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Buried Truth: Families search for deceased loved ones as CBI investigates coroner

Posted at 2:00 PM, Dec 28, 2023
and last updated 2024-02-15 18:21:34-05

The CBI is investigating accusations that the Las Animas County coroner has been burying homeless people together in unmarked graves and pocketing the state funds meant to give them a proper burial.

This investigation began after a homeless man was exhumed at a rural cemetery outside Trinidad and found to be buried by the coroner in a body bag next to another person. The second body has not been identified.

Now, the family of a man who died four years ago is raising questions about coroner Dominic Verquer's practices. They say they still don’t know where the coroner buried their loved one.

Missing for weeks, Tim Radford was found murdered in 2019. The pastor who works with the homeless community in Trinidad grew to know Radford well and searched for him when he disappeared. Shortly after authorities found Radford's body, his brother called Pastor Clay Mason to let him know the family had been in touch with the coroner.

"And what he was told was that as soon as the coroner was finished with him, as soon as everything was done, they would release the body back to the family so they could take him back to Oklahoma for burial," Mason said.

But that's not what happened. When Radford's family arrived in town for his funeral services, they learned Verquer had already buried his body at the Starkville Cemetery on the rural outskirts of Trinidad. The coroner then brought Radford's family and Mason to where he said he'd buried the homeless man.

"We traipsed around looking for where supposedly they had buried Tim's body. And after several minutes, I'd say 30 minutes, we're walking around looking here and there and yonder, the assistant said, ‘Oh, there it is.’ And he pointed to a stick that was in the ground. I’m like, ’Which stick are you talking about?’ There's a million of them just like it. The assistant said, ‘That's where I remember sticking a stick in the ground.’ And I just let it go," Mason said. "I wasn’t I wasn’t going to play that game anymore."

Mason said something felt off that day in how the coroner and his assistant were leading the group around looking for what would have been a recently dug burial plot.

The CBI confirms it is investigating allegations that coroner Dominic Verquer has been burying homeless people in rural unmarked mass graves and pocketing the state burial assistance funding. The Colorado Department of Human Services will provide up to $1,500 per person, which is meant to afford low-income Coloradans a proper burial.

"It sickens you. I’m telling as many people as I can, because I want people to be as offended as I am. It’s just not right," said Thomas Murphy.

Murphy is the director of the Mullare-Murphy Funeral Home in downtown Trinidad. He worries there may be more cases like that of the homeless man, Frederick Huff, whose daughter had his body exhumed in September.

It was what was discovered during Huff's exhumation in Starkville Cemetery that prompted the Las Animas Sheriff's Office to request the CBI assist in the investigation.

Murphy took photos to document crews discovering Huff buried in a body bag in the same grave as another person. It's illegal in Colorado to bury two people together without the express consent of the family. Murphy said it's unlikely the families of both Huff and the unidentified victim would have been involved given that they were buried in body bags.

Murphy described his reaction to the discovery when he said Verquer was looking on.

"You’re like, ‘Why are there two bodies in one grave?’ We weren’t expecting that. I was just thinking, this woman fought to exhume a body and we’re exhuming it. We didn’t realize there would be another body there. And now, we’re doing the math and everything, we’re thinking there may be more underneath that body," Murphy said.

The second person found in the exhumation of Huff's grave has not been identified. But Morgan Shier's gut tells her, it's her father Dave Shier who has been missing since February.

"We still don't know why he walked off that day, but I think he either witnessed something that he was not supposed to see and got caught up in that," Sheir said.

Dave Shier was an outdoorsman and known to take frequent long walks. He ran a business located close to the Starkville Cemetery, but his daughter feels his disappearance was written off by authorities due to the fact the elder Shier suffered from dementia.

"He just disappeared without a trace. And so, I think, what better place to bury a body than in a cemetery when largely how we're searching for a body is with cadaver dogs who are essentially rendered useless in a cemetery," Shier said.

When she learned a second body was discovered in the exhumation, she poured over the photos looking for any indications it could be her dad.

"It's small, but ... you can see how A, there is no dirt in between the bodies at all. And B, you can see the outline of the legs, probably from the mid-shin down. When I saw that ... blown up on a big screen, I literally had to reach out and touch it because I had such a reaction to it," Shier said.

While two bodies were found during the exhumation at Starkville Cemetery, Mason said it isn't where they searched for his friend, Tim Radford's grave. He finds the area where he says the coroner brought he and Radford's family on the other side of the access road, hidden behind a treeline.

“Tim's not the first. He's not the only one. I hope he's the last, but I know he's not. I've got a young lady right now that's missing," said Mason, concerned there could be more victims from the homeless community who have been buried without their family's knowledge.

Hoping to speak with Verquer, News 5 went to his office during business hours and found it locked and dark inside. Our calls and emails to the coroner have not been returned.

The CBI will not specify the scope of its investigation, but Shier says knowing there is at least one unidentified person at Starkville Cemetery is enough to fight for the buried truth.

"I am fully committed to, if it's not my dad, seeing this through to find out who these individuals are and to make sure that their families are notified and that they get the treatment that they deserve," she said.

The CBI's investigation is in its early stages. No charges have been filed against Dominic Verquer at the time of writing this article.

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