RENO, Nev. (AP) - Detectives believe a retired U.S. Army colonel killed his wife in Nevada and buried her in a “sophisticated grave” in their backyard before he made up a story about her death, then committed suicide two weeks later when police started questioning him about her disappearance.
Washoe County sheriff’s deputies confirmed on Friday the body they excavated from a nearly 3-foot-deep grave at the Spanish Springs home north of Reno is that of Colleen Muhl, 56. She hadn’t been seen since Feb. 17.
Gerald Muhl, 51, fatally shot himself on March 3, the day after investigators had confronted him about holes in his story about his wife’s purported death in Southern California. At one point he had claimed he had moved some rocks around in his backyard for “therapeutic reasons,” Lt. Tom Green said Friday.
Investigators believe she was killed sometime between 3 p.m. on Feb. 17 and 4 a.m. the next day when Gerald Muhl flew out of Reno-Tahoe International Airport on a business trip.
“What to date has been a missing person investigation continues now as a homicide investigation,” Green said at a news conference at the sheriff’s office in Reno. “Unfortunately, the two people who can tell us the most about this case are deceased.”
Gerald Muhl had a “distinguished” 27-year career in the U.S. Army before he retired and had been working for a private contractor based in California, Green said. He had told other family members and police that his wife had died of heart attack during a visit to Southern California on Feb. 22.
Cadaver dogs missed the body in initial searches, but they hit on a spot in landscaped area of the year on Wednesday.
“The grave site was sophisticated,” Green said about the hole that was more than 30 inches deep.
“It was not only deep, but plastic and concrete and rocks were used to conceal her body … a combination of landscaping rocks and river rock mixed in with concrete,” he said, adding her body was intact and she was identified based on fingerprint records.
Colleen Muhl’s cellphone was turned off on Feb. 17 shortly after the couple returned home from a trip to visit her sister Sharon Jones in California, investigators said.
Jones told authorities that Gerald Muhl told her Colleen had died of a heart attack at a friend’s home in Southern California on Feb. 22. Jones said she investigated the claim, became suspicious and called the sheriff’s office on March 2.
Detectives interviewed Muhl at the couple’s home that day, and he told them the same story. They questioned him again at the sheriff’s office later that night and suggested his story wasn’t adding up. He fatally shot himself the next morning.
Green said investigators believe the homicide occurred at the home. They are testing potential blood samples found in the home, he said.