Matthew Shelters investigation closed; DA finds no crimes directly related to Steamboat man’s disappearance, death
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Authorities have closed the investigation into the death of Steamboat Springs resident Matthew Shelters.
In a report released Monday by 14th Judicial District Attorney Brett Barkey, the agency announced there was insufficient evidence to prove any crimes directly related to Shelters’ death, including homicide, kidnapping or abuse of a corpse, were committed. The document provided a summary of the investigation, which was conducted by the Steamboat Springs Police Department, the Routt County Sheriff’s Office and the Colorado Bureau of Investigation.
“There were a lot of difficulties with the case,” Routt County Sheriff Garrett Wiggins said.
The amount of time that had passed between Shelters’ disappearance in April and when his body was discovered on July 4, along with the number of rumors surrounding his disappearance made the investigation even harder, he added.
“I’m speaking for the Routt County Sheriff’s Office, but I think the Steamboat (Police Department) will agree that we did not leave any rock unturned,” he said. “We followed up on every lead and every rumor and anything that we could follow up on.”
The District Attorney’s Office did find evidence of crimes committed in connection with Shelters’ disappearance, including false reporting to authorities, trespassing and distribution of cocaine, but those charges will not be pursued.
“To begin, Mr. Shelters’ disappearance and death were very traumatic for Mr. Shelters’ family,” Barkey wrote in his report. “It is the district attorney’s opinion that the prosecution of collateral charges, like false reporting and trespassing, which could take as long as a year, will delay any closure and healing the family might achieve now that the joint investigation is complete.”
Law enforcement interviewed at least 23 people in connection with the investigation.
“Between the four agencies, I think we’ve done as thorough a job as possible,” Wiggins said. “It really doesn’t make the loss of Mr. Shelters any easier to accept, but at this point in time, I think the investigation speaks for itself.”
On Monday, Barkey and Steamboat Springs Police Department Commander Annette Dopplick traveled to Michigan to personally tell Shelters’ family the investigation was concluding, according to Steamboat Police Chief Cory Christensen.
Before he disappeared
The investigative summary included a timeline outlining significant events leading up to Shelters’ disappearance and the eventual discovery of his body.
In early 2018, Shelters’ girlfriend ended their relationship due to his alcohol and cocaine use. According to the report, she told officers he was getting “blackout drunk” most nights of the week and had been seen using cocaine.
Shelters’ friends said he struggled with poor mental health following the break-up and was also concerned about money and owing a debt to the IRS.
On Sunday, April 22, two days before he was last seen alive, Shelters gave his ex-girlfriend a ride to the airport. The pair had made plans for Shelters to care for her cat in her absence.
On Monday, April 23, Shelters met with his supervisor at E3 Chophouse, where he worked as a bartender, about an issue that had arisen on the job. The supervisor said the meeting got confrontational but ended on a positive note. Shelters left his bike at the restaurant and planned to come to work the next day.
Shelters then dropped off his ex-girlfriend’s car at a friend’s house with plans to drink downtown.
According to the report, there was a text exchange between Shelters and William Hogan, another Steamboat resident, shortly before 10 p.m.
Shelters then went to Back Door Grill, where he drank four to five vodkas mixed with Red Bull. A friend said he appeared to be in good spirits and talked about fishing and work and that he thought his relationship with his ex-girlfriend was improving.
The day of the disappearance
Shelters left Back Door Grill at 12:22 a.m. Tuesday, April 24, and started walking northwest toward Ninth Street, according to video surveillance footage.
A third party gave police a recording of a conversation between Hogan and Shelters, in which Hogan said Shelters had asked him “for a front on a bag.” Hogan said he saw Shelters at a bar after Shelters left Back Door Grill. In the conversation, Hogan did not say what he meant by a bag or whether he gave Shelters anything, according to the document.
According to the district attorney, Hogan withheld this information from police and declined to talk to law enforcement about the conversation or other matters.
Between midnight and 1 a.m., a security camera at a residence in the 700 block of Princeton Avenue captured an image of a man walking alone toward the Atwood Ranch, where Shelters body was later found. The man appeared to be Shelters.
At 1:59 a.m., Shelters’ phone pinged a cell phone tower near Sundance Plaza, which placed the phone within about a 1.6-mile arc of the tower. That area includes all of Steamboat’s downtown and residential area, two miles of the Yampa River and several undeveloped properties north of the tower.
Shelters body was eventually found just outside of this arc.
Shelters reported missing
Shelters did not come into work at E3 as planned later than day, and his co-workers’ attempts to call him went unanswered. At 8 p.m., his ex-girlfriend received no response to a text.
She did not contact Steamboat police until three days later on Friday, April 27. She did not want to report him missing, and she said he had not expressed any suicidal ideation.
That same day, Shelters’ brother Nathan Shelters spoke with police and ask that Shelters be listed as a missing person.
Between the time Shelters’ disappearance and the time his body was located on July 4, numerous community members launched a search for Shelters.
According to the district attorney’s summary, law enforcement investigated a number of tips including possible sightings of Shelters, speculations based on social media and internet postings, GPS coordinates of Shelters location provided by a psychic and “theories of what happened to Shelters based on dreams or ‘vibes.’” Officers found no evidence that Shelters was attacked, killed and placed in a dumpster or harmed by a “Mexican drug cartel or biker gang.”
On Wednesday, July 4, Steamboat resident and Routt County Commissioner Cari Hermacinski took a walk on to the Atwood Ranch, which is adjacent to her property. She and her friends discovered a badly decomposed body matching Shelters’ description on the banks of Soda Creek. At the scene, law enforcement found pants and a wallet containing Shelters’ driver’s license and ski pass.
On July 8, six people entered the Atwood Ranch through Hermacinski’s property and flew over the Atwood Ranch with a drone. The group found two shoes on the slope above Soda Creek. When authorities searched the ranch the following day, they found a baseball cap.
“The investigation is complete at this point unless there is some new evidence that pops up that suggests that something else has happened, at least from Routt County Sheriff’s Office’s standpoint,” Wiggins said.
Due to the decomposition of the body, authorities could not determine what caused Shelters’ death, but a toxicologist did conclude that “an acute cocaine intoxication” might have been present at the time of death.
According to the investigative summary, the location of Shelters’ body and his personal items suggests that Shelters walked up the slope from Soda Creek and then fell down into the creek on his own.
“Although several people have suggested that Shelters was the victim of an intentional act of violence, either at the hands of a person or persons involved with narcotics trafficking, or a cult, or an unidentified serial criminal preying on people in the area, there is no evidence whatsoever to support such a conclusion,” Barkey wrote in the summary.
The document also states there is no probable cause to believe that Shelters’ overdosed and his body was dumped near Soda Creek.
Though the summary states there is a possibility Hogan gave Shelters coke, no witnesses saw that take place.
“Additionally, multiple people denied knowing anything about Mr. Shelters’ cocaine use, or Mr. Hogan’s alleged cocaine distribution, when it appears they likely had more information about that topic than they were providing,” the summary says. “It is clear that William Hogan lied to law enforcement when he told them the last time he saw Mr. Shelters was Saturday, April 21, 2018, because Mr. Hogan later admitted in a recorded conversation with a third party, that Mr. Hogan believed he was the last one to see Mr. Shelters the night Mr. Shelters disappeared.’”
Hogan will not face charges, because, according to Barkey, the harm that would be caused to Shelters’ family and the community by a long prosecution outweighs the law enforcement objectives that would be gained.