Buying storage lockers when tenants fail to pay their bills has become a cottage industry, and television programs such as Storage Wars show how ordinary people often frequent storage auctions in hopes of striking it rich. Rick Ratzlaff had just that in mind when he attended a storage auction in December of 2016.
Ratzlaff told Colorado’s KKTV that during the auction several items contained within two storage lockers caught his eye. According to Ratzlaff, he knew one of the lockers must have once belonged to a police officer because there were several sets of police lights inside, something Ratzlaff had been interested in purchasing. Needless to say, Ratzlaff continued to bid until the contents of the unit were officially his.
It had been a cold and snowy day in Canon City, so Ratzlaff decided to let his lockers sit for a day or two before returning to claim his newfound treasures. As he had expected, there were items that had once belonged to a police officer inside on of the storage units. Sheriff’s uniforms with the name “Dobbs” on them, as well as police lights and sirens had been in the locker, but there were other things that Ratzlaff had not expected to find inside of an old storage unit.
Inside of several boxes were numerous manila envelopes. Scrawled across all of them were big black letters that read “evidence” along with a stamp and case number. Ratzlaff told The Pueblo Chieftain, “The big one had a bloody rope; the smaller manila envelope had two female blood-soaked socks; and the medium one had a weapon fall out the bottom of it. It was a chrome ax that also had blood on it.”
After making this discovery, Ratzlaff ran into a Canon City police officer and told him of his unusual find in the storage locker. Ratzlaff claims that after speaking with the officer a relative of Dodd’s contacted him asking to buy all of the items he had procured at the storage auction because some of the items held special significance to this person. Ratzlaff did not find the message until weeks later because he says he does not use Facebook often.
On December 30, 2016, Ratzlaff received a phone call from Sheriff James Beicker inquiring about the items he had uncovered in the storage unit. During the conversation, Beicker allegedly told Ratzlaff that the evidence items were related to the unsolved murder of 17-year-old Candace Hiltz, who had been shot in her family’s Copper Gulch home in August of 2006. Beicker also allegedly told Ratzlaff that his life could be in danger for possessing these items and urged him to return the evidence items to the Sheriff’s Department.
Ratzlaff agreed to meet with Beicker at Dodd’s former storage unit so he and another officer could review the evidence. Ratzlaff’s wife, who was also present during the meeting, agreed to record their conversation on behalf of The Pueblo Chieftain. During the conversation, Beicker admitted that it “wasn’t right” that a police officer took official evidence home with him. Beicker told Ratzlaff that he would contact CBI – Colorado’s leading investigative agency – and have them transport the materials for analysis. Ratzlaff said that CBI did not collect the evidence and that Beicker had removed the evidence himself. Beicker later claimed that CBI had him remove the evidence on their behalf and later turned the evidence over for their analysis.
Ratzlaff personally contacted CBI several days later. According to Ratzlaff he spoke with CBI Agent Julie Petterson about his findings and handed over the remainder of what evidence he had in his possession. Ratzlaff says that he was urged to stay quiet about his discovery. Within days Dodd was placed on administrative leave as an internal investigation is underway.
From what information Ratzlaff was able to gather on the case, in 2006 Candace Hiltz had been shot multiple times in her family’s home. Her 11-month-old baby had been unharmed during the murder. Dolores Hiltz says that police were very interested in the whereabouts of her son James, who had been suffering from psychotic delusions and had been recently released from a mental facility in the days leading up to Candace’s murder. Hiltz says that the last she had heard from her son, he had been living off the land somewhere and had convinced himself that Hiltz was not his biological mother. He had not spoken with anyone in the family in months.
Hiltz says she was allowed to return to her home days later and she believed that there were signs that investigators had completely missed key evidence, such as shell casings found in her granddaughter’s cradle. She said there were other signs that it was not her son who had been involved in the murder. With the help of her other son Jonathan, who had been taking forensics classes at the time, Hiltz conducted her own investigation and agreed to hand over the evidence she and her son had collected during their inventory of the home.
In spite of what Hiltz believes, James Hiltz was picked up several days after Candace’s murder. James Hiltz was officially charged with burglary and sentenced to a mental facility. Candace’s murder remains unsolved.
Dolores Hiltz was able to confirm that the items found in the storage locker were related to her daughter’s murder case. According to Hiltz, the socks were believed to have been on Candace’s feet when she had been killed, and the hatchet is believed to have killed the family’s dog several days prior to the murder. Both Hiltz and Ratzlaff are hoping that the discovery of this evidence will renew the public’s interest in the case and help to close it for good.