'People see it as a homeless junkie getting killed'

A year after the still-unsolved slaying of Joe Hix, his family struggles


On a lonely spot in the industrial district where the Little Dry Creek bike path crosses Platte River Drive in northwest Englewood, a hand-engraved metal plate is screwed into a wooden post.


The little plaque is the only marker commemorating the life of Joe Hix, 32, who was stabbed to death there on Aug. 25, 2020.

Nearly 14 months after the brazen daylight slaying along a busy bike path, no arrests have been made in the case. The nearby homeless camp where Hix stayed has long since been swept by authorities, its former residents scattered.

Much of what remains is intangible: the devastation of Hix's family. Memories of a brilliant young man, whose descent into darkness broke the hearts of friends once drawn to his magnetic personality. The burning injustice of his unsolved homicide.

“I see him in my dreams almost every night,” said Dean Lockhead, 36, Hix's older brother. “It's the worst thing that's ever happened to me, to my family.”

Englewood police have had little to say about the case. Chief Sam Watson, who took the helm of the department in August, did not respond to an interview request. Instead, a department spokesperson sent a statement:

“This is still an active investigation (on which) the Police Department is focused,” the statement reads in part. “We are still receiving tips, which detectives are diligently working to follow up on. The Englewood Police Department is still seeking any information that will aid in the identification and apprehension of suspect(s).”

But Lockhead said his hope for seeing the case solved is dim. It's been eight months since he last heard from detectives, he said. Though a nearby security camera captured three people fleeing the scene on bikes, and a $2,000 reward through Metro Denver Crime Stoppers remains available, no one has come forward to identify the killer.

Lockhead said he fears the nature of Hix's life and the circumstances of his death have made it easy for the world to move on.

“Joe was not a sympathetic victim,” he said. “People see it as a homeless junkie getting killed. But he was so many things — an artist, a caregiver for our mother, and my best friend.”

Struggling to accept life

Hix and Lockhead spent their early years in Virginia, in a house that backed to a vast forest where the boys roamed on long summer days.

But when their father Michael, a construction worker and contractor, injured his back and became permanently disabled, the family's situation spiraled. Without his income, they lost the house to the bank and moved in with relatives in Colorado. Mary, the boys' mother, suffered a traumatic brain injury in a fall that worsened her mental illness.

Michael never regained the ability to work and became dependent on painkillers, Lockhead said, and Mary endured stints in dismal treatment facilities. The family cobbled together a life on public assistance.

Through it all, the brothers had each other.

“The only other person with those experiences was Joe,” Lockhead said. “There's a certain part of me only he could understand.”

Hix struggled to accept how life unfolded for his family. As Lockhead went off to college, Hix dropped out of Englewood High School.

Still, he found fulfillment in his passions. Hix was a gifted computer technician, a talented photographer, and drew recognition for his electronic music, performing live shows under the stage name Plantaganda.

Hix enrolled at Arapahoe Community College, where he earned straight A's — enough to secure him a scholarship at the University of Colorado Boulder, where Lockhead was a star student.

But Hix didn't fit in socially in Boulder, and wasn't ready for the rigors of academia. He began drinking more, and fell into a depression. Before long he slunk back to Denver, and began a long, gradual decline that would come to consume his life.

'He was always kind to me'

Though at times he seemed to thrive, remaining surrounded by loyal friends, Hix increasingly struggled with addiction. Music and photography faded from his life.

He was jailed for assault in 2015, court records show. Hix's parents lost their subsidized apartment in Littleton in 2016, and all three wound up homeless.

Hix, increasingly lost in addiction, grew unpredictable and violent. A girlfriend and his own dad took out restraining orders against him. More arrests and jail time followed.

In the final years of his life, Lockhead said even he had grown estranged from his brother, frustrated after so many fruitless attempts to help him recover. By the time Hix was killed, he was living on the streets, and the brothers were hardly speaking.

“One of the last times I spoke to Joe, he started crying and talking about how lonely he was, how he didn't have anyone left,” Lockhead said. “I tried to get him to understand how difficult it was for people to be in his life."

But even as Hix grew distant from his brother and friends, he remained close to his mom.

"He was my best friend," Mary said. "There wasn't anything we couldn't talk about. He made me a better person."

Mary has been racked with anguish and depression since her son's death, she said. She continues to grapple with instability and mental illness, and recently escaped an abusive relationship.

Through it all, she yearns for her son's love and compassion, for the days the two would spend sitting in the shade watching the clouds roll by, discussing matters large and small.

"He was always kind to me," Mary said. "He treated me like I have a brain. He loved me wholeheartedly."

Lockhead said that despite his brother's damaged relationships, "when I organized his funeral, we had to limit guests to 50 (due to COVID restrictions). Lots more wanted to come. I wish he could have known that.”

Lockhead does what he can for his family, trying from a distance to arrange help for his mom, but said the network of support services for struggling people is fragmented and overwhelmed — something he remembers all too well from childhood.

Lockhead is trying to move forward. He and his wife are expecting their first child in January, a bright spot in a brutal time. Still, he laments that his son will never meet Hix.

“If he could've gotten it together, Joe would've been a great uncle,” he said. “I think of all of what could have been.”

“I'm realistic about this situation — nothing will bring Joe back. I don't want vengeance. Just some form of justice.”


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