Colorado State Patrolman Thomas Ray Carpenter (March 28, 1942 – Dec 27, 1973) was 31 years old when he was killed with his own .357-caliber Magnum hand gun while on duty. He was executed with four bullets in the back of his head.
He had served as Patrolman for more than five years.
No suspects were ever arrested for his murder. His case remains unsolved.
On December 27, 1973 Patrolman Carpenter stopped a 1964 Chevrolet at Broadway and US 36, in Denver, Colorado. That description sounds like a traffic stop. In other papers, it says that Patrolman Carpenter stopped near the on-ramp of the Boulder Turnpike to check on what seemed to be a car that had broken down. Either way, there were two men inside that car. Somehow, and really nobody but the two suspects know, a struggle happened.
One of the suspects got hold of Patrolman Carpenter’s service gun. The armed suspects got into the back of the Patrolman’s car and made him drive around at gunpoint.
At approximately 10am, Patrolman Carpenter radioed dispatch about his position. He was on I-70, Havana Street. He was out of his assigned area. Patrolman Carpenter was later found murdered in the driver seat of his patrol car on the parking lot of an apartment complex in Montebello. He had four gunshot wounds in the back of his head. He had been shot by one of the suspects from the back seat.
Patrolman Carpenter’s son, Clay, was just nine years old when his father was killed. He has a blog where he describes what happened to his father. How the armed suspects made his dad drive around, how his dad passed vehicles with law enforcement colleagues, kept his demeanor, stayed calm, and did not panic. You can find Clay’s blog here.
Because Patrolman Carpenter drove around with these two suspects in the back of his car outside his assigned area, he did attract attention. From various witnesses, enough information was gathered to make composite sketches of the two men in the back seat.
The two men are described as follows: one is a white male, between the ages of 16 – 20, with shoulder-length shaggy, blond hair, wearing a short coat. The second is a black male, between the ages of 16 – 20, about 5’10” with a short hair cut, and was wearing a dark sheepskin coat.
We have no further descriptions. However, both were noticeably young. They didn’t behave like people normally would when they find themselves in the back of a patrol car. Usually, people look down, sit still, don’t draw attention to them. These two suspects moved around in the back seat.
Police conducted an extensive investigation but found neither the two suspects nor Patrolman Carpenter’s gun. The case grew cold.
Kirk Mitchell describes what happened to Herbert Dixon on Jan 15, 1977. Off-duty Denver Police Officer James T. Myers was in the parking lot of the St. James Catholic Church on 1250 Newport St. He saw something that caught his eye. A man seemed to be “prowling” a car either to break in or steal it. Suddenly, he ran away.
Myers ran after him and caught him near Paul Frank Motors, 6801 E. Colfax Ave. As Myers tried to put handcuffs on the man, he fought back. During the fight somehow Myers’ gun was discharged. The bullet entered the man in the back. He died of his injuries. “Police later discovered a .32-caliber gun in the same lot. Apparently the suspect had tossed it during the chase.”
The man was identified as Herbert Dixon (23) and he was as a suspect in Carpenter’s murder. I am not sure how Dixon was tied to Carpenter or, if Dixon matches (or is) one of the suspects in the composite sketches. Dixon did have a criminal record. He had been arrested several times for robbery. He also served time for robbery and assault in 1974.
There is no forensic evidence to prove beyond a doubt who shot Carpenter. Police investigations in the 70s did not include looking for biological materials that could be used to search for DNA. It is unlikely that the patrol car’s door handles were swabbed or, that some seat cushion parts of the back seats were preserved. If so, we could still use the M-Vac.
According to newspaper articles, police found an .308-caliber shell on the car floor. I am not sure if this was in the front or the back of the car. However, the fingerprints did not belong to Carpenter. If these prints still exist I hope they are regularly run through national databases.
Patrolman Carpenter’s gun
The service gun was eventually found in a ditch in New Mexico roughly two years after Carpenter was killed. I don’t know who found it or where exactly in the state of New Mexico. It appeared that the gun had been underwater for some time. It was pitted and there was rust on it so difficult to find any useful forensic evidence. As it had been discarded, it is hard to connect it to anyone except of course, to Patrolman Carpenter.
Patrolman Carpenter had served with the Colorado State Patrol for over five years. He was a former marine, a loving husband, and a proud father. He was married to Phyllis Ruth Wilson. They have three children: Thomas Clay, Sheila Claudine and Cory Don.
Cory contacted me to post about his dad. A few years ago, Colorado State Patrol placed a memorial sign at the location of Patrolman Thomas Ray Carpenter’s abduction. In the picture you see that sign. In front of the sign are Cory Carpenter with his wife Becky.
On this page you see that it says that the “two prime suspects were killed in unrelated violent altercations.” But I only found information about one suspect, Herbert Dixon. if you have links to articles about the other suspect, please contact me.
I also didn’t see any confirmation that Dixon was indeed one of the suspects in the composite sketches.
In one article, Patrolman Carpenter’s service gun is described as a .357 Magnum but here it is a .357 Colt Python. Which one is it? UPDATE: Cory Carpenter emailed me that his dad’s “was a Colt Python 357 Magnum but State Patrol used 38 special ammunition.”
The Denver Police Department’s Cold Case Unit needs your help. They still seek information that will lead to the arrest and prosecution of the suspect(s) responsible for this murder. If you have any information, please call the Denver Police Department at 720-913-2000 or Crime Stoppers Tip Line at 720-913-7867. Callers may remain anonymous. There is a reward of up to $2,000 as per their website.
Rest in peace, Colorado State Patrolman Thomas Ray Carpenter.
Grave Linda Stockton
Head shot Phyllis Carpenter
Badge screenshot AdS
Suspects screenshots AdS