It should have been the perfect day out. To celebrate 12 years of marriage, Toni Henthorn’s husband Harold had arranged a surprise hike in the picturesque Rocky Mountain National Park. Grinning into the camera, the couple posed for photos as they ascended the trail.
But as they reached the precarious peak of a towering cliff top on Deer Mountain, something terrible happened. Toni lost her footing, plunging nearly 130 feet to the ground below. Her husband, naturally, called 911 to seek help for his critically hurt wife.
Since the Rocky Mountain area became a national park in 1915, almost 350 visitors have died in accidents or falls along its peaks and trails. It appeared as though Toni was another one of these statistics.
Despite Harold’s 20-minute phone call to 911, during which operators attempted to coach him in CPR, Toni died at the scene. The park had claimed another victim, it seemed.
In Harold’s statement to the authorities, he explained that his wife had stopped at the precarious spot to take a picture of the vista and then slipped over the edge. In his version of events, it was a tragic, but fairly straightforward, accident. But as the full facts about what happened on that fateful day began to emerge, authorities noticed that some things didn’t seem to stack up.
It was in September 2012 that Toni and Harold set out on their doomed adventure from which only one of them would return. The next contact they had with the outside world was a 911 call made by Harold during which he requested an alpine mountain rescue team to be dispatched to their location.
However, for a man who had just watched his wife of 12 years plummet to her death, Harold’s call seemed remarkably calm. As well as giving the operator exact co-ordinates of where they were, he also offered to pay all the costs of sending out a medical helicopter. Harold’s cool and collected demeanor during the call raised a few eyebrows – and suspicions.
There were other things, too, that seemed a little odd. In one photograph of Toni, seemingly taken moments before her fatal fall, she is holding a pair of binoculars. These were never located at the scene.
But perhaps far more damning was the map, found in the Henthorns’ car, marked with an “X” on the spot where Toni was to plummet to her death. Harold could never properly explain this remarkable coincidence to the authorities.
Investigators also noticed Harold’s account of events changing over time. After initially stating that he and his wife had left the trail to escape the busy hiking route, he later claimed that they had gone off in search of wild turkeys, and then that they were looking for spots in which to hike in the future with their daughter Haley.
As suspicion started to center on Harold, fresh questions were raised about the freakish circumstances surrounding the death of his first wife, Sandra Lynn Henthorn, in 1995. The couple had been out driving when they stopped just west of Sedalia on Colorado 67 to change a tire on their Jeep Cherokee.
Tragically, as Sandra was beneath the car, it apparently slipped from the jack, killing her. At least, that was the testimony of the only witness to the incident – Harold.
Prosecutors were now convinced of foul play in Toni’s death. They alleged that Harold had deliberately set up the fall that killed his wife in a bid to cash in on a total of $4.5 million in life insurance policies.
As part of the case against him, prosecutors played a recording of one of the calls that he made to the emergency services on that fateful day. During one, Harold can be heard asking the operator to airdrop a paramedic to help his wife.
“It is going to take at least an hour to come up that trail,” he said during the call. “I will pay any and all expenses for a helicopter… if you drop a paramedic down here.”
However, jurors were doubtful about Harold’s sincerity during the calls. “It didn’t add up,” juror Jerry Taboada said in an interview with CBS Denver. “It was cold and it was calculated, there was no feeling behind those calls at all. He wanted her to die.”
The jurors’ suspicions were further raised by Harold’s seeming inability to perform the CPR procedures that could have saved his wife’s life. “When he was with the operator who was giving him instructions on how to perform CPR,” observed juror Marxy Miller-Zahn, “it was clear that he was not following instructions.”
The operator’s testimony seemed to back this up. She doubted that Harry was in fact performing CPR on his wife at all because she could hear that he wasn’t out of breath.
In August 2015 a verdict was delivered and Harold Henthorn was handed a mandatory life sentence for the murder of his wife Toni. Deputies at the Douglas County Sheriff’s Department are also working to gather evidence concerning Harold’s alleged murder of Sandra, his first wife.
The snaps of Toni and Harold on Deer Mountain look like those of any other happy couple taking photos of a romantic day out. It’s chilling to look at Toni’s smiling face, knowing that these images capture the last living moments of an unwitting wife about to be callously murdered by her husband.