Oct. 3, 2007: Suspect named in disappearance

A Grand Junction man to whom investigators loosely connected the disappearance of 34-year-old Paige Birgfeld has been named the sole suspect in the case, according to the Mesa County Sheriff’s Department.

Lester Ralph Jones, 56, has neither been taken into custody nor is there a warrant issued for his arrest in connection with the Birgfeld case, Sheriff Stan Hilkey said.

“More than anything, it’s a case update,” Hilkey said about naming Jones a suspect. “All along we’ve been talking that there’s been a handful of persons of interest. Of those people, the only person that remains is Lester Ralph Jones.”

Hilkey confirmed authorities have at least twice searched Jones’ home at 3072 Hill Ave. Investigators also used dogs to trace a scent from the parking lot where Birgfeld’s burnt-out car was found to the front door of a nearby business where Jones works, Bob Scott’s RV.

Birgfeld, a mother of three young children and operator of an escort service, was last seen June 28.

Authorities suspected foul play after her burnt-out car was found July 1 about two miles away from her north Grand Junction home in a parking lot at Walker Products, 727 Road 23.

Hilkey declined to provide any information on connections between Jones and Birgfeld. He also would not say whether listing Jones as a suspect was an indication of a forthcoming arrest.

Hilkey did not know Jones’ whereabouts, but said he “believes he’s in town.”

Naming Jones as the case’s only suspect on Tuesday does not imply new developments or leads have been reached lately in the case, Hilkey said. He said it is common for law enforcement to identify a suspect without making an arrest or having intentions of making an arrest.

“Just naming somebody as a suspect does not mean that an arrest is imminent, not that it won’t be imminent,” Hilkey said.

A person who was identified as the owner of Bob Scott’s RV declined to comment Tuesday on whether Jones still works at the company.

The two other persons of interest in the case that have been made public are now off the list, Hilkey said, including Paige’s two ex-husbands, Howard Beigler and Robert Dixon.

Paige’s parents, Suzanne and Frank Birgfeld, dismissed the notion that naming Jones as a suspect was a development in the case.

Suzanne said knowing that Jones is now considered a suspect, though police haven’t arrested him, is “more frustrating” than the situation was previously, when Jones was considered a person of interest in the case. Frank Birgfeld said he has heard from someone not in law enforcement that Jones had an address book with Paige’s number listed in it. 

Investigators said they are hoping that naming Jones as a suspect will prompt people with information to come forward, Hilkey said. People with information should call the Sheriff’s Department at 244-3500 and press 0.

According to the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, Jones has been convicted of a slew of domestic-violence-related crimes committed in Delta County. All of the convictions stem from three dates in early 1999. Jones was sentenced to five years in the Colorado Department of Corrections for second-degree kidnapping in October 1999, according to CBI records.

Volunteer search crews and investigators initially logged long hours searching for Paige Birgfeld. The Sheriff’s Department calculated its combined overtime for deputies and investigators at $31,500 and operating expenses at $15,000, department spokeswoman Heather Benjamin said.

She said the costs were based on overtime slips that were submitted as of Tuesday. She projected additional costs will be incurred in the ongoing investigation, but those numbers won’t be available until after the case is closed.


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