A strange case recently reached its apparent conclusion in the Colorado courts.
L.S. Shoen was the founder of U-Haul and the father of thirteen children. In the 1970s, a rivalry began over U-Haul's management among L.S.'s four eldest sons, including Mark and Sam Shoen. The Shoen family split into factions, with L.S. and Sam in one group and Mark in the other group. The dispute was the subject of multiple media reports, including a 1990 front-page story in the Wall Street Journal.
In 1990, Sam's wife, Eva, was murdered in their home in Telluride, Colorado. The sheriff's department's investigation disclosed the following evidence:
> Eva's body was found at the top of the staircase outside her bedroom;
> A piece of a bloody bed sheet was removed but never found, although a blood-stained mattress remained;
> No blood was found between Eva's bed and where her body was found at the top of the staircase;
> Eva's bedroom was in disarray, suggesting that a struggle had ensued;
> Money and jewelry were in plain view, but nothing was taken from the home except for a cut-out from the bloody bed sheet;
> Eva was killed by a gunshot wound in her back;
> Two needle mark injection sites, believed to have been made shortly before Eva was shot, were found on each side of Eva's chest; and
> Sam was in Arizona when Eva was murdered.
After the murder, U-Haul, which was then under Mark's control, dispatched a team of lawyers and private investigators to purportedly assist with the investigation. The sheriff's department declined offers of assistance, but the U-Haul team began conducting surveillance on Sam and passing unsubstantiated information about Sam to the sheriff's department, such as that Sam had affairs while he was married to Eva and was overheard confessing to the murder.
In 1993, the sheriff's department attempted to get additional leads by featuring the investigation on Unsolved Mysteries. That resulted in a tip leading to Frank Marquis, who eventually confessed to the murder. Marquis claimed that he was visiting Telluride at the time to burglarize drug dealers' houses. Marquis claimed he shot Eva next to her bed and she ran to the top of the stairs. Marquis denied any knowledge of the injection sites on Eva's body and claimed he acted alone. Although Marquis said that he was not bleeding in the Shoens' home, he claimed that he cut out the piece of bloody bed sheet because he thought some of the blood might be his. Marquis did not explain why he did not also take all or part of the bloody mattress underneath the bed sheet.
Sam later appeared on a television documentary called Tragedy in Telluride that was nationally broadcast in 2008. On the show, he said that his brothers, including Mark, were given everything by their father and yet ruthlessly tried to destroy him. Sam said that his brothers were "capable" of being involved in the murder and the cut-out sheet was likely a failed attempt to frame him. Mark then sued Sam in Colorado for defamation.
In November 2012, a Colorado appeals court ruled in Sam's favor. The case turned on whether Sam's statements were a matter of public concern (rather than a private concern) and therefore subject to greater protection under freedom of speech principles. The court found the statements to be a matter of public concern because, among other reasons, they were critical of the sheriff's department's investigation and pertained to wealthy and prominent businessmen who were closely followed in the press. The defamation case is now over, but what exactly happened that night in 1990 remains a mystery.
Noah Klug is a local attorney whose practice emphasizes real estate, business, and litigation. He may be reached at (970) 468-4953 or Noah@TheKlugLawFirm.com.