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Espinoza's Death a Mystery 

Body found in landfill; Sheriff's Office doubts hate crime

click to enlarge Ricky Espinoza
  • Ricky Espinoza

El Paso County Sheriff's detectives are stumped over the discovery of a local gay man whose naked body was found late last month in the county landfill.

It is the first time law officials remember finding a body in the landfill, which is a more common occurrence in big cities like Phoenix or Los Angeles. An autopsy found no cause of death for Ricky Espinoza, 37, a hotel banquet worker here and in Denver who was unemployed at the time of his death.

Espinoza, who was staying with his mother in Colorado Springs when he disappeared on June 24, had told family members he was going to the Eros Arcade, an adult video booth and bookstore south of downtown at 227 Bonfoy Ave. The arcade and bookstore is a well-known pick-up place for gays and for men who otherwise identify themselves as straight but are seeking a homosexual encounter.

"There's a lot of stuff that happens outside of the bookstore," said El Paso County Sheriff's Detective Gabe Firpo.

The detective said that later that day, Espinoza called his mother to check in and let her know he was staying at J's Motor Hotel at 820 N. Nevada Ave. near Colorado College. As of press time, Firpo said sheriff's deputies were trying to determine whether Espinoza was actually at the motel, and whether he might have checked in with a date he possibly met at the video arcade.

Workers at the landfill discovered Espinoza's body on June 28. Initially, they thought it was a mannequin.

"We're looking for whether any of his friends have heard anything pertaining to his death and how he died," Firpo said. "We just don't know who killed him, but he's not going to put himself in a dumpster and end up in landfill. People just don't end up in the landfill."

At this point, Firpo does not believe the murder was a hate crime targeted at Espinoza because of his race or sexual orientation. Espinoza's body was not slashed, or otherwise mutilated, as is often the case with hate crimes, Firpo said.

Espinoza was not shot, nor stabbed, and no traces of illicit drugs were found in his body. The blood alcohol content in his body was .20, which was not a life-threatening amount.

"He appeared to be a healthy male; his heart was in better shape than most of us," Firpo said.

Espinoza's family could not be reached for comment as of press time. While Firpo said that family and friends have described Espinoza as a "people person" who everyone liked, other acquaintances remember another side to his personality.

"Ricky was a great guy when he was sober and not doing other things, but he could get pretty cantankerous when he was drinking," said Dave Rinehart, a bartender at the Hide & Seek gay bar on West Colorado Avenue.

Espinoza had been 86ed -- or banned from the bar -- on several occasions because after he began drinking he would get mouthy and start fights, Rinehart said. The last time Espinoza was thrown out of the bar, about a year-and-a-half ago, the bar's owners decided it was on a permanent basis.

"He was a customer and other than that I don't know anything about his personal life, as far as having a close buddy or gay buddy," Rinehart said. "I liked Ricky and I was upset to hear what happened [to him]. No matter what someone is in life, they don't deserve to end up in a dump."

Christy Pitts, the executive director of the Pikes Peak Gay and Lesbian Community Center, said Espinoza was on the center's mailing list, but was not actively involved with the center.

If you have information that could lead to an arrest in this murder, you could be eligible for a reward of up to $2,000 by calling Crime Stoppers at 634-STOP or the El Paso County Sheriff's Office at 390-5555. All callers will remain anonymous.

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