The Third Victim in a Murder/Suicide Mountain Tragedy, Part One
I was in that warm, comfortable place between snoozing and awareness in the early morning. Reminding myself that I was on vacation and could sleep in if I wanted. Suddenly, I was aware of voices on the level below moving in the direction of the door at the base of the staircase leading up to our bedroom. Footsteps were climbing the stairs. No one else had come with us. My husband, Erick, and I visited his family’s cabin nestled in the forest outside Divide, Colorado to celebrate another late June wedding anniversary. In fact, we spent our honeymoon seven years before here. With each footstep ascending the carpeted stairs my terror increased. I tried to sit up, but I was frozen. Now, they are at my bedroom door. Stainless steel terror shook my body awake to my realization of dead silence. No one was at the bedroom door. The door was open, not closed. To my horror, the scene would play out how I “dreamed” it, four months later, to an unknown man of 28 young years old in our bedroom, fresh from ending the life of a deputy sheriff the day before.
Erick’s family escaped city life as often as they could to their mountain home; a large wrap around deck with views of the vast span of Collegiate Peaks to the West. The three levels, three bedrooms, a well-used family room, with a kitchen that begged for cookie creations to feed the board game players just feet nearby at the dining room table. The walk-out basement gave easy access to snow-covered children with their sleds. Every family event and visit for 20 years was recorded in a journal for evening reminiscing around the living room woodstove. The cabin was a family member.
Adam Whitney Cooper lived in Palmer Lake with his mom, Charleigh Cooper. He was watching his mom deteriorating from breast cancer, hip problems, and the collapse of a 24-year-old marriage. Adam worked for a landscaping company in Monument and decided to not show up for work on September 8th. Adam’s step-father, Dan Cooper, lived in Guam and he loathed him. Cooper created a plan to acquire a fake ID, get on a plane and kill Dan. Surprise, the idea did not come to fruition because it was harder to obtain a fake ID at the Division of Motor Vehicle Department than he thought. Somewhere around this timeline, Adam’s girlfriend decided to return to an old flame, and Cooper hit a new low. On October 2nd, he stole his best friend, Matt Sherwood’s car, a two-door 1990 red Plymouth Lazer. On October 9th, Adam drove to Central City, robbed a cabin of a shotgun. Then we think he drove to California to kill his ex-girlfriend. Luckily he could not find her and returned to Colorado, a three-day journey. But Cooper did not visit his home in Palmer Lake but drove into the hills outside of Divide, Colorado, picked out a random cabin and held up.
The cabin Adam picked out was our family’s home in Trout Haven Estates. Upon breaking a window down in the basement, he made himself at home. Cooper found our families journal, stored in the board game cabinet and started a letter to his mom. Seeing no clear way out of his situation: no girlfriend, no job, and soon no mom, he took a garden hose from the basement and tried unsuccessfully to commit suicide by carbon monoxide poisoning in his stolen car. He must have made himself sick however because he was using cold medicines, a lot of medication.
With the increase agitation, Adam decided since he could not kill his step-father, girlfriend, nor himself successfully that maybe he could kill a few law enforcement. Cooper had run-ins with the law as a teenager. Using the paper from the Family Journal, he drew a map of all the places he could create tripwires inside the cabin and hidden knife traps outside. October 15th, he drove the stolen car to the end of the cul de sac, a ¼ mile further up the hill. Now how to lure cops to the area? He took linseed oil and kerosene from the cabin basement that my father-in-law had been using to stain the deck as an accelerant, hiked up the hill to the next cabin and set it on fire. Returning to our cabin, he waited.
The Teller County Fire Department got a call about the fire at 1:23 am, Monday, October 16th. Firefighters quickly extinguished the flames but suspected foul play and decided to bring an arson team from Denver the next day. A young deputy sheriff would guard the scene in his cop car till daylight. Fire Chief Larry Shoemaker was the last to see the deputy alive. Brent Andrew Holloway, 26, called into dispatch at 6:00 am but missed the 7:00 am check-in. Cooper had left the cabin and snuck up on the deputy’s car parked at the end of the burnt cabin’s driveway. With a stolen shotgun, Adam shot Deputy Holloway through his open window in the face. I believe that Holloway drew his weapon upon seeing a dark form at his squad car window because as soon as Cooper returns to the cabin, he writes in the journal about how much regret he had moments after shooting the officer. I cannot see a person with freshly acquired regret, reaching around the murdered body to grab the deputy’s pistol. I could see Holloway dropping the drawn gun outside of the car window as he is gun down. Regardless, Cooper ended up with the officer's pistol and the newly married deputy sheriff is dead. Sheriff Guy Gysin discovered the deputy's remains at 7:15 am inside the cop car.
About 9:00 am my mother-in-law, watching the local television news she sees footage about a cabin burnt down in Trout Haven Estates. Since she had a few hours before her husband would be home from work, she decided to drive up in the area of the cabin to make sure everything was okay, a 45-minute drive. Upon approaching the cabin location, she was stopped by a roadblock. She successfully gained entry and led up to the cabin by three officers. They entered through the walk-out basement where the window had been broken. My mother-in-law suddenly saw things were not right because the interior was trashed. The kitchen was a mess. Then, they all heard a gun being cocked in one of the bedrooms above the kitchen. Backup was instantly requested over the law enforcement radios as my mother-in-law was rushed out of the building. The officers ascended the carpeted stairs to the bedroom on the right; our bedroom with a closed, locked door. Adam laid on our bed, wrote in our family journal for the last time, “They are finally coming to get me. Now perhaps I can find the courage to pull this trigger.” As the cops gained entry through the locked door, Cooper used Holloway’s pistol to end his life.
Erick and I arrived just moments after Cooper’s body was removed. Evidence needed to be separated from our belongings. For example, a police scanner and our family journal with of the eleven-page letter Cooper had written to his mom. Our beautiful cabin had become a crime scene. Our bedroom..…our bed was drenched in blood, quickly soaking into the carpet. We helped identify our belongings from Cooper’s and then law enforcement left. We just stood there. How do we clean all this up? How could this happen? We did not clean it up. My father-in-law hired a gentleman who started a company that cleaned biohazard material for victims of violent crimes. We attended Holloway’s funeral with over 500 law enforcement officers, his young widow, and family. With our attendance, we wanted to pay respect to the fallen deputy sheriff, the police, and sheriff’s officers, and to find understanding behind such a horrible occurrence.
I never returned to the cabin because she had been “murdered” too. My mother-in-law felt she would never be safe after her experience, so the family sold the property. Erick visited the new owners a few years ago and was granted access. The interior had gratefully been changed. Holloway’s widow eventually remarried. Cooper’s mother passed on Valentine’s Day, 2013. Our loss cannot be measured with the grief of losing a husband or a son. But our loss is the loss of opportunity to share care-free family focused weekends that were created at a location away from our daily grind. We lost the future right to share family cabin memories with our daughter and eventually her children. The family journal sat in evidence for years until it was returned with the pages ripped out containing Cooper’s letter. Too bad the cabin that he chose to burn down was not ours instead of the one up the hill. A burnt shell would have given us a sense of visual closure that our family never found. We did not have a corpse to bury. Our sense of mountain serenity has been changed forever.
|Teller County Deputy Sheriff, Brent Holloway|
The Discovery ID Channel will be airing an episode dedicated to Deputy Brent Andrew Holloway to honor his 22nd anniversary of his death, on October 25, 2017, at 8:00pm.