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Bone detectives discuss construction site findings

Eagle County Coroner Kara Bettis, left, and deputy coroner Ben Linscott explain how they and a team of forensic anthrologists and scientists determined that the bones found in a Vail construction site last June 26 were like those of either Alford or Charles Larzelere. In the 1880s, the father and son team homesteaded the ranch where the bones were found in what is now a hotel construction site.
Randy Wyrick | randy@vaildaily.com |

Bone detectives

Here’s how Bettis, Linscott and Dr. Melissa Conner and Dr. Douglas Scott of Grand Junction figured that out.

The artifacts found with the bones included old wood, nails, glass and three ornate clasps that they identified as coffin hardware. Then they found a black silk bowtie.

Date ranges for the hardware design and style of bowtie span from 1880 to 1910.

After they sifted through the dirt from the construction site, the coroner’s office started sifting through records and copies of the Red Cliff newspaper of the time, the Eagle County Times.

They found:

The original federal land deed for the property was held by Alford Larzelere, who owned the property from 1893 to sometime in 1902 or 1903.

During his ownership, Alford Larzeler ranched the property and kept sheep and horses.

There is no record of Alford Larzelere marrying or having children.

An indenture document between Alford Larzalere and Caroline Bottolfson for $1,000 dated 1899 was filed with Eagle County in Red Cliff in 1902 by Rachel Bottolfson.

An excerpt from the indenture document includes the following: “Alford Larzelere, only heir at law of Charles F. Larzelere, deceased.” No other records or references to Charles F. Larzelere have been located.

Mentions of the Larzelere ranch and of interactions with the Bottolfson family were found in historical newspaper records. The Eagle County Times, which was based in Red Cliff from 1898 to 1906, noted the Bottolfsons as having stayed the winter on the Larzelere ranch in 1903. An excerpt from the same paper in 1904 indicates R. and C. Bottolfson had purchased the Larzelere ranch.

An overlay of the Larzelere property using historical coordinates and a recent satellite image show the location where the bones were unearthed is near the southwest corner of the ranch.

All of the Bottolfson family graves are accounted for in the Greenwood Cemetery in Red Cliff, except for that of daughter-in-law Caroline Bottolfson, who is buried outside the valley.

No death certificates or information on grave locations have been found for Alford or Charles Larzelere.

VAIL — People lived and died in the Gore Creek Valley long before Vail, and one of them was likely homesteaders Alford or Charles Larzelere.

A set of bones and other artifacts found on June 26 in a Vail construction site likely belonged to either Charles Larzelere or his son Alford, although investigators can’t say for sure, said Kara Bettis, Eagle County Coroner, on Sept. 23.

About the Larzeleres

The Larzeleres ran sheep and a few horses on a ranch they homesteaded in 1893. They left the area in 1902, after either Charles or Alford died, Bettis said. When construction crews unearthed the bones this summer, speculation ran wild that it could have been a Vail woman who was one of serial killer Ted Bundy’s victims, or perhaps a Native American grave site.

But no.

The remains are believed to be those of a white male approximately 5 feet 4 inches to 5 feet 5 inches tall, who was between 30 and 45 years old at the time of his death, Bettis said.

Cunningham Mystery

Bundy abducted Julie Cunningham from a Vail parking lot on March 15, 1975, while the ground was still too frozen to dig her grave. Just before his execution, Bundy told now-former Vail Police Detective Matt Lindvall that he had murdered Cunningham and that she was buried near Rifle. Her remains were never found.

Almost as soon as crews found the skeletal remains last summer, forensic scientists determined it was not a Native American. Among other things, crews found nails, hinges and hardware from a coffin, as well as a silk bow tie.

“It stands to reason that it was a ranch owner and not a ranch hand,” said Ben Linscott, deputy coroner. “He was buried in a fairly expensive coffin with a viewing window. He was buried in a suit.”

Possibly Moved Gravesite

An educated guess is that after either Charles or Alford Larzelere died, the body was buried on a corner of their ranch, the custom of the time. The survivor sold the ranch and left the area, Bettis said.

When that Vail Hotel was originally built in the 1970s, the gravesite was likely disturbed and moved during that original excavation. That would account for the tumbled state of the remains when they were discovered in June, Bettis said.

Near the site where the remains were discovered, they also found wrappers from a snack food popular in the 1970s.

The remains will be re-interred in Eagle County, along with all the artifacts.

“It’s the respectful thing to do,” Bettis said.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or rwyrick@vaildaily.com.


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