Final chapter in the saga of ‘Mad Dog’ Sherbondy
Officer shot in 1969 by infamous Eagle County murderer finally gets posthumous recognition
EAGLE COUNTY — James “Mad Dog” Sherbondy was 17 years old in 1937 when he stood trial in the slaying of Eagle County Undersheriff Oscar Meyer in one of Eagle County’s most infamous murder cases.
If Sherbondy hadn’t died in a gunfight outside the Denver Post offices on Nov. 28, 1969, he would have been 95 the second time he was tried for the murder of a law officer.
This week, Dr. Jim Caruso, the chief medical examiner for Denver County, reached out to the Vail Daily to share the final chapter in the saga of Mad Dog Sherbondy.
A partner’s dedication
Detective Michael Dowd, of the Denver Police Department, didn’t die the day he and his partner confronted Sherbondy in 1969. He lived for another 28 years after that fateful gunfight. But after a thorough examination of the police reports from the gunfight, Caruso determined that Sherbondy did fire a lethal shot in 1969.
Shortly after he took office in 2014, Caruso was asked to review the Dowd case by Detective Steve Metros, who was riding with Dowd during the day of the Sherbondy gunfight.
“Mr. Metros said, ‘My partner was shot during this altercation with Sherbondy and he was never the same after that,'” Caruso said. “He wanted his partner’s name on the Wall of Valor, but you don’t usually think that 28 years after the fact, you can call something a homicide.”
Metros had some expert advice, close to home, to support his theory that Dowd’s death resulted from the Sherbondy shooting. His son, Dr. Michael Metros, is an internist practicing in Denver.
“Michael Dowd’s cause of death happened that day (in 1969) because, ultimately, the cause of his death was Type 1 diabetes,” said Michael Metros.
Caruso agreed to look into the case, but 46 years had passed since the shooting and thorough medical records from Dowd’s final days had been destroyed. Dowd died on Dec. 6, 1997.
“He died after suffering a stroke in an assisted living facility at age 62. It was well known that he was a diabetic, and when you die like that, and everybody knows the deceased’s history, you don’t do an autopsy,” Caruso said.
But Caruso did have access to the detailed police report from the 1969 gunfight. Dowd suffered six gunshot wounds that day.
“There is some dispute as to where at these gunshots did their damage, but the abdominal wounds are important,” Caruso said. “His pancreas was injured and he underwent several surgeries. Mr. Dowd was essentially made a brittle diabetic by these injuries.”
Caruso noted Dowd had no family history of diabetes and he was in excellent health at the time of the shooting.
“There is no expectation that he would have developed diabetes without this injury,” Caruso said.
After he arrived at the conclusion that Sherbondy’s gunshots in 1969 caused the condition that eventually led to Dowd’s death nearly three decades later, Caruso reached out to some professional colleagues to corroborate his judgment.
“I didn’t just do this in a vacuum. I got some quality assurance,” Caruso said.
His colleagues agreed with his findings and in 2015, Caruso changed Dowd’s official death certificate. The deceased officer died from complications of multiple gunshot wounds. The manner of his death was homicide.
During a ceremony held in May 2015, Det. Dowd’s name was added to the Colorado Law Enforcement Memorial. It was a special moment for the Metros family.
“My father’s last wish, the one thing he wanted to accomplish before he died … was getting his partner on the Wall of Valor,” said Michael Metros.
Michael Metros said that for years before Caruso agreed to review the Dowd case, his dad waged an old-fashioned letter-writing campaign, contacting all the politically influential friends he had collected during his long and storied law enforcement career. Even though senior officers with the Denver Police Department were dubious about his conviction that Sherbondy’s shots ultimately killed Dowd, Detective Steve Metros remained undeterred.
“My dad was relentless. When he had a goal in mind, he didn’t let go,” said Michael Metros.
Both Michael Metros and Caruso have fond memories of the day when Dowd’s name was added to the Colorado Law Enforcement Memorial in 2015. Some of Dowd’s children were in attendance and Steve Metros, who was confined to a wheelchair and in ill health at the time, was also there.
“The event was so important to him. It was a very memorable day,” said his daughter, Christy Metros Bougie in his obituary that appeared in the Denver Post. “He worked so hard to get that accomplished. He was especially joyful that day.”
But he was also battling pneumonia. After the ceremony, Steve Metros’ son took him directly to the hospital. With his mission accomplished, the detective died just a few days later.
“Mr. Metros was quite a guy,” said Caruso. “We had planned to have lunch in the weeks after the ceremony, but of course, that date couldn’t be kept.”
The rest of the story
Caruso didn’t know Sherbondy’s whole story at the time he was reviewing the Dowd records.
“I did wonder what he was doing on the streets of Denver when he was supposed to be doing life,” he said.
Caruso reached out to the Daily after reading the Sherbondy story published in 2017.
He also noted that last summer, during a trip to Canon City, he visited the Museum of Colorado Prisons. At the museum, there is a display about the 1947 escape that included Sherbondy. Caruso bought a copy of the 1948 B movie titled “Canon City,” which featured the prison’s actual warden playing himself.
When Caruso finally got around to watching the film, he was surprised to find Sherbondy was portrayed in a positive light. Names etched on the Colorado Law Enforcement Memorial, featuring dates 60 years apart, tell a more accurate tale.
They note the death of Meyer in 1937 and Dowd in 1997, victims of murderer James “Mad Dog” Sherbondy.