GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. (CBS4) - Seven years after Paige Birgfeld, a single mother of three who lived a double life as an escort, went missing and two years after her remains were found, authorities have arrested a suspect -- one of her clients.
The Mesa County Sheriff's Office said Friday it has taken Lester Ralph Jones, 63, into custody for Birgfeld's murder.
"We've believed since 2007 Lester Jones was responsible for disappearance and murder of Paige Birgfeld," Sheriff-Elect Matt Lewis said Friday.
The 34-year-old mother of three disappeared from Grand Junction in 2007. Her remains were found in 2012 by a hiker in the Wells Gulch area of Mesa County. Investigators first used dental records to identify Birgfeld's body.
Jones was the only suspect in the case, the sheriff's office said. In addition to first- and second-degree murder charges, he faces arson and kidnapping counts.
Investigators did not specifically reveal on Friday what led them to arrest Jones, but Lewis said significant events in the case, most notably the discovery of her body that showed the injuries she sustained, helped move the case forward. He said there is direct evidence tying Jones to the murder.
"We have always had him on the radar," Lewis said. "This is not something that occurred this week or last week. This has been moving forward for quite some time."
According to police, Jones lived in Grand Junction and worked at Bob Scott's RV. He is originally from Delta County and has an arrest record that includes sexual assault, kidnapping and domestic violence. The arrest affidavit says Jones denied purchasing a disposable phone, found at his work, that made calls to Birgfeld's escort phone. The affidavit indicates Jones continued calling escorts through 2011. But in police interviews none said he was violent or combative.
Birgfeld operated a service called Models Inc. She attended high school in Littleton and sold kitchen products. Many who knew Birgfeld said they were surprised to learn from investigators she also ran the escort service.
Lewis said Birgfeld maintained a complex lifestyle, and her dual identity led investigators down many paths.
"Some of it was eliminating others, some of it was the complexity of the lifestyle she had, an unraveling that lifestyle she kept very secret," he said.
When Birgfeld disappeared, investigators found her car, a red Ford sedan, on fire. Bloodhounds tracked her scent to an RV service facility, but her body was not found until five years later.
On March 6, 2012, a tip led investigators to human remains in the Wells Gulch area near Delta. Those remains, including a skull and mandible, were later confirmed to be Birgfeld's.
Her father, Frank Birgfeld, talked to CBS4 in March 2012 near where her remains were found as investigators searched for additional evidence.
"I have emotions that are like a stew inside me," Frank said then. "I put labels on them and yet none of them really fit -- despair, sadness, frustration, anger and, just, loss."
A cold case team in the Colorado Bureau of Investigation took over the case last year.
Birgfeld's cause of death is undetermined, the sheriff's office said.
"We may never be able to answer all the questions that remain in this case," Lewis said.
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