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Camp Hale murder victim identified

Reid Williams and Matt Zalaznick

EAGLE COUNTY – A woman whose body was found near Camp Hale more than 10 days ago finally has a name.

Melba Jean Ginther, 57, who lived in Keystone, was found dead around 7 p.m. May 20 lying behind a green pickup 150 yards down a dirt road off U.S. Highway 24 near Camp Hale, between Red Cliff and Leadville.

She was shot in the back of the head with a rifle, Eagle County Coroner Kara Bettis said.

Though police had clues to Ginther’s identity shortly after her body was found by commuters traveling between the Vail area and Leadville, they did not confirm her identity until Thursday morning, Bettis said.

“Fingerprints positively identified her as Melba Ginther,” Bettis said.

No one has been arrested in the brutal slaying of the woman, who was a pastry chef at Keystone Resort. Police say they are following several leads, however.

Ginther was apparently a mystery in life, as well, said family members and co-workers. “(She) kind of led her life that way,” said her older brother, Donald Ginther, who lives in Lakewood.

“Melba Jean didn’t want the family to know where she was,” he said. “It’s pretty much a mystery to us what she was involved in. We don’t know what happened. That’s the hard part.”

Donald Ginther said his sister was born in Minturn and grew up, for the most part, in the mountains. He said she once lived in Breckenridge, years ago, but many details of her life are unknown to the family. Donald Ginther said he hadn’t seen his sister in three years.

“Our dad died three years ago, and I brought mom to live down here (in Lakewood),” he said. “Melba Jean just showed up one night, took mom out to supper and that was the last we saw her.”

Melba Jean Ginther worked as a pastry chef in Keystone Resort’s conference center kitchen. Resort spokeswoman Dawn Doty said she thinks Ginther lived alone and was the sole baker on the kitchen’s afternoon shift.

Doty said she thought police might have had a difficult time locating Ginther’s family, because notification information in the woman’s human resource files was scarce.

“She wasn’t known real well,” Doty said. “She would come to work when everybody else was getting off. People described her as a really sweet, “grandmotherly’ lady. We’re just thankful they could find her family.”

A Keystone bus driver from the winter season was shocked Thursday to learn Ginther was the mystery woman. He said she “was too nice.”

“Melba was great,” Chad Morton said. “She used to hook up all the drivers with cookies and goodies from the conference center. Everybody loved her. The drivers would always make a special trip over there to pick her up and take her home to Sunrise (employee housing).”

How police tracked down Ginther’s family might be another mystery.

Obituary information received by the weekly “Eagle Valley Enterprise” lists nine surviving family members by name, but only three have phone numbers listed in the areas given.

Ginther’s mother, Mable Ginther, lives in Lakewood. Ginther apparently is survived by four sisters in Salida and Cody, Wyo., four daughters in Kiowa, Thornton, Valdez, Alaska, and New England, and seven grandchildren.

Her ex-husband, Raymond Powers, reportedly lives in Canon City, but information operators could not find a phone listing for the man.

The discovery of Ginther’s body on a remote road near an area called Pando Junction, just north of Camp Hale, caused jitters all the way down to the tiny town of Red Cliff, where Ginther may have stopped on her way to Camp Hale May 20. A liquor store owner in Red Cliff remembered giving a woman matching Ginther’s description directions to Camp Hale earlier that afternoon.

Police have not named any suspects, but say they want to talk to two men riding in a white pickup seen in Pando Junction about two hours before Ginther’s body was discovered.

Police have also determined the green pickup behind which Ginther’s body was found belonged to one her friends.

Services for Ginther are scheduled for 2 p.m. Sunday at the Intercession Episcopal Church, 3101 E. 100th Ave., in Thornton. A reception will follow the services.

Reid Williams can be reached at (970) 668-3998 ext. 237 or rwilliams@summitdaily.com.

Matt Zalaznick covers public safety, Eagle County Courts and Avon/ Beaver Creek. He can be reached at (970) 949-0555 ext. 606 or via e-mail at mzalaznick@vaildaily.com.


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