Trail in year-old murder case grows cold
DENVER – More than a year later, investigators still have no leads in the death of a Dillon woman who was murdered near Camp Hale in Eagle County.
Melba Jean Ginther, a Keystone Resort pastry chef, was found May 20, 2002, lying on a dirt road near a railroad crossing at Pando Junction outside Leadville.
The 57-year-old woman had been shot in the back of the head about 150 yards from Highway 24.
Eagle County sheriff’s deputies set up a roadblock in the days after the murder to ask commuters between Leadville and Minturn if they’d seen anything suspicious. The best clue they had was the report of a Dodge pickup truck and two men seen four-wheeling in the area.
Exacerbating the investigation is that Ginther had little contact with family and typically worked alone.
She did, however, bring desserts for Keystone bus drivers and shared a love of gold panning with another Keystone employee. Investigators tacked up flyers throughout the mountain area soliciting information. They followed up on rumors – all to no avail.
Despite the manpower allocated to the case – including officers from the Eagle, Lake and Summit county sheriff’s offices, Leadville and Buena Vista police departments and the Colorado Bureau of Investigation (CBI) – no other clues have been established.
And with every day that passes, the trail gets colder – and CBI agent Steve Johnson doesn’t want the case to languish.
“We’ve been poring over the physical evidence, doing more testing, but we don’t have any suspects to match it up to,” he said. “We have more than one person who saw them the same time Melba was down there.”
The men were described as being in their 20s or 30s, of average height, average build and dark hair. A few have said they might have had dark complexions.
The best lead so far is the pickup truck, Johnson said.
“The murder appears to be a random and senseless act of violence by someone who knows the area,” Johnson said. “I can’t put a motive on this. I don’t know if it was sexual, a robbery, a traffic altercation; I just don’t know. I just know it was a very, very vicious, brutal killing.”
It’s particularly hard on family members.
“It’s changed the whole family quite a bit,” said Kathi Ward, one of Ginther’s daughters who lives in Thornton. “It’s hard. It’s left everybody very depressed. You live in a daze all the time. It changes your whole outlook on life. It feels like it just happened yesterday. You can’t really go on with your life; it seems like that’s what it will be like forever. You’ll always have it on your mind.”
She said the best thing that could happen would be if law enforcement catches the perpetrators.
“But that won’t bring Mom back,” she said, adding that not having closure in the incident is most frustrating.
“Why did they do it?” she said. “It’s not like she had a weapon; she was just an older lady. Those are the questions we’ll never get (answered).”
And she acknowledges the difficulty officers face, including the time that has passed, the number of Dodge trucks in Colorado and the remoteness of the area in which the murder took place.
Ward hopes publicity about the case will trigger someone’s memory.
“Be aware of what’s around you,” she said. “Most criminals stay around their crime scene. Look around your neighborhood. If you see that truck, call. It might be them. Someone’s got to see them – someone’s got to know them. That’s what I’m hoping for.”
“It’s one of those cases where we could use the public’s help,” Johnson said. “Somebody out there has to know something.”
Jane Stebbins can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 228, or
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