A cold case file
by Jack Queen; art by Charlie Theobald
Oh, don’t be such a man, give your mom a hug,” said Elaine Redwine, an Associate Director at Colorado College’s Office of Financial Aid, to her 13-year-old son, Dylan, before she left him at the airport on Nov. 18, 2012. Dylan was on his way to visit his father, Mark Redwine, who lived in a remote area near Lake Vallecito in southwestern Colorado. This is the last time she would see her son alive.
The next morning Dylan vanished from his father’s home without a trace. This prompted a massive search operation involving a patchwork of state and federal agencies. The task was daunting given the punishing terrain; lines of searchers in lockstep had to comb through the dense forest like a human dragnet. Police fanned out across a web of windy dirt roads high into the mountains, knocking on the doors of every house, cabin, trailer and shack in the area. A dive team and a boat with SONAR scoured the bottom of Lake Vallecito, but to no avail.
Winter fell, and there was still no sign of Dylan. Family and friends waited in unrelenting anguish for the snow to melt so that search could continue as candles flickered in all the windows of nearby Bayfield, Colo. Friends, missing persons groups and strangers from across the country pitched in to raise a reward of over $50,000 for any information leading to the boy’s rescue, but the winter continued with no leads and the surrounding terrain locked in snow.
In June, the snow finally melted, and on the 22nd hundreds of people in hiking boots and hard hats resumed the search, following the forest wherever it took them: up and over mountains, down into canyons and streambeds and into every cave, crevice and hole. Their efforts were rewarded with a tragic discovery: some tattered clothing and a portion of Dylan’s remains on a nearby mountain. By then, the boy had been missing for seven agonizing months. Investigators said the evidence indicated that Dylan Redwine had been murdered. The case remains open, and no suspects have ever been named.
Elaine Redwine took her position at the Office of Financial Aid just three months before her son’s disappearance on Nov. 19, 2012. Before, she served as Director of Financial Aid at Fort Lewis College in Durango.
She remembers her son, who she often called “Dyl” or “Bubby,” as down to earth, selfless and very funny, someone “who always made people laugh,” she said. He loved baseball, and secretly enjoyed gardening.
Dylan grew up in the Redwine family home in Bayfield, 18 miles west of Durango. Nearly half of his young life was colored by his parents’ fraught marriage. After a lengthy legal battle, Elaine and Mark finally divorced in 2007, and Mark moved to the remote cabin where Dylan was last seen.
Mark worked as a cross-country trucker, and he spent long stretches away from home. According to Elaine, he drifted further from his sons after the divorce and was rarely around. When she moved to Colorado Springs, Elaine won full custody of Dylan after he had a private conversation with a judge. Following the custody hearing, Mark purchased a one-way ticket to Durango for his son. This trip would be the boy’s last.
Upon learning of her son’s disappearance, Elaine was immediately suspicious of her ex-husband and expressed concern that he might have been involved to the La Plata County Sheriff’s Office. As the search went cold, there was speculation that Mark Redwine murdered his son or was withholding information.
In contrast to Elaine, who immediately flew in to participate in the search, the public perceived Mark as much less involved. On January 26, 2013, his other son Cory and a group of over 20 people held a demonstration above Lake Vallecito, demanding Mark take a more active role in the search.
“I think he has a part in this,” Cory told reporters. “I’m not sure exactly to what extent, but if your son’s really missing, most people would be doing anything they could to bring him home, not avoid the situation.”
Mark bristled at the criticism, saying he was “doing plenty of things” on his own to help the effort.
Today, social media and the comment sections of online articles about Dylan are rife with proclamations of Mark’s guilt. The case has a high profile on Facebook, and the biggest page, "Dylan Redwine—the Journey to Justice," has nearly 30,000 likes. Recently, it posted an updated timeline of the events from the custody hearing onward. Other pages are less wholesome, posting rambling diatribes against Mark Redwine.
Mark was never named a suspect or person of interest, but he was the last known person to see his son, who disappeared under his care. Mark cooperated fully with police, and investigators corroborated the beginning of his story. The rest is largely based on his word—a shortage of evidence has plagued the investigation from the start. What follows is a distillation of the facts available to the public. The La Plata County Sheriff’s Office has released limited information regarding its homicide investigation because it is still ongoing.
Security camera footage confirms the beginning of Mark’s account. He picked up Dylan at the airport, and afterwards they visited a Wal-Mart and McDonald’s. Throughout the evening, Dylan was texting a friend and making arrangements to visit him at his grandmother’s house about six miles away. The plan was for Dylan to arrive at 6:30 a.m. the next morning.
Dylan, who his mother describes as an “avid texter,” sent his last message at 9:37 p.m., shortly after he arrived at his father’s home. The next morning, Mark said he was unable to wake Dylan, although “he was very much alive.” At around 7:30 a.m., Mark went into town to run errands, visiting his payroll office and divorce attorney. This has been confirmed by law enforcement. Upon returning home at 11:30, he claims to have found an empty cereal bowl and Nickelodeon still playing on the television. Dylan’s belongings and a fishing pole were missing, but the boy was nowhere to be found. That fishing pole was later found underneath an ATV in Mark’s garage.
Mark said he thought Dylan went fishing or went to a friend’s house and decided to take a nap until 2:30 p.m.
Elaine is skeptical of this account, questioning why Dylan would have taken all of his other belongings to go fishing.
“He wasn’t a big fisher person,” she told reporters. “He couldn’t even string his own fishing pole. And he didn’t watch Nickelodeon, he watched MTV.”
Mark, on the other hand, describes his son as “athletic” and the type of kid who “would like to be outdoors.”
After waking up, Mark began to look for his son. He drove to two of Dylan’s friends’ houses, but neither of his friends had seen him. At 4:30 p.m., he drove to the Bayfield Marshal’s Office to express his concern. He texted Elaine asking if she knew Dylan’s whereabouts, and afterward she called the Sheriff’s Office to report her missing son.
Police quickly ruled out the possibility of a runaway and conducted a preliminary search of Mark’s home, to which he consented. Mark also agreed to be questioned by the police. Over the course of the investigation, police executed three search warrants for his home and one on each of his two vehicles.
As the search went cold, the story went national, and Elaine again raised suspicions that Mark was hiding something.
“If Dylan did or said something that wasn’t what Mark wanted to hear, I’m just afraid Mark would have reacted,” she told an ABC News radio reporter.
Mark told the media he was utterly distraught over his son’s disappearance, unable to eat or sleep. He also offhandedly raised suspicions that Elaine had somehow been involved.
When Elaine, Mark and Cory appeared on “Dr. Phil” on Feb. 26th and 27th, 2013, both parents agreed to polygraph tests. Elaine passed hers, but Mark reneged, saying that he was stressed and drank a bottle of Jim Beam the night before. Mark also refused to retake an inconclusive police polygraph, turning away a private investigator that only agreed to work with him on the condition of his retake.
In June, just five days after resuming the search, about three percent of Dylan’s bones were found near a stretch of Middle Mountain Road. The area was densely forested, and ranges between 8,000 and 11,000 feet in elevation, and had remained snowed in well into the summer.
The La Plata Country Sheriff’s Office immediately opened a homicide investigation, although it has never released an official cause of death. The case was still plagued by lack of evidence, and the recovery of some tattered clothing and a handful of remains long disturbed by wildlife produced no new leads.
Ever since Dylan’s disappearance, and after the confirmation of his death, Elaine has been working tirelessly to keep the investigation ongoing. The La Plata County Sheriff’s Office has been stingy with information, but Elaine has kept herself plugged in to any and all developments.
“I work closely with a lot of people from the Sheriff’s Office,” she said. “They tell me whatever they can because I keep bugging them. It is moving forward. Every day there’s a new discovery, a new development.”
She stresses the importance of maintaining pressure on law enforcement and keeping the case in the public eye.
“People expect law enforcement to take care of everything, but there’s a lot people don’t understand. Cases often go cold because families and the public stop pressing,” she says.
Mark Redwine could not be reached for comment regarding his involvement with the ongoing investigation, but two months after Dylan’s remains were discovered, police executed two search warrants on his home. He told reporters that investigators “removed sections of carpet and wood flooring,” plus “a fireplace poker, clothing and a cell phone,” and “dug a hole in his yard underneath an outdoor staircase.” County Sheriff Duke Schirard told reporters it was a routine follow-up in a still “wide-open investigation.”
On May 5, 2014 Mark was hospitalized after an apparent nervous breakdown he suffered while in Denver. He was released after a mental evaluation and told reporters he was being “stalked” by “haters” and “monitored” by police.
Mark Redwine does have plenty of haters, many of whom spend a lot of time hurling invectives at him on the Internet. Given the Sheriff’s Office’s very limited disclosures, it’s unclear what sort of case they have against him. Although he’s never been named a person of interest, the extensive searches on his home suggest he has a thick file. He was the last person to see his son alive, and was regarded by the public as suspiciously passive during the search efforts. Many think that during his interviews with the media, and on “Dr. Phil” in particular, he didn’t seem as shocked and alarmed as you’d expect the parent of a missing, and later dead, child to be. Unlike his wife, he has never passed a polygraph test.
Nonetheless, he has cooperated with investigators from the start and has never been detained. He staunchly maintains his innocence, and has said on many occasions that his son’s grisly end was devastating for him.
It has been nearly two years since searchers found Dylan’s remains on Middle Mountain, but he has yet to have a proper burial. The handful of his bones that was recovered rest in an evidence locker in the La Plata County Sheriff’s Office and cannot be released to the Redwine family until his killer is found—or the investigation is closed. He thus remains in limbo: part of him committed to the earth by the elements, the other withheld as evidence in one of Colorado’s most stubborn cold cases. Dylan Redwine cannot be laid to rest until justice is served and his killer found. While his family did find some closure when the first tragic part of the mystery was solved and Dylan’s bones were found, it was incomplete. He cannot formally part from this world until the other, more elusive question is answered: who killed Dylan Redwine?