Feature

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.

October 2012

I’ve been chasing a dead man? Mylous Yearling thought to himself as he stared at the computer screen on his desk. He couldn’t believe it. Since he became a detective, Yearling had thought his career was leading to something monumental—that each new case had been like a mental exercise designed to build his investigative muscles. Petty crimes led to thefts, which led to assaults, which led to rapes, which led to cases like these. He’d been searching for a faceless murderer for the better part of 19 months, but now that Yearling felt he was on the precipice of a resolution, he’d never get the satisfaction of seeing the man himself. He’d replayed the scene hundreds of times in his mind—the moment when he came face-to-face with the killer, when Yearling finally got to ask the one question that had bothered him since the first day he opened those files: Why did you do it?

Despite the setback, the detective kept chasing Groves, if only on paper and in the laboratory. He still needed to clear the cases. Yearling emailed the Colorado Bureau of Investigation on September 17, 2011, and requested Groves’ DNA profile through the federal database. It didn’t exist. Groves had died just before DNA screening became mandatory.

Yearling considered his options. From another online search, he learned Groves’ father, and a brother, had died within the past decade. That left one surviving brother. From previous cases, Yearling knew a male sibling’s DNA was admissible in court as a stand-in for a suspect. Or perhaps Yearling could get a judge’s order to exhume Groves’ body, wherever it was buried.

There was yet another option. From reading through his files, Yearling knew Groves’ DNA existed somewhere as part of his previous murder convictions. On October 5, 2011, Yearling and Anthony Parisi met with police and sheriff’s investigators from Aurora, Arapahoe County, and Jefferson County as part of an investigation into female body dumps across the region. Yearling asked if anyone was working on a Groves-related case that might include DNA evidence. Nothing was active, the investigators told the pair, but someone suggested that Lakewood Police might have saved Groves’ DNA profile from the 1981 Tammy Sue Woodrum murder. Yearling called Lakewood immediately. A sergeant there tracked down Groves’ decades-old DNA report and said he’d email it over.

Yearling printed the email and raced back to his cubicle. He pulled the suspect DNA profile that connected the Peggy Cuff and Emma Jenefor cases, and set it on his desk next to the Lakewood report. Yearling’s eyes darted among the pages. Because the write-ups were done by different labs 30 years apart, they weren’t exactly alike. Still, Yearling had worked enough DNA cases that he could figure out at least a portion of the jumbled forensic coding. One set of numbers. One match. Another set of numbers. Another match. More numbers. More matches. About halfway through the reports, Yearling stopped, pushed himself away from his desk, and grabbed a yellow highlighter. He looked at the papers again. Match. Highlight. Match. Highlight. Match. Highlight.

He jumped up, rushed down the hall to the elevator, and pushed a button for the sixth-floor crime laboratory. When the doors opened, Parisi was walking around the corner. The two nearly collided. To the sergeant, it looked as if Yearling had just matched a winninglotto ticket. The detective waved several pieces of paper in the air. Parisi trusted Yearling’s instincts, he said, but he too wanted confirmation from the lab.

Yearling waited a couple of minutes inside the crime lab’s lobby, but it felt like an hour. An analyst finally showed up, took the papers, and studied them for a few moments. The lab would have to do its own examination, the analyst said, but the coding appeared to match. Yearling had just solved the cases.

The detective smiled, walked back to the hallway, and wanted to scream. Yearling couldn’t wait for the elevator to come. He ran four flights back to the cold case unit and stopped in the doorway of Parisi’s office. The sergeant was sitting behind his desk. Yearling held the pieces of paper to the sides of his face and smiled. “We got him.”

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