Sunday, March 24, 2013

Colorado's Most Notorious Unsolved Murder

Emily Griffith
Who Killed the Retired School-marm?

A recent Denver Post article by Kirk Mitchell alerted me to this unusual case.  Unfortunately, after 67 years, there’s little hope of determining who murdered Emily and Florence Griffith.

On June 18, 1947, an assailant forced two elderly women to kneel on the floor of their mountain cabin.  Then the killer dispatched each with a shot to the back of the head.  Two months later, the man suspected of the murders was found dead.  But did he really do it?

A lifelong educator, Emily Griffith, 67, had positively impacted the lives of many children.  But she’d done much more.  In 1916, she established the Opportunity School in Denver.  According to Kirk Mitchell, “it was a free school within the public Denver school system [that] offered trade education for barbers, bakers and plumbers.  Many of her students had come from foreign countries and couldn’t speak English. Parents learned English, math and the basics of American government.”

Now called the Emily Griffith Technical College, the school has helped more than 1.5 million people, including a high percentage of immigrants, to learn viable skills necessary for success in this country.  Opportunity School was one of the first of its kind, and started a trend across America.

After retiring, Griffith built a rustic cabin near Pinecliffe.  There she cared for her invalid sister, Florence.  The two lived comfortably on a pension that Emily received from the Denver Public School System.  A friend and neighbor, Fred Wright Lundy, helped care for the sisters.  Almost every evening, Lundy, also a former teacher, had supper with Emily and Florence. 

About twenty-four hours after the murders, Ethelyn Gurtner (a sister of the dead women) and her husband, Evans, found the bodies.  Time magazine reported that “the dining table, near the window overlooking a creek, was set for three. On the living room floor lay Florence Griffith, in a puddle of blood. On the bedroom floor lay Emily. Each had been shot through the head with a .38-calibre revolver.”

Lundy quickly became the immediate (and only) suspect.  About a mile up the canyon, searchers discovered his 1941 Nash.  Inside, a note read: “If and when I die, please ship my body to Roscoe, Il. No autopsy. Correspond with Roy Cummings, Roscoe, a cousin. No funeral here. Money in the brief case can be used for immediate expenses. Thank you. P.S. Embalm in Boulder, Colo. Fredy Lundy.”  Investigators opened the briefcase and found an envelope containing $350.00.

Lundy’s body, however, was nowhere to be found.

Rural mountain homes, called “outlaw cabins” by the news media, were searched.  For several days, lawmen and “mountain men” scoured the area, including the creek that ran near Emily’s home.  No body was found.  As the search for the alleged killer continued, Undersheriff Don Moore of the Boulder County Sheriff’s Department informed the press that he didn’t think Lundy had committed suicide.  Photos of the suspect were published in newspapers all over America, but still he eluded capture.

Then, on August 17, the Associated Press reported that “the severely-decomposed body of a man was found wedged against a large rock in South Boulder creek Saturday and coroner George Howe said he was certain it was that of Fred Wright Lundy, 65, missing key figure in the Griffith sisters slaying case.”  Lundy had indeed committed suicide, jumping from a railroad bridge about a mile from the Griffith home.

Police told reporters that the killer of the sisters had been found, and effectively closed the case.

Not everyone agreed, and over the years questions arose.

By all accounts, Lundy had no motive to want his friends dead.  Neighbors said he occasionally groused that the area around Pinecliffe was a “prison,” and it was rumored that he would have liked to have moved to a city, such as Chicago.  In fact, he asked Emily to go with him to the Windy City for a visit.  She politely informed him that she couldn’t leave her homebound sister.

Was this a motive for murder?

Cops insisted the crime was a “mercy killing.”  Lundy, they claimed, had expressed displeasure over his friend Emily having to be the perpetual caregiver for her sister.  He had allegedly told friends that he’d “rather see them dead than the way they are living.”

Did Lundy obsess on these seemingly minor difficulties to the point that he would murder his two friends?

Another theory emerged when author Debra Faulkner published her book, Touching Tomorrow: The Emily Griffith Story.  She concluded that if Lundy had intended to kill the women, he would have chosen a “gentler” method.  In addition, he had nothing to gain by their deaths.

Faulkner looked for other suspects, and speculated that, in order to inherit Emily’s estate, Ethelyn and Evans Gurtner may have slain the sisters.  The husband and wife soon began traveling the world, using funds they would never have had without the inheritance.  But while the Gurtners may have had motive, there was no evidence that they committed the crime.

So the question remains: who killed Emily and Florence Griffith?

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