Trooper Carpenter had stopped on the Boulder Turnpike to help what looked like two stranded motorists whose car had died. After agreeing to give them a ride to a nearby gas station, he made a fatal mistake–he turned his back on the two men. One man jumped him. Tom wrestled with the assailant, doing all he could to keep him away from his revolver. A strong and healthy man, who had served in the Marine Corps., Tom placed a choke hold on the attacker. Adrenaline surged through his veins.
“Freeze, Pig!” The second man stood only feet away from Tom. He pointed a gun directly at Tom’s head. “Let him go and give me your gun…now!”
Tom reluctantly handed over his .22 revolver. The first man grabbed Tom’s arm and yanked him toward the patrol car.
“Get in the car!” the man yelled. “Now you’ll take us wherever we want to go.”
Tom opened the driver side door and started to climb in.
“Wait!” the second man yelled. “Open our door first, then get in.”
Tom followed the men’s orders. “Stay calm,” he said under his breath. “Drive them wherever they want to go, promise them you won’t call the authorities, and walk away with your life.”
The two men scooted into the back of the vehicle. One sat directly behind Tom. “I have a gun pointed at your head. Don’t try anything stupid, or I’ll shoot.”
“Where do you want me to take you?” Tom stared straight ahead.
“Just drive, Pig! The longer we sit here, the more attention it draws,” the second man said.
Tom inched back onto the Boulder Turnpike and headed for Denver. The two men, who were definitely not just stranded motorists, whispered and argued in the back seat. Tom couldn’t make out what they were saying, only something about the fact that he could identify them.
“Where can I take you?” Officer Carpenter said. “You can walk away, and I’ll act like I never saw you.”
“Shut up, Pig!” the gunman said. “We’ll give you directions when we feel like it.”
Whispering and arguing continued in the back seat. Tom passed several motorists on the highway. Later, witnesses came forth who said they saw the officer with the two men in the back of his car, and thought it looked strange, but did nothing. These witnesses would describe the assailants as a black man and white man.
In the city of Denver, Tom’s radio cracked. “Car 181, this is dispatch, can I get your location?” the man asked over the radio.
“Don’t do anything funny!” the gunman said. Tom felt the muzzle of a gun pressed against the back of his head.
Tom lifted the radio. “This is car 181. I’m at Colfax and Longmont.” Tom hoped the dispatcher would realize he was way out of his area. But the dispatcher never caught on.
“Roger that car 181. Dispatch out.”
Tom hung the C.B. radio back on its perch. Please, God. Help me get through this. Tom glanced at his watch. Forty-five minutes had passed since he stopped on the Turnpike. He continued to drive down city streets, meandering up and down neighborhoods, then changing direction and winding in and out of other neighborhoods. The criminals were trying to make Tom disoriented to location.
As he turned back onto a main road, a City of Denver Police Car approached from the opposite lane. As they passed, Tom removed his trooper hat and placed it on the dash. Unfamiliar with the distress signal, the city officer nodded and continued on his way. Tom continued to plead to God for help. Please, God! Let me see my family again!
Eventually, Tom found himself in Montbello, a suburb of Denver. The men ordered him to a residential housing area, packed with tall apartment buildings. They directed him to a parking lot located behind one of the apartment complexes. Tom sighed. He hoped the nightmare was finally over. But to his dismay, the two men continued to argue about where to go next.
To the officers right, a deep pile of snow offered a way out.
“Turn around and get back on the highway,” the gunman ordered.
Tom realized that man was in charge. He stepped on the gas and headed directly for the snow embankment. Just as he hoped, the car’s wheels spun, but the vehicle wouldn’t move.
“Let’s get out of here!” the second man yelled.
The two men could have gotten out and ran. But for some reason fear, anger, panic–mixed with some evil force overtook the gunman.
One hour after Officer Thomas Carpenter was abducted, four gunshots rang out. The trooper was found slumped over the steering wheel.
A senseless crime, a father taken from his children, a husband from his wife, a humble servant from the community. Turned out the gunman shot Officer Carpenter point-blank in the back of the head with his own service revolver.
A large manhunt ensued, but no one was ever charged with the crime. December 27, 1973, would be a day that the Carpenter family would never forget. To date, the murder of Thomas Carpenter is still unsolved. It is the only unsolved murder of a patrolman in the state of Colorado.
While the details of that story were fictionalized, the facts are all true. Trooper Thomas Ray Carpenter is my father-in-law. My husband, Cory Carpenter, was only four when his father was brutally murdered and ripped from his life.
I’m afraid that’s a question we will never have answered.