Harold Henthorn

On September 29, 2012 Harold and Toni Henthorn were hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado. It was said to be a celebration between the two for their twelfth wedding anniversary. They went there together but only one of them would come back. Harold would call 911 from the trail to report that his wife had fallen 128 feet off a cliff along the trail.

Obviously a husband and wife, on a trail in which one claimed the other fell to their death warranted at a least an investigation. It is never advisable to simply take the word of the only witness to a suspicious death. It took several months but investigators would come to believe that Dr. Toni Henthorn, a local eye doctor, would not just simply loose her footing on the trail as her husband would attempt to lead people to believe, but had been pushed to her death. By the time he went to trial in 2015 not only would prosecutors believe he had killed Toni, but they also believed that he had killed his first wife, Sandra “Lynn” Henthorn. On top of this, another woman would testify at his trial that all signs pointed to her being his next victim. To be fair it appears that the only real evidence they seemed to have against Harold in the death of Toni were a few freak accidents, which again he was the only witness, and a map of the area in which she fell. The map was known as the “X marks the spot map” as the trail in which they intended to take was mapped and an X appeared right at the spot in which Toni fell. Investigators would find this and show it to Harold. They would testify that he suddenly became silent and seemingly had no words. But, again, to be fair, that alone did not make him guilty of killing his wife. The motive? Life insurance. With that said Harold's ever changing stories did not help him and in fact even the defense was quoted in court as saying “he can't tell the same story twice.”

So let's start with Harold's first wife and the story behind her death. Allegedly late on the night of November 7, 1995 Harold and Lynn were driving down the road and got a flat tire. Harold would claim that when he tossed the old tire into the truck of the car the jack holding the car up gave way and landed on Lynn. While there were questions as to why she was under the car to begin with, it was eventually ruled an accident. It was not until Toni would die that a new investigation was launched into the death of Lynn. But, I must admit that from a legal sense, despite subsequent court rulings, I am unsure that I believe the information surrounding Lynn's death should have been entered into his trial pertaining to Toni's death. Yes, it is suspicious; Yes, it should likely be looked into again. However, he has not been charged, nor have they proven much of anything other than the case needed another look. That does not mean that I do not believe they will not find something connecting him to the death of Lynn, I am only saying that until the investigation is complete I am unsure I believe that it should have been entered into his trial.

It appears to seem that even Lynn's family did not highly suspect Harold of intentionally causing Lynn's death until Toni died also. Harold continued to go on vacation's with Lynn's family and went to holiday celebrations. However, while I did not find the complete legal ruling on why the circumstances surrounding Lynn's death were entered into his trial, I suspect that this was highly due to a woman named Grace Rishell.

Grace had once been married to one of Lynn's brothers. At some point she had gotten a divorce and was the single parent of four children. While it is unclear if she remained friends with all of her ex-husband's family, it was extremely clear that she and Harold remained friends throughout the years. In 2009 Rishell would claim that Harold had talked her into getting life insurance on herself and named her daughters as beneficiaries. The policies totaled $250,000. In 2010 Rishell decided that she no longer wanted the policies and informed the insurance company. It was not until after Toni had died that Rishell discovered that the policies had not been canceled and that Harold had forged her signature to keep them and had changed them, making himself the beneficiary. Once discovered Rishell said it still took nearly 100 days to get the policies canceled.

Over the years Grace Rishell had become friends with Toni Henthorn also. While she lived in Texas and the Henthorn's lived in Colorado she had kept a relationship with them. In August of 2012 all of the Henthorn's were to visit Rishell in Texas but only Harold and his then, seven year old daughter Haley came. During their visit they had done a lot of sight seeing and looking back Rishell felt they had gone to several remote places. She would later say that she felt as if Harold was possibly looking for a place to “scout” so she would be his next victim.

In the early morning of September 29, 2012 Rishell would receive an email from Harold containing many pictures from the vacation the month prior. Later that same day she got an email saying “My bride is gone.” Rishell, as well as others who had received the email and had known Harold in 1995, when Lynn had died, would say that the email was eerily reminiscent to one they received after Lynn's death.

Prosecutors would claim that the email was not the only thing that was similar to 1995. Prosecutors would argue that both women had died in remote areas in which their husband, Harold was the only witness. They would continue to say that per Harold's wishes both women were quickly cremated and he scattered their ashes on “Red Mountain” in the San Juan Mountains in Western Colorado.

Aside from the “X marks the spot” map and the $4.7M life insurance policies that prosecutors say was the motive for the crime, they would parade witness after witness to the stand that would recount the different stories that Harold had told as to how it came that Toni would fall off the cliff. They would also play for the jury the 911 call that they would say also contained several different inconsistencies. Juror's would later say that the emotion expressed by Harold in the 911 call seemed very flat and that it was obvious to them that as the operator instructed Harold on how to administer CPR and he claimed to be doing so that he really was not. Prosecutors would also recount an incident that had occurred about a year prior to Toni's death. Toni and Harold were working on a remote cabin that they owned and a beam had fallen on Toni and fractured her back. It was said that had she not leaned over the beam would have fallen directly on her head and could have caused her death. Prosecutors would allege this was an attempt on Harold's part to cause his wife's death and when that did not occur he was forced to change plans.

The defense would apparently call no witnesses. The jury would convict him in September 2015. One would be quoted as saying, “It didn't meet the common sense barometer.” In December of 2015 he was sentenced to a mandatory sentence of life in prison. At first I had difficulty finding Harold in the prison system but that was because I had gone to the Colorado Department of Corrections. Seeing as Toni's death had occurred on government land, they had jurisdiction and he is currently serving his time in Terre Haute Indiana in the federal prison there.

As far as Harold's daughter, Haley, there seemed to be some drama there too. A guardian ad litem for the court, Barbara Cashman, would claim that until his arrest for the murder Harold had obviously had custody of Haley and had spent that time manipulating her. Cashman would say that Harold had consistently attempted to convince Haley that her mother was clumsy and had fallen on her own over the cliff. The child seemed rather withdrawn and it was reported that until her father was arrested she had been unable to mourn her mother's death. Once his arrest occurred Toni's brother, Barry Bertolet, had obtained custody of Haley and was attempting to adopt her, although Harold quickly began to fight this. It was widely reported that once away from his custody Haley no longer wanted anything to do with him and instead of referring to him as her father she referred to him as Mr. Henthorn. It seems that despite his efforts, after his conviction and sentencing the Bertolet's were allowed to officially adopt Haley.

I feel as if I need to be fair here when it comes to Haley. I do believe there was significant evidence or at the very least belief that Harold Henthorn murdered his wife. And it is possible that the manipulation claimed by the guardian ad litem was true. But, just as she lived with a man who continued to proclaim his innocence, expressing it once again at his sentencing, she then went to live with a family that just as adamantly believed in his guilt. I am not going to accuse the Bertolet's of influencing her feelings towards her father with certainty or even with malice or intent, but it would not be the first case in which that had happened. In fairness though the young child did have a right to distance herself from the drama and trauma in her life and lead as much of a normal life as possible and if that is what was needed for her to do so then so be it.

I have found no more information on the investigation in to Lynn Henthorn's death. It is assumed that it is still re-opened but I am unsure that there will ever be charges, regardless as to what is found. Harold Henthorn has maintained his innocence and barring a successful appeal he will remain in a federal prison for life. Even if Colorado could prove that he murdered Lynn it would be senseless to charge him considering his current sentence, and in fact would likely be smart to hold out and wait on his appeals to have something to charge him with later if needed. It appears that despite a full investigation as of yet, Lynn's family believes Harold to be guilty of her death and maybe that is all that they need. 


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