This week we go true crime and take a look at a case of “accidental death” which appears to be anything but. Joshua Maddux went missing in 2008 and seven years later, was found in the chimney of a cabin just two blocks from his home. The question remains, how did he get there?
Web Archive – web archive link with a local newspaper article related to the case of Joshuas Maddux.
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Joshua Maddux: The Boy in the Chimney
In May of 2008, 18-year-old Joshua Maddux bid his sister farewell and left his house to take a walk. A nature lover and free spirit, this was nothing unusual, however, when he didn’t return, things took a strange twist. The search for Josh continued for seven long years but remained unfruitful.
In 2015, less than a mile away, Chuck Murphy was demolishing his old wood cabin to make way for a property development. The cabin hadn’t been used in years and inside was damp, the stuffy space smelt badly of rot. As they tore down the chimney, they made a grim discovery. Crammed inside the brickwork lay the mummified body of Joshua Maddux.
This is Dark histories, where the facts are worse than fiction.
Joshua Maddux lived in Woodland Park, a small city with a population of around 7,500, nestling among the natural beauty of the Pike National Forest in Teller County, Colorado. Josh was 6 feet tall, 150 Lbs and apparently something of a creative mind and a free spirit. He had a carefree attitude to life, grew his hair long, loved music, played the guitar spent much of his free time writing. At school, he was a bright student and was seemingly well liked and well known. He mother and father were divorced and Josh lived with his father Mike and two sisters Kate and Ruth.
On the 8th of May, 2008, he left the house, telling his sister Kate that he was going out for a walk. He loved nature and often went out hiking alone, so his sister thought little of the farewell but when he failed to return later that evening, worry settled in. Having always been such a free spirit, at first the worry was only a small nagging in the back of their minds, however, as the days passed and Josh had still not returned, his father took the sudden disappearance more seriously and on the 13th May, called the police to report Josh missing.
“I got up one morning,” He said, “and Josh was there, then he just never came home. The next day he still didn’t come home. I called his friends, nobody had seen him. Nobody knows where he is.”
The searches were spread far and wide, scouring the neighbourhood and wider parkland area, days turned into weeks and weeks turned to months yet still, no clue as to his disappearance had been uncovered. The hope of finding Josh began to fade and his sister Kate spoke of how she had always hoped that he had simply skipped town to go play music or start a different life and held on to the hope of such an eventuality. In a post online, she wrote of her brother’s disappearance:
“’Since Josh was 18, it has been reasonable to assume he may have decided to leave town to start a new life. As one of his two older sisters, I have always chosen to believe that this was the case. I have expected Josh to return home to my father’s house at any time with a wife and small children so that they can meet their grandparents and two aunts. Josh has always been known for his musical and literary talent, so maybe we would find him playing music with a band on tour, or catch him writing successful novels under a pen name so that he could keep his preferred lifestyle of solitude in the woods.”
They had no reason to believe that Josh had gotten involved in any trouble and he had not given them any worry or concern about his mental health, although two years prior to his disappearance, on June the 1st 2006, a week before his high school graduation, Josh’s Older brother, Zachary, had committed suicide. His father spoke about the tragic death of his son and how it had affected Josh:
‘I buried his older brother two years before and it was so difficult on Josh. When his brother died, it pushed him over the edge. It was a big shock for the family and a big shock for Josh. He thought highly of his older brother.
Despite this difficult period, however, his family noted that Josh had been doing well and was happy around the time he disappeared. The police had no reason to suspect any criminal activity and so listed him as a missing person. The searches continued and the missing person file remained open. His father Mike retained ownership of the family home after they moved, in case Josh would ever return, as that would be the only place he would have known to go, but news of Josh remained elusive. That was, until 2015, when a local builder by the name of Chuck Murphy made a grim discovery.
The body in the chimney
In 2015, Chuck Murphy, a builder from nearby Colorado Springs, was demolishing his old wood cabin. The cabin sat on a large patch of land, surrounded by tall pines. The cabin hadn’t been used for over ten years and had fallen into a state of disrepair. Chuck had made the decision to tear down the building to make way for a property development and in August, the time had come to begin demolishing the decaying building.
He had originally purchased the cabin in the 1950’s. It had formerly been the Homestead of Thunderhead Ranch, a locally infamous drinking and gambling complex owned by ‘Big Bert’ Bergstroms. Bergstroms had come to America from Sweden in 1912 and run the thunderhead Inn as a dining and drinking Establishment after the end of prohibition. On the side, however, he used the ranch as an illegal gambling den and was rumoured to offer prostitution. He was arrested by the FBI, but the jury, who one would assume enjoyed a little of what Bert offered, promptly found him not guilty.
In more recent times, Chuck’s brother had lived in the cabin until 2005, but since moving out, it had become a storage facility and Chuck had rarely visited the property. Animals had been a problem and inside it carried an uninviting stench. As they dismantled the chimney and reached the interior, Chuck made the horrifying discovery of the body of a young man, cramped into a fetal position with his legs above his head. He called the police who arrived with the County coroner who, with the help of a forensic odontologist used dental records to positively identify the corpse to be that of Joshua Maddux, less than a mile from his family home.
The Maddux family were stunned when the news of the discovery of Josh’s body was delivered. His sister Kate said:
“The situation doesn’t make any sense at all. We were really expecting him to be anywhere else in the world and he was actually very close. The only thing we can figure is he was being an 18-year-old kid, checking out a cabin — it had already been abandoned for a long time — and a horrible accident happened.”
Al Born, the Teller County coroner undertook an autopsy and found no evidence of any drugs in Josh’s system. Speaking to the press, he stated:
“The hard tissue showed no signs of trauma. There were no broken bones, no knife marks. There were no bullet holes. There is so far no answers to a number of things. It is very confusing.”
The cabin sat on Meadowlark Lane, only two blocks from the Maddux family home, yet the searches had overlooked the building. There had not been any sign of life from the old structure, it was simply concealed from suspicion due to its own banality. Chuck Murphy, the cabin owner himself had rarely visited, however, on the occasions that he had to check in, he himself had not noticed anything unusual about the property. The cabin itself stood centrally in a large plot of land, surrounded by tall pines, offset from the roadside by around fifty feet. Police suggested that with no adjacent homes if Josh had cried for help, no one would have been able to hear him regardless.
“It was not an instant death. How he died is only a matter of speculation, but we know he did not starved to death because that takes many weeks. So then you go down the chain and you have dehydration, which can take just a few days and the other thing would be hypothermia, which could take a day or two. We have no evidence to say which one came first.”
Eventually, on the 28th September 2015, after failing to find any rational cause, Born made a ruling of “Accidental Death”. Born suggested that Josh had climbed down the chimney and become lodged in the brickwork. He concluded the most likely cause of death was Hypothermia, as the temperature around the time of his disappearance had dropped to -6 Celsius at it’s coldest. Chuck Murphy, however, found this conclusion to be far from satisfactory.
Immediately following the ruling, Chuck questioned the Coroner’s conclusion of accidental death. Born had stated that Josh’s position in the chimney “appeared to have been a voluntary act in order to gain access”, however when he heard that, Chuck made a testimony stating that this would, in fact, have been impossible. The chimney had been built twenty years previous and during its construction, had been fitted with a steel rebar, a large, thick wire mesh hung from steel hooks used to keep animals and debris from becoming lodged inside the chimney or from entering the cabin itself. Murphy spoke openly about the rebar, stating that:
“It was a heavy wire grate, a wire mesh, I installed it across the chimney about one row of bricks from the top. We didn’t want trouble with racoons and things getting into the chimney.”
This led to a subtle and public back and forth between the builder and coroner, with Born replying that the grate could have been rusted or corroded and further stated:
“Nobody saw the metal mesh, we didn’t see it in any of our photos. It may have disappeared.”
However, Born said that during the demolition, all metalwork had been collected and stashed into the back of a truck to be taken for scrap, which would explain why the mesh was not clearly identified by the coroner as it wasn’t anywhere near the chimney, if it was still on the site at all at the time of the visit by the coroner. Conceding to Murphy, Born reopened the case three days after his initial conclusion. It was not only the rebar that caused doubt however, there were, in fact, several other pieces of information which failed to make any sense to Murphy and had led him to doubt the coroner’s report. The dots just weren’t connecting.
There was, for one thing, the mysterious shifting of a large wooden breakfast bar that had been torn from a wall in the kitchen and dragged over to block the Chimney from inside the cabin. This fact was probably the very reason that Chuck himself had not noticed anything unusual about the chimney in the first place. However, the question remained that if the Breakfast bar had been torn from the wall, then who had done it and why?
Josh’s body had also been found in a fetal position, with his legs above his head, and disjointed from his torso. In order to have gotten into such a position, he would have had to have entered the chimney head first. This was a fairly unusual position and Born had earlier commented that he thought it would have taken two people to position him in such a way.
There was also one final question that lingered with Chuck and it concerned no small detail. When Josh’s body had been found, he had removed all of his clothing, he had been found wearing only a thin thermal shirt. This would already strike one as unusual, however, his clothes had actually been found inside the cabin, folded up next to the fireplace. This, the fact hadn’t escaped Born however, he was well aware of the clothing and remarked about them:
“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.”
He quickly concluded that given his options, that of a cause of death being accidental death, murder or undetermined causes, he finally concluded that:
We’ve come up with the most plausible explanation and it will remain an accident. He did come down the chimney, that’s our conclusion.”
Murphy’s rebuttal was now less than subtle, he stated simply:
“There’s no way that guy crawled inside that chimney with that steel webbing. He didn’t come down the chimney.”.
Murphy remained convinced that the death of Joshua Maddux had been no accident. As it happened, Al Born had mentioned that several calls had been made to both the police and Coroners office, suggesting leads and naming suspects that had bragged of killing Josh.
There was one main suspect, though he remained unnamed, he was now spending time in a Texas jail and had previous time in Seattle and Portland prisons with a long list of violent criminal behaviour. The tips had told Born of how he was, apparently the last man to have been seen with Josh, but Born could not place him at the crime scene. When speaking of the man, he said:
“They can’t give me times and specifics and we can’t generate stuff that goes back seven years.”
He also doubted that the man would have been able to have positioned Josh in the chimney in such a position alone. And that, as far as Born was concerned, was the end of that suspect and line of thinking. However, there was to a be a more modern twist just around the corner.
As it turned out, there was a post on Reddit in 2015, which reads as if it was made most likely from one of the very people who had called into the Coroner suspecting the previously spoken of man. The post gave a name to the suspect, which leads to many new facts, an abbreviated version of the post tells his side of the story:
“I went to high school with this skinny dorky hippy named Andy who played guitar in a band. I was never good friends with him or anything, but a year or so after I graduated one of my good friends, Josh, started hanging out with him and then went missing.
Turns out that in addition to becoming a lot scarier looking, Andy had indeed headed down to New Mexico, where he found himself shooting the shit with the caretaker of a disabled guy and got invited over to their apartment. Caretaker gets in the shower, and when he comes back out, the disabled guy is stabbed to death and Andy’s gone. When Andy got arrested, he also claimed to have killed a woman in Taos and stuffed her body in a barrel.
The cops 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. Years later, I found out that the caretaker had died in a bar fight, and without him the cops didn’t have much in the way of evidence somehow, so that case against Andy was dropped, too.
Several of us went to the cops saying “Yo, Josh Who Went Missing was last seen with Andy Who’s A Murderer, maybe you should check that out?” Despite a fair amount of pestering, nothing ever really came of it, and by nothing I mean that the police mostly didn’t even return our calls, and once accidentally cancelled the bulletin on Josh because “He’s alive and well and living in the next town over!” (he wasn’t)
He was actually in the chimney of an abandoned cabin like two blocks from his parents’ house. The coroner said the body had been there for about seven years, and ruled the death accidental, concluding that Josh had probably climbed down the chimney in an attempt to break into the house and gotten stuck. Which, given the age of the corpse, doesn’t seem overtly ridiculous.
Except for the fact that in addition to Josh having last been seen with Andy-immediately-before-his-stabbing-spree, people called in to report having heard rumors that Andy was bragging about having “put Josh in a hole.”
Somebody had ripped a heavy bar off the wall in the kitchen and propped it against the fireplace. Or the fact that Josh’s stuff was already inside the cabin, meaning (a) he’d already broken in and would have had to lock himself out to have to go for the chimney, and (b) he might have noticed that either the flu or the big bar would have prevented him from getting in through the fireplace. Or the fact that when he was found, Josh’s knees were above his head, which sounds to me like he would have had to go in head-first (disclaimer: not an expert at fucking all). Or maybe the fact that Josh was barefoot and naked from the waist down.
This is just my opinion, but I don’t care who you are: you don’t try to climb head first into a chimney via a hole rusted through a metal grate with your dick hanging out.
As far as I can tell, nobody even bothered to call Andy to ask if he knew anything. (By the way, from what I hear, Andy’s still out and about doing his thing when he’s not in the mental hospital).
All I’m saying is: I wish they had done some police shit. Open an investigation. Try to track down some leads. Interview some of the folks who’ve been calling in tips for the last seven years. Maybe check for some semen or something. I don’t know. Don’t just say “accidental”, dust off your hands, and call it a day.”
As it happens, “Andy”, does in fact exist. He was also a music lover, he played in a band and apparently lived quite a free lifestyle himself. It is not unthinkable, one might suggest, that Andy and Josh may very well have known of each other.
Andys full name was Andrew Richard Newman. He was arrested on suspicion of a fatal stabbing in New Mexico that went exactly as the Reddit post had described. During high school he had played guitar in a band named “The Baumers” and was also well known and seemingly, well liked. On an article about his arrest for the New Mexico stabbing, there are several replies from users who had gone to school with him that describe him as “intelligent” and a “very smart guy”. Although he seems to have left the state and travelled nomadically around the country after graduating high school, he kept in contact with many of his old friends. One would believe that it is not at all a grand stretch of imagination to place Andy and Josh together. They shared similar interests and similar outlooks on life. If that is the case, however, the post on Reddit sums it up quite well with the line:
“All I’m saying is: I wish they had done some police shit. Open an investigation. Try to track down some leads. Interview some of the folks who’ve been calling in tips for the last seven years”.
The case of Joshua Maddux is utterly perplexing for several reasons. It seems fairly safe to presume that Chuck Murphy is to be believed concerning the rebar in the chimney, after all, what possible reason would he have to lie about the existence of it in the first place?
However, when one starts to consider the other outlying factors, the clothes by the fireplace, the breakfast bar dragged to cover the fireplace and the numerous tip-offs concerning “Andy”, the biggest mystery is perhaps, why on earth was Andy not in the very least, pulled in for questioning?
In a follow-up post on the same Reddit thread, the user who posted the original post stated that he believed Andy to now be housed in a mental hospital somewhere. Whether or not the case will ever be reopened or further investigated remains to be seen, though in the past two years, it remains dark and the official conclusions of the County Coroner stand.
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