DPD and Law Enforcement Partners Solve Four Related Cold Cases

Published on January 28, 2022

DNA Evidence and Genetic Genealogy Used to Identify the Suspect and Provide Answers to Victims’ Families

Denver – Friday, January 28, 2022 – The Denver Police Department and law enforcement partners today announced that through the continued determination of investigators, DNA evidence, investigative genetic genealogy and familial DNA search, the suspect in three Denver cold case homicides and an Adams County cold case homicide has been identified as Joe Michael Ervin (DOB: 6/25/51), who is deceased. The murders of three women and a teenage girl occurred in separate incidents between 1978 and 1981. The four cases were linked together and solved through several significant investigative developments beginning 35 years later.

“When the lives of our community members are tragically taken, we are committed to doing everything possible to identify and arrest the person responsible,” said Denver Chief of Police Paul Pazen. “While we recognize that identifying the suspect will not bring these ladies back, we hope it provides closure and healing for their loved ones and the Denver community.”

The Four Solved Cases

December 7, 1978

Madeleine Furey-Livaudais, a 33-year-old wife and mother of two, was at her northeast Denver home when an unknown man came to her door and confronted her. The suspect then forced his way inside her home and stabbed her to death.

According to the Furey-Livaudais families, “Madeleine grew up in central Florida, one of five sisters, and was an avid swimmer, continuing to swim throughout her life. She attended high school in Florida and graduated from Tulane University. Prior to getting married, she led an adventurous life, traveling to Africa and Europe as part of her work as an editor on the beloved children’s magazine, Ranger Rick. Her greatest joys in life came after the birth of her two daughters, whom she cherished beyond anything. She was a loving wife and mother of two at the time of her death. The Livaudais and Furey families are grateful for receiving answers after all these years and express their gratitude for the continued work put in by all the individuals who ever worked to solve this case.” The family requests privacy as they process the news that they now know who was responsible for Madeleine’s death.

August 10, 1980

Dolores Barajas, 53 years-old, was attacked while walking to work, and was found fatally stabbed in the 500 block of E. 17th Avenue in Denver.

According to her family, Dolores Barajas was a wife, mother, grandmother, and a beloved part of a loving family. She had spent the summer of 1980 visiting family in Denver and working at a hotel downtown. That Sunday was to be her last day of work before returning to her home out of state. Her family expressed great appreciation for everyone’s efforts and determination in solving this case.Ms. Barajas’ family still miss her very much and requested privacy as they process the emotions brought on by the closure of the case.

December 24, 1980

Gwendolyn Harris, 27 years-old, was found stabbed to death on the corner of E. 47th Avenue and Andrews Drive in Denver. She was last seen the night before at the Polo Club Lounge, which at the time was located in downtown Denver at the intersection of 15th Street and Tremont Street. When the cold case investigation recently revealed the suspect’s identity, it was noted that Ms. Harris was found within a one-block vicinity of Joe Ervin’s residence at the time of the murder.

According to her family, Gwendolyn Denise Harris was a mother, sister, daughter, aunt, granddaughter, and niece. Gwen was a bright, soft spoken, athletic young woman who enjoyed life and always had a smile on her face. Her family states, “Because of the decision of another to take life with no regard, the 1980 murder of Gwendolyn Harris was devastating and unimaginable to the family. Gwen will forever be in our hearts and always our JOY.”

January 24, 1981

Antoinette Parks, 17 years-old, was found stabbed to death in the area of 64th Avenue and Broadway in Adams County. Ms. Parks was six to seven months pregnant at the time of her murder.

According to Antoinette Parks’ family, she was high school student who attended Gateway High School in Aurora. The youngest of six, she grew up in Denver with her family and loved to sing and listen to music. She was caring, determined and loved children. Children were drawn to Antoinette and, and it was a safe bet that when she watched a family member’s child, it would be hard to get the child away from Antoinette. Her family speculates that she would have gone into the careers of childcare or education. Even though she was young, she was looking forward to having her own children. Antoinette is still deeply missed and loved by those in her family.

The Suspect’s Death and His Arrest for the Murder of An Aurora Police Officer

On July 1, 1981, Joe Ervin committed suicide in the Adams County Detention Center while in custody for the murder of Aurora Police Officer Debra Sue Corr. Officer Corr was patrolling alone on June 27, 1981, when she contacted Joe Ervin for a traffic violation in the area of E. Colfax Ave. and Moline Street. Ervin broke free as she attempted to arrest and handcuff him. Ervin then took Corr's weapon and shot her. As this was happening, Aurora Police Explorer Scout Glen Spies was passing by and tried to intervene. Spies was shot in the back but survived. Ervin was arrested at his home in Aurora as he tried to saw the handcuffs from his wrist. Officer Corr was the first Aurora Police officer killed in the line of duty and she was married to a Denver Police officer at the time of her murder.

Recent Investigative Milestones

Since these murders occurred more than 40 years ago, the Denver Police Crime Laboratory has continually worked on these cases and applied emerging technologies and/or methods that presented opportunities to develop new leads and advance the investigations. The following is a chronology of the significant developments in the investigations:

  • Between 2013 and 2018, these four cases were linked together by DNA evidence, and three separate searches for familial links in Colorado occurred during this time.
  • The Denver Police Crime Laboratory began in-house Investigative Genetic Genealogy (IGG) work in 2019, which led to a positive ancestry link to Texas.
  • A familial search was conducted in Texas in the summer of 2021, which resulted in the identification of a close biological relative of the yet unidentified suspect.
  • Investigators identified Joe Ervin as a potential suspect, and an exhumation of his remains was conducted in Texas in late 2021 to obtain DNA samples for direct comparison to the crime scene evidence.
  • The identity of Joe Ervin as the suspect in these four related murders was confirmed through DNA analysis in January of 2022.

“In some cold cases, the passage of years and decades makes solving cases more difficult, but where DNA evidence exists, the evolution of science and technology has made it possible to identify perpetrators, seek justice for victims and provide answers to victims’ loved ones,” said Dr. Greggory LaBerge, Director of the Denver Police Forensics and Evidence Division.

Background on Denver’s Cold Case Initiatives and Grant Funding

The final identification of the suspect in these four murders through Investigative Genetic Genealogy and familial DNA research was a result of Denver’s Integrated Cold Case Project. This project is funded in part through a 2020 Genetic Genealogy & Familial Match Searching grant, awarded to the Denver Police Department by the Bureau of Justice Assistance for a total of $470,000.

The successful model of Denver’s Integrated Cold Case Project, which launched in 2004 as a partnership between the Denver Police Cold Case Unit, Denver Police Crime Laboratory, and Denver District Attorney’s Office has produced unprecedented results for a jurisdiction its size, including:

  • DNA analysis of more than 1,120 cases
  • A Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) hit rate of 50%
  • Filing of 130 criminal cases and adjudication of 126 cases

Since 2004, Denver’s Integrated Cold Case Project has received more than $4.2 Million in grant funding from the National Institute of Justice, allowing the partners to dedicate additional resources to solving Denver’s cold cases.

In addition to the funding provided by the 2020 Genetic Genealogy & Familial Match Searching grant, Metro Denver Crime Stoppers and its Board of Directors generously provided $5,000 in funding to the Denver Police Department for testing and research related to five separate cold case offender profiles, including Joe Ervin. Overall, Metro Denver Crime Stoppers has provided regional law enforcement agencies with a total of $41,000 in grant funding to date for 16 cases involving at least 17 victims, which has contributed to successful outcomes.

Call to Action

The community is one of the greatest resources for solving homicide cases and other crimes. Anyone who witnessed or has information regarding an unsolved homicide – whether cold case or recent – is encouraged to contact Metro Denver Crime Stoppers at 720-913-STOP (7867) to provide tips. Tipsters can remain anonymous, could be eligible for a monetary award, and cold help to provide justice for victims and answers for grieving family members.

Acknowledgements

The Denver Police Department extends its sincere gratitude to the individuals and partner agencies listed below, which contributed to the successful identification of the suspect in these four murder cases, as well as all the DPD officers, investigators, and Crime Laboratory personnel, members of the Adams County Sheriff’s Department, and Denver District Attorney’s Office staff who committed countless hours of work toward the successful closure of these cases over the past 40-plus years.

  • Denver Police Department Crime Laboratory Forensic Biology/DNA Unit
  • Denver Police Cold Case Unit
  • Denver District Attorney’s Office
  • Adams County Sheriff’s Office
  • Aurora Police Department
  • Colorado Bureau of Investigations
  • Federal Bureau of Investigation – Denver Division
  • Metro Denver Crime Stoppers
  • Texas Department of Public Safety
  • Texas Rangers
  • Tarrant County Sheriff’s Department (Texas)
  • University of North Texas Forensic Center for Human Identification
  • U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives – Denver Field Division