Life experiences · True Crime

Murder in Montbello (part two)

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.20130721-102543.jpg

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!20130721-102634.jpg

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.20130721-102459.jpg

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.

“Why?”

I’m afraid that’s a question we will never have answered.

Life experiences · True Crime

Murder in Montbello (part one)

20130720-163737.jpgOfficer Thomas Carpenter maneuvered his car over snow-packed roads. He passed early morning commuters cautiously driving the highway that donned a fresh layer of snow from the previous night. The Colorado State Patrolman buckled down for a busy day of mediating fender benders. To his surprise, no accidents would be reported in his assigned area.

Traffic remained light. Strange for a Thursday morning in a busy city. Blame the snow. That and the fact it was only two days after Christmas. People must have the day off. Tom smiled. “Christmas.” Scheduled to work that day, he almost missed his favorite holiday–almost missed his three children, two sons and a daughter, giddily opening Barbie’s, G.I. Joe’s, and his youngest sons favorite, Lone Ranger action figures and apparel. But at the last-minute another trooper agreed to trade days. December 27th was the tradeoff.

After opening presents, Tom and his family drove from Denver to Grand Junction for the holiday. During their short stay, he had a strange premonition to pray for his family. He ducked into his father-in-law’s church and slumped into a pew. He bowed his head.

“Please, God, protect my family. They’re all I have.” But peace did not come. Tom continued to fervently pray. He rested his forehead on the back of the pew in front of him. By the time his wife, Phyllis, emerged to collect him for supper, a deep line creased his brow. He shared his concerns with her.

She kissed his cheek. “Everything will be fine.”

Tom smiled for her sake. Inside, a whirlwind of fear and worry made him nauseated. Hand in hand they walked the short distance from the church to Phyllis’ childhood home.

A patch of black ice pulled Tom back to reality–back to the road. Overpasses could be deadly from winter conditions. He proceeded with caution. To his right, a white sedan with two male passengers sat off the shoulder of the Boulder Turnpike. Trooper Carpenter pulled in behind the car. With no sense of impending danger he didn’t radio dispatch.

Tom stepped out of patrol car 181 and walked up to the vehicle. The engine clicked as the driver attempted to start the vehicle, to no avail. Gasoline fumes penetrated Tom’s nose. Officer Carpenter knocked on the window. The driver rolled it down.

“Sounds like your batteries dead,” Officer Carpenter said. “Happens a lot during winter months.” The driver nervously smiled. The passenger fidgeted in his seat and wouldn’t make eye contact. The strange behavior alerted Tom, but some people were just nervous around police officers.

“Is there someone I can call to pick you up?” Trooper Carpenter asked.

The driver stepped out of the vehicle. “Could you give us a ride to the gas station on Perkins Street?” the man said. “We can use the pay phone there.”

From the corner of his eye, Tom watched the passenger walk around the back of the vehicle. Was the trooper being paranoid, or were these men trying to corner him?

Wearing only jeans and a sweatshirt, the men shivered in the freezing temperatures. In only a matter of minutes, frost crept over their car windows. The stranded men were cold and needed a ride. Against his better judgment, Tom agreed.

“I’ll take you to Lincoln Street,” Trooper Carpenter said, “to the 7-11. Perkins is out of my area.”

A truck came upon the officer and two men. The clunker slowed and an old man made eye contact with Officer Carpenter. Tom tipped his hat to the driver. The rubber-necker sped up and drove away. Trooper Carpenter hoped that wasn’t a mistake. A few minutes later, he realized it was a deadly mistake…