Survivors torn over new probe into cold case

Sergeant Deb Funston with the Palisade Police Department working on the Livery cold case in her office at the PPD.

John Vanlandingham stands outside the Livery Saloon, 215 Main Street in downtown Palisade, where his father was killed in the bar 21 years ago.

The grant from the Colorado Bureau of Investigation to reopen the cold case offers 30 hours of overtime pay for detectives and some travel expenses for local authorities to collect DNA. Palisade Police Chief Tony Erickson will be working on the case with Palisade police Sgt. Deb Funston. Erickson said CBI has offered to pay for more of the costs beyond the grant after learning about the potential workload in the case.

Erickson has requested any information still lodged at the Mesa County Sheriff’s Office and the Grand Junction Police Department about the double homicide. For starters, the case files are 2,220 pages thick. In the days following the double murder, investigators collected an abundance of evidence from the bar, including unhinging the men’s restroom doors to seek clues in the shooting. Back then, the amount of collected items overwhelmed Palisade’s storage locker and were held at other law enforcement agencies.

Erickson previously worked 24 years on the police force in Colorado Springs, including one year in the 1990s when the department worked 57 homicide cases. In comparison, Palisade’s cold case has plenty of evidence to delve into.

“It’s your job to sort all the facts, not just what you think applies,” Erickson said. “I have worked cold cases and homicides when all you have is a dead body and a ‘whodunit.’”

Erickson said he hopes some of the DNA already tested in Palisade’s cold case can be retested.

“These are the kind of cases that every cop should want to work,” Erickson said. “This is a great circumstantial case, but that wasn’t enough to prove it. I want a confession.”

More than two decades after losing her father, Garra Page is a bit indifferent on whether an arrest or conviction will change much. She was in her early 30s living in Sisters, Oregon, when her father was killed. She moved back home to help run the family bar and lend support.

“They screwed up at the time, Mesa County and the Palisade Police Department. They screwed up huge,” she said.

“If that wouldn’t have happened, I’d still be there,” she said, about her father’s death and living in Oregon.

“I have no idea how I would feel,” she said if the case were solved.

Johnny Vanlandingham also is torn. He’s willing to help investigators but he doesn’t believe it will bring closure, a term he thinks is inappropriate anyway.

“To me, closure is like, it’s done,” he said.

Old-timers still come and share memories of his dad, telling him about times they had in high school.

Hanging onto the family bar is a way of connecting with his father.

“A lot of people who come in here used to come in here with Dad, and it’s kind of nice,” he said.

“Dad put everything he had in this to have a retirement. As time goes by it gets easier, but it’s still tough.”

— Amy Hamilton


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