Twenty-five years after a man’s death is ruled suicide, an autopsy reveals he was murdered.
Was Leroy’s death an “auto suicide?”
On Memorial Day, 1968, 18-year old Leroy Drieth had just left his girlfriend’s house in Mead, Colorado, when his car slammed into a tree He was killed instantly. The coroner’s ruling was suicide. Twenty-five years later, at his family’s request, Leroy’s body was exhumed for an autopsy. Leroy’s sister, Vickie Mahrling, had always been convinced that her brother was murdered:
“I took a vow that I would do this for my brother. And I don’t feel like I can stop until it’s done, because I would be letting him down. And I already feel like the authorities let him down. Obviously someone took his life and that someone has to stand up and talk for him.”
Leroy’s sister, Vickie, investigated
Leroy was the oldest of four children. At the age of 17, he fell in love with sixteen-year-old, Patty. A year later, they were engaged.
On the day he died, Leroy went to a party at Patty’s house. He left the party in the late afternoon. A block and a half away, his car smashed head-on into a tree. The first people on the scene were Leroy’s brother and his father, Henry:
“I tried to hug him, and I said, ‘I’m gonna go get you some help.’ So I ran to the truck and told Doug, I said, ‘Run to the grocery store and call the ambulance.’”
When medics arrived, a bystander made a comment that Leroy had fought with his girlfriend and that he had said he was going to kill himself. Delbert Mikkelson was the ambulance driver:
“The coroner came to the hospital, went over what happened, and then I was the first one to relay the story to him that he had had a fight with his girlfriend and was going to kill himself.”
Leroy’s body was exhumed
Based on that information, the coroner decided no autopsy was necessary. He called Leroy’s death “auto suicide.” Freda Bruce is Leroy’s mother:
“I went to the district attorney in Greeley and I said, “I don’t believe this was a suicide, I believe it was a murder and I need for you to investigate it.’ And he was very rude. He said, ‘You’re just a distraught parent. There’s no reason for us to investigate this. You just go on home and get over it.’ I just cried. I never got over it.”
For eleven-year-old Vickie, Leroy’s death was the defining moment in her life:
“I remember that my mom was crying for a long time, and even though I was only eleven, I knew there was something wrong. But I had to wait until I was an adult to attempt to solve the problem. I never did believe that Leroy committed suicide.”
In June of 1988, Vickie paid a surprise visit to the coroner’s office. She expected to be stonewalled. Instead, they told her they thought that Leroy’s death hadn’t been fully investigated. According to Vickie, the coroner suggested that she hire a private investigator:
“I felt like it was a real strange thing for the authorities to bring it to my attention, that something’s wrong here.”
A startling discovery; knife wounds!
Vickie became her own investigator. She knocked on doors, talked to neighbors, and looked for anyone who knew Leroy’s girlfriend , Patty, or remembered the day he died:
“According to the townspeople, there was a party going on at Patty’s house, and there had been a fight, but not between Patty and Leroy. There had been several other family members there that did not like Leroy and that had been drinking all day.”
Vickie placed an ad in the local paper asking Patty to contact her. It worked. When they met, Patty denied that she ever told anyone that she and Leroy had fought and that he said he was going to take his life. But, according to Vickie, that’s all Patty was willing to say:
“I felt like Patty knew answers, but was reluctant to talk.”
Vickie and her family decided to have Leroy’s body exhumed, hoping an autopsy might provide some answers. Dr. Patrick Allen, a forensic pathologist and medical examiner, examined the body and made a shocking discovery:
“It was immediately apparent that this young man had sustained, actually, two incised wounds to the neck. And they were very characteristic of what I see all the time in persons who’ve received stab or slash wounds to the neck from a knife.”
Vickie was stunned. Leroy’s neck showed two cuts: a stab wound, nearly two inches long, and a deep, four-inch slash that had severed his windpipe. Based on this information, the cause of Leroy’s death was changed from “auto suicide” to “undetermined.” But who had attacked Leroy and why? Vickie Mahrling thinks Patty knows the truth:
“In retrospect, everything leads back to Patty’s house. Every time I think of a scenario of what happened, the same conclusion and the same thought is that it started at Patty’s house with an argument.”
Leroy arrived for the barbeque at around five 5:00 P.M. Patty’s former sister-in-law,
Carolyn Wertz, was at the party:
“Leroy came over that day and a lot of Patty’s family was there. And everyone had been drinking. I was married to Patty’s brother, I was living in the house with the family, for about eight months, before and after this happened. And Patty’s family and Leroy had a slight argument, kind of a racial argument over girlfriends and boyfriends.”
After the argument, Patty walked Leroy to his car. Vickie thinks that just before he left, Leroy was attacked by one of Patty’s family members:
“I believe that they continued arguing and that a male person just quickly reached out and cut Leroy’s throat.”
Patrick Allen thinks Leroy was fleeing for his life when he crashed:
“I feel that Leroy lost consciousness or lost control of the vehicle because of the injuries. He would have been in pain and would have been extremely afraid, but the actual cause of death was injuries sustained from the automobile crash.”
Vickie claims that Patty contacted her again and offered to provide an account of the party. But when Vickie called to set up a meeting, she found that Patty’s phone had been disconnected. Vickie is still hoping that Patty will come forward with the truth.
Watch this case now on Amazon Prime in season eight with Robert Stack and in season four with Dennis Farina. Also available on YouTube with Dennis Farina. Various seasons available now on Hulu.
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