Hunter’s discovery of first body forces Scott Kimball to deal with prosecutors

By John Aguilar
Camera Staff Writer

LeAnn Emry, whose January 2003 death was connected to Scott Kimball once investigators interviewed her imprisoned boyfriend in October 2007. (Courtesy of Howard Emry)

FBI Special Agent Jonny Grusing called Howard Emry at home on Oct. 29, 2007, and asked to speak to his daughter, LeAnn.

“She’s been missing for nearly five years now,” Emry remembers replying.

He told the agent he feared LeAnn had been killed back in January 2003.

Find “Hannibal,” he remembers saying. “That’s who murdered my daughter.”

Two days later, Grusing and Lafayette police Detective Gary Thatcher visited LeAnn’s boyfriend, Steven Holley, in federal prison.

Scott Kimball was Hannibal, Holley told them.

He had murdered LeAnn after getting out of prison, promising he would help Holley with a scheme to escape.

A twisted, “sick fuck,” Kimball had fantasies of being a serial killer, Holley said.

Kimball once asked Holley to torture and kill his second wife, the mother of his children, and to make sure she knew Kimball ordered the hit, he said.

The jailhouse account gave Grusing and Thatcher one more piece of evidence that they were on the trail of a serial murderer.

But they needed proof.

They needed bodies.

Sept. 29, 2007

Deep in the backcountry with rifle in hand, the hunter bushwhacked through a dense section of Routt National Forest several miles south of Walden.

He had been hunting in these parts — in the shadow of Little Haystack Mountain — since he was a kid and was comfortable being miles from the nearest road.

The hunter, a Brighton resident who asked that his name not be used, saw what looked like an elk skull up ahead. He approached slowly — 30 yards, 20 yards, 15 yards. The undergrowth thinned enough for him to see a bit more clearly.

“I put away the scope, and I knew exactly what it was,” he remembers. “It was an undisturbed skeleton, or parts of a skeleton, that was probably dumped there.”

A human skeleton.

With snow in the forecast, the hunter tied a rope to a tree to mark the location. Carefully, he picked up the skull and placed it in his pack.

He continued his trek through the northern Colorado woods.

Lafayette police Detective Gary Thatcher, left, and FBI Special Agent Jonathan Grusing near the remote area of Routt National Forest where a hunter discovered Kaysi McLeod’s body. Investigators went to the site in the summer of 2008 to look for evidence. (Courtesy of Rob McLeod)

The hunter brought the discovery to his two buddies back at camp that evening, and they called 911 the next day.

In the weeks that followed, he realized the unlikeliness of his find.

“If I hadn’t been at that exact spot at that time of the morning with the sun glinting off the skull, I would not have seen it,” he says. “Something happened. Somebody wanted me to find it.”

The Jackson County coroner took possession of the remains. The Sheriff’s Office wrote up a full report. And the Colorado Bureau of Investigation was notified.

But news of the find wouldn’t reach the FBI for six months.

April 7, 2008

Agent Grusing had interviewed Kimball in prison, matching wits with the suspect at the interrogation table eight to 10 times.

Where were the missing women? Grusing asked. What about Uncle Terry?

Kimball dodged and swerved around the questions. He twisted the agent’s words and tried to use them against him.

“It was very taxing — what are we going to give away, what’s he going to be asking, is there a double meaning?” Grusing remembers. “He’s demanding, inquisitive and intelligent.”

But Kimball let one detail slip. Kaysi, he said, might have overdosed on drugs. Maybe on national forest land.

Grusing remembered the receipt from Walden.

Found among Kimball’s belongings the year before, it showed he had purchased pasta, meat and lighter fluid at a grocery store there a day after Kaysi’s disappearance.

The receipt that led FBI Special Agent Jonny Grusing to Kaysi's body. (Courtesy of Lafayette police)

Walden was surrounded by Routt National Forest.

The agent made his fateful call, to ask the Forest Service for a map of the area. He was transferred to a supervisor, who told him about the human remains — probably female — found the previous fall.

He and Thatcher raced to Fort Collins, to the forensic anthropologist’s lab that had the unidentified remains. They shipped the bones to FBI headquarters in Quantico, Va., where a DNA analysis matched Kaysi’s parents.

It had been nearly five years since the 19-year-old girl remembered as fun-loving and artistic had left for her Saturday-night shift at Subway.

“My personal belief is that it was divine intervention,” Grusing says. “You can work as hard as you want on a case, but you need a break in a case like this to make it work.”

Scott Kimball was incredulous when he heard the news.

From that point forward, he became more willing to play ball with his adversaries.

“I think that’s the little crack that formed in his stone wall that told him maybe these bodies are findable,” Grusing says.

Fall 2008

Prosecutors drew up a deal.

If Kimball didn’t cooperate, they would pursue the missing-persons case full-bore.

They had collected a considerable amount of evidence against him.

A digital photo of LeAnn Emry, dated 11 days before her death, had been found on Kimball’s laptop.

Kaysi’s work hat and schedule had been found among his belongings.

And there was still plenty of circumstantial evidence linking him to the disappearances of Jennifer Marcum and Terry Kimball.

If convicted of first-degree murder, Scott Kimball would face life in prison without parole, if not the death penalty.

The other option: Admit to stealing $55,000 from Lafayette optometrist Cleve Armstrong, and take a 48-year sentence as a habitual offender. Then, if he led investigators to the other three bodies, he would only face a single count of second-degree murder.

Read more about Lafayette Detective
Gary Thatcher’s role in the investigation.

For prosecutors, the deal represented their only chance of finding the missing victims.

Rather than pursuing a shaky first-degree murder case, they could secure Kimball behind bars for decades, still tag him with a murder conviction and give closure to the victims’ families.

“Unfortunately, we couldn’t do that without his help,” Boulder County Chief Deputy District Attorney Katharina Booth says. “It was a deal with the devil.”

Dec. 17, 2008

Kimball pleaded guilty in Boulder County District Court to one count of theft as a habitual offender and was sentenced to 48 years in prison.

Immediately after the hearing, Kimball and his lawyers met with prosecutors and investigators to take the next step. They laid out a memorandum of understanding stipulating that Kimball would show them where he’d buried his victims.

Kimball picked up a pen and signed the agreement.

Then he told everyone to pack their bags for Utah.

Click here to read more about Lafayette Detective Gary Thatcher’s role in the investigation »

Click here to read the previous chapter »

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