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Highlands Ranch Man Under Investigation After Freak Accidents Kill 2 Wives

Harold Henthorn and Toni Henthorn (credit: CBS)

Harold Henthorn and Toni Henthorn (credit: CBS)

DENVER (CBS4) – Local and federal authorities are investigating the deaths of a Highlands Ranch man’s two wives which took place 18 years apart from each other.

The deaths that were initially reported as freak accidents but have now drawn intense interest from investigators with the FBI, National Park Service and Douglas County Sheriff’s Office.

Henthorn refused to comment on the investigations when approached by a CBS4 crew.

“I want to cooperate with you,” said Harold Henthorn, 57. “But I know you spoke with my attorney and ask you to speak to him.”

His lawyer, Craig Truman, told CBS4, “I’m sure when all the facts are known in this difficult and complicated case that justice will be done.”

Truman declined to discuss the ongoing probes of the untimely deaths of Henthorn’s wives. Henthorn has told friends, neighbors and associates he is innocent and has done nothing wrong. He has not been charged with a crime.

Law enforcement interest in Henthorn began in September 2012 after his second wife, Toni, fell off a cliff in Rocky Mountain National Park while hiking with her husband, the only witness to her death.

The couple, who have an 8-year-old daughter together, were hiking in the Deer Mountain area of the national park, although they had left the trail and were in a rocky area. It was their anniversary weekend and they would have marked 13 years of marriage the next day.

Harold Henthorn told investigators his wife was preparing to take a picture when she fell about 50 feet to her death. He told investigators he was looking at his cellphone and did not see precisely what happened. The Sept. 29, 2012, incident was initially labeled an unfortunate accident.

But CBS4 obtained the autopsy report for Toni Henthorn which raised numerous questions about her death. In his autopsy report three months after the incident, forensic pathologist Dr. James Wilkerson of the Larimer County Coroner’s office wrote:

Toni Henthorn, a 50 year old white female, died as a result of multiple blunt force injuries when she fell or was pushed down a cliff while hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park. The manner of death is undetermined. The circumstances of death are under investigation at the time of this report. Homicide cannot be excluded.

Ellis Armistead, a Denver-based private investigator who served as a homicide investigator with the Lakewood police department and was Chief Investigator with the 14th judicial district, reviewed the autopsy report at the request of CBS4.

“I’ve never seen a conclusion like that, and I’ve reviewed hundreds of autopsy reports,” he said. “I find that an unusual conclusion to an autopsy report.”

The FBI has confirmed it is actively investigating Toni Henthorn’s death.

“It’s ongoing,” said FBI spokesman Dave Joly. “We’re hoping to bring it to a conclusion sooner rather than later. It’s something we’re taking a look at very carefully.”

While Harold Henthorn refused to discuss his wife’s death with CBS4, he has continually proclaimed his innocence to friends, neighbors and acquaintances. Many spoke to CBS4 but asked their names not be used.

One told CBS4 that Henthorn has complained of the ongoing FBI investigation, saying it has caused stress for him and his daughter. He has told those he knows that he loved his wife and would never harm her.

Steve Reynolds, a friend of Harold and Toni Henthorn for the last seven years, described them as a loving, caring couple.

Harold Henthorn and Toni Henthorn (credit: CBS)

Harold Henthorn and Toni Henthorn (credit: CBS)

“He adored her,” said Reynolds, who described the FBI probe as a “witch hunt.”

“The FBI does not have one shred of evidence,” said Reynolds, who said Harold Henthorn is an “innocent person.”

“They do not deserve this. It was a horrible, horrible, terrible accident,” said Reynolds, who said the FBI has “harrassed” Harold Henthorn for the better part of a year.

Toni Henthorn was a well liked ophthalmologist, described by those who knew her as quiet and shy and a strong Christian, active in her Cherry Hills church. At one point, she served as team ophthalmologist for the Colorado Avalanche hockey team. She was originally from Jackson, Mississippi but moved to Colorado after meeting Harold Henthorn.

Toni Henthorn was a magna cum laude graduate of the University of Mississippi medical school and was a surgical and cosmetic ophthalmologist in Colorado. Contacted by CBS4, her family declined to comment citing the ongoing investigation.

Also not commenting is the family of Sandra Lynn Henthorn, Harold Henthorn’s first wife who died in a tragic, freak accident in Douglas County. The 37-year-old woman, whose maiden name is Rishell, died in 1995.

In that case, the married couple was returning late at night from a mountain outing when Henthorn told investigators he believed one of the tires on his Jeep Cherokee felt “mushy” and may have been going flat on Highway 67 about 8.5 miles west of Deckers. It’s unclear if the tire was actually flat.

Sandra Lynn Henthorn

(credit: CBS)

Henthorn explained to investigators that as he was changing the tire his wife somehow ended up under the car, possibly looking for a lug nut, when Henthorn said the jack slipped and the car fell on her.

Henthorn told investigators he was placing something in the trunk when the jack slipped, so he didn’t see exactly what happened. Sandra Lynn Henthorn was pronounced dead the next day on May 7, 1995.

Sources familiar with that case say that Henthorn was the beneficiary of at least $300,000 from an insurance policy he had taken out on his wife.

In the case, the coroner ruled “that the cause of death is due to mechanical asphyxiation secondary to a vehicle slipping off the jack and falling on top of the decedent.”

The Douglas County Sheriff’s Department investigated the incident and after seven days, concluded Sandra Lynn Henthorn’s death was accidental. However, Douglas County Sheriff’s investigators have now confirmed to CBS4 they have reopened their 18-year-old investigation into her death.

“It warrants taking another look at,” said Douglas County Sheriff’s spokesman Sgt. Ron Hanavan. “We reopened it based on extraordinary circumstances.”

He declined to provide additional details and his office refused to release the 18-year-old case file, citing the newly reopened investigation.

Members of Sandra Lynn Henthorn’s family did not respond to CBS4 inquiries. She had been married to him for 13 years when she died. The two had known each other since they were undergraduates at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia. The couple married in September 1982, according to online accounts, and moved to Denver in December 1982.

Harold Henthorn has maintained a relatively low profile since moving to Colorado. While his educational background was as a geologist, friends and neighbors say in recent years Harold Henthorn had mostly been a stay-at-home father, working from his home and trying to raise money for charity organizations and nonprofits. A search shows Henthorn has no criminal background and no arrests.

Neighbors describe him as deeply religious, outgoing, and extremely controlling. One neighbor described him as a devoted father to his 8-year-old daughter. But the same neighbor also said there was something about Henthorn that always left them uneasy and suspicious.

One source familiar with the case says that Harold Henthorn was the beneficiary of “significant” life insurance policies, taken out on his ophthalmologist wife. But with Toni Henthorn’s manner of death still undetermined and a criminal investigation underway, standard insurance procedure would dictate that those policies would not be paid out.

CBS4 has also learned that Toni Henthorn’s Mississippi family is prominent in the oil business, and one source says Harold Henthorn stood to inherit a large amount of money upon his wife’s death.

Former homicide investigator Armistead called it “proper and warranted” that investigators were closely scrutinizing the deaths of Harold Henthorn’s wives.

“Bad luck can happen to somebody, there’s no getting around that. But it always caused me when I see cases like this to be suspicious.”

– Written by Brian Maass for CBSDenver.com

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