On February 13, 1982, Tom Luther rapes and beats a 21 year-old woman named Mary who accepted a ride from him near Breckenridge, Colorado. Luther was traced through his truck and arrested. Luther told a psychiatrist that the girl reminded him of his mother. The psychiatrist concluded that the attacks might have resulted from his mother's physical and extreme verbal abuse. Whatever the cause, Luther reportedly told an inmate at the time that "the next girl won't live. They'll never find her body."
Within months of Luther's release from prison in 1993, Cher Elder, 20, disappeared after leaving a Central City casino with Luther. Around the same time, another young woman who had advertised a used car for sale was brutally attacked with a knife. Luther was the obvious suspect in the disappearance of Cher Elder and he fled to West Virginia. There he raped and beat a hitchhiker. He was caught and convicted for that attack and then returned to Colorado. Cher Elder's body was finally found in 1995. She had been shot three times in the back of the head, but her body was so decomposed by the time it was found that evidence of sexual assault or other trauma could not be determined. The victim of the knife attack saw Luther's picture in the newspaper and contacted police, Luther was later convicted of this attack as well. While in prison, Luther wrote to his former girlfriend, "Strange, isn't it that I am what I detest in a human being. It wasn't sex at all. It was assault and anger, pure meanest [sic] from a subconscious level. I can't deal with the lack of self-control I have. I guess I really am dangerous if I can hurt people like this." Still, the judge refused to allow the jury to consider these statements, or his previous rape convictions, at the Cher Elder murder trial. This set off an uproar when a lone juror refused to vote for first degree murder. Luther received a 48-year sentence for second-degree murder. Elder's family and the other 11 jurors began to lobby to change one of the fundamental precepts of American criminal justice, the unanimous verdict.
Michael Thomas Barry is the author of numerous books that include Murder and Mayhem 52 Crimes that Shocked Early California, 1849-1949. The book can be purchased at Amazon through the following link: