Rural Colorado murder from 1975 sparks national attention
One of rural Colorado’s oldest cold case murders caught the attention of The Deck Podcast producer Ashley Flowers and was featured in the most recent episode. The Deck Podcast is named for the decks of playing cards bearing the images of the victims of unsolved murders and missing persons cases. The cards are distributed to prisons, in hopes someone might come forward with information so the case might be solved. While the photo of Marjorie Fithian doesn’t appear on any card faces, Flowers said she couldn’t exclude the heartbreaking, nearly 50-year-old case.
Terry Furnish was 24-years old on June 24, 1975, and was making his way from the east end of the Painter Ranch to the west side around 9 a.m. His family moved to the ranch as managers in 1955 but at the time, he was working as a field man in South Dakota and was home for a visit. There were only two ranches off Weld County Road 386 north of Roggen, between Highways 76 and 34 at the time and the area wasn’t heavily traveled. He was only a little more than a mile into his trip when he saw something laying in the middle of the gravel road.
He stopped his pickup and said what he found remains on his mind still. A woman was laying in the middle of the gravel road. He said it appeared that she had a gun shot wound to her cheek and she was bleeding heavily and was unconscious. Beside her, sitting on scattered pieces of broken glass, sat a baby holding the woman’s hand.
Furnish said one of the company pickups was just a one-quarter of a mile or so away and he knew it had a two-way radio installed in the cab. He said he moved the baby boy, who wasn’t crying, out of the glass pieces and raced to call for help. He returned in just minutes, picked up the baby boy, and held him until help arrived. His call for help brought other local ranchers, the Weld County Sheriff’s office deputies, and the Colorado State Patrol.
“I didn’t know what to do,” he said. “I didn’t know whether to put him in the pickup, but I set him just out of the glass. You just don’t know what would have happened to the little guy, and his mom, too. It’s just so unfortunate — it was so remote then — the ambulance took a long time, over an hour if I remember right.”
During the investigation, officers found a spent .25 caliber casing. Further down the road, they located the woman’s suitcase. According to the podcast, in the bag were clothes that appeared to belong to the woman and little boy as well as a phone number that led detectives to the woman’s mother. The young, red-haired woman who was found on the gravel road that morning was identified as 23-year-old Marjorie Fithian of Greeley, Colo. The blonde-haired baby boy found holding her hand was her 18-month-old son, Dylan Sage Reese, who goes by Sage.
Furnish said he hadn’t passed any other cars that morning, though the Greeley Tribune reported residents had seen Fithian and her son in at a café in Roggen that morning. Some residents reported seeing an early 1960s model, two-door car — either a Ford or Chevrolet — with a yellow body and a black top in the area about the time of the shooting.
“As long as it’s been, it’s hard to say,” Furnish said. “I wish I knew more, I really do. I’ve thought about it a thousand times. Had I come up on it right when it happened and the people would have been there you wonder what you would have done then because there’s probably a good chance you would have been shot at, also. It’s a sad thing and you’d like to see closure but with it being so long ago it’s a hard thing, but they do that every once in a while.”
Det. Jack Van Arsdale was the only detective with the Weld County Sheriff’s Office at the time.
Van Arsdale said Fithian’s mother, Betty, told him Marjorie and Sage had traveled to Denver to visit her aunt and uncle. As the investigation continued, detectives learned that her uncle had dropped Marjorie and Sage at the bus depot in Denver at 7 that morning to return to Greeley. The driver was later interviewed by police and said Marjorie and Sage had not boarded the bus. The window of time between her uncle dropping her and Sage at the depot in Denver at 7 a.m., and Furnish finding her around 9 a.m. is narrow and the evidence in the case is sparse.
There were many theories about Marjorie’s murder, ranging from her involvement in drug trafficking, which Det. Van Arsdale said was unlikely, to a hitch hiking ride gone wrong. In 1975, the Weld County Sheriff’s Office arrested Jerry Eugene Walker on first degree murder charges based on information provided to the office. The charges were dismissed, however, based on a lack of evidence. Today, Det. Byron Kastilahn is the dedicated cold case investigator working to solve this case and others in the county.
Sheriff Steve Reams told The Deck he has worked some ugly cases, but never a case like this one.
“It’s by the grace of God that kid is still alive, and his life was spared,” he said.
Sage, who doesn’t remember the murder, told Flowers that he was raised by his aunt and grandmother and now lives out of state with his own family. He doesn’t remember his mother, but knows she was an artist, a poet, and loved music and said his children also have an interest and talent in the arts, which he attributes to his mother.
If you have any information, please contact Det. Byron Kastilahn at the Weld County Sheriff’s Office at (970) 400-2827.
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