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Chris Lawson /
Douglas County Sheriff's Office Undersheriff Tony
Spurlock stands in front of a Lone Tree house Monday that was the
scene of the November 1985 shooting death of Roger Dean. Spurlock
heads the bi-annual review of the cold case that has been
By Jess Buskirk
Nearly every person who knew Roger Dean had a motive to kill
Dean was an informant for the Denver Police Department, slipping
police information about prostitution happening on property he
owned. He had a hefty life insurance policy that paid out to his
wife and daughter.
He was struggling to end an affair with a secretary at work
while trying to mend a broken marriage. Extended family members
were believed to be involved in organized crime.
But most of the motives investigators uncovered were provided
with an alibi, and 21 years after Dean's slaying, no one has been
Footprints in the snow
With duct tape binding his ankles, 51-year-old Roger Dean
hobbled down the stairs of his home as a bullet struck the banister
beside him. Another bullet made contact, wounding Dean, but he
managed to get through his front door.
As he fled, another bullet pierced his flesh, and he fell at the
end of his driveway. His attacker fired several more shots before
running through the snow to a car parked up the street.
A little girl looked out her window as she dressed for school.
She saw the face of the attacker before he slammed the car door and
squealed the tires, racing down Sweetwater Road in a subdivision
that would become Lone Tree.
Dean was pronounced dead at Swedish Medical Center Nov. 21,
1985, about an hour after he was found bleeding in his driveway.
His wife, DJ, was found tied up on the bed wearing a robe. The
scene was laden with critical evidence, said Douglas County
Sheriff's Office Lt. Kim Castellano, who was a crime scene
investigator at the time.
"This is one of those real life cases that would make a great
fictional story for a 'CSI'-type show," she said.
The footprints in the snow led to skid marks where the killer's
car had been parked. Roger Dean's coffee cup, still full, sat on
top of old newspapers in a trashcan in the garage. The banister in
the home was scarred from stray bullets. A ski mask found near the
top of the stairs contained strands of the killer's hair and traces
The technology for DNA testing wasn't available at the time of
the killing, but by 1990, investigators had the killer's DNA
Castellano remembers Dean's eyes were duct-taped over his
"It just struck me as very odd," she said.
A killer unmasked
Douglas County Undersheriff Tony Spurlock suspects the victim
knew his killer.
"We believe the victim, Roger Dean, knew his assailant and may
have made some arrangements to meet him, but it went bad," said
Spurlock, who took over the case in 1993.
At about 7 a.m. that Thursday, Dean was scheduled to be in a
meeting. Instead, he was meeting his killer.
Spurlock envisions Dean waiting for the killer in his garage
with the door open, a cup of coffee in his hand. The killer had a
ski mask with him, but the mask wouldn't have seemed unusual in the
cold November weather. Spurlock suspects the killer wore the mask,
but it was not pulled over his face as he approached Dean. He
wouldn't need it until he found DJ.
As Spurlock imagines the crime, he sees Dean setting down his
coffee - only Roger's and DJ's fingerprints were found on the cup -
and leading the killer into the house through the garage.
DJ was in the shower.
She told investigators she was met by a masked man, who bound
her with duct tape and left her on the bed. The killer did not hurt
"He didn't want her to identify him," Spurlock said. "He wasn't
going to kill DJ."
DJ heard the killer take her husband to another room and then
wander around the house. She then heard an argument between the
killer and Dean about money followed by a struggle.
Spurlock thinks this is when the killer lost his ski
"We found evidence in the house that indicated if the person
really wanted to tie up and secure Roger Dean, he did a very poor
job of it," Spurlock said.
He suspects some evidence was left in the house to point
investigators away from the killer.
After shooting Dean, the killer escaped in a bronze mid-sized
1968 to 1972 Oldsmobile or Pontiac sedan. He was parked about a
block from a school bus stop.
The little girl across the street thought she saw a black man,
but another witness insisted man who sped away was white.
Investigators positioned an officer where the girl saw the killer,
and in the bright white snow the white officer appeared to be
Motive, alibi, cleared
Roger Dean worked in food distribution, which Spurlock described
as having "as seedy underbelly" in the 1980s.
Investigators interviewed hundreds of people who Dean was
exposed to in his work. Business partners, associates and
acquaintances were included in an ever-growing suspect pool, but no
evidence that could lead to an arrest surfaced.
Dean's family members were also investigated.
"The only people who stood to gain anything [financially from
Dean's death] were his wife and daughter, and they cooperated and
passed polygraphs," Spurlock said.
Dean's lifestyle came under scrutiny as investigators attempted
to locate every suspect.
"We discovered he was leading two lives," Spurlock
DJ Dean thought her husband ended his affair with his secretary,
but investigators discovered he met with the woman the week of his
death. The secretary disappeared soon after the killing, and she
and her son haven't been ruled out as suspects.
"We investigated the girlfriend's son, and we're not satisfied
with the investigation," Spurlock said, adding evidence is
"inconclusive" regarding the pair's involvement.
While Dean was an informant for the Denver Police Department,
investigators don't think it led to his killing.
Not all of the Deans' extended family members have been ruled
out. Many were arrested on charges related to organized crime,
Spurlock said. He thinks Roger Dean may have invited a distant
relative he knew only from family get-togethers into his house the
morning of the killing.
"This is a classic example of 'how many people do you know who
know people who are involved in bad things?'" Spurlock
Six suspects remain that investigators would like to collect DNA
samples from, but they are declining to voluntarily provide
samples. There isn't enough evidence to merit warrants to compel
the samples to be collected.
In 1993, DJ Dean received a handwritten letter from someone who
claimed to be Roger Dean's killer. The letter demanded money and
said if the money wasn't delivered, the Deans' daughter, Tammy,
would be killed.
The letter was followed by several phone calls, spurring the
largest manhunt in Denver's history at the time. The homicide case,
which had been closed, was reopened and the FBI investigated the
extortion. Law enforcement agencies saturated Colfax Avenue in
Denver where the calls were being made from pay phones.
Investigators were on foot, in cars and in planes, while experts
tried to trace the calls as they came in.
"Yet we were always about 30 seconds behind the suspect, and
when you think about 30 seconds on Colfax, it's an eternity,"
Police had DJ Dean drop the money, but the extortionist never
showed. She later received a call from the extortionist, who said
because she called the police he would "come back for Tammy,"
Spurlock said. Tammy Dean never reported anyone threatening her
Investigators aren't convinced the extortionist was the killer.
When questioned, the extortionist couldn't provide any information
that wasn't released in the media or to the family. Spurlock
suspects the extortionist was someone who knew Tammy Dean and saw
an opportunity to make money.
The voice recordings of the extortionist, which were distorted
by cloth held over the phone, remain in evidence.
The waiting game
The killer's DNA and a partial fingerprint are logged into a
federal database. Investigators are confident the killer didn't
stop committing crimes with the murder of Roger Dean and are
waiting for a DNA or fingerprint match to surface. They are also
hoping new technology will become available that could uncover more
leads and suspects.
Although the case is officially deactivated, it was featured on
the television program "Unsolved Mysteries," which still runs in
syndication. Every time the program airs, leads come in.
As with all cold cases, the Dean homicide is reviewed every six
months, and investigators are hopeful they will solve the
"I think this is probably one of the greatest mysteries Douglas
County has had for a long time," Spurlock said.
Anyone with information on Roger Dean's murder should call
Spurlock at 303-660-7593.
Contact Jess Buskirk at email@example.com.
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