Ten unsolved Colorado murders on National Day of Remembrance: Read victims' personal stories

Categories: Crime

Photos, personal stories below.
Today, on the National Day of Remembrance for Murder Victims, families and loved ones of those whose lives were so cruelly cut short, including Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, whose sister was slain in 2002, will gather from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. outside the new Denver Crime Lab, 1371 Cherokee Street.

To mark this somber occasion, we've assembled the latest in our occasional series of posts about unsolved Colorado homicides, culled from the Families of Homicide Victims and Missing Persons website.

Click on victim names for more details, including law-enforcement contact info if you can help finally bring their killers to justice. And in the meantime, remember.

Bruce, Debra Lynn and Melissa Marie Bennett

The Bennett family.
"Bruce Bennett married Debra, then joined the Navy. He served four years at Pearl Harbor between 1976 and 1980 as a sonar analyst. Bruce and Debra had two children, Melissa and Vanessa. After he got out Bruce moved his small family to Aurora and worked at a family-owned furniture store.

"'They led a very quiet life,' said his mother, Constance Bennett. 'They worked hard and stayed home at night.'

"Bruce enrolled in college and was trained as an air traffic controller. He was excited about the prospect of getting an assignment at a local airport, his mother said.

"On January 15, 1984, several family members got together and had a birthday party for Melissa, who was going to turn 8.

"Later that night intruder(s) entered the home some time between midnight and 6 a.m .

"'It was a blitz attack for no reason,' said Marvin Brandt, who investigated the case as a homicide detective between 1984 and when he retired from the Aurora Police Department in 2002. Bruce confronted an intruder on the stairs, investigators said. He had deep gashes on his arms and body. Blood that splattered and smeared up and down the staircase marked the running battle. Debra's body was found in her bedroom and Melissa and Vanessa were both found in their beds.

"Bruce Bennett lost the battle with a killer who pummeled and sexually assaulted his 26-year-old wife, Debra, and 7-year-old daughter, Melissa. The attack also shattered the face of their 3-year-old daughter, Vanessa. Though Vanessa's jaw was crushed, sending jagged bones into her windpipe, she survived after her grandmother, Constance Bennett, checked on the family later that morning when they didn't show up to work at the furniture store. 'It's just like it was yesterday,' Bennett said. 'It's something I'll never get over. It's scary what people can do.' Small Vanessa went to live with Bennett after a lengthy series of operations that left scars on her arms, face and head.

"An investigation in which more than 500 people were questioned did not uncover any leads to solve the case. If you have information that may relate to this triple homicide, please call the Investigations Division of the Aurora Police Department, 303-739-6018."

Patricia Smith

Patricia Smith.
In September 2010, DNA evidence surfaced linking the Bennett and Smith murders, although both remain unsolved three years later. This text is from our blog post headlined "Patricia Louise Smith and Bennett family 1984 murders: DNA evidence points to same killer."

"50-year-old Patricia Louise Smith was an out going, friendly, sophisticated woman, who had recently started her own interior decorating business. Smith left behind a husband, children and grandchildren with questions of who would have wanted to murder Patricia.

"Patricia Smith was murdered inside her residence, located at 12610 West Bayaud Avenue, Apartment 5, currently known as the Panorama Subdivision, located in the City of Lakewood on January 10, 1984 between the hours of 1:00 p.m. and 3:00 p.m. Previous investigative leads in this case have failed to identify who is responsible for murdering Mrs. Smith.

"If you have any information regarding this case, you are encouraged to contact the Lakewood Police Department Cold Case hotline at (303) 987-7474 or e-mail at"

Continue for information about more unsolved Colorado murders on the National Day of Remembrance for Murder Victims.

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Thank you Westword and Michael Roberts for this observance of the National Day of Remembrance and for your reference to our organization, Families of Homicide Victims and Missing Persons, Inc. Since 1970, Colorado has experienced 1,523 unsolved murders. Many of those killers are still at large, though some would have you believe most are locked up for some other crime.

These cold cases and their killers pose a threat to the safety of all Coloradoans. If your readers think that doesn't include them, just talk to some of the 1,100 family members and friends of these victims that we have brought into membership in our grass-roots organization.

There is a law on the books that creates a Cold Case Team (CRS 24-33.5-425) in the Colorado Bureau of Investigation. The intent was to help local law enforcement solve some of these cases. But the legislature has never provided funding for more than one crime analyst to bring such a team into existence.

Your readers can do something about this. They can contact their legislators and demand funding for a state-level cold case team.

Howard Morton, Vice-President, Families of Homicide Victims and Missing Persons, Inc


I'm reading that more than 60 percent of males(males were the only ones reported) arrested(for misdemeanors and felonies) in 2011 tested positive for drugs.  With marijuana being the most commonly found drug.  Nice company you marijuana users keep isn't it?  By the way alcohol was not tested for, oh yeah, that's legal.


Some of these cases SHOULD have been solved - The problem with many departments is the detectives are often the old dinasaurs from the 60's - 70's age of policing... They often reject their colleagues and younger peers as being "rookies" or simply traffic police...yet they fail to recognize the outdated and sloppy work they produce. Of course today's technology has improved - but many of these cases clearly had some evidence that the culprits knew the victims.

Rob GraayWolf Denman
Rob GraayWolf Denman

We should on this day remind folks that law enforcements efford to solve these murders are hampered by all the man hours spent on the drug war... How come there's no minimum sentences for child molesters or murders....

michael.roberts moderator editortopcommenter

@attaboy_howard Thanks for the post and the kind words, Howard. We're going to highlight your thoughts in an upcoming Comment of the Day. Much appreciated.


@xyzabc And how many murders or assults have been caused by alcohol idiot? Hell of a lot more then pot. So nice company you boozers keep asshole.

michael.roberts moderator editortopcommenter

@Rob GraayWolf Denman Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Rob.

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