Denver police ID serial killer as 1981 cop killer, 40 years after murdering 4

Officer Debra Sue Corr, who was fatally shot, was credited with preventing more murders


By  Elizabeth Hernandez and Sam Tabachnik
The Denver Post

DENVER — George and Karl Journey had all but given up hope that their sister Antoinette Parks' 1981 cold-case murder would be solved.

"But there was always a little ray of light," George Journey said.

That ray burst through more than 40 years of uncertainty last week when the Journey brothers received a call from the Denver Police Department alerting them that a serial killer — their sister's killer — had been identified at long last through DNA technology.

"A burden lifted off our shoulders," George Journey said.

On Friday, Denver police identified Joe Michael Ervin as the killer of three women and a pregnant teenager between 1978 and 1981. Ervin died by suicide in 1981 in the Adams County Detention Center after being arrested in connection with the fatal shooting of an on-duty Aurora police officer.

"While we recognize that identifying the suspect will not bring these ladies back, we hope it provides closure and healing for their loved ones and the Denver community," police Chief Paul Pazen said in a news release.

The four victims included Madeleine Furey-Livaudais, 33, Dolores Barajas, 53, Gwendolyn Harris, 27, Parks, 17.

Parks, who was six to seven months pregnant at the time of her murder, was found stabbed to death in the area of 64th Avenue and Broadway in Adams County on Jan. 24, 1981. The youngest of six, Parks grew up in Denver with her family and loved singing, music and had a special bond with children.

The Journey brothers spoke at Friday's news conference, saying they were the only remaining siblings of six children. One died in a car wreck, another died from heartbreak after that fatality, and another died from cancer last year, George Journey said while wearing a T-shirt bearing his deceased siblings' names.

"It's been a long time coming," Karl Journey said. "Now we can rest better at night. The rest of them, they're not here. But I know they are. They're sitting high and living low and they're saying right now, 'Thank you guys.' Anybody who had anything to do with this. Believe me, they're saying thank you and God bless you all."

Dolores Barajas was attacked while walking to work on Aug. 10, 1980, and found fatally stabbed in the 500 block of E. 17th Avenue in Denver.

Barajas was a wife, mother and grandmother who spent the summer of 1980 visiting family in Denver and working at a downtown hotel, according to police. The day she was killed was going to be her last day of work before returning to her home out of state.

" Ms. Barajas' family still miss her very much and requested privacy as they process the emotions brought on by the closure of the case," Denver police said in a news release.

Gwendolyn Harris was found stabbed to death on Christmas Eve of 1980 on the corner of East 47th Avenue and Andrews Drive in Denver — within a one-block vicinity of Ervin's residence at the time of the murder.

Harris was a mother, sister, daughter, aunt, granddaughter and niece who family described as a bright, soft-spoken, athletic young woman who was always smiling.

"Because of the decision of another to take life with no regard, the 1980 murder of Gwendolyn Harris was devastating and unimaginable to the family," Harris's family said in a statement. " Gwen will forever be in our hearts and always our JOY."

Furey-Livaudais, a wife and mother to two young girls, was at her northeast Denver home feeding her children breakfast on Dec. 7, 1978, when Ervin came to the door and confronted her, police said. Ervin forced his way inside her home and stabbed Furey-Livaudais to death.

Furey-Livaudais's two daughters, Molly and Ariel Livaudais, spoke about their mom at Friday's news conference.

The daughters said their mother was a writer, an avid swimmer and an ecologist with a passion for the natural world who worked as an editor for beloved children's magazine Ranger Rick.

"Tragically, we didn't get to grow up with her and hear her stories and witness the contributions she could have made to the world," Molly Livaudais said during the news conference. "It's been a lot of information to absorb so suddenly after all this time."

Molly Livaudais said she was grateful to Aurora police Officer Debra Sue Corr, who died in the line of duty on June 27, 1981, after she stopped Ervin for a traffic violation. Ervin broke free as she attempted to arrest and handcuff him, police said, and he took Corr's weapon and shot her.

Ervin was arrested at his Aurora home as he tried to saw the handcuffs from his wrist. On July 1, 1981, Ervin killed himself while in custody.

"With her sacrifice, (Corr) prevented him from killing anyone else, and it's clear he wasn't going to stop on his own," Molly Livaudais said.

As genetic technology improved over the years, authorities slowly put the pieces together.

Investigators linked the four homicides between 2013 and 2018 using DNA evidence, police said in the news release, and genetic genealogy work that began in 2019 led to a positive ancestry link in Texas.

Last summer, police conducted a familial search in Texas, resulting in the identification of a close biological relative of the suspect, who, at that point, still had yet to be identified. Ervin eventually was pegged as the suspect, and DNA evidence from his exhumed body matched evidence taken from the crime scenes of the murders, police said.

"In some cold cases, the passage of years and decades make solving cases more difficult, but where DNA evidence exists, the evolution of science and technology has made it possible to identify perpetrators, seek justice for victims and provide answers to victim's loved ones," said Greggory LaBerge, director of the Denver Police Forensics and Evidence Division, in a news release.

The suspect identification was made in these murders through investigative genetic genealogy and familial DNA research, a result of Denver's Integrated Cold Case Project. The project is funded in part through a $470,000 grant awarded to Denver police by the Bureau of Justice Assistance, the police department said.

The cold case project, which launched in 2004, has produced what police described as "unprecedented results" for a jurisdiction of its size, including DNA analysis of more than 1,120 cases, a combined DNA index system hit rate of 50% and a filing of 130 criminal cases and adjudication of 126 cases.

Chief Pazen ended the news conference with a call to action: "My plea is if you have any information on any homicide or crime, please come forward. You can do so anonymously using our Metro Denver Crime Stoppers to provide tips. We need to help more families in our community."

The Metro Denver Crime Stoppers number is 720-913-7867.

(c)2022 The Denver Post

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