DNA profiling

People who kill become confident after the passage of years. Many have moved to other regions of the country away from where they committed their crimes. Some have gone on to raise families and become accepted and respectable members of their community. In many cases, the original investigators have moved on in their careers, retired or died, according to Richard H. Walton, author of “Cold Case Homicides: Practical Investigative Techniques.”

While those who murdered may try to forget and put their past behind them, others have not. Family and friends of the murder victim never forget. Neither does law enforcement. Suspects who thought they got away with crimes in the past didn’t anticipate DNA or computer databanks. Many in law enforcement believe that DNA is the most significant advancement in criminal identification since the fingerprint, notes Walton.

While DNA is often used to link suspects to crime scenes, it can also be used to identify missing persons like Roger Ellison. Every single cell in our bodies contains DNA, the genetic material that programs how cells work. Here’s the kicker – 99.9 percent of human DNA is the same in everyone. That means only 0.1 percent of our DNA is unique. Each human cell contains three billion DNA base pairs. Our unique DNA, 0.1 percent of 3 billion, amounts to 3 million base pairs. This is more than enough to provide profiles that accurately identify a person. The only exception is identical twins, who share 100 percent identical DNA, according to the Genetic Science Learning Center at the University of Utah.

Nuclear DNA comes from the cell nucleus and is inherited from both parents. A lesser known form of DNA testing called Mitochondrial DNA is only inherited from the mother. Scientists usually test nuclear DNA first. The problem is that nuclear DNA can be easily damaged by extreme heat and other conditions. Mitochondrial DNA can often be found in very small or damaged DNA samples and is used as a backup when other test results are inconclusive. The DNA testing process is lengthy, sometimes taking months. Despite scientists’ best efforts, some testing may not prove successful, according to the National Institute of Justice website.    

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National Institute of Justice

 

The Colorado Bureau of Investigation is currently conducting DNA testing on human remains found in Chaffee County, Colo., to see if it’s a match with Roger. The unidentified John Doe is estimated to be about 17 years old with a similar build. Scraps of clothing found near the bones resemble what Roger was last seen wearing on the day he disappeared.

When analyzing bones, a forensic anthropologist must first determine what the person’s gender is. Generally, males have larger bodies and heavier bones than females. Growth and development of teeth and bones proceeds at a fairly predictable pace, so it’s not too hard to estimate the biological age of a growing child within a narrow range. Race, on the other hand, can be difficult to determine because living populations have few clear distinguishing features and most of those are soft-tissue features. Height is calculated using the measured length of a long bone such as an arm or leg. Weight is difficult to estimate, but clothing may give way to some clues, says Walton.

Every person’s skeleton is unique due to genetics, growth and development, health, nutrition and lifestyle. In Roger’s case, a previously fractured leg may prove helpful in making a positive identification.

Read how DNA samples are helping to crack cold cases on the America’s Most Wanted website at AMW.com | DNA Samples Help Crack Cold Cases.

Lori

Coming up: Profile of a killer

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A case for murder

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Source: Cold Case Homicides: Practical Investigative Techniques by Richard H. Walton. Walton is a seasoned law enforcement veteran who found himself on a 13-year quest in which he reactivated perhaps America’s oldest active homicide investigation involving a series of murders and alleged rapes set amidst official corruption in the heart of the Prohibition era in 1925.

 

It’s not uncommon for missing person cases to turn into homicides. The problem is that cases like Roger Ellison’s may languish in a state of limbo until a body is found. Cold case investigations can be stalled for years due to the inability to recover the body which can give investigators valuable clues into how the victim died. 

It’s long been regarded in homicide investigations that time is of the essence. If a murder wasn’t solved within the first 24 to 72 hours, the chances of solving the case greatly diminished. Today, modern cold case investigators are using the passage of time to their advantage.

Here’s how:

·         Relationships change over time. The friendship that once existed between the perpetrator and those with knowledge of the crime may have ended or become adversarial.

 

·         Religion may have entered the life of someone with information or knowledge of the crime causing them to come forward with what they know.

 

·         People also mature. Witnesses may have moved away from the influence of the perpetrator and lifestyle that existed at the time of the murder. They may have married, raised a family and become a better person.

 

·         Witnesses no longer fear the perpetrator. This may be due to time having made the witness a stronger person or the perpetrator a weaker person.

Often times, people want to tell what they know but can’t bring themselves to pick up the phone and call the police. Do you have direct knowledge of Roger Ellison’s disappearance and were never questioned by the police? Click on the Contact link and send me an email. Your tip could be the crucial piece of information that finally cracks the case. For more details, check out “Inside A Reporter’s Notebook” and read the Cold Case Timeline.

Lori

Coming up: Advances in technology

Suicide theory debunked

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“Aspen had much better snow conditions than Telluride did … we had some pretty good results at that race. I remember thinking, doggone it Roger, you better have a good excuse for missing this still not believing he could possibly be gone for good, but also thinking there is something seriously wrong here because Roger wasn’t about to miss this race.”       – Mike Sutherland, Roger Ellison’s Ski Coach

  

The idea that Roger Ellison committed suicide is absolutely ludicrous, said Mike Sutherland, the head coach and director of racing at Powderhorn during the time Roger disappeared.

Statistically speaking, ski racers hit their prime at the age of 27. That meant Roger still had 10 good years in him before he was past his prime. He never would have quit, according to Sutherland.

Old newspaper articles dating back to the time Roger disappeared characterized him as being depressed after he failed to make the U.S. Ski ‘B’ Team during tryouts held in Telluride the weekend before his disappearance.

Sutherland was one of the last people Roger spent time with before he mysteriously vanished on Tuesday, February 10, 1981. He acknowledged that there was a ski meet in Telluride on Saturday and Sunday, February 7th and 8th, but it was not a tryout for the U.S. Ski Team.

He described Roger as being in a good mood that weekend despite being disappointed about his ski racing performance. Icy course conditions and a lack of snow due to a drought that year contributed to Roger’s lackluster showing on the hill. In fact, none of the ski racers who took part in the Telluride meet did very well.

Over the course of the weekend, nothing was out of place. Roger, Sutherland and two others ate their meals and bunked down at a house in Telluride belonging to Sutherland’s grandmother and then went straight to the lift each day. Ski racing consumed the entire day and Roger had no vehicle to drive anywhere. His whereabouts were accounted for 24/7. He was focused on skiing the whole time, Sutherland said.

By the end of the meet, Roger and Sutherland talked about the upcoming Aspen race to be held the following weekend. Roger had already paid his entry fee and was making arrangements with Sutherland for transportation and lodging. There were no indications that Roger was planning to run away or harm himself.

Evidence suggests that Roger did not leave voluntarily. He left the family home with only the clothes he was wearing, $3 for lunch and a backpack full of books, nothing else – not his prized skis, money from his bank account or his motorcycle or car. He also paid a dormitory deposit at Western State College in Gunnison, Colo., for the fall semester and was trying to secure a scholarship at the time of his disappearance.

Share your thoughts on my blog or send tips by clicking on the Contact link. I don’t need your name but I do need your information. Let’s crack this case.

Lori

Coming up: A case for murder

 

 

 

 

 

House of secrets

Roger Ellison was reportedly seen on the Pash property on several occasions prior to his disappearance on the morning of February 10, 1981. What happened after that is unknown. Cops dug up the backyard and no human remains were found. Could they have missed something, or was Roger buried in the crawl space underneath the house? Research indicates that killers sometimes use crawl spaces to dispose of bodies. Case in point: Serial killer John Wayne Gacy murdered 33 young men and boys burying most of their bodies in the crawl space beneath his suburban Chicago home, and more recently the body of a college student from West Virginia was found in a crawl space at an apartment building where she lived.

I drove to the former Pash house one Saturday afternoon in search of answers. Upon my arrival, the first thing I noticed was the front entrance facing east. It ran parallel to Highway 65, a somewhat busy two lane highway even back then, and the only main road leading in and out of town. The driveway entrance also faced east with access to the property off of Highway 65. Suppose a murder had been committed. There would have been limited opportunity to carry out the crime and dispose of the body through the front entrance during daylight hours without being seen.

I walked up to the front door and knocked. An elderly gentleman answered the door and invited me in. As it turned out, he was well aware of the Roger Ellison investigation because he was the county coroner the year Roger disappeared.

For the next two hours, the homeowner took me through the house which was being renovated and showed me every nook and cranny, including the basement crawl space. While replacing the floor joists in the kitchen and bath area on the north side of the house a few years back, the homeowner said he saw a depression of what looked like the body of a teenager in a fetal position in the dirt below the floor in the crawl space. He called investigators who returned to the house and excavated the crawl space. No human remains were reportedly found.

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 Stairs leading into the basement.          

 

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Basement crawl space searched by police for the remains of Roger Ellison who disappeared on February 10, 1981. 

Inside the kitchen area was a framed north facing opening that in all likelihood was a kitchen window in the Pash house. I also noticed what appeared to be two north facing windows on the wall next to the staircase leading up to the second floor. They were boarded up and closed off and it’s unclear whether they were functioning windows in 1981. There was another north facing window in a sun porch off of a second floor bedroom with clear views of the high school’s south entrance. A rock wall about three feet high ran parallel to the Pash property on the north and Cedaredge High School on the south separating the two lots. A group of school kids nicknamed the ‘rockwallers’ used the wall for smoke breaks before and after school and in between classes. With an abundance of north facing windows in close proximity to the rock wall, it’s highly unlikely that Roger’s disappearance went unnoticed. 
 
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 A north facing window that has been boarded up and closed off.       

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A second floor sun porch window with views of the south entrance at Cedaredge High School. 

While interviewing the homeowner, I discovered one more place of interest on the former Pash property that hasn’t been searched. I am following up on that lead and will post more information as it becomes available. For a detailed cold case timeline, check out “Inside A Reporter’s Notebook.” Share your views on my blog or click on the Contact page to send me an email.

Lori

Coming up: Suicide versus homicide, you decide  

The big dig

No one has officially been named a suspect in the disappearance of Roger Ellison. Without a body, proving a crime has been committed is a tall order even for the most seasoned prosecutor. While investigators continue to follow leads in the case, they keep coming back to one house situated next door to the old Cedaredge High School building.

The tan two-story dwelling with chocolate brown trim is the former residence of John Pash.  Pash taught social studies and coached wrestling at Cedaredge High School in 1981, the same year Roger disappeared.

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The former Pash house as it looks today.

Evelyn Ellison, Roger’s mother, begged authorities before she died in 1992 to take a closer look at the possible link between Roger and Pash. She said Pash went to her home after her son’s disappearance and told the family that Roger was suicidal, something that Pash hadn’t mentioned to the family or other teachers before.

A source close to the investigation said that Pash told him that Roger had a lot of problems and that he would counsel him late at night at his private residence. Roger also went to the Pash home on numerous occasions to turn in his homework so he could get time off to go skiing. The 17-year-old high school senior was a member of the Powderhorn Racing Club and regularly trained and raced in competitive weekend ski meets outside of school. 

Those close to Roger weren’t buying it. Why would someone like Roger who had so much going for him end his life? It just didn’t make sense. Pash continued to teach at Cedaredge High School after Roger’s disappearance, but eventually left the area under a cloud of suspicion.

The case went cold.

That is until 1994 when a former classmate of Roger’s told authorities he might know where the missing teen was buried. With renewed interest, law enforcement from various agencies gathered in the backyard of the former Pash home.

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The mortuary yard was dug up by a NecroSearch team in 1994 after a tipster told police Roger may be buried in the backyard of the former Pash home.  

The home was resold in 1984 and turned into a mortuary. A NecroSearch team specializing in finding clandestine graves used ground penetrating radar to pinpoint six areas where the land below the surface had been disturbed. Two of those spots were under the funeral home’s concrete garage floor. Four others were in the mortuary yard. A backhoe was brought in and a section of the garden measuring 20 feet by 12 feet by 2 feet was dug up, according to published reports.

Nothing was found.

Authorities decided against digging up the concrete garage floor until they could investigate further. Curious about the home and its former owner, I drove to Cedaredge on a recent Saturday afternoon and knocked on the front door. The mortuary part of the property was recently turned into a gym and salon. The house is currently under renovation. The homeowner invited me in. If walls could talk, this house definitely had a story to tell.

Coming up: Inside the former Pash house

Lori

Roger’s last steps

Much of the police investigation on the Roger Ellison case has concentrated on the south exit at the old Cedaredge High School building. Cops believe Roger may have left the building through the double doors before vanishing without a trace on the morning of Tuesday, February 10, 1981.

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South exit at the old Cedaredge High School building. The class of 1981 was the last class to graduate from the school.

I recently visited the old high school, which is now a charter school, to retrace Roger’s last steps. My starting point was the school’s basement at locker No. 191 where Roger was last seen putting his books away while talking with friends.

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Roger’s locker, No. 191, in the school’s basement.

There are two sets of double doors before you exit the building to the south. The first set of double doors is inside the building in the basement before climbing the stairs. The second set of double doors is at the south entrance and leads outside into a gravel parking lot. 

There are two windows on the south side of the building. The larger window belongs to a walk-in supply closet. The smaller window may be a second supply closet window or a classroom window.  

In 1981, the downstairs housed the school library on the east side and classrooms on the west side separated by a hallway with lockers. Locker No. 191 was located on the west side somewhere in the middle.

Upon closer examination, I discovered a second interior door on the west side of the building just past the lockers and a classroom door. The secondary door belongs to a boiler room where coal is brought in to heat the building.

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Boiler room interior door is open on the right.                 Boiler room door leading to outside exit door.

Another interior door on the west wall opens to a set of stairs that lead to an exit door on the west side of the building. A bank of classroom windows overlooks the gravel parking lot to the west towards the football field.  

For the sake of argument, if Roger slipped out the secondary exit to the west instead of the south door, he would have had to cross a football field in full view of the classroom windows before coming to a paved street with a row of houses in a residential neighborhood.

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Southwest view of the building.

If he walked north, he would have encountered an elementary school.  

If he walked south, he would have been walking in the direction of the Pash home, a two story dwelling located next door to Cedaredge High School. In 1981, the home was owned by John Pash, a social studies teacher and wrestling coach. The two properties were separated by a rock wall about three feet high where students often hung out before school and between classes.  

If he walked east, Roger would have intersected with Highway 65, the only main road leading in and out of town. Across the busy highway was a bakery which was frequented by kids and locals.  

It is unknown which direction Roger went that morning, but there would have been numerous opportunities for him to be seen. Where were you on the morning of February 10, 1981? Did you see which door Roger exited from? Which direction did he walk? Did he walk to a nearby house? Did someone pick him up? Did he talk to anyone? Did you notice anything out of place that morning, for example, a stranger sitting in a parked vehicle?

Please come forward with any information. The smallest of details could provide new leads in the case. Post to my blog or click on my Contact page and send me an email. Check out the photo gallery for more photos of Cedaredge High School.

Coming up: a photo tour of the former Pash house, including a crawl space searched by police.

Lori

 

Secrets of a small town

Cedaredge is the kind of town where people wave whether they know you or not. It’s the kind of place where you stop and chat in the aisles of the grocery store. On any given day, the locals meet up at the bakery for coffee and donuts and gather every October in the town park for Applefest to celebrate the fall harvest.

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For me, it’s a place to call home.

Secrets in a town like this are hard to keep. But one such secret back in February of 1981 cast a dark shadow over this tiny farming community much like a summer storm rolling off the Grand Mesa. It was a Tuesday, February 10th to be exact. Roger Ellison, 17, got ready for school just like any other day, except on this day he didn’t come home and would never be seen again.

Twenty eight years later, a community that once believed in the sanctity of small town life is left pointing fingers at one another and wondering if anyone could possibly be involved in Ellison’s disappearance.

Why would someone want to do the teenager harm and who could have done such a thing? By all accounts, Roger was a likeable young man, a good student and gifted skier with dreams of making the U.S. Ski Team.

Today, life goes on much like it has for 28 years. But folks here still whisper and wonder about the fate of the young teen whose heartbroken parents went to their grave without knowing what happened to their beloved son.

Secrets have a way of coming out. Fear subsides and loyalties change. A guilty conscience only grows heavier with the passage of time.

When does keeping a secret outweigh a family’s right to know what happened? Join in on the discussion. Post your thoughts to my blog or click on my Contact page and send me an email. For more information on the case, check out “Inside A Reporter’s Notebook” and read the Cold Case Timeline.

Lori