A Murder Disguised as a Hunting Accident

ByABC News

Jan. 29, 2004 -- Deep in the Colorado wilderness, on the second day of hunting season in 1995, veteran police officer Doug Kyle came across what appeared to be a terrible tragedy. It would actually turn out to be much more complicated — and bone-chilling.

Lying on the ground bleeding was Bruce Dodson, 48, with an orange hunting vest at his side. His wife of three months, Janice, was screaming for help. "I picked up the orange vest and was just screaming at him: 'Why didn't you have your vest on?' " Janice said.

"She's crying and carrying on," said Kyle. "I said, 'Is this your husband?' And she said, 'Yes, that's Bruce. Help — you've got to help him.' "

Bruce was beyond help. He seemed destined to be yet another victim of a hunting accident, mistaken for game — a mistake that would repeat itself more than 100 times that year.

But the day after, an autopsy revealed Bruce hadn't taken just a single bullet, but three. Bill Booth, an investigator for the district attorney's office, said he started to believe this was homicide.

An Icy, Calculating Murderer

Janice Dodson says when she heard this, she couldn't believe it. "There was no reason to kill someone like Bruce," she said. "And then my next thought was that no one deserves to die like that."

Bruce and Janice worked at the same hospital. She was a nurse; he was a lab tech. Janice had been through a rough divorce after 25 years of marriage. Bruce was a loner until he met Janice.

Friends said they made a great couple. He was frugal, helping her to put her affairs back in order after her divorce. Lively and outgoing, she introduced him to new things.

Booth and his partner, Dave Martinez, began analyzing every detail about the last few days of Bruce's life. Reconstructing the incident, they concluded they were up against an icy, calculating murderer.

Booth theorizes that Bruce was walking along a fence line when he was first fired upon. Miraculously, the bullet pierced his clothing, but only grazed his skin.

Booth says he thinks Bruce then took off his vest to wave it around, and started yelling to tell people he was not a deer. But then Bruce was shot in the chest, and as he was falling, he was hit once more in the back, Booth says.

The third bullet struck a fence post before it hit Bruce. Investigators traced the bullet's path to what they believed was the assassin's nest, where they found a spent cartridge from a .308-caliber bullet. Neither Bruce nor Janice were hunting with such a weapon.

But investigators soon discovered that Janice Dodson's ex-husband, J.C. Lee, was camped just three-quarters of a mile away. Just the day before the murder, Lee had reported a .308-rifle stolen.

Janice said, "J.C. didn't care for anybody I ever dated … even after we were divorced."

An Opportunity and a Motive

District Attorney Frank Daniels said it was all "very suspicious." But there was one thing that didn't seem right: Bruce and Janice had set up their campsite close to other hunters who had been there first. "You don't want to camp near other hunters," said Booth. "This is millions of acres up here and you don't camp next to each other."

Booth and Martinez later discovered that Janice had been to the mountain just a few weeks before on a separate hunting trip without her husband. Suddenly — in their minds — Janice changed from grieving widow to prime suspect.

"We believe at that point, at that time, that's when she set the scene," said Booth. "She knew that this was going to be the murder area, up ahead."

Then, when investigators they learned about Janice's financial affairs, they had a motive.

"She'd taken out three insurance policies, she made sure to get wills done," Daniels said. "Bruce owned two homes. She had the property put into both their names during this three months since they were married."

Only one month after Bruce's death, Janice was gambling at the Players Club casino in Louisiana. She had closed his bank accounts, sold his home and another property, his car, and even his horse, Glory. She cashed in his IRAs.

Police said she was badgering the life insurance companies to pay off his policies, even though they were only good for accidental death — not homicide. And then she remarried.

In the Mud

For nearly three years after the crime, police believed they knew when, where and how the murder had been committed. And yet, they still couldn't connect their suspect with the murder weapon — until they went back to a piece of evidence they had had since day one.

Police had a pair of coveralls Janice had been wearing on the day her husband was killed. The coveralls were stained with mud — a type of mud that police say is only found around the area where her ex-husband had been was camping, and from where the gun was stolen.

Janice was arrested and brought to trial. The jury deliberated for 3 ½ days, then found her guilty of first-degree murder. Lee denied any involvement in the shooting whatsoever, and he was never charged with a crime.

Janice did not take the stand at her trial. She gave her side of the story for the first time in an interview with Primetime's Chris Cuomo.

"I still do [love Bruce Dodson]," Janice said. "The only way I can live with this, is that I have the peace of knowing I didn't do it, and the prayer in my heart that some day the truth will win out."

Investigators say whoever killed Bruce Dodson was able to kill a man while staring him in the eye. They say Janice Dodson, with her denials and claims of love, is that kind of person.

Janice Dodson is serving life in Colorado state prison without the possibility of parole. Police never found the weapon that was used to gun down Bruce Dodson. There are suspicions it may have been purchased at a gun show or found in the wood by a hunter.

If you have any information on the Model 700 Remington .308-caliber rifle with serial number D6844028, call D.A. Investigator Bill Booth at (970) 244-1702 or D.A. Investigator Dave Martinez at (970) 244-1869.

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