New look at Birgfeld killing

BIRGFELD_Paige1

A team of cold-case homicide experts convened by the Colorado Bureau of Investigation will take a crack at the six-year-old unsolved murder of Grand Junction mother Paige Birgfeld, Mesa County District Attorney Pete Hautzinger confirmed Thursday.

Hautzinger said Assistant District Attorney Rich Tuttle and Mesa County sheriff’s investigator Jim Hebenstreit are scheduled to present Birgfeld’s case to the multi-disciplined team in Denver on Sept. 12. Hautzinger said the decision to bring the Birgfeld investigation to the CBI team reflects “best practices” for Colorado law enforcement. It doesn’t mean the case is at a standstill, he said.

“I want to make sure we’ve done everything possible to make a prosecutable case, and part of that is consulting the best and brightest minds in the state to see if they have any ideas we haven’t thought of,” Hautzinger said.

“This isn’t the first time we’ve done this (presented to CBI team) and it won’t be the last,” he added.

Sixteen months after Birgfeld’s skeletal remains were found, it wasn’t clear how much closer Mesa County was to bringing charges in Birgfeld’s death.

“There’s no answer to that question, and even if there was one I couldn’t give it to you ethically,” he said.

CBI’s Cold Case Review team meets three to four times annually and includes approximately 30 investigators, including CBI and FBI agents, prosecutors and forensic pathologists. The team, formed in 2009, has reviewed and made recommendations to local law enforcement on 20 unsolved cases, resulting in two prosecutions and subsequent convictions, CBI spokeswoman Susan Medina told The Daily Sentinel in May.

Birgfeld’s case will be the second unsolved murder presented to the team this year by the Mesa County Sheriff’s Department. The team in June reviewed evidence in 16-year-old Phlisia Bunting’s slaying at Island Acres in 1990.

Birgfeld, 34, a mother of three who operated her own escort service, was last heard from June 28, 2007, driving to Grand Junction from Eagle. Her car was found burning the night of July 1, 2007, in a parking lot at 727 23 Road. Bloodhounds later tracked a scent from the parking lot at 23 Road to Bob Scott’s RV service facility, 2302 Grand Park Drive, who at the time was the employer of Lester Ralph Jones.

Jones was a client of Birgfeld’s escort business and was publicly named by the Sheriff’s Department as a suspect in her disappearance.

He remains the lone suspect, Hautzinger said Thursday.

Extensive search efforts in 2007 focused south of Grand Junction along U.S. Highway 50 and covered both sides of the highway.

Several items belonging to Birgfeld, including papers and other smaller property, were found scattered along the highway, south of Colorado Highway 141 and north of Bridgeport Road.

Birgfeld’s skeletal remains were discovered by two hikers March 6, 2012, in a dry creek bed in north Delta County. Authorities speculated the remains were buried but eventually exposed by erosion.

Several articles of her clothing and other unspecified items also were found.

The bones were later examined by a forensic anthropologist at Colorado State University, but they yielded no clues about how Birgfeld died.

“Nothing major has changed since then,” Hautzinger said.

Birgfeld’s father, Frank, has repeatedly called on Mesa County authorities to release his daughter’s remains, which remain in the custody of the Mesa County coroner. Hautzinger has said they’re needed for a prosecution, adding release would be “irresponsible and unethical” until a defense expert had a chance to examine them.

“This is not a routine case,” he said.



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