During the two-week trial, prosecutors hammered away at the “eerily, creepily” similar circumstances in both cases: freak “accidents” in remote locations, sizable life insurance payouts, quick cremations and identical words of mourning from Henthorn, the widowed husband and only witness.
“It didn’t meet the common-sense barometer,” juror Peter Christofolo told the Denver Post after the trial.
“Harold’s love was lethal,” said Grace Rishell, Henthorn’s sister-in-law. “If you got married to him you would probably be the next one.”
Monday’s verdict was a rare moment of clarity in a 20-year murder mystery.
The strange saga of Henthorn and his two ill-fated wives began back in the spring of 1995.
On May 6 of that year, Henthorn and his first wife, Sandra Lynn, were driving through the dark Colorado countryside after a daylong outing when Henthorn supposedly sensed something wrong with one of the car’s tires. The tire was “flat,” “soft,” “mushy” or “spongy,” according to his various statements, Westword reported.
Henthorn pulled over to change the tire. Somehow, Sandra ended up underneath the car when catastrophe struck: as Henthorn put the tire into the trunk, the car supposedly slipped off the jack and landed on Sandra, crushing her.
Paramedics flew Sandra to a hospital, but it was too late — she died during surgery.
On its surface, the incident appeared to be a terrible accident tearing apart a young, happy and handsome couple.
But when Douglas County sheriff’s deputies examined the crime scene, they found one strange clue.
“On the front passenger fender of the vehicle, right behind the wheel well of the missing wheel, was an apparent partial foot print type mark,” wrote investigator Robert McMahan.
It was as if the car had been kicked.
The clue would come back to haunt Henthorn, but not for two decades. That’s because despite some suspicions, investigators closed the 1995 case in just six days, ruling it an accident.
Just a few months before Sandra’s death, she and Henthorn had taken out a $500,000 life insurance policy, Westword reported. So when she died, he inherited the money.
“My bride is gone,” Henthorn said after his first wife’s death, according to court testimony. He quickly had her cremated, then spread her ashes on Colorado’s Red Mountain.
The incident likely would have faded into the past had it not been repeated in near identical fashion 17 years later.
By 2012, Henthorn was again happily married, or so it seemed. His second wife, Toni, was a stunning southern belle: a successful and wealthy ophthalmologist with a stake in her family’s oil business who Henthorn had met on a Christian dating Web site.
Henthorn, meanwhile, hardly worked. Although his business cards said he raised funds for churches and nonprofits, prosecutors later claimed in court that he lived off his wife.
“Harold Henthorn travels frequently, even weekly, allegedly for work,” U.S. Attorney John Walsh said at trial according to Westword News. “However, there is no indication that he has actual clients. He has no business in his name, no partners able to be located by law enforcement to date, and no one interviewed to date knows who his clients are or were, yet he told investigators he was financially secure, and he was a fundraiser for nonprofits like churches and hospitals. At his wife’s funeral witnesses told investigators there were no attendees from Harold Henthorn’s work and witnesses interviewed by investigators revealed no one actually knew what his business was called, or any of his projects or clients.”
On Sept. 29, 2012, Henthorn’s marriage would be tragically — or intentionally, as prosecutors claimed — torn apart for the second time.
Again, he and his spouse went for a trip. This time, Henthorn asked Toni to go for a hike with him.
He took her up a trail at Rocky Mountain National Park, Henthorn would later tell the court. They ate lunch atop a ridge, then hiked down to a lookout point for “romantic time.”
“According to Harold’s story, which is contained in court records, they took pictures of each other, passing the camera back and forth,” Westword reported. “Toni was telling Harold where to stand for a photo when he got a text message from their babysitter saying that their daughter’s soccer team had won, 5-1. Just then, Harold saw a blur and Toni was gone.”
Toni plunged 128 feet down the cliffside, suffering horrific injuries.
Henthorn hiked 45 minutes down to save her, he testified, calling 911 and giving Toni CPR until help arrived.
Once again, however, it was too late: His wife died from her injuries.
Once again, Henthorn was the only witness.
And once again, the apparent tragedy was made suspicious by money, odd details and shifting stories.
First there was Henthorn’s reaction: a near carbon copy to his first wife’s death. “My bride is gone,” he again told friends, according to court testimony. Just like 17 years earlier, he quickly had his wife’s remains cremated and scattered her ashes on Red Mountain.
Then there was the life insurance payout — this time $4.7 million headed his way.
This time, however, the case would not be closed in six days. An anonymous tip to the coroner about his first wife’s death ensured that investigators scoured the crime scene for clues and examined Henthorn’s comments for inconsistencies.
There was plenty of both. Henthorn gave conflicting accounts of what happened on the cliffside, prosecutors claimed. More damning still, the evidence didn’t jibe with any version of his stories. Prosecutors showed that Henthorn sent text messages about his wife being “injured” even after he knew she was dead. A coroner testified at trial that Toni’s body showed no sign of Henthorn performing CPR: her lipstick was still in place. There weren’t even any photos in the camera recovered by police.
But perhaps the most damaging evidence for Henthorn was his map. On a topographical map showing the elevation of the park’s various cliffs, Henthorn had drawn an X at the precise point where his wife suffered her alleged accident.
When asked about the map and the X, Henthorn “appeared at a loss for words” and “could not explain why there was an ‘X’ on the map,” according to an affidavit.
There was more, including a secret and allegedly fraudulent life insurance policy Henthorn took out on his sister-in-law, a disappearing diamond ring and allegations that Henthorn had tried to kill Toni previously by dropping a wooden beam on her, breaking her back.
The accumulation of evidence quickly swayed the jury, which on Monday found Henthorn guilty of murder.
“Some of it was circumstantial, but we were instructed to use our common sense,” Kim Thiessen told the Associated Press. One juror even crossed the courtroom to hug Toni’s mother, Yvonne Bertolet.
After the judge dismissed the jury, the courtroom erupted with applause, the AP reported. Toni’s family members also shouted “Bye, Harold!” at Henthorn as he was led away in handcuffs.
But Henthorn’s attorney, Craig Truman, said the prosecution had not proven its case and that his client was likely to appeal, according to the Denver Post. “Where is the evidence that she was pushed off a cliff?” he said during the trial, arguing that there was none.
Henthorn now faces a mandatory sentence of life in prison without parole, to be handed down on Dec. 8.
And in one final twist to the two-decade murder mystery, authorities say they have reopened their inquiry into the 1995 death of Sandra Lynn, his first wife.
That investigation suggests there could be more surprises to come in the unraveling stories.
His future, however, is likely to be less eventful.
“Today’s conviction means that Harold Henthorn will never hurt or kill another woman,” assistant U.S. attorney Bob Troyer said after the trial, according to CNN. “Instead, he will likely spend the rest of his natural life in a prison cell.”