Veteran cop on cold cases: ‘I know we can do a lot more’

Cold case investigator Larry Bullard hugs Barbara Rippy, the mother of Linda Benson, outside the Justice Center on Monday after Jerry Nemnich was sentenced.

If not for the countless hours Larry Bullard volunteered to sift through police reports and reinterview witnesses about events that occurred more than 30 years ago, Linda Benson and Kelley Ketchum’s killer might very well still be walking the streets.

Bullard was part of a group of law-enforcement veterans Grand Junction police Cmdr. Greg Assenmacher organized in 2007 to take a fresh look at the 1975 murders of the Grand Junction mother and daughter. That group’s diligence, combined with advancements in DNA technology, led to the arrest and conviction of Jerry Nemnich, an over-the-road trucker with a history of committing violent crimes.

Bullard is confident there are other cold cases that can be cracked. He’s working on some of them now. But with Colorado seemingly in a perpetual state of budget cuts, local governments dealing with their own financial troubles and the Colorado Bureau of Investigation slow to respond to requests for help due to a backlog of cases, families of murder victims and victims of other crimes who have been waiting for years for a resolution will continue to wait.

And that has Bullard frustrated.

“I know we can do a lot more,” he said.

The retired law-enforcement officer who worked for years for both the Mesa County Sheriff’s Department and Grand Junction Police Department embraced Barbara Rippy in the parking lot outside the Mesa County Justice Center on Monday after Nemnich was sentenced to two life terms for fatally stabbing Rippy’s daughter and granddaughter.

“It feels good,” he said. “It’s over. It’s done. They (Benson’s relatives) can do some healing. There’s a lot of conflict with them, too.”

But Bullard is quick to point out there are other families who are in the same position Benson’s mother and siblings were in up until Nemnich’s arrest last year. Given Mesa County budget cuts that resulted in the elimination of several positions within the Sheriff’s Department, it’s challenging for investigators to work current crimes, let alone those gathering dust on a shelf, he said.

“We can solve these (cold) cases,” Bullard said. But we can’t take care of the crimes happening now, and it’s killing us. It’s all about resources.”


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