Nine days ago, during the night of a sudden summer thunderstorm, the Mondelo family car went over the side of Backbone Mountain and caught fire on impact. The wreckage was found and examined in the morning; three bodies, an adult woman, a teenage male, and a female child were found in the wreckage; all were severely burned and unrecognizable. By personal effects that survived the fire, the three victims were identified as Louise Mondelo and her children Wally and Jan.
Pictures of the scene were recorded, but, due to the storm, it was initially believed to be simply a tragic accident and was not treated as a crime scene. When Lyle Mondelo could not be reached and was found to be missing, he was immediately considered a suspect and the wreckage was thoroughly processed. However, the scene had been substantially disturbed and some evidence was undoubtably lost. The bodies, as part of an ongoing criminal investigation, were kept in the county morgue.
The small town of Highland Park was shocked, as nothing this terrible had ever happened in the area. Tips from neighbors and friends poured into the police department, but none of the tips were eyewitness accounts or provided specific information regarding the car accident. Lyle was the likely suspect, but was nowhere to be found. An all points bulletin was issued for everyone to be on the lookout for Lyle Mondelo. He was presumed armed and dangerous and to be driving a missing blue 1993 Ford Ranger with Tumbling Water Land Development Co. logos. Four days ago, Lyle Mondelo’s credit card was used to purchase gasoline and food at a gas station in Texas.
When contacted, business associate John Wayne Gretzky told investigators that Lyle had been slipping into a deep depression because of trouble at their jointly owned business, Tumbling Water Land Development Company, and he also implied that there had been problems at home. At this time, investigators noticed that John had a large bite mark on his upper arm. Asking him about it, John claimed to have gotten it during a bar fight the night before and allowed the bite to be photographed. He was not held or charged with any crime.
With no additional leads, police launched a full investigation into the Mondelos. Louise Wilson and Lyle Mondelo had met at college while receiving Business Degrees in Management. They married in college and moved to Highland Park, Louise’s hometown, after graduation. The former town was still ailing at the time, suffering from the shut down of the mines a little over a decade ago. Although at first Lyle thought their business prospects in the small town were poor, he soon discovered that money could be made developing land for private lodges and ski resorts that employed most of the residents.
Upon returning to Highland Park, Louise ran into her old High School sweet heart, John Wayne Gretzky and while talking to him, she learned that he was in the same business as she and Lyle. Glad to see an old friend, and thinking that a favorable business relationship could develop, Louise asked John to meet with her and Lyle over dinner. Lyle and John soon became friends, and rather than compete for business against each other, the three decided to join together and start Tumbling Water Land Development Company.
About a year after Tumbling Water was founded, Louise conceived her first child, Wally. Friends of the Mondelos said that Lyle suspected Louise and John of having an affair at the time, and the two nearly divorced. The couple, however, worked out their relationship with the help of a marriage counselor.
Tumbling Water became prosperous and was able to buy several hundred acres of land adjacent to Blackrock River, a prime recreational stream. Soon thereafter, Louise had another child, Jan, and took leave from the offices to work from home while she raised the two children. Friends say that Louise never really went back to Tumbling Water, even after the children were older and in school. Their friends also suggested that Lyle and Louise’s relationship was healthier with them not working together.
Tumbling Water’s lawyer told investigators that she began preparing bankruptcy papers for the company about a year ago; the ski resort was dragging out negotiations for a property purchase and the company’s other business deals weren’t making enough profit to keep the business afloat. Soon after being asked to begin the bankruptcy filing, though, she said an unexpected deal was made to build a number of fishing cabins on the Blackrock River land. That was enough to keep the business going, and after that, Tumbling Water began making deals at a steady rate.
A potentially related case recently touched on the Mondelos’ lives. Three weeks ago, a crystal methamphetamine lab was discovered in an abandoned camper on Tumbling Water land. Louise’s nephew, Mitch Wilson, and John Wayne’s brother, Larry Gretzky, were found in the lab and indicted for possession with intent to sell the 6 kg of meth also found in the lab. Two days later they were both released on bond, posted by Lyle and John. Mitch and Larry gave no names of possible suppliers or dealers.
Two weeks ago, Louise Mondelo filed for divorce. Friends say she told them that she suspected Lyle of being involved with drugs, but that they believed she was involved with John again. Two days later, Louise filed for a peace bond against Lyle, stating that Lyle had harassed her and the children. Louise also told police that she was afraid that Lyle might try to take the children away from her.
When attempting to contact Mitch Wilson and Larry Gretzky for questioning about the car accident, police discovered that they had both skipped town along with Larry’s girlfriend, Mary Bradey. Authorities believed that their disappearance could be related to the accident, and they were described as possibly armed and dangerous in the warrant posted for their arrest.
Two days ago, an abandoned blue Ford Ranger was found on a strip of New Mexico highway. The pickup was dirty and dusty, but investigators noticed a Tumbling Water Land Development Co. sign on the back tailgate. Forced entry was apparent. Upon access to the truck, investigators discovered several pieces of trace evidence and sent it to Highland Park for analysis.
The forest gets thicker and buildings less frequent the farther you drive along old Route 52. You see the sign for Tumbling Water Land Development Company and make the turn onto the gravel road cutting into the forest. Before long you see the other police vehicles, and Detective Murray is motioning you over to the side of the road. A small cabin, now surrounded by police tape is surrounded by trees here, and you see several other similar cabins further down the road. You hear the Blackrock River not too far off behind the cabin.
As you and your partner get out of the car, the hot July sun hits you. Detective Murray comes up, sweating in the heat. "Hey folks, welcome to the scene. Two bodies inside, both pretty bad off, and who knows how long they've been there. A girl scout found them about an hour and a half ago on a hiking trip. Gave her quite a fright; her troop leaders weren't much better off. Anyway, we've got a problem. We've ID'd the woman inside as Louise Mondelo, the same woman identified last weekend in that car that ran off Backbone Mountain during the storm. Neither body's in good shape and nothing positive can be made until we get DNA, but we need to figure this one out."
The smell of human decay assaults your nose as you go inside. Overturned chairs and tables announce the struggle that took place here. The smaller body, dressed in a blouse and jeans, lays near the phone that now dangles from its line. The larger is dressed in a man's polo shirt and slacks and lays in a corner to the left of a door; blood covers the walls and floor around him. Another investigator is already collecting maggots from the corpses to help establish a time of death. As you process the scene, you find flesh scraped on the stone of the fireplace, and you collect blood and skin from a piece of bloody firewood laying near the woman's body. The wounds on her head seem consistent with the firewood, but nothing is certain with her in this state of decay. Outside of the cabin, you notice a set of tire tracks deeply rutted in the mud and grass. None of the investigators had driven near that area, so you take plaster molds and pictures to preserve evidence.
As you finish processing the scene, you know that it is up to you now to determine the identity of Louise Mondelo and to discover what events led to the tragic end of all five victims.