The Aspen Murders

The yellow Lamborghini allegedly owned by Mars

Yellow Lamborghini photo taken at the 29th annual Palo Alto Concours d'Elegance at Stanford.


February 1, 2010:

There is no record of a police report regarding a near-accident at the junction of 82 and Castle Creek Road on the night of May 25, 2009. The Aspen New Times publishes a weekly police report called “The Dock Block,” which lists the majority of criminal acts and arrests for the week. While their list is not definitive, The Aspen New Times would very likely publish a report like this–a near-collision with a flamboyant car like a Lamborghini. Even in Aspen, Lamborghini sightings are rare.

—J. Carson Black


January 29, 2010

From the blog today:

Somebody should check this out: On the night of the Aspen murders, a Snowmass woman was nearly wiped out by a yellow Lamborghini out at the junction of Castle Creek Road and Highway 82.  Maybe someone should look into the police reports for that night.

From a post of mine from last year, (below) I see someone must have brought up the yellow Lamborghini long before now. If it’s the same person, that’s one thing. But if there were two people who saw a yellow Lamborghini…

Maybe the car really existed.


July 21, 2009

Here are the facts that came out of Sheriff Roy Johnson’s second press conference the day after Brienne Cross’s death. There were now the two suspects in custody, Donny Lee Odell and Ray Arquette.  Both Odell and Arquette belonged to the same white supremacist cell in Hayden Lake, Idaho, although it had not yet been ascertained if they’d been there at the same time.

Sheriff Johnson had little else to say, although he clearly enjoyed saying it, as evidenced by his subsequent press conferences, Three-through-Five, in which he fed out new pieces of information like a trail boss doling out the last cup of water in the desert.  You could date the news conferences by the order in which Sheriff Johnson improved his appearance: Press Conference #2, he showed up brown, rested and ready, as if he’d come straight from an upscale Aspen tanning bed, Press Conference # 3, powder took the shine off his bald dome; Press Conference # 4, he’d adopted cool new aviator shades; and Press Conference # 5, Exhibits.

The Exhibits were like Show and Tell. On Johnson’s right was the blown-up photo of Donny Lee’s 1979 GMC truck, which had been spotted speeding away from the scene on Castle Creek Road.  On the easel to Johnson’s left was a blown-up photo of the incriminating bumper sticker, “One Shot, One Kill,” a common-enough hunting sticker, now fraught with darker implications.  For the record, Donny Lee’s truck had the Full Redneck Package: KC lights, winch, tool box in the bed, and a gun rack containing a .30-06 Remington Model 700 rifle.  Most incriminating was Donny Lee’s menacing 10-and-a-half-inch Bowie Buck knife in a Ziplock bag, the blade gleaming menacingly in the hot light, blue and yellow seals aligned perfectly.

“The knife was wiped clean, but there is blood residue ingrained into the hilt,” Sheriff Johnson intoned.

You couldn’t blame Roy Johnson for seizing the spotlight. When the world’s most wanted serial killer, Ted Bundy, escaped from the County Courthouse Jail, there was a virtual three-ring circus of microphone-grappling politicians, minor officials, and celebrities anxious to ride Bundy’s bolt of lightning.  Another circus ensued when Andy Williams’ ex-wife and snow-vixen, Claudine Longet, was tried for shooting her lover, champion skier Spider Sabich, in his bathtub.  The sizzle has always meant more than the steak. That’s the way it is everywhere now, but Aspen and Hollywood figured it out long before anyone else did.

It doesn’t hurt that the Aspen massacre draws frequent comparisons to the Charles Manson murders thirty years ago—which also rocked the world of wealth and celebrity.

In this last press conference, Sheriff Roy let the other shoe drop.  An “unnamed female acquaintance of Ray Arquette” claimed Ray told her over Jello shots at the Lumberjack Bar in Leadville that he killed some people in Aspen, and if she told anyone, he’d kill her, too. This, of course, played out on the cable news channels, with which Sheriff Roy Johnson had developed a mutual affinity. He was already being lauded as the “Toughest Sheriff West of the Pecos,” mostly due to his availability.  He hinted slyly at a jailhouse confession.  There was an unsettling, serene quality to his statements, as if he were cruising at a high altitude of certainty, and no one else could join him in that rarified air.

So, the picture was filling in.  These two boys were stone-cold killers.  Their mothers didn’t raise them  good.  They fell in with bad companions. They were offended by Justin Balough’s affair with Tanya Williams—all that interracial canoodling just got under Donny’s tattooed skin.

After that, the press conferences stopped.  Donny and Ray disappeared into the County Jail. Sheriff Roy Johnson resigned from his job and played a bit part in some movie about white supremacists.

The press conferences stuttered to a stop right about the time someone–a blogger—brought up the mysterious yellow Lamborghini.

Andy Williams’ ex-wife and snow-vixen, Claudine Longet, was tried for shooting her lover, former Olympic champion skier “Spider” Sabich, in his bathtub. She has maintained a private profile since 1977, following her conviction for misdemeanor negligent homicide. The sizzle has always meant more than the steak. That’s the way it is everywhere now, but Aspen and Hollywood figured it out long before anyone else did.


July 20, 2009

In one of the newspaper accounts—I think it was The Aspen New Times—the subheading of the front-page article said, MAN FOUND UNDER ESCALADE AT MURDER HOUSE.

The man under the Escalade was Nick Holloway, a freelance writer and author of the bestselling political thriller, Hype.  Holloway was writing a series of articles about the show.  He wrote about “Soul Mate” behind the scenes.

Vanity Fair decided not to run the articles—they said out of respect for the dead.  Possibly, it was due to potential legal issues.

Nick’s observations of the cast and crew–and of Brienne herself–would have been invaluable to detective on the case, Derek Sloan. Nick Holloway was like a fly on the wall, watching the interactions among the cast—the flirting, the friendships, the alliances, the flare-ups.  I’m sure he gained insight into their characters, seeing them in unselfconscious moments, seeing them at their best and at their very worst.

So Nick is perhaps the most interesting victim, other than Brienne herself.

Did Nick Holloway hide under the Escalade to escape the carnage?  Or was he the killer, sleeping it off after an orgy of bloodlust?

With all that Rohypnol in his system, could he have made his way down along the side of the log home and into the garage?  Could he have had the presence of mind to crawl under the Escalade, when he was, to all intents and purposes, in a complete blackout?

But if someone did stash him under the Escalade, why was he spared?



June 24, 2009

Guest Opinion by Leigh Woods at

There are many parallels between Charles Manson’s killing spree and the murders in Aspen. Manson’s followers brutally murdered five people. Six people died at the house in Aspen. Sharon Tate, an ethereally-beautiful actress, was at the beginning of her career, as was Brienne Cross. Human blood was painted on the wall of Sharon Tate’s house. Blood was painted on the wall of the bedroom where Tanya Williams and Justin Balough slept, then died.

Both murders, it appears, had ties to racism.

Tanya Williams and Justin Balough were an inter-racial couple. Two eights, a symbol used by the Aryan Nation, was painted with their blood on the wall above their lifeless bodies.

Charles Manson was a drifter, songwriter, and common criminal who had big ideas. He wanted to kill high-profile people—movie stars, the movers and shakers of the industry—in order to touch off a race war. He was convinced the “black man” would take over the world, but they’d need someone smart to run it for them, and that’s where Manson would step in. So he started a cult around his own, hypnotic personality. To his ragtag followers—mostly young and female—he was as mesmerizing as a cobra. And as dangerous. But he didn’t do the dirty work, you notice. He sent those young women out to kill people, and their first victims were Sharon Tate and her guests for the evening: Wojciech Frykowski, Abigail Folger (heiress to the Folger Coffee fortune), Jay Sebring (I will never, ever look at the Chrysler Sebring without visualizing those bloody murders. And I’m not sure that’s the image Chrysler would like to project). Their first victim that night was a caretaker for the property, a young man named Steven Parent.

It was an orgy of blood. Those evil women tortured their victims. They tried to slice the baby out of poor Sharon Tate, and wrote “PIG” on the front door with her blood.

So yes, the parallels are there. The Tate murders were a model for the Aspen Murders. It was the template, the blueprint, the inspiration.

Like so many people, I watched television footage of Ray Arquette being led in chains from the courthouse in Aspen. And even though he was on the screen for only a few minutes, I could see the madness in his eyes. When I saw Ray Arquette’s eyes, I realized, if one person had managed to get lesser beings to do his bidding, someone like Ray Arquette could do it, too. He is so much like Manson. He’s so much like Jim Jones, the “religious leader” in Jonestown, Guyana, who got more than nine hundred people to drink cyanide-laced Kool Aid. Like David Koresh, and his followers, who burned in Waco. Like that weird group in the purple robes right here in California, who killed themselves because they thought by doing so they would hitch a ride on a comet.

There are always followers. The weak follow. Maybe Donny Lee Odell was one of the weak ones.

But I will tell you this: there’s no doubt in my mind–if they really did kill those people– that Ray Arquette was the leader.



J. Carson Black's THE SHOP - Aspen Murders

Car caught in Castle Creek flood

June 14, 2009

From the Denver Sentinel-Herald:

“…One of the more infamous casualties of the Castle Creek flood last week was the home of Jerry and Claire Killian, better known as “The Aspen Murder House,” where singer-actress Brienne Cross and five other people were slaughtered in the wee hours of the morning on May twenty-third.

“’There’s nothing left,’ a spokesman for the Killians said Monday.  ‘There was so much structural damage, the whole house will have to come down.’

“The news was greeted with relief by some of the more prominent members of the community, who lament yet another blow to the city’s reputation.  ‘At least we won’t have all those looky-loos, photographers and curiosity seekers clogging up the road and bringing down everyone’s property values,’ said one resident who refused to be identified.

“The entire rear portion of the house, unable to withstand the rising floodwaters, was washed away in the flood.  What remains of the house is scheduled to be bulldozed Friday, said the Killian’s spokesman. When asked if there were any plans to rebuild, he said, ‘I think that’s doubtful.’”



June 11, 2009

On the morning of May 25, 2009, rising country-and-pop star Brienne Cross was found dead in a rented log house on Castle Creek Road in Aspen, Colorado. Killed along with her were the remaining contestants of her reality show, “Soul Mate”—Brendan Shayles, Amber Redmond, Tanya Williams, and Connor Fallon. Two of the victims, show producer Justin Balough and Tanya Williams, were mutilated beyond recognition.

Asked if the massacre was linked to a rash of celebrity burglaries in the Aspen area earlier this year, the sheriff refused to speculate.

Later that day, author Nick Holloway, who was writing a series of essays about the inside workings of the show, was found alive and unhurt beneath Brienne’s Escalade in the garage under the house.

Why did he survive, when everyone else succumbed?  Did he crawl under the Escalade to escape the killers, or did someone hide him there?  He was under the influence of Rohypnol; it is unlikely he could go anywhere under his own steam.

A week later, two men were arrested for the crime.  Donny Lee Odell, age 27, and Ray Arquette, 39, had a history of criminal behavior, and had been part of the same white supremacist terrorist cell in Hayden Lake, Idaho.

So that’s the story. It seems simple enough to connect the dots.  Donny Lee Odell and Ray Arquette were white supremacists.  Angry over a high-profile interracial relationship, perhaps nursing a grudge (Ray did work as a mechanic in Aspen and serviced Brienne Cross’s car) they allegedly carried out the six murders, including the killing of Brienne Cross. Maybe they did it to prove their worth to their compatriots (Justin Balough, who was white, was sleeping with Tanya Williams, who was black).  Maybe, like Charles Manson before them, they wanted to kick off a “race war.”  But Aspen is, at its heart, a small town, and it’s quite possible that Brienne or one of the reality show contestants made an enemy somewhere along the line and didn’t even know it.

You never can be sure what fate has in store for you. It could be an angry word at a supermarket or a fender bender in a parking lot, and before you know it you’ve touched off a conflagration.

* * *

THE SHOP is a work of fiction, a political crime thriller by J. Carson Black.
People, places, and events portrayed on
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