A Nederland marshal murdered a man’s friend in 1971. Two weeks ago, the man allegedly planted a bomb to avenge the death.
Forty-five years after former Nederland Marshal Renner Forbes killed Guy “Deputy Dawg” Gaughnor, who he considered a nuisance, and then dumped his body near a gold mine shaft, the victim’s friend is accused of seeking vengeance by trying to blow up the Nederland police station, sources familiar with the investigation say.
They say that on Oct. 11, David Ansberry, 64, left a backpack containing an improvised explosive device in a village shopping center where the small police station sits beneath a massage and acupuncture parlor.
They say he allegedly tried — using a prepaid cellphone — but failed 11 times to set off the bomb in an event that would have killed bystanders who likely knew nothing about the 1971 execution of his 19-year-old buddy, Gaughnor.
By then, Forbes had been in his grave for 15 years.
Ansberry, of San Rafael, Calif., now faces a federal charge of attempted malicious destruction of a business following his arrest in Chicago days after the bombing attempt. A source said that state and federal investigators are “100 percent” certain that Ansberry planted the bomb to avenge Deputy Dawg’s death. The official spoke in confidence because they were not authorized to release the information.
When asked last week about the sticker and its significance, Boulder County Undersheriff Kirk Long shook his head in disgust.
The STP sticker was the adopted symbol of an edgy, hygienically challenged group of hippies called the STP Family, who migrated in Volkswagen vans painted with flowers from New York City and San Francisco. The newcomers, reviled by miners living at the time in the Rockies, invaded the mountain town 16 miles west of Boulder in the late 1960s and early 1970s during an era of anti-Vietnam War demonstrations, “free love” lasciviousness and unfettered use of hallucinogenic drugs.
Some say the STP Family name originated from a potent hallucinogenic drug they preferred called STP. Others say it was related to the zodiac signs of the group’s three founders: Sagittarius, Taurus and Pisces. Not so, said Long, who arrested Gaughnor and scores of STP members in Boulder County in the early 1970s. Members told Long the acronym really stood for Serenity, Tranquility and Peace.
“This bombing really brought back memories,” said a bearded, long-haired Richard “Rick” Bertschinger, 67, a retired construction worker who lives in a motor home with friends.
Thursday morning, Bertschinger was sitting on a stool at the Pioneer Inn, a bar that once featured rock-and-roll upstarts like future legend Dan Fogelberg, who was staying at the nearby Caribou Ranch. Bertschinger drank coffee as he reminisced.
“I arrived during the Summer of Love in 1967. There was a lot of peace and free love. It was a great time,” the self-described hippie said. But he didn’t particularly like the STPs. “They were a cult. They gave us hippies a bad name. I thought about throwing a few of them down a mine shaft myself.”
Bertschinger said he would come across their makeshift encampments with tepees constructed with tarps, blankets and sticks in the mountains near Ruby Gulch. He once saw Ansberry, who stands 3-feet-6 and was known by fellow STPs as “Midget Jesse,” panhandling in town. He wore torn clothing and was filthy.
“I didn’t give him any spare change and he was angry and belligerent,” he said.
John Callahan, 70, who now operates the “Carousel of Happiness” in the same shopping center as the police station, said people in Nederland were afraid of the STPs in the early 1970s.
“They called themselves the STP Family. That was very close to the Manson Family,” Callahan said, referring to a communal hippie group led by Charles Manson, who was found guilty of killing seven people including actress Sharon Tate in the summer of 1969. “Many of the STP Family members carried machetes on their belts. The machetes looked heavier than they were. They were emaciated.”
Vigilantes made threats and then carried them out, raiding an STP camp and ripping their tents apart, Denver Post reporters wrote in the early 1970s.
In early 1971, the Nederland City Council hired Forbes, an Air Force pilot who flew an F-86 during the Korean War, as the town marshal. He had a face and temperament like a bulldog, Long said. After a military career in which airmen were well-groomed and disciplined, the disorder caused by drunken miners and lawless hippies tested Forbes’ patience, Long said.
“He was the kind of guy who could clean up the town,” said George Epp, former Boulder County sheriff from 1991 to 2003, who was a deputy and shared a Nederland apartment with Long in the early 1970s.
Epp said there was one STP member who was particularly troublesome — Guy Gaughnor. He was a 19-year-old who wore a kid’s gun belt holstered with a cap gun. Epp said he took his nickname from a 1960s cartoon character, “Deputy Dawg.”
Long said he arrested Gaughnor several times for stealing and disruptive behavior. But whenever Forbes, who was the only one in the marshal’s office, had to deal with Gaughnor, he’d have to take him down to Boulder to process him, Epps said. It was a chaotic time and Forbes was run ragged.
On the night of July 17, 1971, Gaughnor was causing a ruckus at the Pioneer Inn.
“He was abusive, antagonistic and hostile. Police work is done at the bad-breath and body-odor distance from criminals,” Undersheriff Long said of Gaughnor’s attitude. “Forbes had a military mind-set. He was direct and sometimes confrontational. One man can only take so much.”
Forbes put Gaughnor in his gold 1969 Plymouth and drove away. It was the last time anyone in Nederland ever saw Gaughnor alive.
About a month later, hunters discovered Gaughnor’s skull near abandoned gold mines just off Oh My God Road, which is 25 miles from Nederland in northeastern Clear Creek County. Long was assigned to investigate the case. The head had only pieces of skin and long strands of hairs. Animals had likely scavenged the body and carried pieces deep in the woods, Long said.
“Even though we only had his head, I had no problem identifying him,” Long said. “He had a distinctive look. He had a missing tooth and one tooth overlapped another one.”
When Long interviewed Forbes twice in the following weeks, Forbes admitted that he had driven Gaughnor to his tepee, but that was the last he saw him. Despite abundant circumstantial evidence, there were no eyewitnesses to the murder and no physical evidence.
Colorado Bureau of Investigation forensic experts couldn’t match a bullet taken from Gaughnor’s skull to a .22-caliber pistol he found in Forbes’ house because the slug was too damaged, Long said. It was a thorough, lengthy investigation aimed at Forbes.
“It really didn’t matter that he was Deputy Dawg, the local miscreant,” Long said. “A murder is a murder and you work them all the same.”
Epp said Long was afraid that Forbes might shoot them because of the investigation.
On the last page of his report, Long wrote: “This crime will be solved when Renner Forbes confesses.”
Epp recalls the day in 1997 that former Capt. Bill McCaa walked into his office and said, “Hey, George, does the name Renner Forbes ring a bell?”
McCaa had just seen Forbes’ name on the door of a nursing home he was checking out for a relative. Forbes had been living in Kansas and Florida, but had moved back to Colorado. Epp ordered a new investigation.
At first, Forbes, who had severe medical issues including major coronary disease, denied killing Gaughnor during an interview in the nursing home. Sheriff’s investigators drove him to Ruby Gulch, where Forbes claimed he had left Gaughnor 26 years earlier. When Forbes got out of the car, he immediately vomited, Long said.
Forbes soon confessed to shooting Gaughnor and was charged with second-degree murder. Forbes spent a week in jail, which officials resisted because of Forbes’ extremely poor health, Epp said.
“He escaped justice for 26 years, and I thought he should see the inside of a jail despite the complaints of the jailers,” he said.
The charge was reduced to manslaughter and he was sentenced to probation, Epp said. Forbes died three years later.
Another 20 years go by. At 6:17 p.m. on Oct. 3, a little person walked into Dan Harrow’s laundromat just as he was closing the store for the day. Harrow answered the man’s questions patiently about laundry hours and cost of machines even though he was eager to get home and see Monday Night Football.
Harrow said his daughter is also a little person and it’s rare to see little people in Nederland. He noticed that the man was staring at his surveillance cameras.
“He didn’t give me any red flags,” Harrow said. “In hindsight, it’s easy to see what was going on.”
Eight days later, Harrow arrived for work around 8 a.m. and saw an STP oil sticker on his shiny front window. Harrow washes the window every day and his store is immaculate. He immediately peeled it off. On the back of the sticker was a note.
The sticker appeared to be decades old, Harrow said. On the back of the note was writing that blamed a marshal for a murder in the early 1970s. The note also said: “Rest In Peace Deputy Dawg July 17, 1971,” a source said.
That same morning, a Nederland police officer picked up a backpack from the parking lot in front of the station and carried it inside. When he opened the bag, he saw the IED and took the backpack outside. The shopping center was evacuated. Local, county, state and federal law enforcement swarmed the shopping center and began a nationwide manhunt.
After the incident, Harrow recalled the odd sticker he had found that morning and gave it to investigators. The sticker had been left in a corner of the window, out of the range of his surveillance camera.
FBI agents traced the cellphone used as the trigger mechanism to a Black Hawk cellular phone company and then to a King Soopers store. They reviewed video tapes of the King Soopers and identified a small person as the buyer of the cellphone, court records say.
When federal agents arrested Ansberry in Chicago, he had the same STP stickers in his possession that were found on Harrow’s window, a source says. Ansberry also admitted that Deputy Dawg had been a close friend in the early 1970s, the source said.
In the early-morning hours of Oct. 17, FBI agents gave Harrow another visit. They showed him a picture of a man and asked him if he recognized the person. When Harrow realized it was a small person, he looked closer and recognized the man who had visited him within the past 10 days.
By 2:30 a.m., he was reviewing his surveillance tapes with the FBI agents and found the video of Ansberry as he stared directly at the camera and spoke with Harrow. FBI agents measured how high the sticker was on the window. It was 44 inches off the ground.
“Low enough for a little person to reach,” Harrow said.