Cold case files: Who killed Roger Dean?

Nearly every person who knew Roger Dean had a motive to kill him.

Posted 12/1/06

Chris Lawson / Douglas County Sheriff's Office Undersheriff Tony Spurlock stands in front of a Lone Tree house Monday that …

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Cold case files: Who killed Roger Dean?

Nearly every person who knew Roger Dean had a motive to kill him.


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 deactivated.

By Jess Buskirk

Nearly every person who knew Roger Dean had a motive to kill him.

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 arrested.

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 of saliva.

The technology for DNA testing wasn't available at the time of the killing, but by 1990, investigators had the killer's DNA profile.

Castellano remembers Dean's eyes were duct-taped over his glasses.

"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 her.

"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 mask.

"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 dark-skinned.

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 said.

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 said.

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," Spurlock said.

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 life.

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 crime.

"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


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