Paonia man arrested in 1981 murder

A Paonia man has been arrested in connection with the 1981 murder of a miner who disappeared while protesting cuts in black lung disease benefits.

Christopher Sorensen, 57, was arrested in Grand Junction on Tuesday after his attorney and Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department investigators agreed he would turn himself in here, sheriff’s spokeswoman Jacki Kelley said Thursday.

Sorensen made his first appearance in court Thursday to be advised of a first-degree murder charge. He is in custody without bond in the Jefferson County Jail.

Sorensen is suspected of shooting to death 29-year-old Anthony Yanish, also of Paonia. A jogger found Yanish’s body on March 10, 1981, in unincorporated Jefferson County near the Coors plant.

Kelley said Sorensen and Yanish were acquaintances at the time.

Investigators in 1981 determined that Yanish was last seen in Glenwood Springs on March 9. He had been employed as a miner at the Hawk’s Next Mine in Somerset and was off for a few days because of a work stoppage protesting black lung disease, Kelley said.

She said Yanish and a friend had spent March 9 in Paonia and Glenwood Springs before the friend ran out of money and returned to Paonia. Investigators traveled to Paonia to track Yanish’s movements and talk with relatives, friends and acquaintances. But the case grew cold.

Then, earlier this year, investigators received a tip that renewed the investigation. Kelley said a cold-case investigator uncovered several previously undisclosed details about the case.

“It was good old-fashioned police work based on a new tip,” she said. “It was from someone not even knowing whether it was a good tip. It led us in a completely different direction.”

Kelley said she couldn’t disclose further details about the case, noting the arrest affidavit is sealed. But she said the arrest proves that no unsolved homicide is ever closed.

“Those cases stay open,” she said. “Alliances change over time, information gets shared with people, new evidence comes up.”


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