Nemnich was suspect in ’73 Denver murder
The Longmont man charged with stabbing to death a Grand Junction mother and daughter in 1975 was a suspect in a 1973 rape and murder in Denver, according to a police report obtained by The Daily Sentinel.
An arrest affidavit about a kidnapping and rape of a woman in Boulder County in 1974 — a crime for which Jerry Nemnich was arrested and charged but later released — indicates police suspected Nemnich raped and killed a woman in Denver the previous year. The Sentinel obtained the affidavit and other records from the case from the Colorado State Archives in Denver.
Detective Sharon Avendano, a spokeswoman for the Denver Police Department, told the Sentinel this week that Nemnich is not being investigated for any unsolved homicides from 1973.
“We don’t have any cases in which we have him as a suspect,” she said.
When asked if Grand Junction police and Denver police had been in contact with each other regarding any unsolved murders in Denver, Grand Junction police spokeswoman Kate Porras referred questions to Denver police.
The 1974 Boulder County case happened seven months before 24-year-old Linda Benson and her 5-year-old daughter, Kelley, were killed inside their apartment at 1300 N. 21st St.
Nemnich, now 64 and an over-the-road truck driver, was arrested in connection with the killings April 8 as he passed through the Loma port of entry.
According to the 1974 arrest affidavit, the woman told Boulder County sheriff’s deputies she was hitchhiking on the evening of Dec. 5, 1974, when three men picked her up in a silver Ford Thunderbird. She said she told them she was heading north and that if they were going to turn, they should stop and let her out.
She said when the car reached an intersection, the front-seat passenger told the driver to turn right. She said the person sitting next to her in the back seat then pushed her head down and told her she would be hurt if she resisted, the affidavit said.
She said once the car reached another intersection, she kicked the driver in the head, nearly causing him to run into another vehicle. The man in the back seat grabbed her by the throat and choked her until she couldn’t breathe, the affidavit said.
The Thunderbird continued south out of Boulder, eventually turning onto back roads. At one point, she said the man in the back seat raped her and forced her to perform oral sex, the affidavit said.
She eventually was let out of the car and flagged a ride to a telephone booth in Niwot, where she called police.
The woman described the attacker as a white male, 29 to 34 years old, 5-foot-11, 220 pounds, with brown, balding hair. She said he had a shaggy beard and a ruddy complexion. Based on her description, detectives drew a composite sketch of the attacker.
Two detectives compared the sketch with a mug shot of Nemnich they received from a state parole officer and indicated there was a close resemblance between the two.
Denver police, who previously had arrested and booked Nemnich on an unrelated case, told Boulder County authorities Nemnich was 6-feet tall, weighed 200 pounds, and had brown hair and hazel eyes. He would have been 30 at the time of the kidnapping and rape.
Boulder County detectives put together a photo lineup with a mug shot of Nemnich and six other men and showed it to the woman. She picked out Nemnich’s picture and identified him as the man who had raped her, the affidavit stated.
Nemnich was arrested and charged with rape, deviate sexual intercourse by force, first-degree kidnapping and first-degree assault. But on Dec. 18 a judge granted a motion from prosecutors to dismiss the charges against Nemnich.
“The victim was unable to positively identify the defendant, at this time, as her assailant,” a prosecutor wrote in the motion. “Further investigation reveals the defendant has an alibi for the time of the crime which has not been discredited.”
One of the Boulder County detectives who investigated the case, George Epp, told The Sentinel in a phone interview from his house in Boulder on Friday that he remembered some details of the case. He said part of what led authorities to look at Nemnich was the fact that he was on a list of paroled sex offenders. Nemnich, who had been convicted of rape or attempted rape at least three times by 1974, was released from a Colorado prison on parole on Aug. 14, 1973, according to Department of Corrections records.
Nemnich’s parole officer, Van Whisman, told Epp that Nemnich was a suspect in a 1973 rape and murder in Denver, according to the affidavit.
Epp, who later served as Boulder County sheriff for 12 years, said there wasn’t enough evidence to pursue the kidnapping and rape case against Nemnich.
“I do remember that after we’d done some more investigation, I was satisfied that we didn’t have enough to make a case,” he said, adding he didn’t remember what Nemnich’s alibi was. He also said he didn’t remember any details about the 1973 rape and murder.
The Sentinel was able to locate a post office box number for a Van Whisman in Westminster but couldn’t find a listed phone number for him.
Denver police list two female victims among their unsolved homicides from 1973.
One, 48-year-old Maxine Ansley, was found in Sloans Lake near 20th Street and Sheridan Boulevard on March 2. She had been bound and asphyxiated.
The other, 20-year-old June Kowloff, was found on the front porch of her home at 2303 S. Race St. on Oct. 20. She had been stabbed several times, according to police.