The Weston County courthouse, in Newcastle, Wyoming, is a majestic, three-story, sandstone and brick building. Four tall pillars support the front portico and a copper-plated, octagonal dome. It was built in 1911, two decades after Weston was carved out of neighboring counties in the northeastern corner of the state, not far from Mount Rushmore in neigh-boring South Dakota.
Riding up in a small elevator, built years later along the outside of the structure, I sense that there must not be much crime in the county of seventy-two hundred residents. After all, there is only one working courtroom in the building, on the top floor. It is a paneled, windowless chamber with padded wooden pews, where a large-faced, old-fashioned Papillon clock on the right wall keeps the time. And it is here that an arcane proceeding known as a coroner’s inquest is underway.
For the first time in forty years of covering murder cases around the country, I hear myself called to the witness stand. I take the oath and face the jurors. I am a long way from my home in the Central Florida suburbs, and from the tragic chain of events that brought me to this place. Why am I here, in the middle of a tangled tale of family dysfunction, fatal attraction, and greed, a saga that wends its way from the elegant Southern mansions of Montgomery, Alabama, to the New Age salons of Boulder, Colorado, to this rural, windswept county seat? More to the point, how can I tell the people staring at me so intently what—or who—connects four violent and unnatural deaths? Well, I say, it’s a long story.