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 need for guns began after returning from Vietnam. He told Garneau he collected arms and ammunition because “whatever happens, I’ll be ready for it.” The night he was arrested in ’95 at Garfs Moreau informed police that he’d been carrying a gun since he got out of the military in ’69. “Even back then he said, ‘Nobody understands me,’” Garneau says. “He always felt different than everyone else.” In fact, Moreau felt unwell, unbalanced. According to Garneau and a psychologist, Darlene Hoffman, who treated Moreau, he began experiencing Vietnam flashbacks and other symptoms consistent with post-traumatic stress disorder as early as 1979.
Sometime between 1981 and 1994, according to Hoffman, Moreau traveled to the VA Medical Center in Grand Junction about once every six months. The closest VA medical center to Vail, it is 148-mile drive. More than 40,000 veterans from 17-and-a-half counties and three states are under the Grand Junction facility’s area of care. (Last year, it served about 12,000 veterans.) Because Moreau faces a pending criminal trial, a spokesperson for the Department of Veterans Affairs says, the VA cannot release information about Moreau.
In addition to traveling to the Grand Junction VA facility, Moreau sought treatment from psychologist Hoffman, who also lived in the Vail area. According to Hoffman, a mutual friend told her about Moreau, saying, “I know this friend who is really F’d up. He’s the best skier in the Valley.’” And Hoffman adds, “Skiing was what I wanted to do.” She says she took on Moreau as a client at her business, called “Psychotherapy,” in 1996. The two struck a barter system: 50 minutes of ski lessons in return for 50 minutes of therapy. That professional exchange lasted for seven or eight months until, Hoffman says, Moreau stopped making appointments and “phased out. We were friends after that.”
Vail PD was under the impression that Hoffman and Moreau were more than friends. In two Vail police reports, two detectives refer to Hoffman as Moreau’s “girlfriend.” In one of those reports, May 2, 2000, detective Jay Ferguson wrote that “Moreau and his girlfriend, Darlene Hoffman, came into the Vail police department at my request.” In several other Vail PD reports, detectives note that in the wake of the November 1998 sentence stemming from the Hamlet condo incident, which prohibited Moreau from possessing firearms for a year, it was Hoffman who took possession of and stored his guns in her office. In a November 17, 1999 report, a detective Trindle wrote: “I asked Hoffman if she still had Moreau’s two handguns. Hoffman told me she still had the guns. Hoffman says the guns were in her office.”
Hoffman says those police reports that depict her as Moreau’s girlfriend and as the custodian of his firearms are inaccurate. She says that although Moreau “had a major crush on me for years,” they were nothing more than friends, and that she “never stored guns.” As Hoffman puts it, “a long time ago I befriended a Vietnam vet” and that in the wake of the Sandbar shooting her reputation is being “damaged on account of being a good person.” Garneau says Hoffman was closer to Moreau than anyone else in the valley and she was one of the few people who could help his friend.
Apparently, Moreau needed more assistance than he was getting. A little more than a year after the report of shots fired at the Hamlet, Carmen Johnston walked into the bedroom of her cousin’s Lion’s Mane condo in Vail and saw the mirror above the bed was shattered. She spotted a divot in the wall directly opposite the bed. It looked, to Johnston, like a bullet hole. A Vail officer determined Johnston was right—a bullet shot through the wall behind the mirror in her cousin’s bedroom, shattered the glass, bounced off the sheetrock, and landed on a small table across from the bed. The bullet looked like it came from next door. The police checked who was living in the neighboring apartment: Moreau.
Moreau told police he didn’t have anything to do with the shooting. He said an old friend was visiting and accidentally fired the bullet. The cops couldn’t get in touch with Moreau’s friend. One of Moreau’s neighbors told police she saw Moreau a month earlier with four guns. The head of the condo association, too, told police about problems with Moreau: Moreau was pissed off one night at a dinner party for new residents. He overheard a doctor tell someone they couldn’t learn to ski because of a bum knee. Moreau offered to teach the guy and, the condo representative told police, Moreau threatened to kill the doctor.
Moreau permitted police to search his apartment. They found thousands of rounds of ammunition. No guns, though. Still, there was enough evidence to charge Moreau with illegal discharge of a firearm and criminal mischief. He pleaded guilty to both charges in 2001. According to news reports, Moreau “received a deferred sentence” on the felony charge. Part of his sentence was probation—and this time he was prohibited from possessing a firearm for four years.