Friends of Summit County couple shocked by murder-suicide: ‘They were good people’
SUMMIT COUNTY, Colo. — An elderly couple tied to the first murder-suicide in Summit County history had recently filed for divorce after 52 years of marriage.
On Feb. 13, the Summit County Sheriff’s Office confirmed that 75-year-old James “Jim” McNaul shot and killed his wife, 73-year-old Dorthe “Dorta” McNaul, before shooting himself once in the head. Both individuals died from gunshot wounds.
The incident occurred Tuesday night at the couple’s townhome near the end of Ryan Gulch Road in Wildernest, a subdivision northwest of Silverthorne. The two had lived in the home since purchasing it together in 1999, according to county assessor’s records.
Around 9:30 p.m. on Feb. 10, the sheriff’s office responded to a call for a welfare check at the McNaul residence. When the two deputies arrived, they found James McNaul and Dorthe McNaul dead inside, with evidence of multiple gunshots around the home.
Deputies also recovered the handgun used in the shootings. James McNaul was a National Rifle Association Member and frequent volunteer with the Summit Range Association, where he often helped with safety talks and shooting competitions.
After analyzing evidence in the home, investigators determined James McNaul shot his wife several times before shooting himself. A release from the sheriff’s office called the incident “a domestic tragedy,” noting the couple had recently filed for divorce after 52 years of marriage. The divorce records were not available at press time.
The incident is under investigation as the sheriff’s office awaits the results of the autopsies, toxicology tests and forensic analysis of computers and other electronic devices recovered from the home.
Results from the various tests may not be available for several weeks, Sheriff John Minor said. The sheriff’s office will likely have to partner with out-of-county entities, including federal agencies, to piece together a full picture of the incident. The local office doesn’t have direct access to a full forensics lab or computer forensics expert.
“In a typical homicide there is someone to blame,” Minor said. “There’s a court trial where all the facts come out. In a case like this, you’re left with a lot of unanswered questions as to why. It will take us a while to piece that evidence together.”
Aside from the Feb. 10 call for a welfare check, few neighbors heard gunshots or were even aware of the incident until law enforcement arrived at the scene with lights and sirens.
The neighborhood is a mix of vacation rentals and condominium complexes, and the unit attached to the McNauls’ townhome appeared vacant on the Saturday after the incident.
A neighbor in a short-term rental to the west of the McNauls’ unit said he didn’t hear anything the night of the incident and didn’t know the couple well enough to comment on their relationship.
Farther down Ryan Gulch to the east, another neighbor said he knew nothing about the incident until the next day.
“It’s unfortunate,” said the neighbor, who wished to remain anonymous because he didn’t know the McNauls. “This is big-city crime in a small town.”
James and Dorthe McNaul were longtime residents of Summit County. In the summer 2013 edition of Explore Summit magazine, published by the Summit Daily, McNaul talked about his love for the open air and gorgeous sights at the Summit County Shooting Range.
“The mountain setting is fantastic,” McNaul was quoted in the article. “Where else can you get a view like this, out in the fresh air?”
Brian Denison, president of the Summit Range Association, met James McNaul about 15 years ago when Denison moved to the area. The two often volunteered at shooting range events and would occasionally get together for dinner with Dorthe McNaul, whom Denison said went by Dorta. He worked with her several years ago at Target in Silverthorne, he said, but hadn’t seen her in several months. Like the McNauls’ neighbors, he wasn’t aware of any tension between the husband and wife.
“When I heard they had filed for divorce, I heard it after the fact and was quite honestly surprised,” Denison said. “It wasn’t something I knew about.”
Another shooting range volunteer, rangemaster Merle Schultz, said James McNaul was a hard worker who frequently volunteered, though he rarely talked about himself. Schultz declined to comment further.
“They were good people,” Denison said. “This is something that’s a shock to anyone who knows them.”
A TRAGIC FIRST
The Summit coroner’s office confirmed that the murder-suicide was the first of its kind in the county. The coroner’s records date to the 1800s, though Minor notes that records older than 50 or 60 years can be unreliable.
The McNaul incident is the first local murder since 2010, when photographer Dale Bruner of Silverthorne killed his wife of 11 years. Her body was recovered from the Blue River three days after he reported her missing.
In 2012, Bruner was convicted of second-degree murder, along with two counts of first-degree assault and three counts of tampering with evidence. He was sentenced to 112 years in prison.
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