DENVER (CNN) — A Colorado man faces a murder charge in what he initially said was an accidental fatal fall by his second wife on a 12th wedding anniversary outing, and now authorities also are re-examining the circumstances of his first wife’s death.
Harold Henthorn, 58, appeared before a federal judge in Denver on Thursday to face a first-degree murder charge in the death of Toni Henthorn, who died after falling off a cliff in Rocky Mountain National Park in September 2012.
The couple, who met through a Christian dating website, was enjoying an anniversary getaway and reportedly hiking in steep and rocky terrain when Toni Henthorn plunged 40 to 50 feet to her death, according to park officials and Toni Henthorn’s family.
Authorities haven’t disclosed any motives. Toni Henthorn was insured for $4.5-million under three life insurance policies, probate court records show.
The documents also state that a claim was sent on one of those policies on October 1, 2012, two days after Toni Henthorn’s death.
However, no payment was made. The couple also had a daughter, who is now 9, said Toni Henthorn’s brother Todd Bertolet.
Harold Henthorn said his wife’s death came when she slipped while taking a picture.
However, an autopsy showed Toni Henthorn died from multiple blunt force injuries after tumbling face first over a ledge “when she fell or was pushed down a cliff,” the coroner wrote. “Homicide cannot be excluded.”
A federal indictment says Harold Henthorn “willfully, deliberately, maliciously, and with premeditation and malice” killed Toni Henthorn, a 50-year-old ophthalmologist.
Henthorn was arrested outside his suburban Denver home without incident Thursday morning after dropping his daughter off at school, the culmination of a more than two-year investigation that involved the National Park Service, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office.
Defense attorney’s statement
The arrest was a long time coming for family members, who have had their suspicions, the brother said.
“It was a day we were looking forward to,” Bertolet said.
Bertolet said the family was immediately suspicious about the death because Harold Henthorn kept changing his story about what happened.
“I think there are four or five versions of the story he told,” said Bertolet.
Harold Henthorn’s attorney, Craig Truman, didn’t want to talk about the cases outside the courtroom, but provided a statement to CNN, which said, “I’m sure when all the facts are known in this difficult and complex case, that justice will be done.”
Authorities are now re-investigating the 1995 death of Harold Henthorn’s first wife, Sandra Lynn Henthorn.
First wife’s death
At that time, the couple was driving on a rural road about 10 miles outside Sedalia, Colorado, when Henthorn pulled over on a gravel shoulder to check a tire.
According to the autopsy report, Sandra Lynn Henthorn may have been looking under the car for a lug nut when the jack slipped and the car crashed down, pinning her underneath.
She was rushed to the hospital and underwent surgery, but did not survive.
“We can only say that there is an open, active investigation into the death of his first wife,” said Deborah Sherman, a spokeswoman for the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office. “We can’t release anything else because of the investigation.”
Bertolet said it wasn’t until after his sister’s death that his family learned the details surrounding the death of Harold Henthorn’s first wife.
“We knew he had been married previously. But he told us that she had died during a car accident. There’s a big difference between a car crash and a car falling on you,” Bertolet said.
“I think if my sister had known the complete background on this guy, she never would have been with him,” he added.
His ‘dominant’ personality
His sister was living in Mississippi when she met Henthorn on the Internet, and he was in Colorado, Bertolet said.
She sold her practice in Mississippi to be with Henthorn in Colorado.
Harold Henthorn said he was a businessman who owned a company, but Bertolet said no one in the family really knows what he did.
Bertolet said Harold Henthorn controlled the couple’s finances.
Bertolet questioned his sister’s relationship with Henthorn, adding that he seemed like a very controlling person.
“He was so dominant over my sister and the child. It was almost like whatever he said, went,” Bertolet said.
If convicted in the death of Toni Henthorn, Harold Henthorn faces life in prison without parole and up to a $250,000 fine.
He is scheduled to be arraigned on the murder charge on November 12, which is also a detention hearing.