Denver Bar Association
September 2011
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The Case of the Law School Murders: Part 1

by Marshall Snider

The Case of the Law School Murders: Part 1

Editor’s Note: This is the first part of a serial fiction piece by the Docket Committee. Each month a new writer will pick up where the other has left off, offering a new piece of the story.


was on the day watch in homicide when the first call came in. Jeremy Collins, a third-year law student at the University of Denver, had been missing for a week. His colleagues were not alarmed by Jeremy’s absence from his class on the constitutional implications of the NFL lockout or from his seminar on Somali domestic relations. His failure to come to his study group for the course on animal husbandry contractual breaches was also not cause for concern. Everyone knew that the third year of law school was merely an interlude between real course work and the multi-year effort to pay off student loans. A third-year student missing classes was nothing to worry about.

But when Collins failed to show for three straight happy hours at the Campus Lounge, his friends became worried and called the police. A few days later, Collins’s lifeless body was found in Harvard Gulch. He had been shot three times. That’s where I came in. My name is Sunday. I’m a cop.

I did some research on the victim.  He was well-liked and there were no obvious motives for his murder. He was in the top 10 percent of his law school class and on the law review. He had been interviewing for top paying legal jobs with some of the finest law firms in the city. Collins was on his way, until three slugs from a .44 put a cold stop to his momentum.

The second call came in a few days later.  Michael Berens, a 24-year-old law student at the University of Colorado in Boulder, had traveled to Denver to attend a legal seminar on employment issues in the Thai fast food industry.  He never returned to Boulder; Berens was found dead at a construction site in southeast Denver, his head bashed in by a blunt object. Like Collins, Berens was at the top of his class. He was a shoe-in for an associate job with one of those silk stocking law firms downtown.

Sometime later I was sipping my second bourbon at Don’s Club Tavern on Sixth Avenue, wondering if there could be any connection between the Collins and Berens homicides. Other than the fact that they were both high-achieving third-year law students in the same state, I could find nothing to link their deaths.  And then my cell phone rang.

This time it was a woman. Michelle Zarinsky, 23, a 3L at Yale. Zarinsky wasn’t just in the top 10 percent of her class; she was one of the top 10, period.  She was from Denver and had returned home to interview for one of those big money jobs with a high-class 17th Street law firm. While she was in town, Zarinsky went bar hopping in LoDo with old friends. She went to the bathroom, and the next time anyone saw her she was lying face down in a Dumpster in an alley behind Blake Street. Someone had cut her throat.

I’ve been a cop for a long time.  When it comes to murder, I don’t believe in coincidence. But I could find no connection between these three victims other than their successful law school careers. They didn’t know each other or have any friends or law school associates in common. The instruments of their death differed in each case. I think it was Sherlock Holmes who said that when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth. Or maybe that was Columbo.  Whatever. For a brief moment, it flashed in my head that some law student without the credentials of these victims was bumping them off to have a better shot at the big firm jobs. Someone who couldn’t compete with them on grades decided simply to eliminate the competition.

I snapped out of my reverie. In spite of Sherlock Holmes, my instincts told me there was no way grubbing for a plum entry-level law firm job was a motive for triple murder. There had to be another answer. And I’d find out what it was. I’m a cop. D

Read the second part of the fiction series in the October issue of The Docket.

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