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Historian Jim Wetzel delves into murder, mystery on Grand Mesa

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Photo courtesy Delta County Museum In Wetzel's book he uses various artifacts such as newspaper clippings, reports and photographs. Here is the first picture of Alexander's lodge from 1891.

Story and history lovers filled the Grand Mesa Arts & Events Center on Jan. 31 to hear about "Murder and Mystery on Grand Mesa."

During the hour-long event local author and historian James K. (Jim) Wetzel shared his about his book which details discoveries on the disappearance of William Alexander in 1892 which appeared to set in motion the events that led to the murder of Surface Creek cattleman William Womack in 1901.

This murder eventually involved the Colorado governor and two U.S. presidents.

He didn't reveal everything presented in the book, but detailed enough to understand the events. Wetzel spent over a year researching and is still looking for answers -- particularly on Alexander's disappearance.

Alexander is best known for his contributions in developing the Grand Mesa as a resort and tourist area. In 1891 Alexander built the first hotel on the mesa, which sat close to the current Alexander Lodge.

Shortly after building the lodge, in June 1892, Alexander went missing, along with all of the lodge's money and a loan for $300.

Unfortunately Wetzel revealed that a gap in newspaper archives during that time made research difficult. The only evidence available from Alexander's disappearance is from the coroner's report after a skeleton was discovered in Cedaredge and thought to be connected to Alexander.

This was eventually concluded to be an "unknown man."

Several years later a man named William Alexander was arrested in Oregon for two murders. Alexander's original business partner Richard Forrest was supposed to go visit to verify if this was the missing man but instead seems to have gone to Sydney, Australia.

"When I wrote the book one of my goals was to solve the mystery," said Wetzel. "But, it's still a mystery."

Womack's murder, however, has a definite resolve. Forrest had previously sold Alexander's 160 acres of land and fishing rights to a man named William Radcliff. After buying the land Radcliff sought to exclude the public from fishing by requiring permits, which many hated.

In 1901 Radcliff's game warden Frank Mahoney murdered Womack in a moment of confrontation about a fishing permit.

Mahoney fled while Womack's friends furiously searched for him -- eventually burning down Radcliff's lodge and destroying the fish hatcheries in anger. Radcliff was away at the time but never returned for fear of his life.

He sued the U.S. government for compensation and settled for $25,000. After two years of trials and less than a year of prison, Mahoney was pardoned. Attendees were stunned to hear of this conclusion. Many lingered after the presentation, asking Wetzel questions or purchasing his book.

Wetzel's book regarding the aforementioned events can be obtained online or at the Delta County Museum located at 251 Meeker Street in Delta.

"I wanted to correct local history," said Wetzel when asked why he decided to research the incidents. "So many things are written incorrectly with our community's history and I was able to obtain a lot more information during my search."

This event was sponsored by the Delta County Libraries "Voices of the Western Slope." These series are meant to be "entertaining, engaging and informative presentations on noteworthy topics of the Western Slope."

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Surface Creek
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Authors, Cedaredge, Grand Mesa, Grand Mesa Arts and Events Center
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