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Video: ‘The Last Dance’

NBC Universal Anchors and Correspondents
By Dennis Murphy Correspondent
Dateline NBC
updated 5/17/2010 12:54:51 PM ET 2010-05-17T16:54:51

The dance of love begins with one hand taking another. A simple step, a spin and then the magic starts.

At least that's how it all began for Alan and Miriam Helmick -- two lost souls who found each other on the dance floor.

Penny Lyons: They were awesome. There's no other word that comes into mind except "fun." They made everything they did fun.

They met in a small dance studio in the quiet town of Grand Junction, Colo. Two widowers getting a second chance at love.

DennisMurphy: Favorite vignette where you see them in your mind, see what they're doing?

Penny Lyons: Alan doing a swing move.  Miriam going, "Oh, my God."

To fellow dance students like Penny Lyons, their romance seemed to be what little girls dreamed about.

Penny Lyons: Alan for her was like her knight in shining armor. I mean, he came into her life and said, "I want to care for you. I want to care about you. And your joy is my goal."

And 59-year-old Alan Helmick wasn't just the knight in armor to Miriam. A lot of people in his hometown of Delta, Colo., felt the same way about him. Alan, the broker on Main Street, had helped people get into their homes and helped build their businesses.

Alan Helmick: My father was probably one of the best people I've ever met in my life. And I don't just say that because I'm his son.

To Alan Helmick, Jr., his father was the epitome of the All-American success story. Forty-years before his life criss-crossed with Miriam's, he was a golden-eared musician and star baseball pitcher, who married his high school sweetheart, Sharon. Together, they raised four children while Alan ran the local savings and loan, and eventually his own mortgage and title companies.

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DennisMurphy: I almost think of the George Bailey character in “It's a Wonderful Life.” Come into the savings and loan and "what if I hadn't lived?"  (laughter)

Alan Helmick: Right. Except my dad would have got a second job to make up the money he lost. (laughter)

But on New Year's Eve 2003, the wonderful life of Alan Helmick suddenly fell apart when Sharon died of a heart attack. Alan was struck hard and deep.

Alan Helmick: I think that he died that day-- a big part of him.  You know, he lost my mother who he'd been with since he was 14, his love, his life. I'm sure that everything that he thought was real was ripped out from under him.

Months passed before Alan picked himself up, and decided to get out on his own. He realized he still had some unused credit at a ballroom dance studio he had once taken classes at.

Alan Helmick: He thought, "Well, maybe it's something I should do."  He's trying break out of-- you know, the-- the slump he's in, so he goes back to the classes.

And that's where he met his dance instructor -- 48-year-old Miriam Giles. Miriam had lived in Florida, and recently moved to Colorado to start a new life of her own.

Like Alan, she was still raw from tragic loss -- her daughter, Amy, had passed away in 2000 from a drug overdose, and her husband, Jack, had committed suicide two years later.

Romance was the last thing on Miriam's mind, but as her friend Penny remembers it, Alan was persistent.

Penny: He went for dance lessons. She wasn't interested in anything else.  He was. She told him no. He had to fight to get her to go out with him.

DennisMurphy: What do you think he found in her, in that kind of mysterious chemistry of people becoming couples?

Penny: She was exhilarating.  She was very lively.  And she'd match him in his joy of doing the things they liked to do.  And you get someone to do it with. You can't beat that.

The couple soon became inseparable -- Miriam moved into Alan's home in Delta. In June 2006, they decided to marry.

DennisMurphy: Did you see the lights go back on in your father?

Alan Helmick: He was definitely – miles, miles better. Yeah, I think that the traditional role that he grew up in -- you know, there's the man and the woman. And they grow old together and they die together.  So I think that she filled a purpose that he needed sorely.

The Alan everyone had missed -- fun-loving, happy, and optimistic -- was finally back. And with his new wife, he was looking for new business opportunities too.

Before his wedding, Alan stopped by the office of his accountant and longtime friend, Bob Cucchetti.

Bob Cucchetti: Alan came in, and we were doing some taxes.  And he was-- he said that he was gonna invest in-- a dance salon.  And-- and--

DennisMurphy: A dance salon?

Bob Cucchetti: Yeah.

DennisMurphy: Where did that itch to open a dance studio come from, do you think?

Bob Cucchetti: Oh, it had to be Miriam.  I mean, hell, why would he do that?  I mean, like having a root canal.

Well, if Alan wanted to open a dance studio, so be it. Supportive friends of many years, people like Ed Benson, a contractor, signed up for dance lessons along with his wife.

EdBenson: Alan actually put on an exhibition.  Alan and Miriam danced.  And-- Alan is a very competitive person and-- he was good.  I mean, whoa, he was very, very good.

But a small-town ballroom dance studio would always be a business of the heart, and a couple years later, it was bleeding money. By then, though, Alan and Miriam had turned their attentions in a new direction.

They had bought a 40-acre property in Whitewater, a rural community just outside Grand Junction, with the idea of starting a horse-breeding business. Alan's accountant didn't sugar-coat his opinion of the venture.

Bob: That was a nightmare.  I tell him, I said, "Alan, anybody who gets-- raisin' horses is gonna lose some money." But-- he was determined he was gonna make money at it. 

Friends thought it a little unusual that someone as smart and business-savvy as Alan would get involved in such a risky start-up. But they just chalked it up to an expensive hobby.

EdBenson: It was just, you know, just something to make his wife happy.  I-- I don't think he was, you know, naive enough to realize that he was gonna make money doing that.

Whatever the case, the Helmicks seemed to love the challenge. And for two people who had lost so much in their lives, this seemed like a new adventure... One they'd share together. It might have all ended happily there, but it didn't.

On June 10, 2008, the local news carried the story of an apparent robbery-homicide out in the Helmicks' neighborhood.

EdBenson: My wife and I were starting to get ready for bed, and I-- I said, "I wonder if that's Alan?" And by the-- morning's news release, it was out that that is exactly who it was.

Alan Helmick had been murdered in his home, the victim apparently of a robbery gone bad. But as investigators got to work, they would come up with the theory of a crime more shocking, and darker than anyone on the western slope of the Rockies could have guessed.

Just before noon on June 10, 2008, Miriam Helmick found her husband shot to death in their rural Colorado home. She called 911 saying it looked as though it had been a robbery. When the Mesa County investigators arrived, Miriam was still kneeling over her husband's body. Alan had been shot in the head.

Lying next to him: a .25-caliber shell casing, a wallet, and a cell phone.

Kieran Wilson: It was a very big story.  This is a small town.  And people don't just get murdered randomly here.

Kieran Wilson, then a reporter for NBC'S Grand Junction affiliate, KKCO-TV, was sent out to cover the story that day. It became clear to her that investigators weren't treating this as a simple robbery-gone-bad. The crime scene appeared off.

Kieran Wilson: I guess some drawers had been opened.  Things were in a sort of disarray.

DennisMurphy: So some evidence that the house had been ransacked a little bit?

Kieran Wilson: Possibly.  I know they were looking into it as a staged robbery homicide.

Staged? Who would want to stage a crime scene? As a matter of routine, detectives would look first at the spouse. But when they tested Miriam's hands for gun shot residue, they found nothing. And it was clear that Miriam had been nowhere near her home that morning.

Amy Hamilton is a reporter for the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel.

Amy Hamilton: Alan had given her money to go shopping, so she left very early in the morning. And they were gonna meet for lunch after she had done some shopping. So as she is going around town to different stores she's calling Alan and saying, "I'm here now.  You should pick up your phone maybe."

Based on receipts and surveillance video, investigators were able to track Miriam's movements that morning -- from an 8:49 a.m. stop at a convenience store to four other locations, before ending up here at a Chinese restaurant at 11:00, where she'd planned to meet Alan for lunch.

Amy Hamilton: He didn't show up while she was waiting in her car. And so she called him again and she said, you know, "Where are you?  Are you standing me up?" And-- so then when she didn't see him, she decided to drive back to her house.

That's when she discovered her husband, lying dead on the kitchen floor.

Who had visited Alan while Miriam was out? Was it a stranger out to get him -- some shady business deal gone bad?

Ed: Everyone of course had a theory of what had happened. And, but as far as a break-in robbery thing, no. That -- that wasn't plausible.

And the theories about Alan's death became more complex after authorities in a nearby town revealed that Helmick had been the target of an apparent murder attempt just weeks before he was found shot to death.

Forty-one days before Alan's murder, he was involved in a disturbing incident in his hometown of Delta. It happened right here, outside the office of his title company. Alan had just finished a business meeting -- he was selling his company -- sitting in his car, waiting for Miriam to come back from the ladies’ room. All of a sudden, the gas tank on his Buick caught fire. The police thought it was a case of arson.

With the press now ramping up coverage of the case, Miriam Helmick decided to sit down with local television reporters, and address rumors about that arson investigation.

Miriam Helmick: I don't know what the Delta Police have come up with since then. They never would call us back when he called, so.

Question: Think at all that they might be connected?

Miriam Helmick: Good possibility. I was letting them figure that out. We, um, it was uh, definitely a, I want to say an interesting day because that was the first time, I mean, it was a shock to us, you know. But he never mentioned anything about anybody that could, would do something like that.

Question: Do you think Alan knew his attacker?

Miriam Helmick: (whispering) I don't know. I don't know.

In those same interviews, Miriam also looked back on her life with Alan...

Miriam Helmick: I met teaching him how to dance. And I didn't really like him. (laughs) He grew on me. It took a little while, but he grew on me.

How he courted and won her over...

Miriam Helmick: He was such a gentleman and he was so sweet. And so, it's just hard to imagine someone who would take my car and fill it up with gas without asking. I mean, just little things.

She talked about Alan's generosity, his love...

Miriam Helmick: I mean we, once we got married he spent most of his time trying to make me happy. So we did a lot of things and I have no regrets. (cries)

And she spoke of her grief.

Miriam Helmick: I'm missing my right, my right arm I feel like. I'm just missing my life (cries). I uh, don't know what to do.

In the days after Alan's murder, amidst the grief and confusion, Miriam had to confront one more emotion -- fear.  Because it seemed her life might also have been in danger.

Back at home, Miriam reported some odd things happening around her - doors unlocked, lights turned on, cabinet drawers that were pulled open. She asked the neighbors if anyone had seen a strange car in the area, but no one had. But perhaps the most troubling sign of all was left right there on her doorstep - and what could that be but a warning that her nightmare was far from over.

Penny Lyons: It was about ten days after the funeral. Miriam had been saying for about three days that odd things were going on in the home.

Dennis Murphy: She thought what? Someone was coming in the house and trying to spook her?

Penny Lyons: Well, that's certainly what it seemed like.

On Thursday, June 26, Penny Lyons offered to accompany her friend, Miriam, home. As they pulled into the garage that evening, Miriam noticed that police tape -- which she had purposely left on her front door -- had been removed.

Penny Lyons: So we walked over to the front door. And down underneath the welcome mat was a bright canary yellow envelope. So I picked it up. And handwritten on the front said, "To the grieving widow." So we took the card out. And it had a cartoon on the front with the Einstein quote. When we opened up the card, handwritten inside it said, "Alan was first. You're next. Run, run run."

It had been two weeks since her husband had been found dead in their home, and Miriam Helmick was telling friends she was convinced someone was out to get her too. Imagine how she felt when she found a greeting card like this, with a message inside that read, "Alan was first, you're next. Run, run, run."

Penny Lyons was with her when she discovered that greeting card.

Penny Lyons: She just started to shake and go down. I mean, how can you not? Alan had been murdered and now there's a physical threat that you're looking at. Good God, scare the living daylights right out of you. So I just told her to, "Get in the car, get in the car, get in the car." And I had enough sense I guess to grab the card and envelope, throw it in the back seat so I could at least throw it in an envelope.

Investigators started to trace that greeting card -- tracking down all the local stores where it could have been sold.

Could the card have come from a shady associate who'd been out to get Alan, and who was now out to get Miriam too? Just where was this case heading?

In the absence of hard information rumors began to fill the void -- word on the street was it might have had something to do with a business deal gone bad.

Bob Cucchetti, Alan's accountant, heard the scuttlebutt.

Bob Cucchetti: There was some talk about-- him-- owing people money.  And you know what, that's a bunch a crap.  Nobody owes-- nobody around here does that. He had a couple of debts.  But-- no.

The other rumors, though, were about Miriam herself. Increasingly, in the court of public opinion, as well as in the official investigation, it was felt Miriam had to start explaining herself better.

Investigators had been digging into her story -- and found that, once you broke down her alibi, the grieving widow -- so graceful on the dance floor -- was looking more and more like a suspect.

Yes, she had spent the morning running errands -- that much was well-documented. But there was a mismatched account of how Miriam had cleared the deck for that busy day's schedule.

Originally, Alan's granddaughter was expected at the house for an afternoon horse-riding lesson. But early that morning, Miriam phoned the riding instructor, Sue Boulware, to cancel.

SueBoulware: The granddaughter lives about 45 minutes from their house, and they hadn't gone and picked her up the night before, which is what they usually did.

That was the story Miriam told the riding instructor. But she gave a different version of why the lesson had been cancelled when she talked to Alan's daughter, Portia. Miriam told her it was the riding instructor who'd cancelled. The instructor says that's not true.

SueBoulware: Miriam cancelled the riding lesson.

And Miriam had a bogus explanation for why Alan's daughter had been unable to reach him on the phone the night before:

Kieran Wilson: Miriam had said that he came home from the Elks Lodge in Delta, and that he was very drunk and she had to put him to bed. 

Investigators checked out that story, talked to the bartender at the elks lodge and learned that Alan hadn't been in that night at all.

And then there was this -- when investigators ran a test for gun shot residue on Miriam's car, they found a curious particle on her steering wheel. By now, Alan's children were starting to get suspicious.

AlanHelmick: There's so many odd things that happened concerning that woman that in retrospect-- in-- in hindsight that I look back and say, "That just doesn't seem right."

All along, they'd been worried for their father --  no more so than after his marriage to Miriam when his physical condition began to slide downhill fast.

AlanHelmick: He was sick a lot during that time, now, which was very odd.

Dennis Murphy: Fluey kind of thing?

AlanHelmick: Yeah. He's in "I'm in bed." You know.

Dennis Murphy: Was that like him to be sick or complain about being sick?

AlanHelmick: No. Never. Never. Strong as an ox.

When crime scene investigators examined the Helmick home, and looked in the medicine cabinet, they found that Alan had been anything but the picture of health.

Kieran Wilson: I think at one point they found that Alan had been on nine different medications.  That's a lot for one person.

It wasn't just the number of prescriptions that was disturbing. When technicians examined the computer from Miriam's desk, they found some alarming searches done in the weeks before Alan turned up dead -- searches on drugs found in the Helmick house. A search on phrases like "overdose Viagra," "Ambien death," and "Lisinopril death."

Kieran Wilson: Things about how to put a horse down.  Specific searches about Ambien overdoses, Viagra overdoses, what might happen if you mixed those two drugs.

Alan's children told investigators they suspected Miriam of poisoning their father. But when the medical examiner conducted the autopsy, they found no trace of poison in the body. The doctor did discover that Alan had suffered from serious heart disease. One of the symptoms of that disease is extreme fatigue. Friends, though, still wonder if Alan had been laced with something hard to detect.

Bob: He was seriously bedridden. You know, I mean, he was frail, yeah. I think he was poisoned.

Whatever the reason for Alan's illness, one thing was clear -- bedridden almost constantly, he had been virtually unreachable in the weeks before his death. Whenever someone called his cell phone, it was more than likely that Miriam would pick up.

AlanHelmick: None of our calls got returned.

Dennis Murphy: Calling both the house phone and his cell phone?

AlanHelmick: Yeah. And that was – okay, there you go, that was one of the weird things. She started answering his cell phone. Which was strange and I thought she had her own phone, you know, the house phone was understandable. But the cell phone he would answer that, always had, same number for years. All of a sudden she's answering every cell phone call.

And in the days immediately before Alan's death, whenever his daughters would phone, their calls went straight to voicemail and were never returned. That wasn't like their father. One daughter later told investigators she saw it as "isolation through manipulation."

AlanHelmick: We did not know at the time exactly what happened, although we all had of course our feelings, but um --

Dennis Murphy: You and all your sisters?

AlanHelmick: Yeah. Amazingly so. When we got together, we all saw eye to eye, which was kind of odd. We all kind of looked at each other and went, "Really you felt that way too?"

His family weren't the only one having trouble getting through. For the last three months, Alan's bank had also been trying to get ahold of him, with some urgent news concerning his finances... News that Miriam definitely did not want him to hear.

It had been two weeks since her husband had been found dead in their home, and Miriam Helmick was telling friends she was convinced someone was out to get her too. Imagine how she felt when she found a greeting card like this, with a message inside that read, "alan was first, you're next. Run, run, run."

Penny Lyons was with her when she discovered that greeting card.

PennyLyons: She just started to shake and go down. I mean, how can you not? Alan had been murdered and now there's a physical threat that you're looking at. Good God, scare the living daylights right out of you. So I just told her to, "Get in the car, get in the car, get in the car." And I had enough sense I guess to grab the card and envelope, throw it in the back seat so I could at least throw it in an envelope.

Investigators started to trace that greeting card -- tracking down all the local stores where it could have been sold. Could the card have come from a shady associate who'd been out to get Alan, and who was now out to get Miriam too? Just where was this case heading?

In the absence of hard information, rumors began to fill the void. Word on the street was it might have had something to do with a business deal gone bad.

Bob Cucchetti, Alan's accountant, heard the scuttlebutt.

BobCucchetti: There was some talk about him owing people money.  And you know what, that's a bunch a crap.  Nobody owes-- nobody around here does that. He had a couple of debts.  But-- no.

The other rumors, though, were about Miriam herself. Increasingly, in the court of public opinion, as well as in the official investigation, it was felt Miriam had to start explaining herself better.

Investigators had been digging into her story, and found that, once you broke down her alibi, the grieving widow -- so graceful on the dance floor -- was looking more and more like a suspect.

Yes, she had spent the morning running errands -- that much was well-documented. But there was a mismatched account of how Miriam had cleared the deck for that busy day's schedule.

Originally, Alan's granddaughter was expected at the house for an afternoon horse-riding lesson. But early that morning, Miriam phoned the riding instructor, Sue Boulware, to cancel.

Sue Boulware: The granddaughter lives about 45 minutes from their house, and they hadn't gone and picked her up the night before, which is what they usually did.

That was the story Miriam told the riding instructor. But she gave a different version of why the lesson had been cancelled when she talked to Alan's daughter, Portia. Miriam told her it was the riding instructor who'd cancelled. The instructor says that's not true.

Sue Boulware: Miriam cancelled the riding lesson.

And Miriam had a bogus explanation for why Alan's daughter had been unable to reach him on the phone the night before:

Kieran Wilson: Miriam had said that he came home from the Elks Lodge in Delta, and that he was very drunk and she had to put him to bed. 

Investigators checked out that story, talked to the bartender at the Elks Lodge and learned that Alan hadn't been in that night at all. Why was Miriam making stories up? By now, Alan's children, who had never entirely warmed to their new stepmother, were starting to get suspicious.

AlanHelmick: There's so many odd things that happened concerning that woman that-- in retrospect, in-- in hindsight that I look back and say, "That just doesn't seem right."

All along, they'd been worried for their father --  no more so than after his marriage to Miriam when his physical condition began to slide downhill fast.

AlanHelmick: He was sick a lot during that time, now, which was very odd.

Dennis Murphy: Fluey kind of thing?

AlanHelmick: Yeah. He's in "I'm in bed." You know.

Dennis Murphy: Was that like him to be sick or complain about being sick?

AlanHelmick: No. Never. Never. Strong as an ox.

When crime scene investigators examined the Helmick home, and looked in the medicine cabinet, they found that Alan had been anything but the picture of health.

Kieran Wilson: I think at one point they found that Alan had been on nine different medications.  That's a lot for one person.

It wasn't just the number of prescriptions that was disturbing. When technicians examined the computer from Miriam's desk, they found some alarming searches done in the weeks before Alan turned up dead -- searches on drugs found in the Helmick house.

Kieran Wilson: Things about how to put a horse down.  Specific searches about Ambien overdoses, Viagra overdoses, what might happen if you mixed those two drugs.

Alan's children told investigators they suspected Miriam of poisoning their father. But when the medical examiner conducted the autopsy, they found no trace of poison in the body. The doctor did discover that Alan had suffered from serious heart disease. One of the symptoms of that disease is extreme fatigue. Friends, though, still wonder if Alan had been laced with something hard to detect.

Bob: He was seriously bedridden. You know, I mean, he was frail, yeah. I think he was poisoned.

Whatever the reason for Alan's illness, one thing was clear -- bedridden almost constantly, he had been virtually unreachable in the weeks before his death. Whenever someone called his cell phone, it was more than likely that Miriam would pick up.

Alan Helmick: None of our calls got returned.

DennisMurphy: Calling both the house phone and his cell phone?

Alan Helmick: Yeah. And that was -- okay there you go, that was one of the weird things. She started answering his cell phone. Which was strange and I thought she had her own phone, you know, the house phone was understandable. But the cell phone he would answer that, always had, same number for years. All of a sudden she's answering every cell phone call.

And in the days immediately before Alan's death, whenever his daughters would phone, their calls went straight to voicemail and were never returned. That wasn't like their father. One daughter later told investigators she saw it as "isolation through manipulation."

Alan Helmick: We did not know at the time exactly what happened, although we all had of course our feelings, but, um --

DennisMurphy: You and all your sisters?

Alan Helmick: Yeah. Amazingly so. When we got together, we all saw eye to eye, which was kind of odd. We all kind of looked at each other and went, "Really you felt that way too?"

His family weren't the only one having trouble getting through. For the last three months, Alan's bank had also been trying to get a hold of him, with some urgent news concerning his finances... News that Miriam definitely did not want him to hear.

In the weeks after Alan Helmick had been murdered in his home, authorities were regarding his widow, Miriam, as their main suspect. But even with evidence piling up against her, some friends like Penny Lyons were convinced she was innocent. She couldn't conceive of a motive.

Penny Lyons: He took care of everything. Her whole life was Alan and everything provided in that life was provided by Alan, so what -- what -- there's nothing to gain.

Dennis Murphy: You want a little dance studio? I'll buy you one.

Penny Lyons: Yeah, you want to do horses --

Dennis Murphy: You like the horses --

Penny Lyons: -- we'll do the horses.

Dennis Murphy: We'll have a horse farm.

Penny Lyons: Yeah, it was awesome. All that mattered was that you do what you enjoy.

If Miriam had murdered her husband, she certainly didn't seem to benefit in the immediate aftermath. Alan had made sure to keep all their bank accounts and credit cards under his name only. The Helmicks’ horse-trainer, Sue Boulware, said Miriam had been cut out of her husband's finances by design.

Sue Boulware: Miriam told me, after this all happened, that she wasn't on any of the bank accounts because the family -- Alan's family -- were worried that she was a younger woman, and that she might want his money. And to make the family happy, they had signed a pre-nup.

In fact, in the days and weeks after Alan's death, without Alan handing her cash as he always had, miriam had to borrow from friends just to buy groceries and gas. And she was struggling to pay off her bills.

Sue had to help Miriam sell her horses just so she could get paid.

Sue Boulware: I needed to be paid for my services, as the bank had put a hold on all the funds for any checks that had been written.

Even on the most cynical of ledgers, it seemed that always-so-generous Alan was worth more to Miriam alive than dead. In that TV interview, she acknowledged that her husband had been like a sugar daddy to her.

Miriam Helmick: His favorite saying was have fun like hell, so anytime he knew I was going shopping or gave me money or anything he'd say, "Have fun like hell."

But was Miriam getting more from Alan than simply walk-around pocket money? It appeared she had been and it also seemed that Alan didn't know about the extra allowance that she was giving herself, if that's what it was.

Investigators discovered that for the last year Miriam had been forging checks in Alan's name. Detectives found at least seven checks totaling more than $16,000 that had been written payable to herself and the dance studio.

Allan Laurel had been hired to manage the dance studio, and he says he suspected all along that Miriam had been signing Alan's checks.

Allan Laurel: I usually figured that Alan Helmick was just perfectly okay with Miriam handling the checks in and out of the studio.

Dennis Murphy: You knew they were legitimate bills? The money that was owed for the month, the fees to the instructors.

Allan Laurel: Sure. Legitimate bills were getting paid.

Of course, it's not uncommon for husbands and wives to sign each other's checks -- maybe he knew about it. But investigators spoke to the manager at Alan's bank and found something else Miriam may have been trying to hide from her husband.

In the three months before Alan died, the bank had been trying to contact him, but could never get past his voicemail. They even buttonholed Miriam once when she'd visited the bank, and told her Alan really did need to call them immediately. He never did. So finally, his bankers resorted to writing letters.

Here at the Helmick house, the investigators found a letter waiting in the mailbox. It was posted four days before Alan's murder. And if he'd lived to take delivery of that letter, he would have learned that he was in serious financial trouble. It was a notification from the bank telling him that almost $140,000 had been transferred from his personal checking account to cover two outstanding commercial loans - and the bank wanted him to pay off the balance on those loans immediately. Did Alan realize he was short of cash and was that why he was dodging his bankers?

His accountant -- who regarded Alan as a friend and an honorable businessman -- said it would have been totally out of character for Alan to have been evasive if he owed anyone substantial money.

Bob: He was a banker. I mean, he, you know, if he couldn't pay a bill, he would sure go down and explain to the guy and make arrangements on it.

When investigators looked at what appeared to be monkey business going on in Alan's financial affairs... and when they considered Miriam's apparent lies about how it was that she was free that morning to run so many errands, it became harder and harder for them to eliminate her as a suspect.

Dennis Murphy: When you hear the whole mosaic of Miriam's story, you wonder what is going on.

Kieran: There's what seems to be so much evidence against her. It's hard to look the other way.

Alan: I was already 110 percent convinced in my mind that -- if she didn't do it that she was solely responsible for who did.

The business about the checking accounts was intriguing but also perhaps ambiguous as evidence. What happened next, though, would be the investigative breakthrough the detectives had been hoping for.

And it had to do with that greeting card left on Miriam's doorstep -- the one that threatened she might be the killer's next victim. What a surprise that turned out to be.

In July 2008, one month after Alan Helmick had been shot dead in his home -- investigators had a major breakthrough in their case. It had to do with that mysterious greeting card that had been left for Alan's widow, Miriam, at the end of June. "Alan was first, you're next." The message inside read, "Run, run, run."

Penny Lyons was with Miriam when she found the card.              

Dennis Murphy: You're asked some more questions about that card that was found. And there's a very disturbing story that comes to light, huh?

Penny Lyons: Yeah.

The disturbing story goes like this: Investigators found that this particular card was sold at a chain of "city market" grocery stores. Using the UPC code on the back of the card, city market was able to trace the card to three purchases from the latter half of June. They had surveillance video of those purchases. And of those three buyers, investigators recognized one in particular.

DennisMurphy: Who bought that card?

Penny Lyons: According to the videotape, Miriam bought the card at the City Market that's right next to my home.

Miriam herself had bought the card on June 22nd, four days before she'd "discovered" it with Penny.

DennisMurphy: If that's all true, the business about the card, Penny, it looks as though she was using you --

Penny Lyons: Yeah, it does.

DennisMurphy: As the kind of witness to this set-up story about a intruder continuing to harass her.

Penny Lyons: If that's true, yeah.

DennisMurphy: What do you do with that information? That's got to be just awful to deal with.

Penny Lyons: No, it's not. It's really not. My feelings aren't an issue here. All I was doing was being the best friend that I could. Now however someone chooses to use that, that's out of my control. And all that matters now is finding the truth.

The truth about Miriam would be hard for friends to hear. As investigators continued to dig into the story of the widow, they found some disturbing anecdotes from her past.

Right before moving to Grand Junction, Miriam had gotten a job in Gulfport, Miss., as a dance instructor at a studio there.

In 2004 it got messy. Her boss at the dance studio accused her of petty theft and embezzlement. She was eventually found not guilty on those charges. But earlier that year, Miriam had gotten in real trouble with the law. Back in Jacksonville, Fla., she'd tried to cash almost $7,000-worth of counterfeit checks. She admitted the crime, and spent three days in jail - news to her step-son.

Alan: See, we didn't know anything about those things.  Those-- those weren't things that were presented.  That was not (chuckle) in the wedding invitation, you know.

Alan's son may have been in the dark, but some of Alan's friends, at least, had an inkling of Miriam's past.

Ed: She told us, there was allegations of embezzlement. And she really didn't deny it. It kinda made you wonder. Matter of fact, at some point, my wife and I both says, "Boy, I wonder if Alan really knows what he's gotten himself into here."

DennisMurphy: Were people saying things like she's getting her mitts into him?

Bob: Yes.

DennisMurphy: She's a gold digger.

Bob: Yes.

DennisMurphy: She wants to get Alan wrapped up.

Bob: Yep. And they said that Alan'd give her whatever she wanted.

Still, friends had hoped for the best. And they were, after all, fond of Miriam - until that day in June when Alan turned up dead.

Ed: I feel that Miriam is either responsible for Alan's death and or he -- it was because of something that she did or directed.

And it became even more difficult to regard Miriam as simply misunderstood when new information was revealed about that ominous and wacky apparent attempt on Alan's life by someone torching his car's gas tank that day weeks before his murder. Miriam had been asked what was up with that in her TV interview:

Question: Do you think Alan knew his attacker?

Miriam: (whispering) I don't know. I don't know.

The Delta police department turned over its report on the bizarre incident and it looked as though Alan did know his attacker that day, knew her all too well.

According to the police, a home-made wick had been dunked in the gas tank of the Buick. Miriam, who'd been fiddling around in the trunk just moments before going to the ladies' room, had been the only person near that gas tank.

Kieran: Apparently, she was fumbling around, had dropped her purse -- was looking for her cigarettes and things like that.  And then she went inside. And Alan smelled smoke, or saw smoke. At that point, obviously he got out of the car.

Alan was able to snuff the fire easily enough. But he wasn't able to douse the anxiety raised by the police officers when they told him what they'd found.

Kieran: They told him they had surveillance footage from a business that was across the street. And they said, they -- they have the person on there that had tried to set the car on fire.  "What if we told you Miriam was that person?" Alan said, "No, I don't think she would do that.  But I could be wrong."

Dennis Murphy: Wasn't saying, "That's a crazy idea,"

Kieran: He was saying, "That's crazy.  Wait, maybe it could happen."

Dennis Murphy: In fact, they didn't have a security camera picture?

Kieran: No, they didn't have anything of the sort.

Dennis Murphy: They were just squeezing him to see what he would say on the hypothetical.

Kieran: Yes.

Friends like Ed Benson found out about that car fire incident only after Alan had died.

Ed Benson: It didn't make our local newspaper, so it-- and Alan didn't say anything about it.  But I'm guessing that if the local police said, "We think your wife tried to kill you," you-- you probably wouldn't tell your friends that, "I think my wife just tried to kill me."

By August, Miriam -- now out of cash and with dwindling support in town -- had left Colorado and returned to Florida to live with her son.

Penny: I was actually very glad that she was there with him.  That was where she would have the most support. And the officers had never said she couldn't leave.  So there was no reason why she couldn't go.

Investigators, though, were keeping tabs on her. By the end of the year, they were ready to make their move. On Dec. 8, the Mesa County Sheriff's office asked authorities in Florida to assist in an arrest. The deputies kept Miriam under surveillance, before pulling her over on this busy street.

Authorities, though, were keeping tabs on her.

On december 8, they arrested her in Jacksonville. At that time, they found some strange items in her purse -- a driver's license, paycheck stubs, and credit cards -- all under the name of Sharon Helmick. Miriam, it appeared had tried to assume the identity of alan's first wife.

Judge: Is that right ma’am, you want to go back to the Rocky Mountain State to take care of this? Alright, set.

Miriam was transferred back to Colorado, where ten days later, she was charged with first-degree murder, attempted murder, and forgery. Mesa County Sheriff Stan Hilkey:

Stan Hilkey: She was not a person that could be eliminated from the very beginning. Pretty confident that we've got the person responsible.

As the news of her arrest began to spread across two states, more questions began to emerge about her past, including questions about her first husband, whose death had long been ruled a suicide. Now, people were asking, could it have been something else?

In December, Miriam Helmick was charged in Colorado with forgery, attempted murder, and murder in the shooting death of her husband, Alan. The case is now in the hands of the Mesa County district attorney's office. While prosecutors in Colorado are busy building their case, authorities in Florida are fielding fresh inquiries about Miriam's past there.

She had been arrested in Jacksonville where she was staying with her son. Her Florida history dates back to when she was known as Miriam Giles.

Kieran: She had lived in Jacksonville, Florida, for a very long time. And she had a daughter, a son, and a husband. And her husband we actually found out through the course of our investigation had shot himself in his head while they were laying in bed together.

Dennis Murphy: Together in bed? And he's a suicide?

Kieran: They ruled it as suicide. They tested her hands for gun powder residue. They said, "This case is closed. Ruled suicide. We'll bring it back up if we find anything suspicious."

Was it "suspicious" that six years later, Miriam's second husband is also found dead at home from a gunshot wound to his head? Someone asking that question today is Tim Giles, the brother of Miriam's first husband, Jack.

Tim Giles: I mean, after Jack's suicide Miriam was very quick to-- to go out and do her own thing. She was really almost too quick.

Tim lost touch with his sister-in-law after jack passed away in 2002. In fact, he had no idea what had happened to Miriam -- or that she'd been charged with murder -- until we called him out of the blue.

Tim Giles: It shocked me a lot -- a lot.

Dennis Murphy: Probably hadn't thought of the name Miriam in a while?

Tim Giles: I had to open that door in my mind and finally figured who Miriam was again. And Miriam Helmick didn't register at all. Because I never knew she was remarried. I never knew where she was. But once I sat down, and started thinking about it, and started to think about the circumstances of Miriam with Jack, my brother, it didn't surprise me.

It didn't surprise him, because all along Tim had suspected that Miriam had been involved in Jack's death. He never bought Miriam's story -- that jack had been so overwhelmed by grief following their daughter's death that he committed suicide.

Tim Giles: Jack just wasn't that depressed. Jack was a workaholic. Jack was just not that type of person that would just wanna shoot himself in the head for -- because he's depressed over Amy who passed away two years before that.

And, according to Tim, Jack and Miriam had far from the perfect marriage. They'd even separated at one point -- when Miriam left jack to live with another man. When she returned, he thought, things were never quite the same.

Tim Giles: They always seemed indifferent. If Miriam was in the kitchen Jack was in the front room. If Miriam's in the front room. Jack was in the kitchen.

Dennis Murphy: That says something. Huh?

Tim Giles: Yeah. They were never really together. My personal feeling, is that they just tolerated each other because of the kids.

And there was something else that was strange -- something Tim didn't know -- and we didn't discover, until we interviewed him. When we went through the original sheriff's report, we saw that Jack had been shot on the right side of his head, and that the gun was found in his right hand.

But when we asked Tim...

Dennis Murphy: Tim, your brother, Jack, was he right-handed or left-handed?

Tim Giles: Jack was left-handed.

Dennis Murphy: If you learned from the ME's report that the fatal wound was in fact on the right side, would that make you wonder?

Tim Giles: Definitely. Jack was totally left-handed. He couldn't tie his shoe with his right hand.

Dennis Murphy: There's no question your brother, Jack, was killed with a gunshot to the head.

Tim Giles: No. No question.

Dennis Murphy: Who do you think was holding the gun?

Tim Giles: My personal opinion? Miriam.

Dennis Murphy: That this was a murder?

Tim Giles: This was a murder.

Before the western slope of the Rockies and the little dance studio, there with the lonely widower. Miriam was known as Miriam Giles of Jacksonville, Florida. She was married there to her first husband, Jack, and they had two children together. The daughter, Amy, died of a drug overdose in 2000. She was survived by, among others, her brother, Chris.

CHRIS: My dad took it hard. He took it really, really hard. And it always lingered in his mind, ‘What if I was there? What if I’d been there?’ You know, ‘What if I would’ve been there to help her out? And I wasn’t there, so it’s my fault.’

MURPHY:  Looking back, Miriam’s son, Chris, says in the wake of his sister’s death he detected a change in his parents’ relationship.

CHRIS: They really wouldn’t talk to each other, and there was some just kind of tension in the house.

MURPHY:  Miriam’s brother-in-law from her Florida marriage, Tim Giles, had never regarded his brother and Miriam as the perfect couple. Far from it. They’d even separated at one point, when Miriam left Jack to live with another man. She came back, but her former brother-in-law said things were never the same in that house.

Mr. GILES: They always seemed indifferent. If Miriam was in the kitchen, Jack was in the front room. If Miriam was in the front room, Jack was in the kitchen. If...

MURPHY: That says something, huh?

Mr. GILES: Yeah. They were never really together. My personal feeling is that they just tolerated each other because of the kids.

MURPHY:  And then came a morning in 2002 that Miriam’s son will never forget. He was asleep down the hall when he heard the concussion from his parents’ bedroom.

CHRIS:  I wake up to the gunshot.

CHRIS: Mom came running out of the room, you know, hysterical.

MURPHY:  Chris remembers restraining his mother from going back

into the bedroom where his father now lay dead. He called 911.

CHRIS: She just said, ‘He shot himself. He shot himself.’ And she was just hysterically crying and stuff of that nature. And so that’s when I just kind of—I just closed the door. I wouldn’t let her—she wanted to go back in there. I had to restrain her a couple times from trying to come back in there.

MURPHY:  Jacksonville authorities ruled the death a suicide, and the case was closed. But not for Jack’s brother Tim, who to this day has suspected Miriam’s hand in the death.

Mr. GILES: After Jack’s suicide, Miriam was very quick to go out and do her own thing. She was really almost too quick to go out and start a dance studio.

MURPHY: And get out there on the circuit again?

Mr. GILES: She was out there already, and she had been out there. I never knew she could dance, much less do the tango.

MURPHY:  Tim lost touch with his sister-in-law after Jack passed away in 2002. In fact, he had no idea what had happened to Miriam or that she’d been charged with murder until we called him out of the blue.

Mr. GILES: It shocked me a lot.

MURPHY: Probably hadn’t thought of the name Miriam in a while.

Mr. GILES: Yeah, I had to open that door in my mind and find it and figure out who Miriam was again. And Miriam Helmick didn’t register at all because I never knew she was remarried. I never knew where she was. But once I sat down and started thinking about it and started thinking about the circumstances of Miriam with Jack, my brother, it didn’t surprise me.

MURPHY:  The brother-in-law never bought Miriam’s story that Jack had been so overwhelmed by grief following their daughter’s death that he committed suicide.

Mr. GILES: Jack just wasn’t that depressed. Jack was a workaholic. Jack was just not that type of person that would just want to shoot himself in the head for—because he’s depressed over Amy, who passed away two years before that.

MURPHY:  And there was something else that was strange, something Tim didn’t know and we didn’t discover until we interviewed him. When we went through the original sheriff’s report, we saw that Jack Giles had been shot on the right side of his head and that the gun was found in his right hand. We asked Tim about that.

MURPHY: Tim, your brother Jack, was he right-handed or left-handed?

Mr. GILES: Jack was left-handed.

MURPHY: If you learned from the ME’s report that the fatal wound was, in fact, on the right side, would that make you wonder?

Mr. GILES: Definitely. Jack was totally left handed. He couldn’t all—he couldn’t tie his shoes with his right hand.

MURPHY: There’s no question your brother Jack was killed with a gunshot to the head?

Mr. GILES: No. No question.

MURPHY: Who do you think was holding the gun?

Mr. GILES: My personal opinion? Miriam.

MURPHY: That this was a murder.

Mr. GILES: This was a murder.

MURPHY:  A right-handed suicide by a left-handed man? The Jacksonville sheriffs’ department agreed to hand over the Jack Giles records to the team investigating Alan Helmick’s murder.

Mr. HEBENSTREIT: Her first husband died of a gunshot wound when she was the only other person present in the room with him.

Alan Helmick died of a single gunshot wound to the head, and Miriam seemed to be kind of the common denominator in both of those cases.

MURPHY:  Colorado forensic pathologist Dr. Robert Kurtzman, who performed Alan Helmick’s autopsy, studied the Giles death photos.

Dr. KURTZMAN: I felt as though it had the appearance that it had been staged.

MURPHY: That was your feeling about the Jacksonville death?

Dr. KURTZMAN: That’s correct.

MURPHY:  Dr. Kurtzman has investigated close to a thousand suicides in his career; and as he studied the photographs of Jack Giles’ body as it was found, he observed some oddities.

Dr. KURTZMAN:  The guard and the gun position would indicate that the gun would have to have been held upside down on the right side of the decedent’s head in order to sustain the gunshot wound.

MURPHY: Now, when you say upside down, you mean the pistol grip facing the ceiling, rather than the floor.

Dr. KURTZMAN: That’s correct.

MURPHY:  And when that shot is fired, how does the pistol come to rest on the victim’s chest?

Dr. KURTZMAN:  Well, that’s a part which I don’t understand.

Dr. KURTZMAN: Because the arm would have had to swing around the pillow and then drop onto the front of the chest, as opposed to just dropping out straight.

MURPHY: So that’s a lot of motion.

Dr. KURTZMAN: That’s defying gravity.

MURPHY:  And another observation: soot on the pillowcase, meaning the bullet was fired through the pillow before it struck Giles.

MURPHY: Can you explain why the person committing suicide would do that?

Dr. KURTZMAN: Unusual findings. Certainly not typical.

MURPHY: So now I’m thinking wrong hand, holding the weapon at an awkward angle, upside down as it were, and then has to be fired through a pillow as well, not putting it directly in contact with the temple, say.

Dr. KURTZMAN: That’s correct.

MURPHY: That’s an awful lot going on.

Dr. KURTZMAN: My conclusion that this is a homicide until proven otherwise.

MURPHY:  Had Miriam Helmick done the unthinkable not once, but twice?

MURPHY:  In November 2009, Miriam Helmick went on trial for the murder of her husband, Alan, first-degree. She’d pleaded not guilty. It was all a premeditated scheme, argued the prosecution in its open.

Mr. TUTTLE: (In court) She cleared the way for Alan to be alone at the residence, and she shot him, and then she staged this very hokey burglary to cover up his death.

MURPHY:  Shot in cold blood, left to die on the kitchen floor for one of the oldest of reasons.

Ms. TAMMY ERET: It was always the money.

MURPHY:  Prosecutors Tammy Eret and Rich Tuttle painted a picture for the jury of a cunning grifter with her claws into a straight-arrow nice guy, someone too lonely and too much in love to save himself from her treachery, a victim who probably caught on, but way too late into her game.

Mr. TUTTLE: And we think he basically discovered some of her shenanigans with the checks, forging checks.

MURPHY:  The prosecutors were selling the jury a circumstantial case: a history of a brief marriage as much of the account of a crime. The murder weapon had never been found. There was nothing forensically helpful like blood, fingerprints or DNA from the scene.

Ms. ERET: You didn’t have an eyewitness to the crime.

MURPHY: Didn’t have a murder weapon, and, boy, don’t juries like to see all that good “CSI”-type stuff.

Ms. ERET: Right. They do. They do like to see it.

MURPHY: DNA, fingerprints, whatever you got. And you didn’t have it for them, did you?

Ms. ERET: No, we didn’t. But we had a lot of other evidence that pointed to her that we thought was just as valuable.

MURPHY:  To depict her as little miss gold digger, the prosecution called witnesses who testified to Miriam’s brazen remarks about finding her ideal man.

Unidentified Woman #2: (In court) She mentioned that he was the only one with a portfolio that was large enough to consider dating.

Woman #1: (In court) She just said she wanted to find a rich man, and she didn’t care if he had one foot in the grave.

MURPHY:  And once “Mr. He’ll Do” danced into her life, claimed the prosecution, she went right for his money. ‘Buy me a dance studio. Buy me a horse farm.’ The prosecutors presented evidence that, in the six months before his murder, Miriam had forged $40,000 in checks from Alan’s bank accounts.

Unidentified Man #1: (In court) In my opinion...

MURPHY:  A handwriting expert.

Man #1: (In court) ...it is highly probable that Alan Helmick did not write the maker’s signature or the payee line on this check.

MURPHY:  A fraud that couldn’t last forever. And, according to the prosecution, Miriam knew it.

Ms. ERET: (In court) Alan is going to realize that his assets are no longer what he believes them to be.

Mr. TUTTLE: We had a theory. And something that we believed happened was he had discovered that she had forged his checks.

MURPHY:  Murder became her solution, said the prosecution, and the plan was afoot. Miriam bought herself time, argued the prosecution, by isolating Alan, keeping his family away from him.

Unidentified Woman #3: (In court) If you’ll come right on up here.

MURPHY:  Alan’s daughter Portia testified that it was nearly impossible to reach her father in the months leading up to his death.

PORTIA: (In court) I hadn’t seen him, and I could not get a hold of him by phone, so I started calling Miriam’s phone. And I did get a hold of her.

MURPHY:  Another daughter said Miriam gave countless excuses as to why Alan couldn’t pick up his cell phone.

Unidentified Woman #4: (In court) ‘He’s sleeping, he doesn’t want to be bothered. It’s charging.’ She would just turn it off and put it in the drawer.

Ms. ERET: She was isolating him in order to do what she did so that they were by themselves and he was by himself.

MURPHY:  Just the night before his death, Miriam told one of the daughters that her father couldn’t come to the phone because he’d come home drunk from the Elks Lodge and she’d had to put him to bed. Prosecutors called the bartender from the lodge, who said that story wasn’t true. Alan hadn’t been in.

Unidentified Woman #5: (In court) I was the only bartender. I would of had to serve him. And to serve somebody, I would have to see him.

MURPHY:  Lies about drinking at the lodge, lies, the jury was told, about why the granddaughter’s horse riding lesson was canceled on the day of the murder, the Helmicks’ housekeeper testifying that she felt something bad brewing the day before.

Unidentified Woman #6: (In court) Miriam was sitting at the desk, and she had an awful look on her face. They’re usually very cordial and busy doing their things, and—but there was something very strange that day.

MURPHY: So this was a plot that was building?

Ms. ERET: I think she thought it out and thought it through, and it developed over time until she decided, ‘This is the day.’

MURPHY:  And “this is the day” may have come more than once.

Remember the story of someone trying to set Alan’s car on fire while he was in it? The prosecution said that was pure, undiluted Miriam, that she was the one who stuffed a homemade wick in the gas tank and lit it while she dashed to the ladies’ room.

Ms. ERET: It was so outrageous that we thought, ‘Well, where did she even get the idea?’ And one of the detectives said, ‘This looks a lot like a scene from old—“No Country for Old Men.”’

MURPHY:  In the Oscar-winning movie “No Country for Old Men,” the injured villain needs to steal some drugs from a pharmacy. He diverts attention from his crime by sticking a wick in the tank of a car and blowing it up.

(Excerpts from “No Country for Old Men”)

Mr. TUTTLE: And, sure enough, the Helmicks had rented “No Country for Old Men” just four days before that incident in Delta.

MURPHY: With the motive established and Miriam’s oddball behavior on the record, the prosecution next had to take apart what had initially been Miriam’s strongest argument, her alibi, that busy shopping day hither and yon with receipts to prove it, indicating she wasn’t at home when Alan was killed.

But investigators had found gaps in that timeline, time enough to kill, time enough to dispose of a weapon.

Officers had driven for themselves Miriam’s shopping route of June 10th and timed it.

Mr. TUTTLE: (In court) It actually took me between 10 and 13.

MURPHY:  And what they learned was that Miriam could have done everything she’d claimed, gathered her receipts, posed for security cam pics, and still had plenty of unaccounted time left over.

(Person driving vehicle; Miriam on security camera footage)

Mr. HEBENSTREIT: She told us she left at about 8:15, and the first cell phone call that we found on the cell phone records was at about 8:42, so there’s nearly 30 minutes of time from the time she told us that she left that was unaccounted for.

MURPHY:  The prosecution’s theory was that Miriam shot Alan in the early morning hours, and sometime after 8:15 AM tossed the murder weapon.

Mr. TUTTLE: (In court) She could ditch pretty much whatever she wanted out in the desert area south of town.

MURPHY:  And then there was Miriam’s behavior after the crime—guilty behavior, claimed the prosecution—things like purchasing that greeting card that she left on her own doorstep, and then quickly leaving Colorado to live with her son in Florida, who was called as an extremely reluctant prosecution witness.

CHRIS: Was it difficult? Yes. Was it the hardest thing I’ve probably ever had to do in my entire life? Yes.

MURPHY:  Miriam’s son told the jury that while she was living with him, she was using false identification. And not just any phony ID. She was posing as Alan Helmick’s dead wife, Sharon.

CHRIS: (In court) She proceeded to tell me that she had copies of Sharon Helmick’s ID, and I advised her that that wasn’t a good course, because I understand that that’s just not legal, nor is it the right thing to do.

MURPHY:  The police found her with a driver’s license, paycheck stubs and credit cards, all under the name of Alan’s late wife.

Ms. ERET: She went back to Jacksonville, Florida, and very quickly started up a new life.

MURPHY: With a new name?

Ms. ERET: A new name, the name of Sharon Helmick.

MURPHY:  And the court heard that while she was in Florida, she went back on the chase for a new man, a wealthy one. On a dating Web site catering to individuals looking for sugar daddies, as the site says, Miriam hooked up with this Florida man, now called to testify in a murder trial in Colorado.

Mr. TUTTLE: (In court) Did she talk about her husband having recently died?

Unidentified Man #2: (In court) She told me that he had died about six to 12 months before that with some type of brain disease, or something that he had been sick for three to four years prior to that.

Mr. TUTTLE: (In court) Did you have intimate relations with the defendant that night?

Man #2: (In court) Yes.

Mr. TUTTLE: (In court) Did she express an interest to you in relocating to Orlando to be with you?

Man #2: (In court) Yes.

Mr. TUTTLE: (In court) Were you ready for that?

Man #2: (In court) No.

Mr. TUTTLE: We thought it painted a picture that was quite different, her just having lost the love of her life, Alan Helmick. It really showed who she really was.

MURPHY:  One thing the jury would not hear about was the death of her first husband in Jacksonville, the suicide that some experts thought looked shaky. The judge ruled in pretrial not to allow it. But the prosecutors were satisfied with the story they had told about Miriam’s brief marriage to a lonely man.

Mr. TUTTLE: (In court) And she left him three years later lying in a pool of blood on his kitchen floor. Find her guilty. Thank you.

MURPHY:  But the defense was about to rise to say that the state had it all wrong.

MURPHY:  The bumper sticker of Miriam Helmick’s defense was

concise: ‘Jurors, the prosecution’s got nothing.’

Mr. STEVE COLVIN: The requirement that they have to prove the case is a powerful tool in our arsenal.

MURPHY:  No bloody fingerprints. No murder weapon. And so many people scratching their heads as to why the gun would be in Miriam’s hand in the first place, she with no motive to kill a husband worth more alive than dead.

Mr. COLVIN: (In court) From the moment law enforcement was called, they turned the presumption of innocence upside down.

MURPHY:  Miriam’s attorney, Steve Colvin, alleged that the Helmick investigation was really driven by Alan’s children, who felt nothing but contempt for the gold digging new wife.

Mr. COLVIN: (In court) You thought the person who did this was Miss Helmick?

PORTIA: (In court) I did not have any other persons that I could think of. That was the only person that had been around him enough for me.

MURPHY:  But attorney Colvin says their suspicions about Miriam, a woman they barely knew, had no foundation in the real facts of her situation without Alan in her life—specifically, the prenup, something she had mentioned to friends and quite often.

Unidentified Woman #8: (In court) Yes, she mentioned that there was a prenuptial agreement.

Unidentified Woman #9: (In court) She mentioned the prenup, and she mentioned that she loved him.

MURPHY:  With Alan dead, Miriam stood to gain very little.

According to his will, everything was left to his kids and grandkids.

(Photo of Alan Sr. and Miriam)

Mr. COLVIN: Our position is is that she got virtually nothing out of the homicide. That was one of the reasons why we thought there was reasonable doubt.

MURPHY:  So the defense broke down the money trail evidence, starting with the prosecution’s claim that Alan had gotten wise to Miriam forging his signature on $40,000 worth of checks. That check signing, countered the defense, was the husband-wife arrangement that they’d made. On cross-examination, the prosecution’s handwriting expert couldn’t say for sure if all the checks had been forged by Miriam.

Man #1: (In court) There is no conclusion as to who wrote that.

Mr. COLVIN: Miss Helmick functioned as his secretary or in the secretarial role, even though she was his wife. And to that end, it was our position that the evidence show that she had authority to write every check that she wrote.

MURPHY:  And what’s more, that whole strange businesses of someone trying to set Alan on fire as he sat in his car. Remember, in that incident there was also a check involved, a big one. Alan had just sold off a portion of his title company to his partner, not exactly the right moment for Miriam to have incinerated him.

Mr. COLVIN: (In court) What form was that in?

Unidentified Woman #10: (In court) A cashier’s check.

Mr. COLVIN: (In court) He’s got a check for $125,000 in his pocket. If you want to kill somebody for money, the last time you do it is when they’ve got $125,000 in their pocket.

MURPHY:  And continuing to knock down the argument that she murdered for money, the defense further asserted that in June, when Alan was killed, his bank account was at an all-time low.

Mr. COLVIN: (In court) Why in the world does Miriam Helmick get any benefit from murdering the man if he knows his financial situation is in disarray?

She gains nothing from that.

MURPHY: Of course, people don’t get indicted for first-degree murder because they have a good set of facts. In Miriam’s case, one of the strongest pieces of evidence against her was that greeting card that she bought herself, placed on the doorstep with a message she wrote by hand, “Your next, run, run, run.”

Well, she did do that, conceded the defense. It was dumb, but her excuse was police were focusing on her and not the real killer, like maybe that person in the white truck who was driving past her home.

Mr. COLVIN: She had seen the white car. She was frightened. She did call law enforcement and ask for assistant. There was no immediate follow-up on that. I think that there’s clearly evidence that there was a vehicle in that neighborhood, and they’ve never found that person.

Woman #7: (In court) Defense calls Miriam Helmick to the stand.

MURPHY:  As for the rest of it, Miriam would do something fairly rare in a murder case. She would take the stand and tell the jury her story in her own words.

MURPHY:  Miriam wanted the jury to see her not as a gold digger, but a grieving widow who had lost the second chance in her life. She spoke of the night Alan proposed to her, his dance instructor.

Ms. HELMICK: (In court) Did a little spin out into a nice little dip, and asked me to marry him.

Woman #7: (In court) How did it make you feel when he proposed to you?

Ms. HELMICK: (In court) I was very excited about it.

MURPHY:  And she remembered that terrible June day when she says she found Alan on the kitchen floor.

Ms. HELMICK: (In court) I didn’t know what had happened to him.

Woman #7: (In court) Mm-hmm.

Ms. HELMICK: (In court) I held his hand for a few minutes and tried to make some sense of it all.

MURPHY:  As for Alan being reclusive in his final months, that wasn’t her deliberately isolating him, as the prosecution charged. It was simply Alan being a very sick man with heart disease.

Woman #7: (In court) How did Alan act when he was sick?

Ms. HELMICK: (In court) He was—he normally—he didn’t want to talk to anybody.

Woman #7: (In court) Even his own children?

Ms. HELMICK: (In court) Sometimes not even me.

Woman #7: (In court) What about business people?

Ms. HELMICK: (In court) No, he wouldn’t.

Woman #7: (In court) So you’d check his phone messages for him when he was

sick?

Ms. HELMICK: (In court) Yes.

Woman #7: (In court) Did you make sure he called back everyone that called him when he was sick?

Ms. HELMICK: (In court) No.

Woman #7: (In court) Why didn’t you?

Ms. HELMICK: (In court) He wasn’t a baby. I mean, he could do that on his own.

Mr. COLVIN: So his unavailability, I think, is pretty obviously explained by his illness.

MURPHY: A man maybe more ill than his own family even knew.

Mr. COLVIN: I think he was more ill than anybody knew, including himself.

MURPHY:  And Alan’s keeping his family at arm’s length when he was sickly explained two other things: white lies about the canceled riding lesson and a night of drinking at the lodge that never happened.

Woman #7: (In court) Did you call Portia and tell her that Alan was drunk?

Ms. HELMICK: (In court) I didn’t say it quite like that.

Woman #7: (In court) What did you say?

Ms. HELMICK: (In court) I’d said that he’d had a bit much to drink. That’s what he asked me to tell her.

MURPHY:  The final behavior Miriam had to put in context was her activity after Alan’s murder, when she picked up and moved back to Florida. Why, everyone wondered, had she assumed the identity of Alan Helmick’s late wife, Sharon? Dumb, admitted the defense, like the greeting card left on the doorway, but Miriam’s explanation of the assumed ID business was that investigators in Colorado had confiscated all her legitimate IDs. And without photo ID she was lost, so she became Sharon Helmick.

Woman #7: (In court) Why did you take the ID?

Ms. HELMICK: (In court) Because I was going to try to get a hotel room once on the way.

MURPHY: So why not stay Miriam Helmick if there were no charges against her?

Mr. COLVIN: She literally had no form of photo identification, and it’s impossible to do anything in this country without photo ID. You can’t even get a hotel room.

MURPHY:  As for going online once she got to Florida to find a new guy, chalk it up to loneliness, not gold digging.

Ms. HELMICK: (In court) I felt like I was drowning most of the time. I didn’t—I—or maybe you can even call it depressed most of the time. I couldn’t get out from under it.

Woman #7: (In court) Did you shoot your husband?

Ms. HELMICK: (In court) No, I did not.

Woman #7: (In court) Could you have done anything to hurt him?

Ms. HELMICK: (In court) No.

Woman #7: (In court) Why not?

Ms. HELMICK: (In court) I loved him.

MURPHY:  ‘So, jurors,’ summed up the defense, ‘you have a nice little fable about a money-grubbing wife, but no evidence whatsoever that she had anything to do with Alan’s murder, all circumstances with plenty of reasonable doubt.’

Mr. COLVIN: (In court) And that’s why we’re going to ask you to find her not guilty. Thank you.

MURPHY:  The jury had the case. Coming up...

(Colvin in court)

MURPHY: Maybe someone else had done this awful thing.

Unidentified Juror #1: Well, it’s—that was a possibility.

MURPHY:  The jurors speak. What will their verdict be? When

MURPHY:  Miriam Helmick,which portrait of a wife should the jury believe: the grieving widow so unfortunate that she discovered her own husband murdered; or the gold digger, happy to grab what she could and move on down the road? DATELINE sat down with six of the 12 jurors.

Unidentified Juror #2: I was just waiting to hear the evidence and everything. But, no, I thought it was a—I thought it was a good case.

MURPHY:  The big question to resolve was this: Had Miriam Helmick murdered her husband and staged the scene, as the prosecution alleged, or was the killer still at large, as the defense suggested?

MURPHY: Maybe someone else had done this awful thing.

Juror #1: Well, it’s—that was a possibility at that time.

Unidentified Juror #3: You know, it is a story that you can say, ‘Well, maybe

somebody else did it.’

MURPHY:  But a botched robbery? The jury didn’t buy that. They agreed with the prosecution, the scene looked staged.

Juror #3: Nothing was really amiss.

Juror #2: The house wasn’t ransacked...

...like it had been a robbery scene.

MURPHY:  The manner of Alan’s death, shot in the head from behind, persuaded them that Alan probably knew his killer and had been taken by surprise.

Unidentified Juror #4: It says to me that whoever committed the crime was someone that knew him.

Juror #2: We decided that he was probably standing and just totally trusting of the individual behind him and got ambushed.

Unidentified Juror #5: To me, it looked like he never knew what was coming.

MURPHY:  And the jury went back over the police interview tape with Miriam just hours after Alan had been found dead, and appraised her emotions.

Juror #2: We thought that the crying that she did might have looked fake.

Juror #3: She never said during the thing, ‘Oh, my poor husband.’

MURPHY:  Of course, one juror conceded grief is handled differently by each person.

Juror #2: Nobody acts the same. People respond differently to the same situation.

MURPHY:  And then there was the issue of the murder weapon.

MURPHY: Was that tough for you, as a juror?

Juror #2: Very, very big problem.

MURPHY: It would have made your job easier, wouldn’t it?

Juror #5: Yeah, it would have. Especially if her fingerprints would have been on it, and she’d have had gunshot residue on her hands.

Juror #3: And that was a big problem.

MURPHY:  And what did the jury make of Alan’s apparent inability to call his family, his business associates? Was he being isolated by Miriam, as the prosecution alleged?

Juror #1: I found that very disturbing, actually, that Miriam was—had taken over his cell phone. This is just not right.

MURPHY: Of course, he’s not incapacitated. He’s not disabled.

Juror #1: No.

MURPHY: He’s perfectly able to pick up the phone...

Juror #1: Right.

MURPHY: ...and call them, and yet he doesn’t.

Juror #1: And yet he doesn’t. He wasn’t returning calls to anybody.

Juror #2: The only thing that would make sense to me is that she had a plan, and isolating him is all part of it. You know, get him away from the children, get him away from his friends, get him away from his normal routine.

MURPHY:  But they also noted Alan Helmick did have a serious case of heart disease, that he was sick a lot.

Juror #2: That possibly could have caused a little delay in him getting back to some of these issues. But...

MURPHY: Because it was unlike him to not respond back when somebody called.

Juror #2: Oh, absolutely. He was—he was a money man. He was on top of everything.

MURPHY:  But the motive, why Miriam Helmick would have killed her husband, that’s what perplexed the jurors most. The prosecution argued it all came down to money. The defense said that made no sense. And the jury sort of agreed.

Juror #2: She has no reason to murder Alan. She’s better off with him alive. They have a prenup in effect. She’s not going to get anything from him being dead.

MURPHY:  And when the jurors reviewed that greeting card threat that Miriam admitted she’d planted herself, they found her spin on that lame.

Juror #2: ‘OK. Well, I did it. Golly, I’m sorry. I was lonely. I just—the police were...’

Juror #1: ‘It was a mistake on’...

MURPHY: ‘They were ignoring me. I wanted to get their attention.’

Juror #2: ‘They were ignoring my story and I wanted to give them some more ammunition to look for this white pickup truck.’

MURPHY:  And finally, what did the jurors make of Miriam Helmick’s testimony on the stand?

Juror #1: For the first few moments that she was on the stand, I felt some empathy for her.

MURPHY: Empathy?

Juror #1: She was alone in a town that she didn’t know very well. That’s got to be a terrible position to be in.

Ms. HELMICK: (In court) I didn’t know he was gone.

MURPHY:  But once Miriam started testifying, the jury’s perhaps initial sympathy evaporated.

Unidentified Juror #6: Her being on the stand changed my opinion of her and the case.

MURPHY: Changed you how?

Juror #6: Because of—her stories and her lies just kept building and building and...

MURPHY: You were giving her the benefit of the doubt until she took the stand?

Juror #6: Yes, I was. I was.

MURPHY:  In the end, the jury took only five hours to come up with a verdict.

(Miriam entering courtroom)

Mr. TUTTLE: And that’s a pretty short amount of time for a four- to five-week murder trial. So of course we are thinking the worst at that point.

MURPHY: How’d you feel coming back into the courtroom?

Mr. COLVIN: I was scared to death. A lady’s life was on the line.

MURPHY:  Alan’s family had waited a long time for this moment.

(Alan Jr.)

Mr. HELMICK Jr.: I’ve spent a lot of time staring at the wall and wondering what it is, as a son, I could have done, maybe, you know, to be more communicative about my feelings about this woman.

MURPHY:  Miriam sat calmly at the defense table as the judge read the verdict.

“Jury verdict, count number one, first-degree murder and the lesser included charge of second-degree murder, we, the jury, find the defendant Miriam Helmick guilty of first-degree murder.”

MURPHY:  Guilty. The jury had found Miriam Helmick guilty of murdering her husband, guilty of attempted murder by arson two months before, and guilty of 10 of the 11 counts of forgery. Miriam’s face was unreadable.

She seemed emotionless. But, in the benches of the courtroom behind her, Alan’s children were all but transparent, sadness and relief flooding over them at the same time. The jury had agreed with their long-held belief that Miriam Helmick had murdered their father. At her sentencing, two of Alan’s daughters stood just feet from their father’s now-convicted killer and addressed the court.

Unidentified Woman #11: (In court) She murdered not just a man that had become her target, rather my father. She has ripped from the hands of five little girls their grandfather. We will find now joy and healing and believe that she has received what she deserves.

MURPHY:  The judge sentenced Miriam to life plus 108 years in prison.

Judge #2: (In court) Without the possibility of parole.

MURPHY:  Back in Florida, Miriam’s son, Chris, got the latest in a run of bad family news: sister, father, now mother.

CHRIS:  It’s hard. You know, it’s...

CHRIS: You wouldn’t ever think that somebody would do something like that.

Ms. LYONS: You know, for me, if she did do this, then I just didn’t lose one friend, I lost two that summer. Because the friend that I had could never have down this.

MURPHY: The Miriam you knew.

Ms. LYONS: Yeah.

MURPHY:  For Alan’s son, the death of his father has left him in an emotional abyss.

MURPHY:  You can’t get in the time machine and throw your dad in the truck and go fishing and take him away from all of that.

Mr. HELMICK Jr.: You know, that’s something I’ve been robbed of, the ability to exceed my father’s expectations. To be, you know, that older guy where we’re sitting down and he says, ‘You know, you did good here.’

I’ll never get that. I’ve been robbed of that completely.

MURPHY:  In a footnote, the death of Miriam’s first husband, Jack Giles, will remain a closed case. The suicide ruling stands, according to Jacksonville, Florida, authorities.

For Miriam Helmick, the last waltz in the Rockies is over.

© 2013 MSNBC Interactive. Reprints

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