"If you do that, I'll suffer the consequences."
It was the 29th of September 2012. A Saturday. Toni Henthorn and her husband, Harold Henthorn, were hiking at the Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, United States. That weekend, they were celebrating their 12th Wedding Anniversary.
Harold and Toni Henthorn
Toni and Harold met online in 1999 and married just nine months later. Toni was a successful eye surgeon yet she wanted nothing more than to be in a loving marriage and have a family. Her dreams seemed to come true when she met Harold. Harold told her he was a wealthy businessman who fundraised for schools and Churches. When they met, Harold persuaded Toni to move from Jackson, Mississippi to Colorado. It was a difficult move for Toni as all of her family and friends lived in Mississippi but she was happy to start a new life with her husband. In 2005, she gave birth to their daughter Haley and their family was complete.
That day, the 29th of September, Toni and Harold set off on their hike. Just before 3.30pm, they left the trail and had lunch on top of a scenic cliff. They continued off trail and found a cliff below their lunch spot at 4.45pm. Less than half an hour later, Toni fell off that same steep cliff and fell 130 feet to the ground.Harold called 911. The 911 call was placed at 5.54pm even though Toni fell almost 45 minutes earlier. He told police that it took him fifteen minutes to reach her and a further thirty minutes to assess and move her. On the 911 call, Harold gave their location near the summit of the mountain. He told the Operator that Toni's breathing was weak and that she had a head injury. Harold asked the Operator to send a helicopter. Harold later spoke to a different Operator and told them that he built a fire in a rock enclosure and Toni's breathing had become more shallow and later confirmed her breathing has gone to zero.
Harold told the Operator that he tried chest compressions and she gave him instructions on how to do it properly. Harold made a further 911 call and asked if help was on the way. The Operator said the ranger was calling out for Harold but Harold said that he did not hear any calls. The EMT ranger arrived at around 8 pm. He examined Toni but it was too late. She was dead.
Police spoke to Harold about the circumstances surrounding Toni's death. Harold told police that he did not see Toni fall. He was reading text messages and just saw what he described as a blur. Yet, Harold told others that Toni had wandered too close to the edge. He told another person that Toni was trying to take pictures and slipped.
Harold Henthorn sent a text message to notify Toni's brother
As soon as Toni's parents, Bob and Yvonne Bertolet, were told that there had been a terrible accident and Toni was dead, Bob said:
"He pushed her."
While it initially seemed Toni's death was an accident, Toni's parents made it clear that they had been worried about her for some time. When Toni met Harold, she was a high achiever and a confident woman but she lost that confidence when she moved to Colorado with Harold. He took control of her life and even when her parents called her, Harold would answer and put the call on speakerphone. Toni's parents worried that he wasn't the successful businessman he portrayed himself to be and was instead living off of Toni's income. But it wasn't his arrogance and lack of finances that really worried them, it was the fact they felt he cut Toni off from her family and friends.Something wasn’t right, and Yvonne wanted to talk with Toni. But every time she broached the subject of Harold’s job, the couple’s lack of money or his need for control over every part of her life, Toni always had the same response: If you do that, I’ll suffer the consequences.
And there was one incident in particular that caused them to worry about her safety, to the point that they hoped she would leave him.
Harold owned a cabin in the west of Denver and they spent time there often. On one occasion when Haley was asleep, Harold asked Toni to help him clear debris. Something hit the back of Toni's neck and the force was so great that she had to go to hospital. Harold later told her that a large piece of lumber fell off the porch and hit her. That was the incident that caused her parents to worry about her and they asked her not to go anywhere alone with him.
Harold and Toni Henthorn
When police looked into Toni's death, they discovered some troubling details. There were a number of inconsistencies in what Harold told others about the hike, area and what happened that day. Harold told a ranger that he and Toni initially planned to hike the Bear Lake trail. That trail is a half mile of paved walking with no elevation gain. It would have been a good choice for Toni as she had undergone three knee surgeries. Her injuries were so bad that she could no longer ski. Yet Harold told the ranger that they decided to do the Deer Mountain trail instead. He explained that the reason for doing so was to avoid crowds. The Deer Mountain trail is a three mile hike climbing 1,200 feet from its trailhead to its 10,200 foot summit.
Harold told the ranger that he was not familiar with the area and that he had only been there once. But police discovered, via his phone records, that he had been there eight or nine times in a six week period before that day. Furthermore, he knew the area, the steep cliff, where Toni had fallen. He had mentioned seeing a white sheet on a cliff but the sheet had been removed by Park Service a week before Toni's fall. Police found a map of the park in his car and there was a pink “X” marked on the spot on the map where Toni fell.
Police were also troubled by Harold's 911 call. He told the Operator that he could not speak long when she tried to assist him with CPR as his phone battery was low yet he went on to make twenty two calls and he sent or received ninety eight text messages. One text message was sent from Harold to a friend asking him to collect him from Estes Park. He told the friend which route to take.
Police discovered that Harold had taken out several life insurance policies on Toni's life. He had recently made himself the beneficiary of a life insurance annuity that had originally named his daughter Haley as the beneficiary. And police soon discovered, that this was not the first time Harold was the beneficiary of a life insurance police. Harold's first wife was dead too.
In May 1995, Harold was married to a woman called Sandra Lynn Henthorn. On the 6th of May 1995, Lynn and Harold were out driving. That night was a cold and dark night and they went on a nighttime drive along the remote highway near Sedalia, Colorado. At some point during the drive, a tire on their Jeep Cherokee needed to be changed. Lynn got underneath the Jeep, which was held up with two jacks, to change the tire. The Jeep fell on top of Lynn crushing her. Harold stopped some people driving by and asked for help. Lynn did not survive. Her death was ruled as an accidental death. She was crushed under the car and died from internal injuries consistent with traumatic asphyxiation.
Lynn and Harold Henthorn
After Toni's death, police took a second look at Lynn's file. They discovered that mistakes had been made by police at the time of the investigation and matters had not been followed up. The only person who saw what happened to Lynn that night was Harold. But when police looked back at the statements he provided, they discovered that there were a number of inconsistencies in relation to what he said happened. He told one officer that they were driving east that night and told another one they were driving west. One account he gave to police included details of a restaurant they had stopped at to have dinner before Lynn's death yet on another occasion, he told police they were on their way to the restaurant. Nobody checked with the restaurant as to whether Harold or Lynn had eaten there that night.
There were other inconsistencies too. The tire did not look like it needed to be changed and Harold said on one occasion that the tire was flat yet on another occasion, he said that it was merely spongy. There was a partial print found on the wheel well above the missing tire, the one Lynn was in the middle of changing. The print was never compared to Harold's shoes at the time to see if it matched. But the position of the print was in such a place that it would have been consistent with someone kicking the car. A kick to the car would have likely caused it to fall down on top of Lynn.
Prior to Lynn's death, Harold had taken out a large life insurance policy on Lynn. He told police that he would receive $300,000 but if police had checked this independently, they would have discovered he was set to receive twice that amount. This was based on a change Harold made to the policy just before Lynn's death. He changed it to double compensation if Lynn died as a result of an accident.
The file also revealed that a mechanic drove by Harold and Lynn around 9.30 pm and asked if they needed any help. Harold declined his offer.
The file made mention to a woman called Patricia Montoya. One day after Lynn's death, she called police and asked:
"Did you arrest the husband yet?"
Patricia told police she was on the way home in a car with her family at 10pm when Harold stopped them to ask for help. They tried to find a phone to call 911 but couldn't so they pulled Lynn out from underneath the car. Harold shouted at them not to touch her. He objected to them doing CPR but they tried to anyway. Patricia found the incident very strange due to the way Harold was acting. He refused to give his coat so it could be used to try to keep Lynn warm. Lynn was airlifted to a nearby hospital but died in surgery due to internal injuries.
No charges were brought against Harold in relation to Lynn's death.
Harold was charged with first degree murder in relation to Toni's death. Prosecutors believed that he, with premeditation and malice aforethought, pushed Toni over the cliff to her death.
It was the Prosecution's case that Toni did not fall off the cliff that day, she was pushed. It was their case that Harold planned her murder and to prove this to the Jury, the map with the X marked on the spot where Toni fell was admitted into evidence. The Jury also heard details of the phone records which placed Harold at the park multiple times in the weeks leading up to her death.
The Court heard about the 911 call. Toni fell in a remote location with poor cellular service and no nearby aid stations so even though the call was made at around 6pm, help did not arrive until 8pm. It was the Prosecution's case that during this period, Harold did nothing to assist his wife. The Prosecution called Julie Sullivan, the emergency services dispatcher for the Larimer Emergency Telephone Authority at the Estes Park Police Department, to give evidence. She testified that she used a “standardized protocol” to coach people through CPR over the phone and had made about 240 similar calls before she spoke with Harold.
Harold and Toni Henthorn
Julie testified that her conversation with Harold was unusual:
"In my experience, when I'm doing CPR with somebody, guiding them through it, even if they are experienced people, nurses and other people on the scene, they're extremely out of breath. I found it unusual that he wasn't letting me know when he was completed with an instruction I had given him. A lot of—you know, every other call I've been with, the person wants to know immediately what to do next. Okay, I did my 30, what do I do next. What do I do next. That was very unusual, and I didn't feel like he was doing the CPR. Most people because of the exertion of doing the CPR, the compressions and also giving the breaths, it's very exhausting. I need to know when you're complete with it, so we can go ahead and go on to the next instruction, and he was not letting me know after he completed every instruction I'd given him. So I was prompting him to let me know. And also we did have an open line. On all the other CPR calls that I've done through my career, I can hear them as they are doing the compressions on the patient ‘cause it's a lot of breathing, it's a heavy breathing, it's very exhausting, and it's hard to even get out and talk back—they have a hard time talking with me because they are so out of breath because of the exertion."
Julie told the Court that based on her experience she did not believe Harold was doing CPR.
The Medical Examiner found no signs of the abrasions, contusions, or anterior rib fractures typically associated with the performance of CPR. There was no indication that any attempt at CPR had been made. Toni's fall was broken by a tree at the cliff's base which scalped hair and tissue from her skull.
The Medical Examiner outlined that Toni's brain was hemorrhaging, her neck was fractured, she had blunt force trauma to the chest, abdomen, and pelvis, her ribs were broken and her chest deformed with her liver and lungs lacerated and bleeding, and her skin was pale from blood loss.
The Prosecution also told the Jury about Harold's first wife Lynn and the circumstances surrounding her unusual death. They were allowed to tell the Jury about this due to the similarities between Lynn's death and Toni's death. Based on that same principle, the Prosecution also told the Court of the incident that Toni told her mother about that happened at Harold's cabin.
The Jury heard that in May 2011, Toni suffered a neck injury when she was struck in the back of the neck and upper back with a large wooden beam. It happened, like the other two incidents, in a remote and secluded spot. That night, around 10pm, Harold was cleaning the deck of the cabin and asked Toni to help him and that's when she was struck with the beam. There were inconsistencies in the version of events that Harold told to others. He told the paramedics that he threw the beam but later told a Doctor that the beam had fallen off the deck. Harold told a friend he dropped it on Toni when he slipped from a ladder he was on that Toni was holding.
A nurse's note in Toni's file indicated that Toni was under the deck at the time when the beam fell.
Harold and Toni Henthorn
It was the Prosecution's case that there was a motive and that was in the form of life insurance. Harold held three $1.5 million life insurance policies on Toni and a $205,000 annuity and as a result he stood to receive more than $4.7 million from Toni's death. One month before Toni's death, in April 2011, Harold made himself the beneficiary of a $205,000 life insurance annuity bought by Toni's parents for Haley.
The Defense did not call any witnesses to give evidence. They were relying on their belief that the Prosecution had not proven their case. It was a gamble and one that didn't pay off.
After ten and a half hours of deliberations, the Jury found Harold guilty of murder and he was sentenced to life in prison.
Harold had the bodies of both Toni and Lynn cremated immediately after their deaths and he scattered their ashes in the same spot.
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"When someone just disappears for no reason, it's shocking, it's devastating. I just feel like my life stopped that day and I've just been in a tailspin ever since."
- Adam Vaughan, Janine's brother
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