family and friends.

“I hate losing hope, but it was an unfounded hope,” Geraldine said.

Will Graham, 31, was raised in Aspen and was a well-liked, adventurous youth who thrived in outdoor pursuits and sports. His family and friends estimated he jumped hundreds of times into the Devil’s Punchbowl during all sorts of conditions over the years.

It is believed Graham was alone when he presumably jumped into the Punchbowl on June 4 and drowned. That day was one of the first warm days of spring.

The Sheriff’s Office released a statement Friday evening that said Graham’s death has been classified as undetermined and that the manner of his death was accidental. An autopsy confirmed no foul play was involved and evidence points to the probability that Graham drowned, the statement said.

His body was recovered less than 1 mile downstream from the Punchbowl area. The Punchbowl is about 9 miles east of Aspen.

DiSalvo said his office learned at about 1 p.m. Thursday that two young men who were driving from Aspen to Denver discovered the body, though it wasn’t immediately recognizable. The pair pulled off at the Weller Lake parking lot to go for a walk, saw something in the river and “realized it was something unusual,” DiSalvo said.

They took photos and continued their drive over Independence Pass to Leadville, where they contacted local authorities about their discovery, DiSalvo said. Leadville authorities sent the photos to the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office and the recovery effort was launched. The body was recovered by a swift-water rescue team from the Aspen Volunteer Fire Department.

Geraldine said family and friends will hold a celebration of Will’s life later this summer, but details are still being arranged.

Will was a 2002 graduate of Aspen High School and worked at Aspen Meadows after returning to Aspen two years ago. Friends and family recalled after Will’s disappearance and presumed death that he had troubles in his life but was extremely loyal to his friends and loved Aspen.