Tony Vagneur: Saddle Sore |

Tony Vagneur: Saddle Sore

Tony Vagneur
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

Murder seems to be in the air this season, and whether real or imagined, it brings up thoughts of past tragedies visited on our small community. Murder, a simple word, easy to commit, but there is no going back, not once it’s done.

Shortly after midnight on a warm August night in 1966, good-natured ladies’ man Jim Griffin and his girlfriend either slept or were making love in a two-story house on Waters Avenue, when suddenly, Griffin’s estranged wife could be heard outside. At about the same time, what sounded like two rocks crashed through windows in the house.

Reacting as any person might, adrenaline pumping, Griffin hurried downstairs in an attempt to console his irate wife, from whom he had been estranged for approximately two weeks. None of us can say we knew the wife, a big woman with long, dark flowing hair and a good-looking smile, like he did, so it’s unknown if he approached the door with trepidation in his heart, or rather with anger at being so rudely disturbed in the middle of the night.

As Griffin opened the kitchen door and started outside to assess the situation, he met his wife in the darkened doorway, coming at him with a long, bone-handled hunting knife. And she did a number on him, too, stabbing him at least twice, once in the chest and again in the abdomen.

Apparently the girlfriend, Gay Prior, had followed her lover down to the kitchen, undoubtedly wondering just exactly what was happening. In the dark of night and at the lateness of the hour, she may have had nothing in her mind but curiosity, but it was a deadly posture to take. Mrs. Sonja Griffin looked up from the job she was doing on her husband, and spying the blonde, slender figure of his paramour, changed the direction of her rampage.

Quickly stepping over her downed husband, Sonja violently thrust once to Prior’s chest, directly into the heart, and Ms. Gay Barbara Prior, the lover, was instantaneously killed by the long, sharp cutlass of death. In the time that took, Griffin had regained his feet long enough to seize the knife from his estranged wife and pitch it out the door. He then collapsed, semiconscious, onto the kitchen floor, critically but not mortally wounded.

Mrs. Griffin then fled the scene, driving away in her husband’s Jeep, which had been parked outside. At 12:28 a.m., Aspen Valley Hospital received an anonymous call from a woman, saying an ambulance may be needed on Waters Avenue. “There’s blood all over. Someone might be dead.” According to then-assistant district attorney Albie Kern, the scene was indeed messy. “I never want to see anything like that again.”

Sheriff Carroll Whitmire transported Griffin to the hospital, where he was placed in the intensive care unit, struggling to overcome the wound in his abdomen, which if you think about it, may originally have been more directed at his maleness than anywhere. The police began their investigation, having little to go on other than what Jim Griffin could tell them. Mrs. Griffin was nowhere to be found. Had the police been a little quicker, they might have caught her at home, but she wasn’t there long.

The next morning, as Jim Snobble left his house near the city of Aspen shop under the Castle Creek bridge, he found Mrs. Sonja Griffin lying on the ground in front of her husband’s Jeep, dead from a self-inflicted 30.06 rifle wound to the heart. She’d returned to her apartment for the gun after she had left her husband for dead and murdered his lover.

You have to wonder if she realized the incompleteness of her campaign, or if she pulled the trigger on herself thinking she had completed the trilogy of murder-suicide she had envisioned.

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