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.
Welcome to Vail, 8,150 feet: The blue sign with white lettering marks the eastern edge of the Vail Valley, or, depending on which local you ask, the Eagle Valley. Locals consider the 43 miles between Vail Pass and Dotsero a wonderful and most unusual community both bound and awkwardly divided by county lines, the slithering interstate, by the seasons and by class.
I-70 lopsidedly dissects Vail. On the south side of the highway is the village, with its contemporary cobblestone streets, the ski hill, chairlifts, pointy-roofed condos, $40-a-plate-restaurants, pricey boutiques, and gear shops. In the center of the village, near the covered pedestrian bridge, is a towering statue of a 10th Mountain Division soldier, a monument to Vail’s rugged, militaristic roots.
The highway, the condos, the tony retail—when Peter Seibert, a World War II veteran, and Earl Eaton, a Colorado miner, first hiked Vail Mountain in 1957, none of it existed. But the two friends could see it all in their minds’ eye. They envisioned Vail as the perfect place for a ski resort. They raised $1 million selling condos and lifetime ski passes for 10 grand a pop. Construction of a gondola, two lifts, and condos started in the summer of 1962. The hill opened the following December. Four years later, in ’66, Vail incorporated.
Both the ski hill and the town quickly garnered international recognition. The success, or at least part of it, owed to the area’s military history. Camp Hale is located about 20 miles south of Vail. Hale was formed during World War II in order to train 10th Mountain Division troops to fight in an alpine environment. It was while Seibert trained at Camp Hale that he began to see all the area had to offer. He made his way back to Colorado after the war, spent time on the Aspen Mountain Ski Patrol and managing the Loveland Basin Ski Area before he and Eaton launched their little resort project.
Ever since, during Vail’s 44-year history, violent crime has been rare. The night of the Sandbar shooting, Vail police chief Dwight Henninger said, “This is a very safe community. Other than a few shoving matches once in a while, we’re a very safe place. So it’s a real strike to the community, a real blow to us.”
Before that night, the town’s last homicide had been in December 1979. James Heintze moved to Vail after meeting Steve Kirby in Denver. Kirby paid Heintze for sex while visiting the Mile High City and persuaded the jobless guy with a drug problem to move to the mountains with him. Two weeks later, the two started fighting. Heintze beat Kirby to death with a claw hammer. He turned himself in three days after killing his 28-year-old roommate. Convicted of second-degree murder, Heintze was sentenced to 14 years in prison. Start to finish, meeting to murder, it all happened in a matter of weeks. Before that murder it doesn’t appear that Heintze had been on the Vail police radar. Three decades later, Moreau was a different story.