All the same, we would check up from time to time, particularly if people strayed too far or might be in trouble. It’s easy to get lost in the dunes, and while the sand is wet just under the surface, folks often run out of water. When I was patrolling with a buddy one Monday morning, we decided to follow a trail because it was just the one set of footprints, which was unusual, and because it looked like whoever it was hadn’t got back yet even though the weekend was over.
We found the body after only about half an hour. Until the wind gets up, tracking someone in the sand is pretty damned easy. We checked for a pulse even though the guy was obviously dead, and called in the cops.
The body had a number of wounds, but the coroner thought most of them were post mortem. Cause of death was massive blood loss, though the obvious arterial wound in the neck had apparently been inflicted after death. The lack of sufficient blood near the body – there was barely any soaking into the sand – led to the conclusion that the victim was killed elsewhere and then dumped in the dunes. The actual site was just outside the national monument, though inside what is now the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve.
The sand all around the body was heavily scuffed, but until we arrived there was only one set of tracks leading to the body. The cops figured the killer had carried the body out there, dumped it, and walked back in his own footsteps; the way the sand turns a footprint into a smooth depression makes that just about possible, but walking up the steep side of a dune is tough, tough work even if you’re not carrying any load at all, and the victim weighed close to 200 pounds. Walking down is unstable and messy but fun, and again it would be almost impossible to hit your own outgoing footsteps.
There was no DNA testing back then, but the victim was blood type O and some of the blood on him tested AB. Then again, they might have just screwed up the test. My buddy and I were suspects of course, and I sometimes think the cops just figured we’d done it but they could never prove anything; for what it’s worth, I’m type O and he’s type A. The victim was a hiker who’d last been seen on the Saturday and not planned to camp. He was a law clerk from Alamosa, the nearest big town; as he had no family and no real friends there was nobody to push the case, and I figure the cops didn’t put much effort into it as there were no real leads.
The final verdict was homicide by person or persons unknown, and as far as I’m aware the case is still open. I don’t know of any other similar deaths, but I didn’t spend long working there, and moved to the West Coast in 1980.