Melanie Cooley

The Unsolved Colorado Murder

Melanie Cooley

"you're looking into their eyes"

During the 1970’s serial killer Ted Bundy was the prime suspect in many unsolved cases of missing women. Although he was only charged with a relatively small number of killings, it is believed Bundy murdered roughly twenty young women and girls between 1974 and 1978. He is, however, suspected in as many as 30 to 100 more homicides, including the unsolved murder of Melanie Cooley.

A young student, Cooley was last seen hitchhiking in the area of Nederland, Colorado, in April 1975. Around this time, Bundy was largely moved away from Utah, where he had claimed the lives of as many as eight women, and had begun to hunt for victims in Colorado. Despite circumstantial evidence pointing to his guilt, Bundy was never charged with this heinous crime.

Melanie Cooley: The Nederland Bludgeoning

On April 6, 1975, a young woman vanished from Grand Junction, Colorado. Twenty-four year-old Denise Lynn Oliverson went missing while cycling to her parents’ house. She was not the first woman who fell victim to an unseen killer in Colorado. Several months earlier, in January, a young nurse by the name of Caryn Campbell was found beaten to death after going missing in Snowmass, Colorado.

What the authorities in Colorado did not know, was that an elusive killer was hunting lone women, much the same way he had done in Utah and Washington before that. Just over a week after Denise Oliverson went missing, another young woman vanished. On April 15, 1975, 18-year-old Melanie Suzanne Cooley left Nederland High School where she was a senior.

An image of Melanie Cooley, long suspected of being a victim of serial killer Ted Bundy.
Melanie Cooley, long suspected of being a victim of serial killer Ted Bundy.

Cooley was born in Boulder, but grew up in Nederland, and knew the area well. Known as “Suzy” to her friends, she was last seen by classmates after her classes were over, hitchhiking nearby in Nederland, something she was known to do often, despite the dangers. Her disappearance was reported to police, and a description was given of Cooley, who was last seen wearing blue jeans, a blue jean jacket with an embroidered eagle on the back and tan-colored boots.

On Friday, May 2, 1975, a body was found by a road maintenance worker in Coal Creek Canyon. It was later identified as that of Melanie Cooley, born October 27, 1956, in Boulder, Colorado. According to the coroner, she had been hit over the head repeatedly with a large rock, which caused massive head injuries that caused her death.

A large rock was found near the body, and it was suspected this had been the murder weapon. Curiously, it was determined she had been dead for about two weeks when her body was found, but three days after her disappearance. This would seem to indicate her killer had kept Cooley captive for several days before finally carrying out the killing.

Ted Bundy: The Prime Suspect

By early 1975, Ted Bundy had begun to venture farther East, beyond his Utah hunting grounds towards Colorado, where several young women had gone missing. Not all of the Colorado victims associated with Ted Bundy vanished without trace. The body of Caryn Campbell was located almost five weeks after her death. The others however, disappeared and their bodies were never found.

Ted Bundy has long been suspected in the death of Melanie Cooley by detectives. According to credit card receipts, Bundy filled up his Volkswagen Beetle with gas at Golden, Colorado on the same day Cooley went missing. Golden is not far from Nederland, the location of the crime. Bundy purchased gas at other places in Colorado, such as Silverthorn, during the same month when the other women were abducted.

An image of serial killer Ted Bundy.
Ted Bundy (June 30, 1976)

It is likely that Bundy was actively searching for victims in Colorado after the investigation into the disappearances of eight young women in Utah caused him to relocate for fear of capture. Just four days before Cooley went missing, Bundy reported the theft of his Utah plates, but actually kept them, and used them intermittently with his newly issued plates.

The method used to murder Melanie Cooley would seem to confirm Bundy as a suspect. It is strongly suspected that Bundy preferred strangulation as a method of dispatching his victims, providing a clean murder with little mess. Indeed he had once said, “You feel the last bit of breath leaving their bodies… you’re looking into their eyes. A person in that situation is God.” This was one reason why he managed to stay one step ahead of the authorities, by leaving as little evidence behind as possible.

However, he was known to bludgeon his victims when orchestrating their kidnapping. For this, he would use a small tire iron or crowbar hidden in the wheel arch of his Volkswagen Bug, which he used to hit them over the head, something that served only to stun them before they were bound and put inside his vehicle. The crowbar became an integral part of Ted Bundy’s murder kit.

The death of Caryn Campbell is one of the rare cases where the body of one of Bundy’s victims was found. Almost all his other victims remains were never located. In the case of Campbell, she had been beaten about the head from a blunt object, that caused a large pool of blood that surrounded her head. Bundy was also known to use other objects, such as wooden logs when attacking his later Chi Omega victims.

During his time on death row, Bundy began to confess to crimes committed in several states. He admitted to committing three murders in Colorado, those of Caryn Campbell, Denis Oliverson and Julie Cunningham, who vanished in March 1975. He never admitted to anymore in that state, and Colorado detectives never got the chance to question him over Melanie Cooley’s murder.

Despite Bundy kidnapping several women in Colorado, there has never been any evidence that connects him directly to Cooley’s death. The circumstances of her murder seem to suggest that another killer was responsible, and that only the victim type and location offer the only evidence that Cooley was one of Bundy’s victims.

During his time on death row when he began to confess to investigators, Bundy stated that he had killed three women in Colorado. He was quite specific when it came to numbers, and claimed eight known murders in Utah, of which he was suspected, along three more unidentified. He seemingly never claimed Melanie Cooley as a victim. With no other suspects, Jefferson County authorities continue to treat her murder as a cold case.

Written by Nucleus

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