The Dead Body in the Chimney

Although it solved a seven year mystery it has resulted in more questions than answers.

Joshua Maddux was eighteen when he went missing in May 2008. He said goodbye to his sister and went for a walk; this was not unusual as Maddux enjoyed nature and often enjoyed time outside. However, this time he did not return. The search for him would last seven years.

Chuck Murphy was a builder who was demolishing his old cabin in 2015. The day arrived when it was finally time to tear down the chimney. As he pulled it down, he found the mummified body of Maddux.

Maddux Disappears

Maddux was born on 9th March 1990 and lived in Woodland Park, Colorado; he was six foot and had a creative mind. He liked to write novels and play his guitar. He was described as a free spirit with his long hair, love of nature and easy-going manner. He was a bright student who was liked by both his teachers and peers. He was well known in his town.

His parents divorced when he was young, and he lived with his father and two sisters. On 8th May, he left the house saying he was going out for a walk. He liked to hike alone as he loved the outdoors, so this trip out was not unusual.

When he failed to return later that evening, the family were not overly worried as he was known to stay in the woods. However, as the days passed, they became more concerned and started to worry. Finally, on 13th May, his father called the police to report him missing.

Looking for Joshua Maddux

Initially, enquiries were not promising as none of his friends had seen him. The searches went wider and wider, but no clues were ever found.

His sister Kate commented that she hoped he had skipped town to write music and be a free spirit. The whole family always expected him to return with a wife and children in future years. There was no reason to believe that he was in trouble, which was why he had skipped town. His brother had committed suicide two years previously, but Maddux was never considered to have any mental health problems, so authorities also ruled out suicide. He was said to be happy at the time of his disappearance.

Thunderhead Ranch

Murphy was a Colorado Spring builder. He had purchased the cabin in the 1950s. The cabin had a colourful past, once being a drinking and gambling den during prohibition. Formerly known as Homestead of Thunderhead Ranch, Bert Bergstrom owned it. The Bergstrom’s who arrived in 1912 from Sweden were arrested for illegal drinking and prostitution by the FBI. The jury promptly found him not guilty; they may have been customers at the ranch.

Murphy’s brother had lived in the cabin but had moved out in 2005; since then, it had become a storage facility. In August 2015, Murphy decided to demolish the building to make room for the land to be redeveloped.

He started to dismantle the chimney, which was when he found a body crammed into it. The body was in the fetal position with the knees above the head. Later dental records would identify the body as Maddux; he was just one mile from his family home.

The Investigations Starts

The Maddux family were stunned, and none of them could make any sense of the incident. The first explanation was that he was checking out the cabin when an accident happened.

The autopsy showed that Maddux had suffered no trauma or broken bones. He had no drugs in his system either. The likely explanation was that the searches had overlooked the building as they saw no life in it. Maddux likely died from hyperthermia or dehydration. Maddux could have yelled for his life, and no one would have heard him.

Murphy had only visited occasionally and had noticed nothing unusual when he did. With limited information, the coroner, Al Born, ruled the death accidental.

Concerns over the Findings

Murphy was the first to utter his disbelieve at this ruling. His first concern was that he knew that the building had been fitted with a steel mesh. The mesh was heavy steal and placed one brick line down to stop animals coming from the chimney.

Born’s answer to this was that the mesh had rusted or corroded and disappeared. He stated he had seen no evidence of it in the pictures from the scene. Murphy countered this with the fact that the mesh had been taken away as scrap at the beginning of the demolition.

Other factors also did not make sense. For example, a large breakfast bar had been torn from the wall in the kitchen and placed blocking the chimney off from the inside.

The position Maddux had been found down the chimney meant that he would have entered the chimney head first. Born decided to reopen the case and commented that it would take two people to position him this way. However, the most significant factor that was strange was that Maddux had been found naked except for a thermal shirt. The rest of his clothes, socks and shoes had been neatly folded and left in the building.

Again Born stated that in the absence of other evidence, the revised autopsy report said that the cause of death was an accidental death, murder, or undetermined causes.

Many commented that it was ridiculous to presume that Maddux got naked walked back outside the cabin only to climb on the roof to climb down the chimney.

This one really taxed our brains. We found his clothing just outside the firebox. He only had on a thermal t-shirt. We don’t know why he took his clothes off, took his shoes and socks off, and why he went outside, climbed on the roof and went down the chimney. It was not linear thinking. — Al Born

The Ignored Suspect

At this time, many calls came into the police mentioning suspects and leads that could have been responsible for Maddux’s death. One of the calls that came in stated that the last person to see Maddux alive had been a boy called Andy; again, Born dismissed this saying one person alone could not have positioned Maddux in the chimney.

That was when a Reddit post gave more information on the case. It stated that the author had been a witness to the Maddux’s last day. Andy and Maddux had hung out together just before he went missing. Andy had a history of being in and out of mental hospitals. Andy had then gone to New Mexico and been arrested for killing a disabled guy. Andy had also murdered a woman and placed her in a barrel. The police had indeed found a woman stuffed in a barrel in Taos but already had somebody in custody for it and decided to stick with that guy instead. The witness to the murder of the disabled gentleman had died before the case had come to court, Andy also got away with this murder. The most significant factor the post said was that Andy had been boasting about killing Maddux.

The Incompetent Coroner

Born again dismissed the claims and the police investigation came to nothing. Finally, more information came through Andy became known as Andrew Richard Newman, who had been arrested in New Mexico after a fatal stabbing. Newman played in a band and was a music lover; it was not unthinkable to think Maddux would have been friends with Newman through their shared love of music. Newman was found to be in a mental hospital, and the case was never reopened.

The Maddux family has never got closure for the death of Josh. Murphy, in all likelihood, was telling the truth about the mesh; he had no reason to lie. Furthermore, the body’s position, removed clothes, and the breakfast bar covering the fireplace made the death look less like an accident and more like murder. However, the biggest mystery with this case is why authorities did not investigate it more and why the coroner settled for such an unsatisfactory ruling.