It was naive of me to think I could just sit down and throw together a post about murders in Left Hand Canyon. I'm not into true crime shows or podcasts. I don't know how those writers do it. With each new detail I read, the stories just became more sad and bleak. I felt like a ghoul as I uncovered each new tale of a life lost.
So why even bother? Shouldn't things in the past just stay in the past? The blood on the trail has long since faded into the dirt under our tires. When we go out in those woods on our mountain bikes we experience pure joy and happiness. Should that be tainted by the notion that on the very same spot, some people experienced the brutal last moments of their lives?
I don't have any of these answers. But I started to feel that if we are going to dance on graves we should at least be aware that the graves are there. Ok, maybe not graves, but at least crime scenes. I'm not going to get into the details of each crime, you can click the links if you'd like to read more. As you'll see, two of the locations are pretty obvious, while two others are simply "near a trail head," or, "on a trail not far from the road."
We can start right where a ride would start. A mile west of Buckingham park at the spot where the river crosses Left hand Canyon Drive there is a dirt pull off. These days it will be tightly packed with thirty cars with racks and pick up trucks with Dakine tailgate covers. But on September first of 1977 it was quiet and warm. Pause for a moment to picture Boulder in 1977.
|Pearl Street Mall circa 1977|
On that day, 17 year-old Michelle Jones told her dad she was going up the road to wash her truck in the river at the dirt lot. She left Boulder and drove her Toyota pick up into Left Hand with a bucket and some rags. After a few hours had passed her family became worried and went up to check on her. Her truck was still there, but she was laying in the river dead from a gunshot would in the head. Her killer was never found, and Michelle remains as one of Colorado's many unsolved murders.
|Left Hand parking lot, looking towards the river|
As you start riding into the trails, near the trail head, you might pass the spot where Carol Murphy was found in 1987. Her ex-husband had invited her to a picnic in the woods that day. Her body was found by hikers with her throat cut. Kevin Elmarr, her ex-husband was convicted and is serving a life sentence for the crime.
Another body found out on the trails was that of Natalie Mirabel. Her 1999 murder has drawn the most attention, and it was featured as an episode of True Detective in 2017. She died from blunt force trauma to the head before she was decapitated. Her husband claims he is innocent, despite the fact he was cheating on her and had taken out a large life insurance policy in her name. The story gets a little complicated, and I found myself actually reading the blog he wrote from prison. I can't say whether he is guilty, or an innocent man behind bars, but the sad fact remains that a young woman died brutally at the age of twenty-four.
|Shell casings litter the ground at the old shooting ranges|
We know Left Hand Canyon used to be a popular spot for recreational target shooting. Road markers are riddled with bullet holes, and piles of cartridges are all over the place. This next incident occurred a short walk from the road, so it was probably in the valley under the Indiana Jones trail, where the slack-liners set up. In August 1990, five friends were out shooting when a blue car parked on the road and a man got out and approached them. He claimed he was an off-duty park ranger who wanted to inspect their weapons. The stranger gathered the weapons and wrote down the serial numbers. Then he ordered the men to walk down the valley towards the road. They walked along the narrow path with steep banks on either side. That's when he opened fire on the men, shooting them in the back.
Micheal Bell had recently escaped from a prison in Canon City. I assume his trip to Left Hand was to score some weapons. In that narrow gulch, he killed two men and severely wounded another. The others scrambled for their lives over the loose rocks as he shot at them.
|An awful place to run for your life|
There is one last murder I could mention, it's actually one we should all know about. Hopefully locals know where the name Left Hand comes from. We have Left Hand Brewery and over a dozen other business's named Left Hand. The town of Niwot ties into all of these as well. Niwot is the Arapaho word for Left Hand. Chief Niwot was the tribal leader of the Arapaho people who lived along the front range of Colorado.
Chief Niwot tried really hard to let his people live peacefully with the white settlers and miners who were flooding into his land. He learned to speak english and negotiated treaties time and time again with the whites. It's hard to believe, but the white people kept breaking the agreements and taking more and more land from the Chief Niwot. Eventually, the early Coloradans adopted a "No Indians is good Indians" policy and forced the entire tribe to relocate to eastern Colorado in the Sand Creek area.
|A drawing from an eye witness|