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The mystery remains

Naomi Havlen
With one eye socket removed by a bullet, the identity of Lenado Man eludes the Pitkin County Sheriff's investigators to this day. Aspen Times photo/ Paul Conrad.
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Pitkin County’s only unsolved murder remains unsolved today, 25 years after the crime.The case of “The Lenado Man,” named for the small town outside Woody Creek where the victim’s body was found, has been sitting in an accordion file folder in the Pitkin County Courthouse for decades. The victim’s body is buried in an unmarked grave in Glenwood Springs – most of the victim’s body, that is. The man’s hands and skull remain part of the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office evidence file, since the hands could be used for fingerprinting and the skull tells the story of how the man was shot twice in the head.

Twenty-five years ago, though, crime scene investigations didn’t include DNA work. So when the man was never identified, investigators were at a loss as to who he was.”There was a whole task force on the case, but with no identification, there’s no way to link the body with any motive,” said Sheriff Bob Braudis, who was a fledgling deputy when the body was found in August 1979. “It’s not an active investigation, but maybe someday we’ll get a deathbed confession.”The Lenado Man was discovered by a couple who were mushroom hunting off Lenado Road; the corpse was partially hidden by fallen trees. Doug Carpenter, who still lives in Lenado, remembers when the couple knocked on his door to call police.”They seemed extremely upset – the body was up there, and it had been raining, so it couldn’t have been a pretty picture,” Carpenter said. “I didn’t have a phone then, so I sent them to my neighbor’s house.””I remember the excitement as the cop cars came up the road,” said Daniel Delano, a Lenado resident then and now. “At that time Lenado was even more quiet than it is now – there was no mountain biking traffic – so it created quite a stir to have police cars coming through.”

The body, recalls Braudis, was in an advanced state of decomposition. Nonetheless, a team of investigators managed to pull together details of how the man may have been killed from the maggot-infested, rotting corpse.The death was immediately determined to be a homicide. The Lenado Man may have been blindfolded before he was shot twice in the head, officials reported.Police said at the time that the man was shot with two different guns, and the trees on top of the body were an attempt to hide the crime.The Aspen Times reported in 1979 that the man was described as being 6-feet tall, 170 pounds with dark blond hair, wearing a red T-shirt, a blue work shirt, Levi’s and a pair of moccasins. It was estimated that the murder happened 10 to 18 days before the body was found.Without any reports of missing persons, police could only use the items that were found with the body to determine who he was. There was a blood-stained bedspread, a “Colorful Colorado” map, a map of Rocky Mountain National Park, Ernest Hemingway’s book “The Fifth Column” and a European-manufactured watch.

Investigators determined from his teeth that the man smoked a pipe and had extensive dental work done. Experts tried reconstructing the man’s face to no avail – a sculpture depicted what the man might have looked like with a pipe and glasses, and a 1993 drawing portrayed an average-looking man with a square jaw.Joe DiSalvo, the current director of investigations for the Sheriff’s Office, says every investigator to come through the office in the past 25 years has taken a crack at solving the mystery. DiSalvo himself traced the bedspread that was with the body to a Comfort Inn in St. George, Utah.Braudis remembers teletypes about the man being sent to police agencies around the nation and world, with no response.”Everything has been exhausted – identifying the corpse is critical,” Braudis said.Naomi Havlen’s e-mail address is nhavlen@aspentimes.com


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