A Murder in Vail
"Do you know how long I've been trying not to do this?"
One year ago this month, Richard Moreau went on a shooting spree in a Vail bar and killed a man. It was the first homicide in the posh resort town in three decades. What went wrong? Good question.
Moreau’s Yosemite Sam–style mustache fluttered below his chin as he cut turns down Vail Mountain. A pack of kids, between the ages of six and 15, followed him. The kids called themselves the Flying Purple People Eaters. It was the 1970s, and they were an advanced racing and freeskiing class and Moreau was their coach. Moreau was in his 20s. At 5 feet 6 inches tall, his tree trunk–thick quads could handle skis made for a 6-footer. Snapped into his banana-yellow boots, Moreau owned the mountain as he and his crew maneuvered the Back Bowls. His tight blue ski pants with red stripes down each leg would pop in and out of the trees. “He was pretty cool,” says Berne Krueger, once a member of the Flying Purple People Eaters. “He was fun and a very good skier.”
Growing up in New Hampshire, Moreau’s father had taught him to ski at an early age on the more-frigid and icier slopes of Attitash and Wildcat. Knowing how to hold an edge while snapping a tight turn on the glacial New Hampshire hills made skiing Vail powder seem like a dream. A dream Moreau lived every day he could after he moved to Vail in 1970. He skied Vail Mountain more than 100 days a season—a feat achieved only by ski patrollers and dedicated locals. (By way of comparison, Vail plans to open for 156 days during the 2010–2011 season.)
When he wasn’t teaching Vail’s young daredevils, Moreau would hot-dog it alone. He’d fly down International or Riva Ridge. Speed was his thing. Olympic gold medalist Stein Eriksen, Colorado Buffs’ great Jimmie Heuga, legendary ski-filmmaker Warren Miller: As far as Moreau’s longtime buddy Michael Garneau was concerned, Moreau was better than them all. Even Moreau’s nickname was about skiing. Rossi was short for Rossignol, the premiere ski brand. On the slopes, Moreau was in control. Off the hill, he was a mess.
Inside his small, cluttered Vail apartment, his mind would routinely wipe out. If it weren’t for his cats—whom he referred to as his kids—Moreau might have stayed in bed all day. He popped handfuls of pills daily to fight anxiety and depression. Sometimes the drugs eased his mind. At least twice, however, he grabbed one of his guns, pointed it at himself, and called his friend Garneau in New Hampshire.
Through the receiver, two nights in the late 1970s, Garneau heard Moreau cocking a .45 caliber handgun. Garneau knew the sound well. The noise of a .45 slide moving forward, locking a round in the chamber. Moreau said things like: I’m fucking done, man. I’m gonna do myself tonight. I’m gonna eat this .45. The back of my head is going to be all over the place. Concerned about his friend, Garneau says, he called emergency both times. He told the dispatcher about his troubled friend, said Moreau might snap. From so far away, Garneau says, he felt there wasn’t more he could do. He loved Moreau. Friends since childhood, they’d been through a lot together, including Vietnam.