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Final release re: 92-year-old Turret man found dead in home


After a staff briefing today that included sheriff’s investigators and representatives from the district attorney and coroner’s offices, the Chaffee County Sheriff’s Office formally closed the case of the death of Turret resident Edwin Bartheld, 92 at the time of his death. 

Mr. Bartheld’s body was discovered in the crawlspace of his home the afternoon of Friday, September 12.  A large cache of explosives and chemicals, including ammonium nitrate, along with several homemade detonators, were present inside the space with the body.  Evidence at the scene disclosed that one of the detonators had exploded inside a bucket of ammonium nitrate near the man, scattering the powder throughout the space.  A .25 caliber handgun was in the victim’s pants pocket, a .45 caliber handgun close by, and a .22 caliber semiautomatic handgun with a live round in the chamber and several in the magazine was found beneath the body. 

An autopsy completed Monday produced what we now confirm to be a .22 caliber bullet that had entered the man’s neck from the front, traveled at an upward angle, passed through the carotid artery, severed his spinal cord, and lodged in his skull.  The victim is thought to have died several days before his body was discovered.  Cause of death was declared by the coroner to be the gunshot and the coroner has now declared the death a suicide.

A puzzling aspect of the case was that the .22 caliber handgun, now determined to be the firearm that caused the man’s death, contained a live round in the chamber that appeared to be corroded to the extent that it required a good deal of exertion by a deputy to open the breech.  The condition of the firearm suggested that it had not been fired or cleaned in several months, so it seemed unlikely at the time that this could be the weapon that caused the man’s death.  A second search of the crawl space on Tuesday however, using hand tools to sift through the dirt around the body, turned up a spent .22 caliber casing that is of the same brand and style as those found in the gun’s magazine.

Evidence at the scene shows that the gunshot occurred first, followed by the blast, although the interval between the two events cannot be determined.  Investigators speculate that the Bartheld unintentionally initiated one of the timed detonators that lay next to him in the crawlspace, then put the .22 caliber handgun to his throat and fired it.  Death would have been almost instantaneous due to the severed spinal cord.  The bloody handgun fell to the ground next to the man.  The detonator inside the bucket of ammonium nitrate then exploded, causing the chemical to disperse throughout the crawlspace and cover the bloody handgun.  Ammonium nitrate is a corrosive that, when mixed with the man’s blood on the firearm caused the corrosion and initially misled the investigators.

From evidence at the scene, from the autopsy, and from interviews, investigators speculate that Mr. Bartheld intended to destroy the house with the explosives and commit suicide with the handgun, perhaps simultaneously.  While Mr. Bartheld’s motives cannot be decisively determined, his age, his solitary existence, and the possibility that the property could soon be developed against his desires, may have led him to take these actions.  He sold the property on which he and his wife had built the house in the 1970s, to a Florida couple September 17, 2008 for $50,000.  The Barthelds were allowed under the contract to live in the home “until death or until an agreed upon time.  No selling of or development of the property for seven years from the date of July 29, 2008.”  Mrs. Bartheld died Christmas Eve, 2012.