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Unidentified body remains buried, frustration grows over CBI investigation into coroner

Posted at 5:15 PM, Feb 01, 2024
and last updated 2024-02-15 18:21:49-05

Despite weeks of investigation by the Colorado Bureau of Intelligence, one woman in Trinidad is frustrated that an unidentified person discovered buried by the county coroner has not yet been identified. She fears it could be the body of her missing father.

News 5 has brought you the latest in the investigation into Las Animas County Coroner Dominic Verquer for months. Back in September of last year, a woman who learned her homeless father had been buried by the coroner in Starkville Cemetery, hired a funeral director from Denver to exhume his body, so she could bring him back to Oklahoma and have burial services there. But in digging him up, they found another person buried next to him in a body bag.

Photos and videos shared with News 5 from Tom Murphy, a funeral director in Trinidad who was there that day, show the unearthed body bags. It's illegal in Colorado to bury two people together without their family's consent, but because the crew didn't have the permits you need from the Department of Health to take the second person out of the grave, he or she is still buried there, unidentified.

That was five months ago when they found the two bodies buried together. The CBI confirmed to us it was investigating in mid-December. But so far, neither the three county commissioners nor any department investigating this: the county sheriff's office, the Department of Regulatory Agencies, or the CBI has dug up that person to learn who they are. That inaction is frustrating to Dr. Morgan Shier.

“We notified the public of this on December 5 but the commissioners knew a long time before that and so… even if we count December 5 as day one, almost two months has passed and there’s been no exhumations of any of those bodies or attempt to identify them that I’m aware of,” Shier said.

Shier's dad, Dave, disappeared two years ago. Since February 2022, no on has heard from Shier who ran a business and lived on the same street as his two daughters in Trinidad. He was a family guy, close with his grandchildren, and had a hat for every occasion. Sheir has one of her father's favorite hats hanging above her fireplace.

"It’s such an open-ended situation, we haven’t really processed through any of his clothing," she said.

When someone dies, it's human nature to hold onto the things they loved to remind us of them, but Dr. Shier, who is a family physician in Trinidad, doesn't know that her father has passed. He's still missing. And he could be the person in that grave. But Shier worries there could be more people buried at Starkville.

"Those are the five that we know of on that list that was given to us. But as we have well documented, he has fabricated burial permits, he’s not filing burial permits and he’s not keeping records buried where," Shier said.

The list she is referring to News 5 obtained in an Open Records Request. It's a list of the people who the coroner buried at Starkville Cemetery. They are all indigent, meaning their families did not claim their bodies. And Verquer has five people listed as buried at Starkville in 2019.

For four of the five people listed as buried there, the coroner lists his office as the funeral home. That's legal in Colorado because there are no regulations on funeral homes, but according to the Department of Regulatory Agencies, or DORA, a funeral home is required to have someone be registered as a designee with DORA. And, no one is registered as a designee of the Las Animas County Coroner's Office, nor is it registered with the state as a funeral home.

Dominic Verquer isn't charged. After reaching out to him for weeks to get a comment, and knocking on his office door, he finally wrote me an email this week saying, "I personally would like to provide you with the facts on these senseless allegations."

A few hours later, he wrote back that he can't make a comment as the CBI investigation is still going on.

This investigation will likely take months. When asked why it had not taken steps to exhume the unidentified body, a CBI spokesperson said it cannot comment on specific elements of the case. However, a CBI investigator told one of our sources that it plans to exhume the people the coroner buried at Starkville Cemetery so they can be properly identified.

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