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Home / Articles / Archive / News & Columns /  The Ice Man Cometh
News & Columns

The Ice Man Cometh

Salt Lake County detective Todd Park lives to see cold cases thawed.

By Stephen Dark
Posted // June 11,2007 -

Jennifer Ruff sits beside the closed casket in the dusky silence of Lake Hills Cemetery’s viewing room on State Street and 10055 South. The funeral’s not for another hour, but the 21-year-old widow wants time alone with her husband’s coffin.

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An enormous burden has been lifted from her shoulders. Eighteen months before, with an 18-month-old baby and five months pregnant, her life had fallen apart when Bryan Ruff disappeared. Now that she knows he’s dead, at least she can get on with what she must do.

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But there’s something she’s trying to understand. All those plans she’d made for her future as Mrs. Bryan Ruff. And yet in the months after her husband vanished, she’d discovered she hardly knew him at all. It hadn’t only been the twists of fate that had betrayed her. It had been her husband, too.

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What in the world could she have done to have pushed him to that point?

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She lays her hand on the varnished wood.

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Whoever was lying in the casket, she thinks, was not the person she had been married to.

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From the grassy knoll where Bryan Patrick Ruff’s remains were interred in July 1993, you can see, beyond State Street and the Target Superstore, Kennecott’s copper mine. In the winter of 1991, Ruff had been working at Kennecott as a security guard in a shack with two small lights attached to it on an empty stretch of road where contractors were the only traffic coming in and out.

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One night he disappeared.

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In the shack was his uneaten dinner, his log book and textbooks. His car was parked nearby, locked. When Jennifer went up at 1 a.m. after a call from the police and saw the car covered in ice, she thought, “There is no way he just walked away.”

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A year and a half later: Five Mile Pass, a desolate stretch of land used by hikers and ATV riders out in Utah County’s Cedar Valley. A young female camper, ducking behind a line of scrub bushes to relieve herself, spotted something resembling the edge of a jacket collar sticking out of the ground. She called her friends over. What looked like human hair, part of a scalp, stuck out of the dirt. One of them took a knife and tried to cut the material. When that didn’t work, he pulled up the jacket.

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Skeletal remains in a tattered guards uniform came up with it.

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After Bryan’s funeral, Jennifer Ruff was left to pick up the pieces of her life, to find a job, a home, eventually remarry and have more children.

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During the following decade, despite the case being linked to a woman’s disappearance and a theft ring at Kennecott, the police never got close to finding who took Bryan Ruff, a one-time all-state wrestling champion, from work and out to a barren spot where five bullets were pumped into his torso.

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Yet for Jennifer, whenever she’s driving and happens to look towards Kennecott, Bryan’s always there, reminding her that part of her life is without an ending, that the most painful question of all'what happened in those last minutes of Bryan’s life'remains unanswered.

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In August of last year, she received a call from Salt Lake County Sheriff’s Office Detective Todd Park. A seven-year homicide veteran, for the past year Park, 43, had been working exclusively on cold cases, or long unsolved homicides. He told Jennifer he had a suspect.

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Before the arrest of Dale B. Bradley in late September last year, Bryan Ruff’s murder had been one more cold case in a cardboard box with the name of the deceased and the date of death on a label on the front. The box was filed away with 43 others in a narrow, windowless room on metal shelves. These are the cold cases from Cottonwood, Holladay, Riverton, Herriman, Bluffdale, Magna, Kearns. “There are cases right there that can and will be solved,” Park says. “Just waiting for me to get off my ass.?

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Walk along the shelves, look at those names, think about what those boxes contain, the details and history of a life ended by someone else, and as the light snaps off, and you pull the door shut behind you, it’s as if the silence in that room cries out. It’s like a child who wants the light left on at night. Leave the door open just a crack, so light can still trickle in.

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To try to understand who Park is and what he does'the two are undeniably linked'is to embark on a journey. It’s the promise of a trip that might link two men, one living, one dead. It’s the hope of a trial set this spring to determine if Bradley is guilty of Bryan Ruff’s murder.

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Take a drive with Park around several down-at-the-heel, anonymous apartment complexes in Taylorsville where two murder victims once lived, and along with his cryptic sense of humor'“Couldn’t you hear the toilets flushing all over this place as we drove in??'there is also the sense of paths, patterns, actions, relationships, all locked up in his words and thoughts as he points to the window of a living room where an adolescent was butchered, or a playground where a single mother would meet the boyfriend who would later take her life. You can almost see the murder victims playing out again and again the mistakes, the choices that lead them to an unimaginable encounter with someone else’s rage.

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Park grew up in Cody, Wyo., a town whose claim to fame is its Buffalo Bill museum. His father climbed oil derricks for a living and worked his way up to being a foreman-supervisor for Marathon Oil. Park went to Cody High School, discovering a passion for baseball. He was catcher for his college team, which, given his profession, lends itself to the metaphor of a safe pair of waiting hands.

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“Law enforcement never entered my mind,” he says. In 1983, his uncle, a highway patrolman, said there was an opening in law enforcement in a small Wyoming town named Lusk. With his shoulder-length hair, he didn’t expect to get the job. “It surprised the heck out of me that they hired me,” he says. “But I knew I was hooked from the first night.?

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He didn’t have pants for his uniform, nor did he receive any training. Pay was $4.92 an hour. He worked the graveyard shift as part of a six-man sheriff’s department in a town that was a throwback to the Wild West. “There were construction workers, African-American crews tearing up rail lines and ranchers. Blood on the floor every night in every bar.”

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For Park, it was an excellent training ground. “When your back-up’s home in bed 60 minutes away, you learn how to make sense of a situation, try to talk people down.”

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But when cops from Ogden retired to Cody, receiving pensions higher than what he was earning, Park realized “the only place I was going to be able to afford to retire was Missouri.?

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He applied to Salt Lake County to be around mountains. “I love their serenity, their cold beauty.”

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His first department was juvenile sex crimes, a stepping-stone for building up interviewing skills. “You have a situation where you’re dealing with evil, and with a child it’s double evil because the victim doesn’t want to tell you, nor does the suspect.”

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Seven years later, he made it to homicide. His first day, then-desk Sgt. Jerry Townsend, took him over to a drawer, pulled out a file and told him to see what he could do on his downtime from his day-to-day caseload. “That was his way of running things. He gave a case to each detective.?

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Park’s case was a single mother in her early 20s who lived in the Atherton Park apartments in Taylorsville with her 18-month-old daughter. She worked as an X-ray technician up at the University of Utah. She was a meticulous, responsible person. When she didn’t turn up for work for several days, a friend got the building manager to let her into her apartment. The baby, dehydrated, was crying in the crib. The woman was lying naked beside the bed. She had many stab wounds, including ones with such violence to the throat the head was all but severed.

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The original investigators found out she had a boyfriend in the complex. A hair had been found on the victim during the autopsy. But the DNA testing, at that time primitive, did not provide a clear result. The suspect was married and had children. He went back to live on the East Coast.

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“It took me a while but I made contact with the suspect’s wife. I found out they’d split up. She gave me valuable information she felt she couldn’t have shared with the police at the time.”

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While the root of the hair had been used up, the hair itself was still intact. Since 1991, new testing techniques that extract DNA from hair have been developed. Coupled with the information from the wife, the new DNA evidence was enough to file charges.

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The suspect was selling sunglasses at a stall in Inglewood, Calif. “There were 15 detectives and U.S. marshals following him. He started to act hinky so they made the arrest,” Park said. Although Park wasn’t there for the arrest, he met with the suspect. “He was a nice guy, pleasant, educated. He pleaded guilty but he never sat down and gave me an interview.” Park has his theories.

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“He was down on his luck in Utah, away from his family ? a lot of stress, he really wanted out badly, he turned to the one person he thought could help, his girlfriend, and she wouldn’t.?

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Solving his first cold case gave Park a real buzz. “I liked working it. It clicked with me; it was a lot of fun. And there’s a lot of personal satisfaction that comes from knowing a guy who was walking around, who lived clean on the other side of the country and thought ?I’m good to go,’ ends up pleading guilty.”

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But when he tried to contact the family of the dead woman, leaving messages on their machine about the arrest, they didn’t return any of his calls. “I wasn’t expecting a parade on State Street but that sure set me back. Now that I’ve done a lot of homicide cases, I understand the emotions better. I think they’d just closed the door on it.?

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Park only works on one case at a time but has another five or six that he’s more than familiar with nearby, bubbling away. “It doesn’t do them justice if I’m spread out thinly.” The idea that people have gotten away with murder, he says, irritates him. “I truly in my heart believe that every family deserve some justice.?

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When he told his desk sergeant to pick the second cold case for him to work on, “Jerry said, ?This one’s always bothered me. The mother’s never let it drop. She calls every year on the anniversary of her son’s murder, the 30th of December, 1993.’?

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Sylvia Mosier was the single mother of 14-year-old Chris. They were struggling to make ends meet before Christmas. She worked in a restaurant as a hostess and was hoping to get a little extra money because Chris wanted a drum set. They discussed picking up a baby-sitting job and answered an ad in the paper. A couple, the Johnsons, brought their 2-month-old baby to their tiny apartment in a gray-stucco building in Taylorsville. “It’s a bad deal,” says Park. “In those places, people like the Mosiers are prey to all sorts of undesirable elements.?

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One night Sylvia had to work, so Chris stayed with the baby, which had been agreed to by the baby’s mother.

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Sylvia was very close to her son. He was stocky, mature for his age, into martial arts and music, remarkably handsome, and, says Park, “genuinely good-hearted.” Sylvia always called home, checking on him frequently. But that night he didn’t answer. When she got home from work, she found him lying on his side in a pool of blood, his eyes open, his body a graphic testament to 39 stab wounds. The baby was gone.

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Despite a number of suspects, including Chris’ father and his friends, the case went cold. The baby turned up with the father, Terry Johnson, who had gone into the apartment, he said, had seen no one and taken his child. There was a minute spot of blood on the baby’s clothing, but DNA testing wasn’t advanced enough then to do much with it.

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Park recalls that Terry Johnson was a heavy cocaine user with ideas of grandeur. “When I picked up the case, I got very detailed with the statements, looking at all of them, writing down timelines, phone calls. There was a 12-minute time period when the killing could have taken place, and Johnson put himself in it.” Park contacted Johnson’s by-then ex-wife who provided helpful information. Scorned women and time, he says, are of equal value to him as the latest DNA testing.

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Park flew down to Kansas with his desk sergeant to make the arrest.

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In March 2004, Terry Johnson went on trial for the murder of Chris Mosier and was convicted, although even during sentencing, he maintained his innocence.

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Sylvia Mosier continued to live in the apartment where her son was murdered for many years. Finally she remarried and moved out. “She told me she hadn’t had a good night sleep,” says Park, “from the day of the murder until the conviction.?

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Among the cubicles of Park’s colleagues in the sheriff’s department are posters of Johnny Cash and the 1950s classic TV cop played by Jack Webb, Joe Friday. Park, whose musical taste runs from Garth Brooks to Def Leppard and Bachman-Turner Overdrive, has a desk with its own personality. There’s a sign for Colonel Mustard (he’s a big fan of the condiment), another that says, “Remember'we work for God,” and pinned up on one wall are three rows of 14 mug shots of all the murderers he’s helped to put away.

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“Sgt. Townsend used to do it,” he says. “It makes a neat conversation piece.” Try to get him to talk about those faces, what he feels when he looks at them, and all he says is “One’s out, one’s dead.?

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Another face soon may join them.

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Park’s most recent and, so far, highest-profile cold case'several TV shows are talking about coming down for the trial'is the 1991 murder of Bryan Ruff.

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Jennifer and Bryan Ruff, both members of the LDS Church, met in high school in Taylor, S.C. At 16, she was two years younger than Bryan. Jennifer’s parents moved to the South from a family farm in Idaho when she was 15. “I never found my place; I was too old to fit in.?

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She met Bryan at church. “He was a Southern hick, all-state wrestling champion at school. He had this twangy accent and a mustache and was into Mtley Cre and Whitesnake. A sweetheart with a beautiful big smile.”

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The summer after Bryan’s graduation they started to date, deciding to get engaged before Jennifer’s 17th birthday. She went through her senior year committed, she says, to a serious relationship.

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After they got married, Jennifer became pregnant, and they decided to move to Salt Lake City to be near her parents. They settled in Midvale. Jennifer got a job as nurse’s aide at the home where her mother worked. Bryan got work on the graveyard shift. “He got very friendly with one of the other aides who worked with him. I confronted him, he denied there was any relationship, but I found out he’d gone back and told her what I said.?

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Brittany was born in August 1990. “Bryan adored his little girl. He said he wished he could pack her up in a bag and take her to work with him.” In order to save money, they moved into a singlewide trailer in Sandy, then in with her parents and six siblings. Bryan got a job as a security guard with Burns Security and was posted at Kennecott’s mining operation. He became friends with a co-worker named Dale Bradley. Dale came over to work on his car. They went bike riding together and spent a lot of time discussing their marriages.

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“It was a shocking relationship,” says Jennifer. “Dale was this backwoods kind of a guy. A really big talker, bizzare. They couldn’t have been more different. I didn’t like him.?

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Bradley’s then-wife Kristi says, “He’s a very paranoid kind of a guy. He couldn’t sit in a restaurant with his back to the door. He was sick with diabetes, angry at the world.”

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One morning after Bryan had gone to work, Jennifer found a note from him on their bed. “He was feeling overwhelmed,” she recalls. “He wrote that he needed a break.” He’d gone into work, quit, taken his last paycheck and their car. “It hit me like a ton of bricks. I was left penniless, didn’t have any transportation. I felt like someone had physically beaten me up. I lost any sort of pride. When he rang up to see how Brittany was, I begged him to come back.?

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Brittany was hospitalized a week after Bryan left. He returned immediately. Since his old job was taken, he was reassigned to a shack on a deserted dirt road that led up to Kennecott’s Magna site.

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One day, he brought home Kristi Bradley for several hours because there’d been a gas leak in her apartment. Kristi and Bryan had met at Thanksgiving. “He was very nice, real quiet, shy,” Kristi says. “We were sitting on a couch, I was drinking wine coolers. We didn’t talk that first day.” Later Bryan and Kristi began to talk about their spouses. “It grew from talking into a sex thing.?

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Jennifer’s first reaction to Kristi was not favorable. “She was tall, big hair. You know how women have a mean way of reacting? I told him I’m not worried about you leaving me for her. She’s a dog.” Looking back, she says wistfully, “She was not the kind of person I’d ever dreamed Bryan could be attracted to.?

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And yet it was with Kristi that Bryan had left the week he’d gone to supposedly think things over.

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Two weeks after returning with Bryan, Kristi decided to go off to Texas and do hair and makeup for a band. Dale had been “ornery” the day she was leaving. He had cleared out his trunk, something he hadn’t done since high school. “What was weird was the only thing left in there was a baby blue electric blanket,” says Kristi. That night she talked to Bryan on the phone while he was at his post at Kennecott. “He said somebody’s here, gotta go. He sounded so scared.?

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Jennifer, who was five months pregnant, was working as a nurse’s aide. The night Kristi was set to leave for Texas, Jennifer was putting patients to bed when suddenly, “I felt this overwhelming sickness, weakness. I went into one of the patients’ rooms, watched TV. There was a phone call from the sheriff’s department. Bryan was missing.?

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Distraught, she ran down the middle of the street in her work clothes in the pitch of a winter’s night, until her mother found her and took her home.

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What followed, she says, were “days and days of utter hell.?

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Search and rescue teams were combing the west side of the mountain. Kristi called hysterical, rambling she knew Dale allegedly had done something. Jennifer had to phone her mother-in-law on her birthday and tell her that Bryan was missing. “I couldn’t function, I was such a mess. The weeks went on, and I thought he’s got to be out there somewhere; someone’s got to know. Eventually, it set in I had to start to take care of myself.?

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Christmas came and things got worse. “All the presents I had for him were sitting in a pile waiting for him. I had to give Brittany all the presents her dad had chosen and bought for her. They made me heartsick'every single one.?

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The weeks became months but she kept hope alive until Jessica, their second child, was born. “His love for the kids would have prompted him to come back. After that I knew there was no hope.?

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In the weeks after his disappearance, she’d received credit card and phone bills that showed he’d been in Nevada the first time he went AWOL. She called one number and was told by Kristi’s uncle that she had been there with her “husband.”

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Later in the investigation, Jennifer went with detectives to interview the woman Bryan had been friendly with in the nursing home. “He told her he loved her, cared for her, wanted to have a relationship with her.”

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In a storage unit they’d moved their possessions into before moving in with her parents, Jennifer found letters that were “pretty painful. He wanted to leave me, but he wasn’t willing to give up my daughter.”

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It was like discovering someone she had never known. “He was not a happy person, he was looking for something else. I don’t know what it was.?

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Looking back, she feels she was a controlling person then. “I was so young and nave, neither one of us had experienced life on our own.?

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She found it too much living with her parents and siblings and moved to a “dumpy” apartment on 900 South downtown'all she could afford. She worked from 3 till 11 at night and then had to carry her 18 month old and her baby up the stairs. “It was terrifying. I was such a mess, so depressed. I missed out on my children’s infant life. The future utterly terrified me.”

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Bryan’s parents grasped at straws. They hired a psychic in Florida to get them leads. Jennifer was not immune to the same instinct. “I was watching TV late one night, this psychic hot-line on TV came up and I called. It’s against my beliefs, but I asked them questions about my husband’s disappearance for two hours. I got a telephone bill for $200.?

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After defaulting on her student loan for beauty school and declaring bankruptcy'all at the age of 21'she got a position at Continental Airlines as a reservation agent. “That was the turning point, when I got back my self-respect.?

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She did a training course in June and started work on July 9. The night after “the craziness started again.?

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A body had been found in Five Mile Pass.

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According to their former daughter-in-law, Bryan’s parents have never gotten over his death.

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Kristi blames herself for Bryan’s demise, saying that if they hadn’t had the affair, he’d be alive to enjoy his daughters. “Is it my fault he’s dead?” she asks. “Why didn’t Dale kill me??

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For Jennifer, it’s something that will haunt her the rest of her life.

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And Bryan’s children, now nearly 14 and 15? “I don’t want this to become a circus, I don’t want it to define our lives,” says their mother.

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For Jennifer one question remains: the last minutes of Bryan’s life.

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“I try to picture in my mind what it could possibly have been like. Regardless of the choices he made, he did love me. What in the world went through his mind as he was begging for his life? It’s still so heart wrenching. It’s so cold, freezing up there, the dead of winter. How traumatic to die like that.”

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Her sister told her of a dream she had before the body had been found. “He was tied up in the fetal position in the back of a car. She remembered him crying, pleading, I’ve got a baby, my wife’s pregnant, please don’t kill me.?

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Todd Park had heard about the Bryan Ruff case on and off through his seven years in Salt Lake County’s homicide department. Then in May he got a call from cops in Carbon County about a man named Dale Bradley. His second wife Crystal had been found stabbed to death outside their trailer-park home in Wellington. They’d been interviewing Bradley, and he told them he’d taken a polygraph, which he’d passed for the Ruff case. They asked Park to have another look at the case.

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The detectives who had investigated Bryan’s disappearance, says Jennifer, had assured her that Bradley was not a suspect. “They convinced me he had nothing to do with the affair. He had an alibi, had passed a polygraph.?

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Park went to the evidence room to get Ruff’s clothing. But the body was found in Utah County and the clothing was booked in there. As he went through it, he picked up a cowboy boot, found 200 yards from the body. On the sole of the boot was a red scuffmark. The color looked startlingly familiar. “Bradley had a Camero which was a strange orange-red.” Park sent it off for analysis in Seattle with scrapings from the car’s paint detectives had taken at the time. The test cost $3,000. “If I’m going to be spending taxpayers’ money, I like to see a result.” In this case, the result was a match.

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Park theorized that Bradley had allegedly taken Ruff at gunpoint, put him into the trunk of his car where he’d tried to kick his way out, drove to Five Mile Pass, dragged Ruff out, stripped off his cowboy boots so he couldn’t run and took his life.

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The place where Ruff was buried is an unforgiving spot. Sagebrush, rabbit tracks in the snow, a bone in the softened hollow in the ground where Ruff lay for 18 months. “That’s not Bryan’s bone,” says Park flatly. It’s hard to tell if he’s joking.

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No houses, just sandy hills, the road a good mile or so away, a line of scrub oak that must have grown quite a bit since the killing and behind it, sheltered from the wind, this gentle hollow in the ground about the size of a small man.

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With Bradley’s statements, what Kristi told him in an interview and telephone records, Park put together a timeline. But then there was Bradley’s alibi. In fact he’d made a number of conflicting statements, including that he’d been to the University of Utah to review self-motivational and marital-aid videos. There was several hours it turned out that Bradley could not verify where he was, Park concluded.

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“His alibi sucked,” says Park.

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Combined with the matching paint, he and Assistant District Attorney Vince Meister felt they had enough for probable cause.

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Park went down to Wellington and knocked on the Bradleys’ trailer door. His mother answered. “Is Dale Junior in?” asked Park.

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Bradley came to the door and Park arrested him. “He’s physically a wreck,” he says.

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If Dale Bradley is convicted'a preliminary hearing is scheduled for April 5 and 6'then the files on Ruff’s murder containing the timelines, witness statements and photographs will make the journey from the darkness of the cold-case room to a series of shiny black filing cabinets under the neon lighting of the homicide department. (When contacted for this story, Bradley did not respond to a request for an interview.)

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“Bryan got mixed up in something he shouldn’t have been doing,” says Park, alluding to the affair. Whatever personal satisfaction he gets from closing these cases, there’s also a sense of his deep disappointment, even disapproval, of human behavior.

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It’s apparent when he talks about the first murder he investigated in Lusk. A little girl had been brutally raped and murdered, then thrown off a bridge. “The killer was a doper who didn’t do anything with his life. That really irritates me.?

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Sgt. Kris Ownby, who heads up the homicide unit, says Detective Park has a genuine passion for these cases. But it is his very passion that others have warned him might get in the way. “Vince Meister has told me I get too emotional.” But then again perhaps it is those very qualities'tenacity, passion and an old-fashioned sense of morality'that make him so good at his job.

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In the end, he has an all-consuming desire to know.

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“If I don’t know what’s happened, it drives me nuts. If my wife gets mad at me and won’t tell me why, that drives me bananas.”

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Jennifer Ruff keeps the photos and documents from her first marriage in annoff-white plastic folder with a zip, bearing the logo Lake Hills Mortuary.nIt helps to heal the hurt to keep all the memories in one place, she says.

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After the holidays, some of Lake Hills’ graves still boast decoratednChristmas trees and wreaths. On one stone is inscribed Bryan Patrick Ruff,nbeloved husband and father, 1969-1991. Two large oaks stand either side,ntheir branches in the pale winter light casting intertwining shadows overnthe gravestone, as if embracing it.

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Look up, in the opposite direction from the corrugated mouths of Kennecott’snmines, and there’s only straw-yellow grass and the mountains.

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The snow lies cupped in the mountainside, like the palm of a catcher’s mitt,nand then rises up to the bright blue sky.

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