48 Hours: Drawn To Murder

A Teen Is Hunted For Murder. Now, Some of the Cops Who Helped Put Him Away Want to Set Him Free

Fort Collins police began their intense interrogation of Tim the very day Peggy's body was found. That evening, miles away in Florida, another officer quietly made his way to the Hettrick family home to break the news to her father and brother Tom.

The gruesome details were doubly hard to grasp, Tom says, because his older sister had been such a force of nature. The Hettricks had lived all over the world, moving as Mr. Hettrick's job in the oil business required.

Peggy was red-haired, independent, and, Tom says, delightfully eccentric. Out West, she developed a keen interest in Native American culture - especially the Hopi Indians. What she was not interested in, he says, was getting married, although she'd had boyfriends, among them her ex, Matt Zoellner.

Zoellner's on-again, off-again relationship with Peggy had been stormy at times.

Police did question Zoellner. His date confirmed his story that he'd been with her until around 3 a.m.; However, he was among the last people to see Peggy alive.
He had run into her in a bar parking lot around 12:30, he said, the first time he'd seen her since they'd broken up a week before and she had not been happy to see him on a date.

"Then I offered to give her a ride home, because I knew she was on foot," Zoellner told police. "She goes 'No, I'm just gonna walk.'"

Police believe it was on that walk, in the early morning hours that Peggy's murderer struck. And despite hours of denials from Tim, Det. Broderick was growing more certain he did it.

Police were shocked to learn at autopsy that the mutilation also included what amounted to a female circumcision, all part of Tim's deliberate plan, Broderick thought. "You can actually see the body laying out there in the field by viewing through his window. And I think he positioned the body so he could then see it from his bedroom window," he says.

The knives police found lay on the dresser; one had a scalpel inside the handle, and there was another scalpel on a table nearby. But there was no trace of Peggy's blood on any of them. Nor did they find her blood on any of Tim's clothes or shoes. They even searched the drains but found nothing.

"There is a misconception by a lot of people that because there's a lot of blood at a scene, it means the suspect's gonna get a lot of blood on him…and that just isn't the case," Broderick says.

By contrast, there was no lack of blood in ghoulish drawings in Tim's high school notebooks found in his room, backpack and school locker. "He had all kinds of graphic drawings and narratives about murders, violence against women," Broderick says. "And we find a drawing where a body is being dragged from under the arms …with blood dripping from the back."

Much as Peggy had been dragged, Broderick thought. But as incriminating as the drawings seemed, the case was completely circumstantial. Weeks, then months passed, with no arrest.

Police finally ginned up a plan to get the evidence they lacked. Peggy had been murdered almost exactly four years after Tim's mother died. The theory was that Tim had killed out of rage at losing his mother, and so, the cops thought, when that day rolls around again, maybe he could be goaded into doing something incriminating.

Then-patrolman Troy Krenning was among the dozen or so officers on the
92-member force assigned to watch Tim. He was not pleased. "It was a 24/7 operation that lasted for about a week. We're out chasing these goofball theories that a 15-year-old kid's gonna go berserk and start killing people."

They first scouted out vantage points at neighboring houses, including that of the eye surgeon whose home overlooked the crime scene.

Krenning watched Tim's house from a construction trailer, while others staked out Peggy's grave. "I remember at this briefing one of the things that was talked about was that he might go down to the grave and revisit Peggy Hettrick's grave and maybe even lay on the grave. What? Lay on the grave? You know, what kind of silliness is that?" Krenning remembers.

But the plan went still further: at one point, police duped a newspaper reporter into writing a phony story saying an arrest was imminent. They even left a copy of Tim's mother's obituary on the windshield of a friend's truck.

"That's torture," says Tim's former attorney, Erik Fischer. "They're trying to get this poor kid to relive his mother's death. They're trying to make him snap! It's a psychological experiment to try to make him snap!"

And what did this elaborate psychological experiment produce? Zero.

"I still remember to this day them planting the newspaper articles on my friend's truck and in my drive way, but I didn't know they were watching me when they did it," Tim says.

At that point it wouldn't have mattered, he says: the investigation already had wrecked his life. "So now everyone in the school thinks I'm a murderer. I only had one friend that stuck with me the whole time. I mean I had lots of people come up to me and say, 'I don't think you did it,' but they still weren't going to go to the prom with me."

He remembers thinking that some day, surely, everyone would understand that this had been a terrible mistake, but he'd not counted on one very determined cop.