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Campfire ghost stories, horror movies that’ll make us jump, maybe even a haunted corn maze or two. During spooky season, we all begin to crave a little creepy in our lives, right? But these aren’t your typical campfire ghost stories or tall tales of ghoulish things that go bump in the night. They’re real.
The Watts Family Murder
The story: Chris and Shan’ann Watts appeared to be living an idyllic suburban life in the summer of 2018. The couple was raising two daughters in Frederick and had another child on the way, and they frequently documented their all-American life on Facebook. When a friend didn’t hear from Shan’ann for several hours on August 13, however, the woman contacted local police to report Shan’ann missing. Chris took to the local news to plead for his wife and children’s return, but two days later, he failed a polygraph test.
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The suspect: Like so many spousal murders, Chris Watts’ story begins with infidelity. While appearing to be a doting father, Chris began an affair with one of his coworkers, Nichol Kessinger, in July 2018. Chris told Kessinger he was getting divorced, but never shared that information with Shan’ann. Then, in the early hours of August 13, Chris told Shan’ann that the marriage was unraveling and strangled her to death. After wrapping her in a blanket and sliding her body into the bed of his truck, Chris loaded his two daughters, Bella, 4, and Celeste, 3, into the backseat. He drove to his work site at Anadarko Petroleum, smothered both of his children, and tossed their bodies into oil tanks. Initially, Chris told police that Shan’ann killed their kids, but he later recanted his story and confessed to all three murders. Chris is serving three consecutive and two concurrent life sentences.
Learn more: Watch American Murder: The Family Next Door on Netflix.
The story: In December 1984, 12-year-old Jonelle Matthews got a ride back to her Greeley home from her middle school Christmas concert with her best friend. Matthews’ parents were both away—her mother at the airport, and her father at her sister’s basketball game—so she settled in for a few hours of alone time. She wouldn’t be alone for long. At some point before her father returned that evening, Matthews was taken. Her body was recovered in July 2019 when workers digging a pipeline discovered her remains in a Weld County field. Matthews died from a single gunshot wound to the head still wearing the same clothes she had on the night she vanished.
The suspect: Greeley resident Steve Pankey raised law enforcement’s suspicions early in the case. The day after Matthews disappeared, Pankey took his wife and daughter on a spontaneous trip to California. Along the way, he listened to news reports about the preteen’s disappearance almost obsessively, his ex-wife said in testimony years later. At one point, he even told police he would offer them information about the case in exchange for immunity. After years of making incriminating statements, Pankey was finally indicted in October 2020 even though there was no physical evidence linking him to the crime. The prosecution’s first attempt at conviction ended in a mistrial, but in October 2022, Pankey was sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole after 20 years for the kidnapping and murder of Matthews.
Learn more: Listen to the second season of the Suspect podcast, “Vanished in the Snow.”
The story: Nineteen-year-old Kenia Monge vanished after a night out with friends in LoDo in April 2011. As she was leaving a club, a stranger offered to give Monge a ride home, which she accepted. The next morning, her friends returned Monge’s phone and purse to her parent’s house and reported that they hadn’t heard from her since the night before. Luckily, Monge’s phone contained a clue: a text from the last person who’d seen her alive. “Hey this is Travis, the guy who gave you a ride last night—white creepy van. Did you get home okay?”
The suspect: Travis Forbes, the man who texted Monge, told police he was the one who gave Monge a ride home from downtown but that they never made it all the way there. Instead, Forbes claimed that they stopped at a gas station where Monge met up with another man who offered to take her home. When cops searched the back of Forbes’ van and were met with the overwhelming smell of bleach, however, they suspected his story was phony. Forbes later confessed to raping Monge, strangling her, hiding her body in a bakery freezer where he rented space, and burying her near a railroad track two miles southwest of Keenesburg. Forbes was sentenced to life in prison without parole.
Learn more: Listen to Crime Junkie’s episode “Murdered: Kenia Monge.”
The Coors Kidnapping
The story: The abduction of Adolph Coors III, president of the Coors Brewing Company, was discovered by an irked milkman. It was February 9, 1960, and the delivery driver was attempting to cross a bridge in Morrison when he came across an idling station wagon blocking the road. After his horn didn’t get the driver’s attention, the milkman decided to move the car himself but noticed a blood stain on the road and a cap sitting by the riverbank. The driver reported the abandoned car to police, who quickly learned it belonged to Coors. The following day, Coors’ wife received a ransom note requesting $500,000 for her husband’s safe return. The Coors family secured the money and waited for the kidnapper’s call. It never came.
The suspect: Joseph Corbett Jr., who was going by the alias Walter Osborne, appeared on the police’s radar because of his canary yellow Mercury. Witnesses had seen the car in the vicinity of the bridge multiple times leading up to the abduction, and police were able to trace it back to Corbett, who had a less-than-squeaky-clean record. (He had previously escaped from prison in California, where he had been convicted of murder.) Corbett’s original plot was to solve his financial woes by kidnapping Coors, but planning never was Corbett’s strength. Although there were no witnesses to Coors’ final moments, evidence suggests that Corbett ambushed him on the bridge and then shot him twice in the back when he tried to flee.
Hikers discovered Coors’ body in the woods near Sedalia. Considering the high-profile nature of the crime, Coors’ story appeared in news outlets everywhere—and ultimately led to Corbett’s capture. The convict had fled to Canada where he was recognized by two locals who read about the case in Reader’s Digest. Corbett surrendered to Vancouver police on October 26, 1960, and was sentenced to life in prison. He ended up serving 19 years and lived the rest of his life in an apartment on South Federal Boulevard. He took his own life in August 2009.
Learn more: Read our February 2009 feature, “Anatomy of a Murder.”
The story: Twenty-year-old Elaura Jaquette was a botany student at the University of Colorado Boulder in 1966. In early July, Jaquette was eating lunch outside Macky Auditorium when Joseph Morse, a janitor at the school, lured her to Macky’s west tower. There, Morse raped her and bludgeoned her to death. Morse tried to set Jaquette’s body on fire, but there was so much blood her corpse wouldn’t ignite.
The suspect: Joseph Morse, then 37, was arrested a month after the death of Jaquette. His teenage daughters raised suspicions when they saw Morse carrying a bucket of bloody clothes on the day of the murder, and multiple witnesses say they saw Morse drinking and harassing women at a nearby bar the same day. Police were able to link the custodian to the crime with a bloody handprint on a piece of wood, which was believed to be the murder weapon. Morse was convicted and sentenced to 888 years in prison. He died in 2005.
Learn more: Read the full investigative report from Rocky Mountain Paranormal Research Society.