It was November 1985, when a passenger enjoying their time on the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad caught sight of a disturbing scene that would completely upend their trip: a local business owner laying dead in the back of his truck, murdered. It turned out, that death was only the tip of the iceberg of a much larger and sinister case.
While Durango is generally a safe and idealistic place for most people, it turns out, it also attracts all kinds of strange occurrences, and maybe even a serial killer or two.
Robert SpanglerRobert Spangler might just be one of the evilest humans to set foot in Durango. Spangler, a serial killer and family annihilator, moved to Durango in 1990, with his third wife, Donna Sundling.
Spangler came into the marriage with an unusually tragic background. In December 1978, a neighbor discovered the bodies of Spangler’s first wife, Nancy, 17-year-old son, David, and 15-year-old daughter, Susan, in their Littleton, Colo. home. They had all been shot. Spangler claimed he was at work during the massacre but during the investigation revealed he was having an affair with a co-worker, Sharon Cooper. His and Nancy’s marriage was not going well.
Eventually, investigators closed the case, concluding that Nancy had murdered her children before turning the gun on herself. Spangler went on to marry Cooper. They divorced in 1988 when she became convinced he was out to kill her, too.
In 1990, he married his third wife. Sundling, the mother of five grown children and an aerobics instructor, did not share Spangler’s love of hiking because of her fear of heights. In 1993, however, Spangler convinced Sundling to hike the Grand Canyon with him where, according to Spangler, she fell to her death while he attempted to take a photo of her next to a ledge. After Sundling’s death, Spangler reconnected with Cooper, who he later found dead of an alleged drug overdose.
Investigators were eventually able to link the deaths together and got Spangler to confess to the murders of Nancy, David, Susan, and Sundling. He was never charged for Cooper’s death and was sentenced to prison without the possibility of parole, eventually dying of cancer.
Dylan RedwineDylan Redwine was just 13 years old when he disappeared while on a court-ordered visit to his father, Mark, in November 2013. Mark lived near the Vallecito Reservoir and had a tense relationship with Dylan.
Dylan was last heard from at 9:37 p.m. Nov. 18, 2012, when he texted a friend to make plans to meet up, according to the Durango Herald.
Investigators found Dylan’s remains in June 2013, eight miles from Middle Mountain Road. Hikers later found his skull in November 2015, a little more than a mile from Middle Mountain Road where the rest of his remains were found.
Mark was charged in July 2017 of second-degree murder and child abuse. He is currently awaiting trial in the La Plata County Jail.
“I’m sure I’ll never get the truth (about what happened to Dylan),” Elaine Hatfield-Hall (Dylan’s mother) told the Durango Herald in 2019. “It’s time that we can settle this.”
The Colorado Labor WarsIn the early 1900s, relations were tense between miners and mine owners, and it was no wonder. According to Westword, the Western Federation of Miners went head-to-head with mine owners using strikes, sabotage, and the forced deportations of strikers. The fighting was particularly ugly in Colorado and impacted Durango, Cripple Creek, Leadville, and Denver.
In Telluride, tensions spiked when mine manager Arthur Collins reduced miners’ wages and cut back on safety regulations to increase mine profits. In response to a 1901 strike, he hired gunmen and strikebreakers, and on November 20, 1901, a fire at his Smuggler-Union Mine resulted in the death of 24 people. The tragedy was blamed on Collins’s cuts to safety measures.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, a year after these events, he was killed via shotgun blast while at his home. The murder was never solved.
Unsolved 1985 murdersIn 1985, something unusual happened in Durango. On Nov. 10, a train passenger spotted the body of local businessman David Tyler, 36, the owner of Automatic Transmission Exchange, in a truck bed parked outside his shop.
A few weeks later, Durango police found the body of Dennis Sleater after responding to a robbery at Junction Creek Liquors. Sleater, 24, worked as a clerk at the store and was a Fort Lewis College student.
Friends of Sleater’s had come to the liquor store. They found the cash register open and Sleater facedown in the basement, shot twice in the head.
The two cases have never been solved but as the two victims have a lot in common, it is theorized that the murders could be connected.
One of the most popular theories involves Eli Stutzman, an Amish man who was in Durango at the time of the murders.
Stutzman, it seemed, had a knack for being around whenever tragedy struck. Though he was never convicted, he was linked to the mysterious 1977 death of his pregnant wife, who died in a barn fire, and the 1985 death of his son, Danny. When questioned about Danny’s death, Stutzman claimed he died from an illness. Out of fear of being blamed, Stutzman claimed he abandoned the body in a ditch outside Chester, Neb.
Eventually, Stutzman was found guilty of the 1983 murder of a former roommate while living in Austin, Texas, and served 16 years in prison. He was paroled in 2005 and died by suicide in 2007.
Stutzman and Tyler knew each other and maybe attended the same party in Durango on Nov. 8, 1985, two days before Tyler was killed. A witness also reported seeing a man matching Stutzman’s description near the liquor store during the time of Sleater’s death.
Stutzman’s death reignited interest in the cases when police obtained Stutzman’s DNA and fingerprints. Unfortunately, they did not match a bloody handprint found at the scene of Tyler’s murder.