Murder rare in Routt County

Since 1979, 6 homicides

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— The murder of Steamboat Springs resident Lori Bases was the sixth homicide in Routt County in more than 20 years.

Not since the much-publicized shooting death of 52-year-old local businessman Gerald Boggs on Oct. 21, 1993, has there been a murder in the county.

A Craig man, Noel Sandoval, 21, died of multiple gunshot wounds along U.S. 40 on Oct. 7, 1993. That killing occurred about 100 yards west of the Routt County line. Prior to the Boggs murder, the most recent local murder was a double homicide. Bill Coleman, 45, shot to death his estranged wife Jan, also 45, and her 43-year-old boyfriend, Luke McKee, on Sept. 18, 1991, at a Steamboat home not far from Thursday's killing. Coleman shot himself later the same day and died a few days later.

It is fair to say that most of the murders that have occurred in Routt County in the last two decades have involved love triangles, separated husbands and wives or dysfunctional families.

Dubbed the "Black Widow" killing because of some bizarre circumstances involving one of two defendants in the case, the Boggs murder drew international attention. The interest of the newspapers and tabloid TV shows all over the world did not wane until the case was eclipsed by the O.J. Simpson case.

Ultimately, Boggs' former wife, Jill Coit, and her boyfriend, Michael Backus, were convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life without parole. They also were fined $1 million each by Judge Richard Doucette.

Coit and Boggs were married on April 4, 1991, but the marriage lasted just eight months. Coit had apparently faked a pregnancy at the time of the marriage, and later Boggs learned that she had been married as many as 10 times and on several occasions, to more than one man at a time. It turned out that Coit was still married to her seventh husband when she wed Boggs.

Coit, a former beauty queen who once held the title of "Miss Eskimo Pie," had been a prime suspect in the shooting death of one husband, William C. Coit, in Houston in 1972.

Boggs was preparing to sue Coit for fraud at the time of his death. The two were already involved in a bitter lawsuit over her ownership of a local bed and breakfast inn. Boggs held a lien on the property. Coit and Backus conspired to shoot Boggs in his home on Hillside Court and carried out the deed. Coit had been spotted in Steamboat wearing a fake moustache in the days surrounding the murder.

Coleman never went to trial for the killing of his estranged wife and her boyfriend. He died a week later of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.

Coleman moved here from Fort Worth, Texas, and operated a hot air balloon company and catering business. He was known to be clinically depressed, and in the days following the shooting, it came out that he was taking the prescription drug Prozac and his dosage had recently been changed.

Jan Coleman had filed for divorce, ending a 23-year marriage, and had filed for a restraining order against her husband at the time of the shooting. McKee died inside Jan Coleman's home and she was shot in the driveway. Bill Coleman left the scene of the murders and retreated to an industrial building his business occupied on Twentymile Road. Police were stationed outside throughout the day after the killings until they stormed the building and discovered Coleman wounded, but coherent. He died on Sept. 24. Coleman had left a message on his answering machine, acknowledging he had committed the killings.

Prior to 1991, the last multiple homicide in Routt County happened in Oak Creek in 1958. Just before 8 p.m. on Feb. 24 that year, Frank Gabossi Sr. walked into a pool hall in Oak Creek carrying a 30-06 rifle. A retired coal miner, the 62-year-old Gabossi announced he was going to kill everyone in the place before he started shooting. George Kourkounis, 63, and Robert Jurkovich, 64, both retired miners like Gabossi, were killed. A third man was wounded but recovered. Gabossi later shot himself to death in his home.

Justin Fredrickson killed his stepfather, Jim Kerley, on Feb. 19, 1990, while Kerley slept in a recliner chair in his home on Twentymile Road about 12 miles southwest of Steamboat Springs. Fredrickson twice discharged a shotgun into his stepfather's body. The motive for the crime was a letter Fredrickson had found earlier the day of the killing that implied a relationship between Kerley and an Illinois woman.

Fredrickson originally pleaded guilty by reason of insanity, but he changed that plea to guilty of second-degree murder and was sentenced to 48 years in prison. It was while he was being processed at the state prison in Pueblo several months later that he admitted to the stabbing death of a Denver girl five months prior to the shooting of Kerley. Fredrickson was sentenced to life in prison after his second murder conviction.

On Feb. 6, 1988, Stanley Jurgevich fatally shot Little Snake River Valley rancher George Salisbury Jr., who was planning to marry Jurgevich's former girlfriend, Tina Burke. Jurgevich claimed he was attempting to commit suicide at the foot of Salisbury's bed. Salisbury was sleeping at the time of the murder.

Hayden Valley Elementary School principal Dennis Wheeler was convicted of second-degree murder in the killing of coal miner Dewayne Rolando in December 1984. That shooting revolved around a love triangle.

Victor Gocken pleaded guilty to manslaughter in the April 1979 death of Linda White, 21, of Steamboat Springs. White's body was never found although blood matching her rare blood type, and a piece of human skull were found in Gocken's bathroom. The bath tub was dented in a number of places.

Gocken served just two years of a five-year sentence on the manslaughter conviction. He was later convicted of the murder of an Auburn, Wash., woman. Sentenced to 45 years, Gocken died in prison.

To reach Tom Ross call 871-4210or e-mail tomross@amigo.net

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