Some say home was targeted for hidden cash

Diana Romo-Cruz describes how the murdered Jose Rivas was found sprawled across the floor of the room that is now her bedroom in the house where she lives with her husband and son. Rivas was murdered in the house in 1987, when Romo-Cruz was a young teenager living acorss the street with her family.\


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When she goes to bed at night, Diana Cruz thinks about the murder of Jose Rivas.

She sleeps where it happened 23 years ago at 332 Fairview Drive.

Raised in another home across the street, where her mother still lives, Cruz has fresh memories of the widower who largely kept to himself, meticulous in how he cared for a rose garden once covering the front yard.

When friends and neighbors in the close-knit Riverside community planned to visit graves of buried loved ones, they would come to Rivas’ house for flowers.

“He would get so mad if us kids came around the yard, messing with the roses,” Cruz said. “He’d grunt at us.”

By the summer of 1987, Rivas, a retired laborer with the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad, had lived alone at the Fairview home 20 years following the death of his wife. He’d lived there since 1915 after moving from Taos, N.M.

On June 2, his step-daughter-in-law went to the home to run errands for Rivas as she often did, intent that day on going to the bank to deposit Rivas’ pension check.

Jose Pablo Rivas, 95, was found strangled and beaten toward the rear of the home, while an autopsy confirmed multiple traumatic injuries. The house had been ransacked, while Grand Junction police found evidence of forced entry at a rear door, according to Police Cmdr. Mike Nordine.

While police in the immediate aftermath said nothing had been discovered missing, rumors spread in Riverside that Rivas’ home had been targeted for hidden cash.

No weapons suspected in the crime were found at the home.

“It was a brutal death, one of those cases that kind of stick with you,” said Police Cmdr. Andy Martinez, a young detective in 1987 who worked Rivas’ case.

Neighbors told The Daily Sentinel in the days after the killing the area was otherwise quiet the night of the attack, although one person thought the dogs had been barking around 10:30 p.m. more than usual. Rivas was last seen at his house around 7 p.m.

Nordine said “considerable” evidence was collected from the crime scene. Some it was biological in nature, with the potential for DNA testing, but he said he’s unaware of the items’ condition after 23 years.

Unlike several of Grand Junction police cold-case murders, Nordine said the investigation of Rivas’ case developed “strong suspects” who remain under suspicion today.

While not identifying them by name, Nordine said they were longtime local residents with extended family and friends still in the area. Investigation showed several people would regularly visit Rivas’ home offering help for cash, but were likely “financially taking advantage of him,” Nordine said.

“I’m certain there are people still in this community who know what happened in this case,” he said.

Night light

Joan Cordova, Cruz’s mother who lives at 402 Rockaway across the street from Rivas’ former home, said she wasn’t interviewed by detectives in the days after Rivas’ murder, but remembers an unfamiliar green car parked in the neighborhood around the time of the slaying. She said the car was associated with a young woman and two men; the latter pair she said she’d never seen before.

The woman, however, was a familiar guest at Rivas’ home and often stayed several hours.

Cordova said she hasn’t seen the mystery trio since Rivas’ murder.

“We always thought that was kind of strange,” Cordova said.

Also odd was the lack of gossip in the streets of Riverside, where “everybody knows everybody,” she said.

“It was kind of like it didn’t happen,” Cordova said.

Rivas’ home was sold to Cordova’s father, who later passed on the property to his granddaughter, Cruz.

Cruz’s bedroom, a formerly a back porch, is the same part of the home where Rivas’ body was found.

“I sleep with a light on,” she said.


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