Produced by Tom Seligson, Sara Ely Hulse and Lindsey Schwartz
This story previously aired on Sept. 5, 2015. It was updated on July 1, 2017.
"48 Hours" first aired the story of Paige Birgfeld in 2008. Shortly after the young Colorado mother of three disappeared, police discovered that she was leading a secret life -- a life that may have led to her disappearance. We've tracked her story ever since, and at long last, the mystery of what happened to Paige Birgfeld may finally be solved.
No one loved a family gathering more than 34-year-old Paige Birgfeld. "She would literally beam, she would radiate," her father, Frank Birgfeld, told "48 Hours." "Those were the absolute cherished times that she enjoys most."So when Paige vanished on June 28, 2007, Frank and his wife, Suzie, feared the worst.
"This is a crime. There's a crime here," said Frank, who doesn't believe Paige would have just walked away and left her kids. "Instantly, I knew this was a problem."
After Paige disappeared, her brother, Dr. Craig Birgfeld, a Seattle plastic surgeon who specializes in the facial reconstruction of children, moved with his own young family into Paige's Colorado home to help take care of her three kids.
"Callie and I decided at that time that our role was to be there for the kids and try to take care of them, be family there for them, just help them," he explained.
Craig's wife, Callie, added, "And I just remembered, you know, the little girl, Jess, going, 'So do you know what happened to my mom? Do you know where she is?' And I was like, 'What do I say?' So I said, 'Wherever she is, she wants to be with you right now.'"
Her friends and family say Paige spent all of her free time with her children. She was a single mother; her ex-husband, Rob Dixon, was living in Philadelphia. After their divorce in 2006, Paige had become the primary caregiver for their three children. It wasn't an easy job, but it was the only job Paige had ever wanted.
"I think as long as I can remember, what she wanted to be was a mom and she just couldn't wait to be that mom," said Craig Birgfeld.
So when Paige disappeared, Mesa County Sheriff Stan Hilkey was pretty convinced this mother of three would not have left on her own.
"There's nothing in out investigation at all that leads us to believe that she had abandoned her life or abandoned her children and--and gone off in that regard," he said.
"My daughter, if she had two broken legs, she'd crawl over--she'd crawl on her elbows to get to her children," Craig Birgfeld said, overcome with emotion.
Authorities started by looking at those closest to Paige.
"It's kind of police investigation's 101 that you usually will look at the emotionally involved people -- ex-husbands or current husbands, etcetera," Mesa County District Attorney Pete Hautzinger.
Investigators quickly learned that Paige had not one, but two ex-husbands. Her first husband was her high school sweetheart, Ron Beigler.
According to Paige's father, Beigler was "the first big heartthrob, the first big love." And in fact, for the past few months, the two had been dating again.
"She was very excited about rekindling her relationship with Ron," said Callie Birgfeld.
Ten years after divorcing her first husband, Paige said she was in love with him again. Ex-husband No. 1 became the focus of the investigation in June 2007, when it was learned he was with Paige the day she disappeared.
The date took place at a rest stop, a halfway point between her home in Grand Junction and his home, more than four hours away.
"I understand that Paige and Ron Beigler had planned to meet, had a picnic, spent part of the afternoon together," said Suzie Birgfeld.
When she was driving back home later that night, around 9 p.m., Paige called Beigler from her cell phone. They spoke briefly, and Paige told him she'd call him again later.
Cell phone records show that Paige was just a few miles from her home when she made that phone call; and it was one of her last.
"It has helped us identify a person of interest," said Hilkey.
Paige never did call Beigler back that night, so the next day, he tried calling her.
"And her phone rolled over to the voice message right away, so just to indicate the phone was turned off or the battery was down," Frank Birgfeld explained.
On Saturday morning, two days after seeing Paige, Beigler finally tried calling her at home. Paige's live-in nanny was taking care of her three children.
"He actually called the house and got our granddaughter, and she was the one that told him that Paige hadn't been home since Thursday night," Frank Birgfeld said. "At that point the alarms start goin' off and he touched base with us, touched base with the sheriff's office. And things started getting in gear then."
Ironically, after Beigler called authorities to report Paige missing, he became one of the first people they wanted to question.
"And I'm sure he was open and willing to have them look at him," said Craig Birgfeld.
Although Ron Beigler was one of the last to see and speak with Paige, those who know him believe he's also one of the last who'd want to harm her.
"We met with him recently, and I think he is very devoted to Paige, and very emotional that she's not here," said Frank Birgfeld.
I've spoken to him on the phone since she went missing, and it`s obvious he's pretty distraught and upset that she`s not around. And I know he`s broken up by this whole thing," said Craig Birgfeld.
Paige's friends were far more suspicious about her second ex-husband, Rob Dixon -- the father of her three children. It turned out Paige had an explosive, troubled history with Dixon.
A MOM GOES MISSING
They might not have known exactly where to begin, but Paige's family knew they have to start somewhere if they were ever going to find her.
So Craig and Callie Birgfeld set off in one direction, and Frank Birgfeld headed off in another.
"My daughter is the one who's missing. So when you're out there keep your eyes open," Frank Birgfeld told volunteers who gathered to help in the search.
While the Birgfeld family searched for Paige, the sheriff's office continued its own investigation.
Deputies brought in specialty divers to search the river. They got one of their first big leads in the case when someone called 911 after seeing a car in flames parked in an empty lot. It turned out to be Paige's car - the vehicle she was driving on the night she disappeared.
The next morning, authorities discovered that the fire was started from inside the car on the passenger side.
"It at least suggests to me that that person is fairly savvy and intelligent enough to think that there's a real possibility law enforcement could find evidence in that car that would implicate him or her," remarked District Attorney Pete Hautzinger.
"It looks like whoever is involved here is not afraid of committing a crime," Frank Birgfeld said. The realization of what that might mean for his daughter was too much to bear. "You know, it occurred to me I hadn't cried in a long time. I've learned how to do that. That's it."
While Paige's family held on to the hope she was still alive, investigators turned their attention to Paige's second ex-husband, Rob Dixon.
Paige met Dixon in 1997. Back then, he seemed like a real catch. "Rob had - had a business success with his father, had a significant amount of wealth," Frank Birgfeld explained.
It was a whirlwind courtship. The following year, the two had a wedding and started a family together.
"And they moved to Grand Junction together, you know, moved into that house together, built on to that house together," said Craig Birgfeld.
But Dixon had extravagant taste and was reckless with his money, investing millions of dollars in risky business ventures. When the bills started piling up, Paige did what she could to pitch in.
"She started a little preschool dance business she called Brain Dance," Suzie Birgfeld explained. "She would have recitals twice a year and make costumes for all of those students."
Paige also sold high-end kitchen supplies out of her home for a company called The Pampered Chef. And as one of the top sales agents, she earned a free trip to the Caribbean. But Dixon was losing money a lot faster than Paige was making it. In a few short years, his business investments fell through and he'd lost almost everything.
"And I think as financial strain came on the relationship, it got worse and worse," said Craig Birgfeld.
By 2004, the problems in the marriage took a turn for the worse.
"We think of Rob as good Rob and bad Rob. There are times where Rob is just really a good, funny guy; bright," Frank Birgfeld explained. "But at other times, Rob is a difficult person to be around. He can be violently angry, condescending, derisive. You walk on eggshells -- a feeling of tension."
Finally, in October 2004, Paige had to call police for help.
"My husband and I were in a fight and he wanted the children to stay with him and he said that I would come home and find them all murdered," she told the 911 operator.
But by the time police and local media arrived, the crisis was defused. Dixon was allowed to leave after authorities decided he wasn't a threat to himself or anyone else. No charges were filed.
But one year later, police were called again. Paige said Dixon had pushed her to the ground and then later punched her while she was holding their baby. This time, in October 2005, Dixon was arrested. But the case was later settled after he completed a course in anger management.
By the time the couple divorced in September 2006, Rob Dixon had declared bankruptcy and was living in Philadelphia. And when Paige disappeared in 2007, Dixon said that's exactly where he was -- in Philadelphia, 2,000 miles away.
But when Paige's family found disturbing entries written about Dixon on an online message board by Paige herself, and they were hard to ignore.
"I've read the things that have been written on her website and on the Pampered Chef website and, you know, they're pretty scary," said Craig Birgfeld.
Just three months before she disappeared, Paige wrote: "My children would ask me if Dad was going to kill me. I can't imagine what they were thinking life would be like after he killed me."
Investigators questioned Dixon about his whereabouts the day his ex-wife vanished, but didn't release details to the public. But Paige's family got word that his alibi held up.
"I understand that a person's biography might make them a suspect. At the same time, if you're 2,000 miles away, I think it takes you off the roster," Frank Birgfeld said.
Both of Paige's ex-husbands seemed to have solid alibis. So who in Paige's life had any motive to harm her? That led investigators to an even bigger mystery ... one about Paige herself.
A MASSIVE SEARCH
"Mesa County is a big county, its 3,300-square-miles with a lot of open space, a lot of canyons," said Sheriff Stan Hilkey.
Two weeks has passed since Paige Birgfeld had vanished. The question remained where to look when the vista stretches out as far as the eye can see.
"There are hundreds of thousands of miles around us which could be used to hide a body," said D.A. Pete Hautzinger.
The investigation was about to get a lucky break thanks to the efforts of Connie Flukey. Her can-do spirit inspired the dozens of other volunteers who came out to help find Paige Birgfeld.
"I got here about 6:15 to start getting things set up and people start showing up at 6:30. We had people almost, I mean, jumping all over me and waiting for me to get teams out," she said.
Flukey's strategy: divide and conquer. Each day she broke hundreds of miles into manageable search areas that could be covered on foot.
"And she just gave hope. We were starting to become so dejected. And she just walked in and took charge," said Callie Birgfeld.
Craig and Callie got ready to search in the punishing desert heat. Paige's brother briefed the volunteers on what to do if they found anything that could be linked to his sister.
As the volunteers pressed on, the Birgfelds had to navigate through a darker, more difficult terrain -- the mysterious double life that Paige had apparently been leading.
"She had a couple of things on her computer. We were saying, 'Wait a minute, what's this computer doing here?'" Craig Birgfeld recalled.
"Yeah, why don`t the police have this computer?" added his wife, Callie.
The family called police because they were convinced that Paige's computer held clues that could have put her in danger.
"It doesn't change what I think of her. I mean, I would give anything to see her again right now and give her a big hug," Craig said.
As Craig Birgfeld's concern grew, the search paid off with a discovery that could lead them closer to his sister.
"They did find some pretty critical pieces of information for us down on Highway 50," said Hilkey.
Various personal items, such as Paige's checkbook and a membership card to a local video store, were found scattered along a highway some 15 miles from where her burned-out car was discovered.
For all its beauty, there is clearly a darker side of the Mesa.
"It's beautiful, but scary for me now," said Callie Birgfeld.
"Every search I pray that we find my sister. We're halfway through this canyon. We haven't found her yet. Still hoping we do, but part of me still praying that we don't," Craig Birgfeld said at a search site.
"I haven't found her, not alive. As long as that condition exists I presume she is. I chose to hold out hope," Frank Birgfeld said. "We're coming, Paige. We're coming. We are coming to get you."
DOUBLE LIFE REVEALED
"First you find out Paige is missing then within a couple of days we started finding out about this other life that we didn`t know about," said her sister-in-law, Carrie Birgfeld.
It was a life kept secret from her family.
"Well, at first blush, she looked to us to be a really good mom, very active with her kids," D.A. Pete Hautzinger explained. "Then some things came out that really pretty much changed everything."
It turned out that Paige wasn't just teaching dance classes and selling kitchen products. In provocative ads on the Internet, Paige was also known as "Carrie," a high-priced escort.
"I for one was shocked," D.A. Pete Hautzinger admitted. "I've been a prosecutor for 20 years and this is the first time I've encountered somebody from that socio-economic level and that kind of family involvement to be involved in this business."
Sessions with Carrie could include stripping, dancing and role playing. On one website, she suggests that clients can pay for "extras," such as topless and nude massage.
"Those were things that we didn't know anything about before she went missing, but have, unfortunately, learned about since," said Craig Birgfeld.
"I think for Frank and Suzie -- that the thought of their daughter even doing that -- it didn't even cross their minds because it's their daughter," Callie Birgfeld said. "You don't think your daughter's gonna do that. So I think for them it was a really, really big shock."
As upsetting as it was for Paige's family to learn about her secret life, they were convinced she turned to the escort world for one reason only: her children.
"She found herself in a position of being the breadwinner and trying to make ends meet," Craig Birgfeld explained.
Paige was overwhelmed with debt. She had three children, and her ex- husband was bankrupt, paying only $500 a month in child support. Her mortgage was huge -- almost $6,000 a month.
"It never really made sense to me that she would be able to come up with the mortgage for that place for more than a couple of months," Craig Birgfeld remarked.
Her friends said Paige did what she had to do and turned to the one job she knew would pay well.
"She always saw a situation and got it under control. If something needed to be done, she made sure it happened," said a friend.
"I would say that whatever she was doing was for her children," said another friend.
"It has no bearing on the kind of mother, friend that she is," another remarked.
And her sister-in-law, Callie, now thinks she knows where Paige got the idea to become an escort in the first place. Many years earlier, Callie had asked Paige how she was able to afford her first home on a dance teacher's salary.
"I flat out asked her if she was doing something other than teaching dance. And she had told me that she had been stripping," Callie explained.
Before becoming a mother, Paige had worked as a stripper at a place called the Mile High Saloon.
"In Denver, when she was 21 years old, she said she had been making $400,000 a year doing it. And that, you know, she didn't need to do it anymore," said Callie.
But apparently, she later did.
"So then, we're like OK, you can kind of see where Paige made the next step to escort," Callie continued.
"I wish I had been given the opportunity to be involved and perhaps be able to sort it out," Frank Birgfeld said. "I would have counseled her that that strikes me as dangerous. It doesn't sound totally moral."
Paige's family knew this new information could help investigators figure out who was responsible for Paige's disappearance. But will it also bring them closer to learning what happened to Paige? News that is difficult to hear?
Asked what he thinks happened to Paige Birgfeld, D.A. Pete Hautzinger replied, "I think she was probably murdered by one of her clients."
Police never found a diary or a black book with names. But she did have that cell phone and that helped investigators track down everyone who had contact with Paige.
"We have looked very carefully at all of her clients and have made every effort to investigate everybody who may have been on that list of people she was going to be contacting later that night," Hautzinger said.
That included George Coralluzzo, a 30-year-old house painter, who called Paige 20 times on the day she disappeared. He also left town hurriedly two days after her disappearance.
There was also a 56-year-old father of two grown sons named Lester Ralph Jones.
Hautzinger said Jones was one of Paige's clients. "My understanding is there'd been at least more than one encounter," he said.
Authorities got warrants to conduct searches of his home, where he lived with his third wife. They spent hours searching through his belongings, but wouldn't talk about what they found -- not even with Paige's family.
"I can't comment specifically as to what was or was not found at Mr. Joneses home," said Hautzinger.
And remember Paige's burned out car, discovered a few miles from her home? Search dogs led investigators from that parking lot to an RV shop across the street. It turns out that's where Ralph Jones worked as a mechanic.
"The fact that her car was burning so close to his place of employment is at least one significant fact," Hautzinger pointed out. "Common sense certainly would indicate that it's something more than a coincidence."
"There is something else that links Ralph Jones to the disappearance of Paige Birgfeld. One of the last conversations she had that night was with someone using a throwaway cell phone. According to investigators, there is surveillance video from a local Wal-Mart showing a man they say is Jones buying such a phone.
Jones declined "48 Hours"' request for an interview and denied having anything to do with Paige Birgfeld's disappearance.
But Ralph Jones does have a criminal record -- a record that shows he was more than capable of violence.
"And then we're also able to find out some newspaper articles about that whole previous case. It's pretty scary stuff," Craig Birgfeld commented.
Jones was arrested for two incidents involving his estranged wife, Lisa, in 1999. In one of them, he threatened to take her someplace remote and kill her. Jones served three years in prison after pleading guilty to kidnapping and assault charges, both felonies.
"Those are, by definition, kind of violent offenses," said Hautzinger.
"None of that bodes well if Paige had any kind of involvement with him at all," her father, Frank, said.
More than three months after Paige Birgfeld disappeared, authorities publicly cleared her two ex-husbands. Though George Coralluzzo remained a person of interest, Hautzinger said they named the main target of their investigation: Lester Ralph Jones.
A BREAK IN THE CASE
"Lester Jones has been our primary suspect from the very beginning of the case," said Chief Deputy District Attorney Dan Rubenstein, who was now heading up the Paige Birgfeld murder investigation.
Rubenstein was convinced that Lester Ralph Jones, a convicted felon and client of Paige's escort service, was the man who killed her. But without Paige's body, he didn't feel he could prove it.
"Paige went missing in June of 2007," he explained. "We always knew that the case wasn't something we were ever gonna be able to prosecute until we found her."
Frank Birgfeld never stopped searching for his daughter. His determination to find her was fueled by his concern that the investigation was stalled.
"Many of these cases are never solved. How many times do we see one of these in the paper and then you never hear anything more about it," he said.
"There's no doubt that the family was frustrated, and I do not blame them at all," said Rubenstein.
But then, five years after Paige went missing, came a break. A hiker came across partial human remains in a gully right where a team of volunteers had been searching.
"There were people that were in that area time after time over that five-year period from 2007 to 2012. So her body must have been buried at least deep enough to have hidden it from people going by," Rubenstein explained.
Investigators had little trouble identifying the remains; it was Paige.
"We had her jaw, and her skull was found intact with the teeth, and we were able to get her dental records and verify ... that the dental records matched up with the teeth," said Rubenstein.
Although investigators couldn't determine how she died, Paige's bones gave clues. Among other injuries, her cheekbone was badly fractured, a sign she may have been beaten.
"That fracture occurred at or near the time of her death," Rubenstein explained.
Other findings helped the investigators piece together the circumstances of the last hours of her life.
"There was some duct tape that appeared to be around the area where the skull was found," said Rubenstein.
That suggests Paige may have been tied and gagged. And there was more. Knowing where she'd been found now helped explain the objects that had been discovered when she was initially reported missing.
"Checks, business cards, driver's license, other ... documents that had Paige's or her kids names on them that were strewn about the highway ... about five miles before the area where her remains were found. That I think is indicative of somebody who is kidnapped throwing those items out," Rubenstein noted.
Investigators believe that Paige, desperately reaching out for help, was leaving a trail to wherever she was being taken. For her family, all these discoveries were hard to bear.
"My feelings were a heavy dose of sadness. Even when we were searching, you wanted to find her, but you didn't want to find her," said Frank Birgfeld.
Adding to their pain, they would have to wait for a proper burial for their daughter.
"When she was found, I went ahead and made arrangements with a local funeral home to go ahead and retrieve her and we would then decide what to do with her remains. We were told that they weren't gonna give her to us. In fact, I assume she is in a cardboard box in the coroner's office. They told us that they must keep her for the purpose of evidence and that's just flat-out baloney," said Birgfeld.
If it was any consolation, with Paige's remains discovered, the case could finally move forward.
"Once you've found the body, you've taken away one of the important reasonable doubts that are gonna be in a criminal trial," said Birgfeld.
The evidence is still circumstantial, but Rubenstein believes he now has enough to make his case against Lester Ralph Jones.
He's confirmed that the only other potential suspect, George Coralluzzo, had a solid alibi for the time Paige disappeared, and was in New Jersey the night her car was set on fire.
The car was in the parking lot across from where Jones worked. The seat pushed back to accommodate someone much taller than Paige.
And there is the TracFone.
"It actually only made five phone calls in its entire history. And all five of those phone calls were either to Paige's work phone; the last phone call was from her phone," said Rubenstein.
Despite Jones' denials that he owned such a phone, Rubenstein says he can prove that Jones lied.
"We have video evidence of Mr. Jones buying that TracFone. We have the computer records showing the exact date, time, store and register that the TracFone phone was purchased at. And we pulled the video and it was Mr. Jones purchasing it," the prosecutor continued.
And then there is the bizarre phone call between Jones and a local sheriff, who had seized two cars belonging to Jones so they could be thoroughly searched:
Sgt. Art Smith: Mr. Jones?
Sgt. Smith: This is Art Smith with the Sheriff's Office. Just calling to let you know that we have both your cars ready for you and your wife.
"Sergeant Smith contacted Mr. Jones just to simply let him know that the vehicles were ready to be released, and to figure out how they wanted to go about doing that. It was a simple routine phone call, and he didn't get the response he was expecting," Rubenstein explained.
Sgt. Smith: Mr. Jones, I'm not following ya.
Jones: You ask me where I'd bury a body.
Sgt. Smith: I'm sorry?
Jones: You ask me where I should bury a body.
Sgt. Smith: When did I ask you that?"
Sgt. Smith: Mr. Jones, are you there?
"...that was to me a very, very interesting thing for him to say. And certainly would be the sort of thing that would go towards being satisfied that Lester Ralph Jones killed my daughter," said Frank Birgfeld.
The call, along with all the other evidence, did the trick. Just before Thanksgiving in November 2014 -- more than seven years since Paige Birgfeld disappeared -- Lester Ralph Jones was arrested, and charged with her murder and kidnapping. He appeared notably unsurprised.
"Lester did not react at all. When he was told there was an arrest warrant for him, he didn't ask what it was for. He just turned around and put his hands behind his back," said Rubenstein.
Jones went to jail; his bail was set at $2 million. But for the prosecutor and Paige's family, the case was far from over.
"We certainly believe we have enough to bring it to a jury, but remember, at this stage in the process, these are just allegations," said Rubenstein.
And they must be proven in court. Did Jones kill Paige Birgfeld? If so, how did he do it?
"It's certainly our intention to have a front row seat," Frank Birgfeld said. And like his commitment to search for his daughter, Birgfeld is committed to attend the trial every single day.
"I'd like to say goodbye to her. I think I owe it to her," he said.
With all the family has endured -- the years of uncertainty, the discovery of their daughter's secret life, and the painful proof of her death - the Birgfelds prefer to remember Paige as she was, and for them, will always be.
"Motherhood was central to her life. The kids meant everything, Frank Birgfeld said. "...as far as a legacy, I remember Paige's smile. I would call it radiant. In her obituary, it was said that she was so radiant it made the sun jealous. And I think that would be, at least for me, what sticks with me the most."
In July 2016, nine years after Paige Birgfeld went missing, Lester Ralph Jones went on trial for her murder. With no direct evidence, the prosecution's case was circumstantial.
"The only calls on that TracFone were to Paige Birgfeld … and they ended at the time of her disappearance," said Chief Deputy D.A. Dave Waite.
Lester Jones' defense team countered by introducing five alternate suspects.
"These are men who the Sheriff's Department let slip through their fingers while they were busy fixating on Mr. Jones," Kara Smith told the court.
But after a six week trial, the jury was deadlocked. Although they all believed that Jones was guilty, several had reasonable doubt.
After a mistrial was declared, one of the jurors apologized to the Birgfelds.
"I'm sorry. We wanted this and we saw you during the trial. I can see the agony. I'm sorry," the juror told the family.
But there was a second trial which would end just days after Christmas 2016, and this jury could reach a verdict: guilty of murder in the first degree.
Convicted of the kidnapping and murder of Paige Birgfeld, Jones was sentenced to life in prison without parole.
But having him brought to justice after almost nine years seemed to give Paige's father, Frank, little comfort -- as he expressed in this phone interview.
"What happens to him doesn't bring Paige back. If he wanted to make a deal and skip prison and bring her back, I'd take it," he said.
Paige's three children are living with their father on the east coast.
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