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

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.

In 1978, Vincent Groves was 24 years old and lived in relative obscurity in Denver, where he worked as an electrician at the Gates Rubber Company near downtown. He was 6 feet 5 inches tall with light brown skin and an easy, confident gait. He’d come from a middle-class family in Wheat Ridge, the oldest of three sons born to a postal-worker father and a teacher mother. They lived in a brick home on a gently sloping corner lot that overlooked a neighborhood of ranch-style houses and slowly maturing shade trees. Groves had been a prom king finalist in high school, a member of the student council, and a basketball player on a team that included future National Football League wide receiver Dave Logan. Shortly after Wheat Ridge High School lost the 1972 state championship, Groves enrolled at Coe College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where he played basketball for two years. He dropped out in 1974 and returned to Colorado, where he cared for his elderly grandmother, worked, and spent time with his parents. Although he didn’t consider himself overly religious, he often attended the Baptist church where his father was a deacon and his mother played the organ.

Since leaving college, Groves also lived a secret life. When he was away from his family, Groves drank at a Denver lounge called the New Yorker. Friends began to think he was an alcoholic. At night he cruised a five-mile strip of East Colfax Avenue, a road connecting the Denver-Aurora border notorious for its pay-by-the-hour motels and easy access to drugs. Among his closest acquaintances were pimps and prostitutes, whom Groves often supplied with cocaine. He befriended one prostitute, a 17-year-old named Jeanette Baca, and became her pimp. On June 11, 1978, Baca’s nude body was found dumped a half-mile from a Jefferson County park. Police interviewed Groves, but charges were never filed. Less than a year later, Groves moved in with 21-year-old Norma Jean Halford. On August 24, 1979, a Colorado state trooper discovered Halford’s empty vehicle parked along a mountainous road outside Georgetown. The woman’s body was never found.

Groves eventually moved to a house in Denver and continued pushing cocaine, heroin, and marijuana. He snorted lines of coke while he played poker with friends, among them a petite, attractive bank employee with short hair named Jeanette Hill. The pair had met at church years earlier but only recently had they fallen in love. Hill didn’t seem to care what Groves was doing in his spare time, or perhaps she didn’t know. Groves would have been forgiven for thinking he’d found the perfect woman.

The two soon were living together in a second-floor apartment on Denver’s Pearl Street. By then, Groves had left Gates Rubber and found janitorial work throughout the city. The freedom allowed him to come and go as he pleased, and by early 1981, it was becoming more difficult for Hill to ignore her boyfriend’s behavior. He often disappeared for days at a time. Life wasn’t much better when he was around. One night, just before their wedding on March 23, 1981, someone broke a window to their apartment and left a gun on the sill. It was clearly a threat, perhaps from someone Groves had crossed on the street. Groves panicked and told Hill to pack her clothes. They were moving—right now. The pair drove across town in the middle of the night and moved into his parents’ home in Wheat Ridge. A few weeks later, on their wedding night, Hill slept while her new husband got high.

Of the eight or nine detectives in Denver’s cold case unit, perhaps none relished the hunt more than Mylous Yearling. He’d been a fast riser through other police units, particularly because of his investigations into sexual assaults, where he used DNA to help solve some of Denver’s most appalling cases. In 2005, Yearling helped find a forensic link to Brent Brents, a serial rapist who terrorized the city. Fewer than three years later, Yearling tied a series of sexual assaults to Michael Lollis, who’d attacked nine women in Denver and Arapahoe County. After more than a decade on the police force—working his way from car No. 613 patrolling the west Denver neighborhood where he’d lived as a toddler, to his job now—Yearling was often reminded of what his mother once said to him: He was meant to be a light in the darkness. Before he’d leave for work in the morning, his children told him to catch the bad guys. Like the fictional superheroes on his desk, Yearling knew he was made to protect others. There seemed to be a destiny to his work. Shortly after Yearling joined the police department, his wife, Shellie, gave him a gold necklace with the Superman emblem attached to it. The golden “S” hung just above Yearling’s heart, and he wore it to work every day.

With the suspect DNA match from Peggy Cuffs and Emma Jenefor’s postmortem kits already recorded, authorities began a search for a “forensic unknown” in the federally operated Combined DNA Index System. The index, also called CODIS, was created in the mid-1990s as a collection site for the DNA profiles of convicted felons across the country. While forensic scientists had often used biological markers—such as blood groups—to help identify suspects, the advent of DNA typing in the 1980s produced something far deeper, a spectacularly unique biological code police could use to mine for leads. Now CODIS had millions of DNA profiles. Yearling and Parisi waited for a suspect’s name. It never came.

Yearling couldn’t understand why a DNA record didn’t exist in CODIS. From studying serial rapists for years, he knew most of them eventually slipped up and got caught. Yearling hypothesized that maybe the suspect had been in the military and was stationed overseas, thereby making himself ineligible for inclusion in the forensic database. Or maybe the man died before CODIS began collecting DNA profiles. Had he simply stopped raping and killing? That seemed unlikely.

Yearling switched to another lead—Jenefor’s boyfriend, “Hook.” Yearling pored over hundreds of pages. He learned Hook drank heavily and had trouble keeping a job. Hook could become violent when he was drunk, Jenefor’s friends told investigators in 1979. Jenefor had been so frightened of him, she gave his address and phone number to a female friend. If anything happened to her, Jenefor explained to the woman, police needed to find Hook. When investigators first interviewed him, the man was 29. He was 6 feet tall and had a medium build. He belonged to a motorcycle gang. About two weeks after Jenefor’s murder, he failed a polygraph test. Yearling held the examiner’s report in his hands. Near the bottom of the typed-out paper were the words “subject not cleared.”

Something confounded Yearling about his new suspect, though. If Hook had murdered Jenefor—and Peggy Cuff, given the DNA match—there was nothing in his criminal record that would have led anyone to believe he had committed the two murders. Yearling had learned much during his time on the police force, including the fact that most rapists and murderers didn’t begin with rapes and murders. Most often, there was a clear pattern that eventually led to something big: maybe arson, or a series of felony assaults. Studying Hook’s record, Yearling saw only DUIs, simple assaults, disturbing the peace, and drinking in public. On the spectrum of criminal activity, these weren’t much more than stupid mistakes. Could Hook have killed his girlfriend in a fit of rage? Maybe. Would he then have sought out a stranger to rape and strangle? Probably not. Yearling drove past the brick house where Jenefor’s body was found; he stopped in the alley where Cuff was dumped near a worn garage. None of it made sense.

Yearling periodically ran Hook’s name through the National Crime Information Center database, and in the spring of 2011, roughly a year after taking on the cases, he finally got a hit. Hook had been arrested on a felony charge in Aurora. A year earlier, Colorado became the 19th state to adopt Katie’s Law—named after a New Mexico woman who’d been raped and murdered in 2003—which required a DNA sample from anyone who’d been the subject of a felony arrest, rather than a felony conviction. Hook’s DNA profile would be uploaded to the DNA database in six weeks. Yearling’s boss, Anthony Parisi, circled the date on the calendar on his office wall. On June 23, 2011, he checked the database. Hook didn’t match.

Yearling viewed the never-ending streams of cold cases on his desk as if they were broken spiderwebs. Each was dangling by a few precious threads, and each thread was part of a complicated tapestry he had to connect, one fragile piece at a time. In these two cases, he now worried, the web might never be reconstructed. He went back to the reports. The detective began having trouble sleeping. Each morning, Yearling drove to work, took the elevator to the second floor, and for a moment, thought about those dead women.

By the summer of 1981, Vincent Groves and his wife, Jeanette Hill, were arguing frequently. On August 14, 1981, the couple was fighting again, this time about a fishing trip Groves planned to take with two friends and their 17-year-old daughter, Tammy Sue Woodrum. Groves was taking a camper, which was attached to the bed of a pickup truck parked outside. Hill pleaded with him to allow her to come along. Groves refused, grabbed the keys to the truck, and said he’d be back.

The next morning, Hill was home sick from work when Groves appeared at the house. He had something to tell her, but he wouldn’t do it there; he needed to tell her in the mountains. Did he have sex with the teenage girl? Was their marriage over? Hill walked outside and waited for an explanation. Groves told her to get in the pickup, which was still connected to the camper. She complied; Groves started the engine and pulled away. He was silent as he drove toward the foothills. He finally made a turn onto a meandering country road near the town of Deckers. By then, it seemed to Hill, they’d been driving forever.

Somewhere outside the town, Groves finally began to speak. And then he started to cry. The fishing trip with the friends was true, he told Hill, but first he picked up Woodrum and the two went to Boulder to score some cocaine. When they’d gotten the stash, they drove toward Fraser—about 90 miles away—and pulled off the road. One thing led to another, Groves said, and the girl started shooting up. But she couldn’t handle it. Something had gone wrong, Groves sobbed. She overdosed. She was dead.

Hill wanted to jump out of the truck and run. The girl, where was the girl? Groves looked at his wife. The teenager’s body, he said, was in the camper.

Back in March 2010, Anthony Parisi had applied for a grant, “Solving Cold Cases with DNA,” from the National Institute of Justice, which was approved in September of the same year. In 2011, Denver Police’s cold case unit sorted through 600 postmortem kits and reopened 266 unsolved homicide investigations from 1970 to 1984. Parisi immediately started reviewing cases and gathered mental notes on others. One in particular caught his attention: the rape and strangulation of Joyce Ramey, a 23-year-old prostitute from Denver. Her body was discovered on July 4, 1979, in a field near the Rocky Mountain Arsenal, northeast of downtown. She’d been sexually assaulted and strangled. Although Ramey was white and lived a high-risk lifestyle, the year and manner of death were identical to both the Cuff and Jenefor murders. Like Cuff, Ramey’s body had been dumped.

The sergeant delivered the file to Mylous Yearling’s desk. Inside were photographs of Ramey’s body—hands above her head, legs stretched out. Yearling opened the file and studied the photos. Bruises and scrapes covered her calves, her back, her right buttocks, her hip, her neck. Blood soaked the back of her head. It looked like Ramey fought like hell. On her left ring finger was a white metal ring with a blue stone.

Yearling turned to his computer and pulled up a map. The site where Ramey’s body was dumped—an area southeast of East 56th Avenue and Havana Street—was now a jumble of loading docks, and strips of asphalt and concrete. The detective typed Ramey’s name into a Google search. After a few minutes clicking through different websites, Yearling stumbled upon a message board devoted to cold case investigations. In one comment thread dedicated to unsolved Colorado homicides, he found a simple who-what-when on a young woman who disappeared in August 1979. Her name was Norma Jean Halford. Yearling scrolled down the page and found a copied and pasted, 21-year-old newspaper story that included Ramey’s name on a list of women who were murdered or disappeared across the Denver metro area from 1979 to 1988. According to police at the time, the story said, one man might have been responsible: a man named Vincent Groves.

At his wife’s urging, Groves turned himself in to Lakewood police and eventually was convicted of second-degree murder after his Tammy Sue Woodrum drug-overdose story fell apart. Forensic evidence showed Woodrum had been beaten, raped, and strangled. In court, evidence proved that Woodrum was drug-free when she was killed; prosecutors showed marks on the teenager’s skin matched Groves’ belt. Groves was sentenced to 12 years in prison in the summer of 1982. Between teaching classes to inmates and taking college classes of his own, Groves received intermittent prison visits from his wife, who asked for a confession. Groves refused, and she soon filed for divorce. By 1985, she was finally free.

Two years later, on February 13, 1987, Groves was released from prison under mandatory parole. He’d served five years when he arrived back in Denver, where he discovered that his family still supported him. His father gave him a blue 1978 AMC Concord, and Groves worked for a time as a church janitor, then as a department store janitor. The work kept him moving through the Mile High City, often late at night, and he quickly reacquainted himself with life on East Colfax Avenue.

Groves frequented a strip between York Street and an area just beyond the Denver city limits—a mishmash of drive-up motels, drug dealers, and booze spots. Prostitutes took notice of Groves’ Concord, and he moved among the women with ease. In March of 1987, he picked up a twentysomething prostitute named Shelia Washington, who was working an area near Colfax. Groves offered her $200, which he planned to pay with 10 $20 bills he said he’d won at the dog track. Washington agreed. Before they went to her motel, they bought $100 in crack cocaine. Groves paid.

Inside Room 8 at the El Patio Motel on Colfax, Groves stripped down to his boxers, and Washington began to remove her clothes. He told her to stop at her bra and panties. He liked to take those off himself, he said. As he sat on the bed later, he watched Washington take hits from a crack pipe and said he wanted to show her how he used to get high in college. It was easy, Groves told her. Take a hit, hold it in, close your eyes, count to 30.

Washington put the pipe to her lips and took a drag. She held her breath. Then, slowly, she began to close her eyes. Groves now was standing in front of her. He towered over the 5-foot-3-inch woman. As Washington’s lungs filled with smoke, Groves inched closer.

Suddenly, she felt hands on her throat. Washington opened her eyes and screamed. He quickly overpowered her. She thrashed. One of her feet hit a glass coffee table in the room, and it landed with a crash on the floor. Groves squeezed harder. Washington could feel herself losing consciousness. Her body was going limp. And then everything went dark.

Once he’d discovered the name “Vincent Groves,” Mylous Yearling was certain he had found the killer. In late September 2011, a cursory check of the Internet, old newspaper clippings, and police files fueled his hunch. All he was missing was a DNA link between Joyce Ramey and his other two cases. Then he would need Vincent Groves’ DNA. Yearling thought the last step was easy enough.

The detective plugged Groves’ name into the Accurint database and began scrolling through information. The particulars were straightforward: name, date of birth, and an address. There was just one problem.

A man staying in Room 10 at the El Patio Motel heard the fight between Shelia Washington and Vincent Groves, and kicked open the woman’s door. There, he saw Groves, half-naked, standing over the prostitute. Groves threw on his khaki pants and furiously gathered his other clothes. Washington pulled herself off the floor, grabbed a broom, and chased Groves out the door and toward a sidewalk.

About a week later, she called Aurora and Denver police to report the assault, but she didn’t know Groves’ name. A year later, in August 1988, Washington flagged down a police car when she saw her attacker driving his blue vehicle on East Colfax Avenue. An officer stopped Groves, but only questioned him briefly and then let him go.

Around the same time, 28 investigators from multiple jurisdictions had begun looking into nearly 20 unsolved murders they thought were connected to Groves. Most of the women were prostitutes; nearly all had been sexually assaulted and strangled. In some cases, Groves was the last person seen with the victim. In others, Groves supplied drugs to the women. During their investigations, police also learned of attacks on other prostitutes, including the one on Shelia Washington.

On September 1, 1988, police arrested Groves near the corner of South Colorado Boulevard and East Mexico Avenue on an attempted first-degree murder charge in the Washington case. As part of the arrest, investigators also wanted to question Groves about the series of unsolved murders. Police interviewed his parents, his new girlfriend, and his ex-wife, among others. His vehicle was taken to an auto repair shop, where it was searched and vacuumed. Officers collected hairs they found in the car. During an interview with investigators that stretched past midnight, Groves told police Washington had stolen $1,600 from him. He never tried to choke her, he contended. When an investigator asked about the slew of dead women, Groves admitted he knew many of them. He identified a prostitute he’d been with, claimed he knew the killer of one woman, and looked at a photo of another victim. “You’ve done your homework,” he told the investigator. “It looks real bad for me.”

Prosecutors tried to introduce details of eight murders before Groves’ attempted-murder trial began in Denver District Court in early 1989—thinking, in part, the unsolved strangulation deaths could help show a pattern leading up to the Washington attack. A judge rejected the motion. During his trial, Groves’ attorney said his client tussled with Washington, but there wasn’t physical evidence that he’d tried to strangle her. He argued that prosecutors based their entire case on claims from an drug-using prostitute who’d by then been sentenced to three years in prison for cocaine possession. As far as the defense attorney was concerned, this was a run-of-the-mill assault that shouldn’t have made it out of county court. The case against Groves fell apart. On February 16, 1989, it took a jury only 90 minutes to acquit him.

Groves was hardly cleared, though. The earlier, multijurisdictional investigation netted other cases. In Adams County, investigators linked Groves’ DNA pattern to 19-year-old prostitute Juanita Lovato, whose naked body was found in April 1988 in a field near Strasburg, east of Denver. In Douglas County, Groves was charged with the murder of a 25-year-old prostitute named Diann Mancera, whose body was dumped a year earlier along I-25, just west of Parker. DNA banding found in the woman’s underwear matched the pattern in Groves’ DNA structure. The two cases became bellwethers for forensic evidence in Colorado.

Groves was convicted in both cases in 1990 and sentenced to life. He was already in poor health. He had hepatitis C and suffered from chronic liver problems. In 1996, his body began to shut down. Groves was moved in and out of hospitals. In the fall of that year, Lakewood Police interviewed him. Investigators asked about the 1987 death of Zabra Mason, a 19-year-old former honors student from Denver who was due for a job interview the day she was found slumped in her vehicle in a field off West Colfax Avenue. Groves earlier admitted that his bank, Bank Western, was near where Mason’s car was found. The investigators told Groves he could clear his conscience and give the young woman’s family some closure. Whatever information he might have had, he clearly planned to take it to his grave. Groves died October 31, 1996, at University Hospital in Denver. He was 42 years old.

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.”

Several months later, the Denver Police lab officially confirmed the DNA match between Vincent Groves and DNA found in the Cuff and Jenefor cases. In January of this year, the lab connected DNA in Joyce Ramey’s case to Groves—a link Parisi called months earlier. Yearling, meanwhile, investigated the death of a 35-year-old prostitute named Pamela Montgomery, who was strangled and dumped in a north Denver alley in the early morning hours of August 14, 1988. There was no suspect DNA in her case, but a witness at the time told police he heard a poorly tuned vehicle in the alley behind his home, then saw a tall black man pull a body out of the car. Shortly after Groves’ AMC Concord was impounded following his arrest in the summer of 1988, the witness in Montgomery’s case was taken to the auto repair shop where it was stored. The witness vaguely recognized the car, and he asked to hear the engine. It made a distinct chugging sound—identical to the one in the alley.

On February 9, 2012, the Denver District Attorney’s Office cleared all four cases. Including his previous convictions, Groves officially had been connected to seven murders and would hold the dubious distinction of being Colorado’s most prolific serial killer. How many more women died at his hands was a question Parisi and Yearling knew they would never answer. The 1988 investigation suspected Groves of at least a dozen more cases that remained unsolved. Perhaps most frightening was that Peggy Cuff and Emma Jenefor never even showed up on that list.

Yearling and Parisi reached out to victims’ families; only Pamela Mongomery’s failed to respond. On Valentine’s Day this year, the two men put on their suits and spent the day meeting with the families inside a second-floor conference room at police headquarters downtown. The room overlooked a parking lot and a few bail-bonds shops. Yearling and Parisi sat across a large rectangular table from the relatives and were joined by a representative from the Denver District Attorney’s Office and a victims’ advocate from the police department. The men explained the cold case unit’s work over the past few years, and told mothers and fathers and sisters and brothers about Vincent Groves. For Joyce Ramey’s family, the information was hardly a surprise. Groves had been linked to that murder for decades—though the woman’s parents seemed relieved there was finally confirmation. Yearling and Parisi called Peggy Cuff’s brother, who lived outside Colorado. Yearling spoke into the conference room phone. “We wanted to let you know that we didn’t give up,” he told the man.

The last meeting was with Emma Jenefor’s sister. She never expected the news. Yearling and Parisi could see the confusion on her face. What brought Groves into her sister’s life? Why did he choose her? There were no answers. After the meeting, Parisi returned to his office. The day had been among the most emotionally draining of his career, and he realized just how profoundly the cases affected him. Parisi had come to know them as Peggy and Emma and Joyce—and now Pamela—but as he stood alone in his office, Parisi felt empty. On his desk was a three-ring binder with file numbers connected to hundreds of unsolved cases: more victims, more police reports, more confused families. Parisi wanted to solve them all, but he knew that was an impossibility.

Yearling went home and took his wife to dinner. He rarely explained the details of his work to her; he thought the day-to-day of investigating rapes and murders was too grisly for someone who didn’t deal with it regularly. Even in this case, perhaps the greatest triumph of his career, he kept the information to a minimum. Instead, he told his wife he loved her.

Months later, after news reports of Yearling’s work made their way around the world, the detective continued to think about the women. Even with the uncertainty over the years—the agonizing stops and starts to the investigation—Yearling couldn’t get over the feeling he had been blessed. Blessed to be a police detective. Blessed with the opportunity to solve those murders. Blessed with the chance to sit across from those families.

Yearling was now 43 years old, and he’d begun to think the Groves case was perhaps not the one that he imagined his career was leading toward. Instead, it was just one in a series of hundreds he hoped to solve in his lifetime—each no more important than the last; the last no more important than the first. But still, he couldn’t help but think there was something special about the Groves investigation, something intrinsically valuable about that chase. He had never been more certain that this job was his fate. After all, it was right there in Yearling’s case file on Groves, a black-and-white affirmation that perhaps his mother was right; he was meant to be a light in the darkness. The day after Vincent Groves died 16 years ago, Mylous Yearling began his first class at the police academy.