Who Murdered Colorado College Student Denise Davenport?

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Greely, Colorado is located 30 miles southeast of Fort Collins and approximately 50 miles northeast of Denver. It is the county seat of Weld County and home to the University of Northern Colorado.

The town is named after Horace Greeley, American editor of the New-York Tribune, who arrived in the Centennial State during the 1859 Colorado Gold Rush, originally known as Pike’s Peak Gold Rush. Greeley is often credited with the famous slogan, “Go west, young man, and grow up with the country.”

Denise Davenport was born in Greeley in August 1964 to Hal and Carrie Davenport. She has one sister, Debbie. Their parents divorced, and Hal married a second time. He and his wife, Anita Davenport, resided in Grand Junction while Carrie lived in Littleton.

Denise was a pretty petite woman with sandy blond hair. She was a junior at the University of Northern Colorado (UNC) and a UNC sorority member.

Aside from her studies and sorority activities, Denise worked part-time at the Greeley Mall.

Denise’s boyfriend, Doug Kandel, 25, described her as “really friendly, outgoing and easily approachable” but “careful about being alone.” She would often accompany her friends on walks to the James A. Michener Library on campus.

On February 24, 1985, Denise, 20, left her job at the mall around 5:15 pm. She had borrowed Doug’s sports car and planned to go to the car wash. That night, Denise was to be inducted as an officer in her sorority.

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Denise never arrived at the induction ceremony, and her friends became concerned when she failed to attend classes the next morning.

On February 25, authorities found Doug’s abandoned car on campus near Frazier Hall. The doors were unlocked, the radio was on, and the driver’s seat had been pushed back, which led Doug to believe another person had driven his car. Doug said Denise would not have left the car unlocked or the radio on.

Police found dirt on the driver’s seat and undercarriage of the car but said it was of little worth to the investigation because it was consistent with soil in the Greeley area.

A witness came forward and said she saw a car at an intersection with its hazard lights flashing on the night Denise disappeared. She noticed a young woman nearby walking with two men toward a pawn shop.

Investigators followed up on the lead but hit a dead end.

Denise Davenport’s father, Hal Davenport, an electrical contractor, and his wife, Anita, arrived in Greeley as soon as they discovered his daughter’s disappearance. Denise’s mother, Carrie, drove in from Littleton.

The family set up a search command center for volunteers at Doug Kandel’s home and organized searches. Volunteers arrived from as far away as Cheyenne, Wyoming, to help look for Denise.

A massive search launched involving law enforcement officials and volunteers, but they did not find Denise. Volunteers created 7,000 posters and 5,000 handbills and circulated some of them in Grand Junction, where Hal and Anita resided.

A Gruesome Discovery

The search continued for two months. Then, on Saturday, April 20, 1985, two men kayaking on the South Platte River found the nude body of a young woman floating in the river between 18th Street and Highway 34. Weld County Coroner Paul Stoddard identified the body through dental records as Denise Davenport.

The body was severely decomposed. Stoddard was unable to determine the cause of death. However, he stated months later that it was “not a natural death” because she did not die from a stabbing, gunshot wound, or drug overdose.

Stoddard wrote “homicidal violence of an undetermined type” on the death certificate.

A Murder Investigation Begins

The Davenport murder investigation was not easy. Detectives had little to go on as far as physical evidence. The next step was to compare Denise Davenport’s murder with other unsolved murders in and around Weld County.

One case, in particular, stood out.

Around the time of Denise Davenport’s killing, another young woman was brutally murdered, and the police considered the two cases might be related.

Vicki Carpenter, 25, disappeared the night of February 18 or the early morning of February 19, 1985, and was found dead in the Cherry Creek spillway on April 2, 1985. Her body had been weighted down with concrete. She was last seen leaving a bar and restaurant in East Denver.

The two cases shared many similarities. Both women were attractive young females around the same age and similar in appearance. They vanished around the same time, and both women were found dead in bodies of water in April 1985. In each case, the cause of death was never determined due to decomposition.

Unfortunately, authorities were unable to make a connection between the two killings. Vicki Carpenter’s murder also remains unsolved.

A Possible Drug Connection

In 1983, the police arrested Denise Davenport for the sale of hallucinogenic mushrooms. Her name came up in a UNC drug investigation, and Doug Kandel went to jail. She told police she was, “Just trying to fit in with the crowd.” Denise helped with their investigation and later pleaded guilty to misdemeanor possession. She received a suspended six-month jail sentence and a $250 fine.

Mike Peters, Greeley Tribune, February 22, 2009.

Investigators briefly looked at Doug Kandel as a possible suspect in her murder.

He knew where Denise was the night she vanished, and he had loaned her his car. Maybe he had been angry at Denise for working with the police the year before. However, investigators found no evidence linking him to her murder.

Detectives also looked into a drug connection to her murder but did not find anything.

More Witnesses Come Forward

On Friday, April 26, 1985, Weld County Sheriff Harold Andrews held a press conference where he announced a new lead in the investigation.

Investigators concluded someone had thrown Denise’s body in the South Platte River the night she disappeared. Witnesses recalled seeing someone driving a four-wheel-drive vehicle in the two bridges area on the night of February 24. The person became stuck and either had to call someone for help or hitchhiked out of the area.

Weld refused to comment any further to protect the investigation.

In mid-May 1985, authorities searched the area at South Platte River. Reporter Luke Clarke wrote, “Six cubic yards of earth were taken from a point on the river near where the body was found. Screens normally used in archaeological digs were used to sift through dirt.” ( The Daily Sentinel, May 15, 1985)

Authorities found some clothes that were not in Denise’s size, but the police remained tight-lipped on anything else they might have unearthed.

Larimer County Man Named Suspect in Davenport Murder

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At a press conference, Larimer County Sheriff Jim Black announced he had linked Denise Davenport’s death to a 41-year-old convicted man named Larry Eugene Blehm.

Blehm operated a plant store across the street from the car wash where Denise had planned to visit the night she vanished.

Larimer County deputies arrested Blehm on March 15, 1985, as a suspect in a string of burglaries in the Red Feathers area. The department had been working with Weld County Sheriff’s Office on the case.

Authorities also investigated Blehm in three Larimer County homicides — Allen Sorenson, age 79, his wife, Doris, 69, and Donald Ova, 32, of Greeley.

Weld County Sheriff Harold Andrews considered the announcement “premature.” He stated that Blehm was one of three suspects, and it would be “speculating” to call Blehm a prime suspect in the Davenport case. Andrews did not name the other two suspects.

Police Blehm never charged Blehm in any of the murders. Sheriff Black was the only law enforcement official who named Larry Blehm as a suspect in Denise’s death.

A Potential Lead

In February 2009, Jerome Santiago, then 33 years old, approached the Greeley Tribune with a story. He said that his mother’s former boyfriend, Max, might have killed Denise.

The newspaper did not print Max’s surname because the police never named him as a suspect.

Jerome was nine years old in 1985 and living in a broken home south of La Salle. His mother drank heavily and brought different men home on several occasions.

He told Greeley Tribune reporter Mike Peters that in early 1985, Max “came crawling through the cornfield … drugged and deranged … and he and my mother had one of their worst fights ever.” They had screamed at each other in the days following the killing, and Jerome had heard the name “Denise Davenport” several times during their fights.

The Tribune reported the information would be turned over to Weld County sheriff’s detective Vicki Harbert. However, no further information could be found on whether the police had acted on this information.

Person of Interest

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In late November 2011, former Arapahoe County Sheriff Patrick Sullivan, then 68, was accused of offering methamphetamine in exchange for sex from a male acquaintance.

Sullivan was sheriff from 1984 until 2002, when he retired.

Denise was Sullivan’s babysitter before she left for UNC. He often walked her home after babysitting. According to Hal Davenport, “He was picky in who he had watch his children,” just as the Davenports were picky in where their daughter would babysit. ( Greeley Tribune, December 16, 2011).

Hal Davenport said of Sullivan: “My family thought he was a God because of how helpful he was to us when we were hitting dead ends.

When we were trying to find Denise, he’d open doors with the police and the district attorney. He was able to funnel some information to us and open some doors to us; we thought he was pretty special.”

Neither Hal nor Denise’s mother, Carrie, ever thought Sullivan killed their daughter. Carrie passed away in 2004.

Sullivan is associated with another murder victim named Sean Moss, 27. Following his retirement as sheriff in 2002, Sullivan became a security chief at the Cherry Creek School district. In 2007, he hired Sean, who was reported to be a former gay porn star. Moss’ body was found floating in the South Platte River near Denver in January 2011.

Sullivan had bailed Sean out of jail 12 days before his murder.

Toxicology reports revealed a date rape drug and methamphetamine in Moss’ system.

Denise’s body was also found in the South Platte River, but it was never determined whether drugs were in her system due to decomposition.

Shortly after Denise’s body was found on April 20, 1985, Sullivan visited the Weld County Centennial Center to inquire about her death and told authorities Denise was a personal family friend.

The police never suspected him of Denise’s killing. Sullivan served 15 months in an Arkansas prison before his release in 2015.

Where the Case Stands in 2020

Earlier this year, near the 35th anniversary of Denise Davenport’s murder, Detective Byron Kastilahn from the Weld County Sheriff’s Office announced he was investigating Denise’s murder along with a few other unsolved crimes involving women.

Kastilahn joined the department in 2019 and has more than 20 years of law enforcement experience.

Originally published at https://truecrimediva.com on November 28, 2020.

Written by

I have owned a true-crime blog since 2010. Follow my blog at https://truecrimediva.com

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