1. Archive

The answer all Denver awaits

Growing up in a mountaintop mansion, Spicer Breeden could survey a shining city stamped repeatedly with the name of his mother's family fortune: Boettcher.

A Boettcher gave Denver the downtown estate where the governor resides. Boettcher Halls grace the city's botanical gardens, theater complex and natural history museum. On the far side of the Rockies, a Boettcher, Breeden's uncle, helped transform an old mining town into a glittering ski resort: Aspen.

So, nearly one year ago, Denver's collective jaw dropped when the police broke into a barricaded home here and found in the basement, surrounded by empty rum bottles and cocaine bags, the lifeless body of Breeden. Before shooting his dog in the neck and himself in the head, Breeden, the 36-year-old scion of the Boettcher clan, hastily scribbled a suicide note. The one-line, misspelled postscript to the note read: "P.S. I was not driving the vehical."

The note apparently referred to Breeden's rare "cosmos black" BMW 540i, which slammed into the rear end of a car at 110 miles per hour last March 17, instantly killing the other driver, Greg Lopez, one of Denver's most beloved newspaper columnists.

This week, a jury will be asked to decide who was driving the vehicle _ Breeden or his friend, Peter Jorg Schmitz, a German artist who was charged with vehicular homicide in Lopez's death and leaving the scene of an accident. Schmitz has admitted only to joy riding in the "beemer" with Breeden on the day of the crash. His lawyer, Walter Gerash, one of Denver's most prominent lawyers, has argued that Breeden, high on cocaine, was the driver.

While the JonBenet Ramsey murder investigation and the upcoming Oklahoma City bombing trial have drawn the nation's attention to nearby Boulder and to Denver, the criminal case that Denverites really care about is this one, with its testimony about fast cars, old money and blizzards of cocaine and with a mysterious blond model as a witness.

Part of the allure has to do with the history of the Boettchers, Breeden's maternal family, and a real life "Dynasty" in Denver.

It was 1869 when 17-year-old Charles Boettcher fled Prussia's military draft and joined his older brother selling nails in a hardware store in the Wyoming Territory.

When Charles Boettcher died in 1948, he presided over a Rocky Mountain business empire: railroads, ranches, mines, meatpacking plants, cement factories, sugar mills, a life insurance company and the region's most powerful investment house.

As he neared his 96th birthday, the iron-willed entrepreneur told Time magazine: "I like to work. I've worked hard all my life, and I suppose I'll keep working as long as I can raise a hand."

In contrast, his great-grandson, Spicer, never held a job. At age 13, Spicer Breeden inherited $2-million of the Boettcher fortune from his mother, who died of cancer. As an adult, he spent his time, court records show, using copious amounts of cocaine and racking up speeding tickets and two convictions for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. In April 1995, he boasted to friends of "kissing a wall" with his Porsche at 140 mph, according to testimony last week. The wall was on the same stretch of downtown interstate where his BMW killed Lopez a year later.

In the last decade, Breeden's life was increasingly controlled by cocaine, according to testimony at Schmidt's trial and at a probate trial last fall over Breeden's will.

At the probate trial, Jennifer Chelwick, a friend of Breeden, testified that he would consume $800 worth of cocaine in a night. Chelwick also said his main supplier had been Sydney Stone, a woman identified by Breeden as his "business manager." A model turned society seamstress, Stone is reported to have lived at a reduced rent in a house owned by Breeden in Denver's chic Cherry Creek neighborhood.

While Breeden grew up in a mansion atop Lookout Mountain, Lopez grew up in the flatlands below, in Golden, a brewery town.

He fell in love with words, finding his voice writing for the hometown tabloid, the Rocky Mountain News. He was a listener, a man who would spend hours, days, weeks with the subjects of his column: a teenage father, a brain-injured couple or a newly released convict.

His wife, Kathleen Bohland, remembers her husband as an unpretentious guy who "owned 96 Hawaiian shirts and one suit."

By the time of Breeden's suicide, he had begun to exhibit increasingly odd behavior, apparently because of cocaine use. He changed locks and telephone numbers and occasionally scanned his back yard with a searchlight. To detect intruders, Breeden, who lived alone, placed string over windows and sprinkled cornflakes in halls. He told friends that agents of the FBI were trying to tunnel into his house and were watching him through his television. He hired an investigator to check on his friends.

But by St. Patrick's Day 1996, Breeden had made plans to check into a drug rehabilitation clinic. Still, he spent that afternoon with Schmitz, drinking shots of vodka and beer chasers and using cocaine, according to trial testimony. The two then piled into Breeden's car and roared down Interstate 25, Denver's heavily used north-south highway.

Weaving in and out of traffic at high speed, the $60,000 BMW slammed into the back of Lopez's black Toyota 4Runner, passed it on the right, then hit it a second time with a fishtail so powerful that it snapped off the Toyota's right front wheel. The Toyota, a sport-utility vehicle, barrel-rolled four times, killing Lopez instantly, even though he was wearing a seat belt. Bohland, newly pregnant, was riding with him and survived the crash. She now has a 5-month-old girl, Calla.

The BMW stopped briefly, then sped off. After switching to an Audi sport wagon at Breeden's house, the two returned to bar-hopping in Denver's trendy Lower Downtown, according to testimony.

Two days later, on March 19, the police were knocking on Breeden's door, and the first television crew started broadcasting live from his front lawn. With furniture pushed against the doors and sleeping bags covering the windows, he drank rum, snorted cocaine and watched the television coverage.

Before turning his .357 Magnum revolver on his beloved chow, Gambo, wounding the dog, he scribbled a will that cut out his entire family _ father, brother and sister. He left all his money, less than one-third of his mother's legacy, to Stone.