Missing small-town soccer mom found murdered; suspect convicted years later
02/08/2017 12:45 pm PST
On the outside Paige Birgfeld looked like your typical small-town mom. But when Paige went missing, investigators would soon discover she was living a secret double life.
She raised kids by day and peddled fantasies by night. But this loving mother's double life caught up to her, leading to a shocking disappearance, a bounty of suspects and a mystery that would take nearly a decade to unravel.
Paige Birgfeld, a 34-year-old mother of three young children, was living the picture-perfect life. Her husband, Rob Dixon, came from a wealthy family, and after settling in Grand Junction, Colorado, Paige enjoyed a caviar life in a corndog town.
But according to Mesa County, Colorado District Attorney Dan Rubinstein, paradise was not without its troubles.
"They had somewhat of a tumultuous relationship," said Rubinstein. "He would get angry. He would yell loudly. He would make threats or statements that would cause people to be very concerned."
As the couple's finances grew more strained, Paige's father frank was concerned for his daughter's safety.
"Dixon is a person that's kind of two personalities," said Frank Birgfeld, Paige's father. "We think of him as 'Good Rob' and 'Bad Rob.' At the first part, it was 100-percent Good Rob and I think as his financial situation deteriorated we saw a lot more of Bad Rob."
"She had told me she was very concerned about something bad happening," said Paige's friend Barbra Campbell.
In October 2004, Paige made a distressing 911 call.
"My husband and I were in a fight. He wanted the children to stay with him and he said that I would come home and find them all murdered," Paige tells the 911 operator.
The situation was defused by police, and no charges were filed against Rob Dixon. But a year later Paige placed a second call, claiming physical abuse.
"After the second incident I set up a bank account," said Frank. "It was getaway money. I wanted her to be able to pick up and leave with the kids if she needed to."
After eight years of marriage, Paige and Rob divorced. But now she faced the burden of maintaining that luxurious lifestyle on her own.
"Paige was enormously entrepreneurial," said Frank. "She started out by setting up this little series of dance studios for kids that she called it 'Brain Dance,' and then she went into Pampered Chef and was taking trips for awards, so she looked like she was doing well there. She had another business where she was selling these slings for nursing mothers, so she was cobbling together things."
She had quietly begun a romance with her first husband, Ron Biegler, a high school sweetheart she briefly married after graduation.
"Ron and Paige kept in touch and started rekindling their relationship," said Dan Rubinstein.
Biegler lived 250 miles away in Denver, so the two arranged to meet halfway at a rest stop in the town of Eagle.
Thursday, June 28, 2007: Paige and Ron enjoy a picnic lunch before she begins the two-hour drive back to Grand Junction around 7 p.m. By 11 o'clock that night, she still wasn't home, and her young kids were growing distraught. Her daughter left a worried voicemail on Paige's phone.
Even her first ex, Ron Biegler, was growing distressed. When Paige still wasn't home the next morning, he makes a call to the Grand Junction Police.
"We really have very little sense of exactly what happened," said Rubinstein. "What we do know is that her kids were expecting her home. They ultimately reported her missing on that Saturday morning after leaving countless messages for her. Her first husband, Ron Beigler, was leaving messages for her."
Frank gets a call he can still remember as if it were yesterday.
"And he said 'Are you Paige Bergfeld's dad?' And I said 'Yes I am,' and then he said 'Did you know she's missing?'" said Frank. "This was Saturday morning about 10:30 on June the 30th. And I said 'If she didn't come home even a night, you're dealing with a crime. This isn't a missing-persons matter, this is a crime. She would never have not come home."
Police investigators start looking at those closest to Paige. Detectives seek out Ron Biegler in Denver, Paige's last-known contact and the same man who made the initial missing-persons call. Phone records indicate he and Paige called each other on the drive home, with Biegler's phone pinging cell towers in Denver 250 miles away. The last call was made by Paige at approximately 9 p.m., saying that she was pulling into Grand Junction.
"And that was the last phone call she ever made," said Rubinstein.
Her first ex is quickly eliminated, so cops turn their attention to Rob Dixon, Paige's second husband, who was now living in Philadelphia. Detectives want to speak with Dixon, a man accused of domestic violence before their divorce.
But Dixon was also one of those making distress calls to Paige's phone. Police quickly confirmed that Dixon was in Philadelphia during the time of her disappearance.
Police begin looking more closely at Paige's phone records and make a shocking discovery -- one that will turn this case upside down. In addition to her work as a dance teacher, representing Pampered Chef and pushing nursing slings, Paige Birgfeld was selling sex, operating a secret escort business called Models Inc. Stunning news to friends and family.
Investigators wrestle with the reality of what could be a very large number of suspects, or maybe even more secrets.
On Sunday, July 1, 2007, three days after Paige went missing, her car was found burning in a parking lot. While any physical evidence appears to be destroyed, detectives do make some interesting discoveries.
For instance, the driver's seat is all the way back, even though Paige only stood 5 feet 4 inches tall. When an investigator of similar height sits in the seat, her feet can't even reach the pedals.
They also found Paige's day-planner in the trunk, which somehow wasn't burned. However, the last four days of entries are torn out.
Was someone else driving Paige's car, someone much taller? And did they remove any evidence of their name from Paige's records?
Unwilling to give up hope, the community of Grand Junction rallies around the Birgfeld family for a massive search.
"We probably had a hundred and fifty people that first day, a day that was over a hundred degrees, and people were there, none of whom I knew, I didn't live in the community," said Frank. "It was an overwhelming display of community spirit and people who care for one another."
About 100 volunteers out searching found a 15-mile stretch of Paige Birgfeld's personal items strewn along Highway 50, just south of Grand Junction.
"It's very difficult to know what to make of the strewn items," said Dan Rubinstein. "They also weren't the type of items Paige would throw out unless she really needed to. They were blank checks on her business account. They were her kids' medical cards."
Was Paige kidnapped and trying to tell searchers where to find her? Tracking dogs were brought in and alerted to Paige's scent, but the trail ended at a riverbank with no sign of Paige.
Investigators needed a break -- and they were about to get it.
"One of the first things we did was look at the phone calls she had made the day she went missing," said Rubinstein.
The last call Paige made was to her first husband, Ron Biegler, at approximately 9 p.m. But she also received several calls from potential clients of Models Inc.
One of those calls to Paige, or "Carrie," as she was known at night, was from a man named "Jim," who called while Paige was visiting Biegler. Turns out Jim called Paige three times the day she went missing, and twice the evening of June 28. But all of these calls were made from a prepaid Tracfone. Police trace the number and find that it was purchased two days earlier, on June 26, at a local Walmart by a man recorded on store surveillance video.
Detectives finally manage to find "Jim," whose real name is Lester Jones. Jones works across the street from where Paige's car was found burning.
"That Tracfone in its in entire history only had five phone calls to or from it," said Rubinstein. "And the first phone calls were placed from it to Paige's Models Inc. phone. And the last one was back from the Models Inc. phone to that Tracfone. And after that the Tracfone went dead. It never made another phone call again."
A little digging reveals that Jones was convicted of first-degree sexual assault and kidnapping back in 1999. He's also a big man, standing 6 feet, 5 inches tall -- the kind of man who might drive with a car seat pushed all the way back.
A week after Paige Birgfeld goes missing, the search for suspects has narrowed down to Lester Ralph Jones, a man convicted of sexual assault against and the kidnapping of his ex-wife. Officers are anxious to have a chat with Jones.
As a detective grills Jones in an interrogation room, police are at that very minute searching his workplace and talking to his wife. She was out of town the night Paige went missing.
"On the week of June 28th, Lester Jones was first out of town on the weekend prior to with his wife in California and then he came back to Grand Junction and she went on to Georgia," said Rubinstein.
And how about three nights after Paige's disappearance, when her car was found burning? Jones finally confessed that he left the house Sunday night between 9 and 10 p.m., the same time Paige's car was reported on fire, to take care of a task at work.
The search of his workplace, a local R.V. shop, reveals startling evidence.
"At Lester Jones' workplace he had a whole host of items, such as handwritten notes about other escorts, what their bra sizes were, what type of sex they would have if they would have sex at all," said Rubinstein.
"He also had the Tracfone packaging for the Tracfone that was used to call Paige. He had bras that happened to be the same bra size as Paige," Rubinstein said.
Other suspicious items include a stash of Viagra, two men's wigs and a food scale from Pampered Chef, Paige's employer.
"There was also a gas can that was found at his work space that his boss said was out of place, that shouldn't have been there, and that space is located about 500 yards from where that car was found burning," said Rubinstein.
Yet during a second interrogation Jones continues to deny any wrongdoing. He even denies that he's the man in surveillance video buying the Tracfone.
"First, he denied being at the Walmart at all. Then he said he was there to buy a soda. Ultimately, when shown the picture, he said he was there buying a Monster Cable," said Rubinstein.
Tracking dogs are taken to Paige's car, and alert to the scent of Lester Jones in the front seat. He denies he's been anywhere with "this lady."
So much evidence, yet no definitive proof that Lester Jones was responsible for Paige Birgfeld's disappearance.
There was one key piece of evidence that left convicted felon Lester Jones free.
"Certainly you can't bring this to a conclusion, a trial, what have you -- the absence of the body certainly muddies that water," said Frank Birgfeld.
In the spring of 2012, a hiker was exploring a dry creek bed 60 miles south of where searchers had previously found a trail of Paige's personal items scattered along Highway 50.
"A hiker in the Wells Gulch area just happened by a human skull, and when they unearthed it, it had duct tape that was sort of around the jaw line area and around the back of the head," said Rubinstein.
A team of forensic examiners soon finds more bones strewn across a mile-long stretch of the creek, and they quickly determine that they do indeed belong to Paige Birgfeld.
For prosecutor Dan Rubinstein, the crime scene paints a gruesome, if incomplete, picture.
"The reality is we don't know exactly how Paige died," said Rubinstein. "What we do know is tat she was kidnapped, and we know that because of the items that were strewn down Highway 50, and we know that because of the duct tape. You don't duct tape a person who is already deceased."
"And ultimately, through a mountain of circumstantial evidence, we were able to determine that Lester Jones was the only person who could have done it," Rubinstein said.
After years of not knowing, Paige's family was finally able to look at her accused killer in the eyes at his trial, but the jury was about to surprise everyone. In September 2016, Jones catches a break: It's a hung jury, 9 to 3 in favor of guilt.
But the dogged district attorney wasn't about to let this case go.
"I think a lot of D.A.'s with less spunk and backbone would have said, 'You know, why don't we wait and see if some new evidence comes in, and duck the case?'" said Frank.
"Every life matters and it bothered me the idea that people might think that because Paige had this double life that she didn't deserve justice," said Rubinstein.
The sentencing is just as satisfying: Life in prison.
"I'd say this is a life that God put on the Earth that he absolutely wasted," said Frank Birgfeld. "Frankly it would have been better if they had skipped his name when God decided who to place on Earth. He has contributed nothing, and all he is is a burden on society."
"The highlight of being around Paige was seeing how radiant she would be around her children," Frank said. "When I'm around her children, I feel this elation, but then it's checked, because I realize she isn't here to appreciate it."
Jones continues to maintain his innocence and his lawyers have promised to appeal the conviction.