Chasing A Ghost
For 33 years, no one had been able to solve the homicides of three women, all of who had been assaulted and killed in the same grisly manner just months apart. When detectives from the Denver Police Department’s cold case unit recently reopened the investigations, they not only identified the murderer, but they also found one of the most brutal serial killers in Colorado history.
This article was a 2013 Top of the Rockies Winner in the news feature category.
On an early morning in May 2010, Mylous Yearling made his lunch, kissed his wife goodbye for the day, and reported to the second floor at Denver Police headquarters, where he worked as a detective in the cold case unit. At 41 years old, Yearling was built like a 1970s linebacker: slightly doughy in the middle with large features and a round, clean-shaven head that sprouted from a thick neck and broad, sloping shoulders. He had a neatly trimmed mustache and wore a white dress shirt, a tie, and a dark-blue blazer, which he removed and hung on a coatrack in his cubicle. His black dress shoes were scuffed on the backs of the soles. • Yearling put his lunch in the refrigerator and sat down at his desk, which was flanked on three sides by investigative binders, photos of his two children, and superhero action figures young son, Michael, had given to him as gifts over the years. The Incredible Hulk, dressed in a gangster’s trench coat and holding a Thompson submachine gun, was on Yearling’s left. The detective turned on his desktop computer and followed up on one of the dozen-or-so unsolved cases to which he’d been assigned. The vast majority were homicides and sexual assaults. The smell of stale coffee lingered near an open door where he worked.
As Yearling began his morning, Sergeant Anthony Parisi stopped at his desk with two files, each at least five inches thick. He was holding Yearling’s newest assignments. Both victims were young, black females, and the two had been raped and strangled just seven months apart. The first case involved a 25-year-old named Emma Jenefor, an employee of Warner Brothers Distribution, who was found raped and strangled to death on March 26, 1979, in the bathtub of a rented apartment in Cherry Creek. Police found a radio in the tub, which made it appear as if Jenefor had electrocuted herself. When police searched the house, they found a blue nightgown neatly spread across her bed. Several glasses of water were in the sink. The living room television was on. The front-door safety chain was dangling. Jenefor’s on-and-off boyfriend, who went by the nickname “Hook,” had been a suspect, but 31 years later, there had never been enough evidence for an arrest.
The second case belonged to Peggy Cuff, a 20-year-old who disappeared after her shift at a collections agency in Denver. Her partially nude body was discovered November 3, 1979, five miles from her office, in an alley about nine blocks from the University of Denver campus. The victim had been raped and strangled. The crime scene photographs in Cuff’s file were difficult to look at: Her body, crumpled on the asphalt, was face down just a few feet from a tangle of weeds; her blue corduroy pants were nearly torn from her body. As Yearling studied the photos, he couldn’t escape the thought that it looked as if she’d been discarded like a bag of garbage
Parisi already knew the murders were the work of one man. As the sergeant explained to Yearling, postmortem kits had been saved in the police department’s evidence storage unit in the building’s basement. The kits were small, sealed cardboard canisters and included blood and hair samples, plus swabs taken from the victims’ vaginal areas. In the past few months, suspect DNA had been culled from both kits. The DNA matched.
The idea of a quick clearance on two decades-old murders appealed to Yearling, who’d seen many cases go cold for lack of witnesses or evidence—crimes buried in a grave of musty paperwork and dead-end leads. He reviewed the files, then packed them up. Now, it was Yearling’s job to find the murderer.