by Pat Hartman

Peggy Hettrick was born in Lovell, Wyoming in 1949, went to school in Casper, and went to high school in Libya, from 1964 to 1967, when her father worked for Oasis Oil. At that time there was a massive American presence in Tripoli, centered around Wheelus Air Force Base, the largest American base in the area. Its high school served, according to an alumna, "military brats, oil company brats and State Department or embassy brats." It was located in the international enclave outside Tripoli where Peggy's family lived. A classmate recalls, "Peggy was one of the girls that was part of the group that waited for the bus to pick us up from Giorgimpopoli (Tripoli suburb) and take us out to Wheelus AFB for school."

Photo: Peggy in high school, 1965, photo by John Templeton

One of Peggy’s classmates says, "We all had some wonderful times in Libya." "We were never bored," another recalls. "The Mediterranean coast was right there, Roman ruins down the road right along the beach - getting together for parties, things going on, on the base, etc." Peggy was part of the popular "in crowd," and particularly close to a family called the Templetons. She even tried learning to surf, inspired by John Templeton, who had picked up the skill in California.

Another of Peggy’s contemporaries elaborates on the social hierarchy at Wheelus High School. "As I recall, neither clothes nor fathers’ ranks had anything to do with being cool. We all wore pretty much the same clothes, as there was a limited selection to choose from either at the PX or in downtown Tripoli. Then there was the dress code instituted by the high school. We all had to wear shirts with collars and no blue jeans. Girls’ dresses could be no more than one inch above the knee, nor could they wear slacks. We could wear the school sweatshirt on Fridays. During my senior year, one of the teachers ran around the quadrangle with a ruler measuring young ladies dress lengths. I am not sure what set the cool clique apart from the nerds, but you just knew who belonged where. The cool kids received all the social accolades while the nerds none. Most of the kids did not flaunt their fathers’ ranks that I remember. I do not think I remember any of the ranks of my class's fathers. Nor did the oil company kids vs. the military kids become a dividing line, either."

Photo: In high school, costumed and made up as a mime troupe member.

Peggy is remembered today by classmates as fun, vivacious, and well-liked, with beautiful blue eyes and gorgeous red hair. Mike Love says this about her: "Peggy was a year ahead of me and was in my circle of friends. She liked music, theater, philosophy, poetry and movies. I had a huge crush on her but we were friends and not an item. A group of us went to Leptis Magna, after which I wrote a poem for her. It took me a long time to get over her. She was beautiful, intelligent, and so gentle. I miss her."

Photo: Leptis Magna

I could have been Peggy Hettrick, or rather, could have been the victim of the crime that took her life. We were almost the same age – she graduated high school a year after I did. By all reports, Peggy was a creative person interested in all the arts, and she aspired to write fiction: another similarity between us. In 1987, when she was killed, I lived in the same area of Fort Collins as she did. Like her, I was car-free and never hesitated to walk around at night. I didn’t do the bar scene at that time, but years earlier, in a different town, I did plenty of nocturnal wandering from club to club, keeping up with a pretty complicated personal life. So please understand that there’s no judgment of Peggy here. Some might say she looked for love in all the wrong places, while others might say she lived like a free woman, with the courage of her convictions. She was independent and self-supporting, which is more than can be said for a lot of people. Although one could wish Peggy had found more stability and happiness, she can’t be faulted for following her own star.
Photo: Peggy's Jewelry Box

Peggy lived for a while in or near Sedona, Arizona, and spent time on a Hopi reservation learning about the culture, and the techniques of making jewelry. In the 1970s she moved to Loveland, Colorado, where her grandmother and uncle also lived, to help care for her mother who was ill with cancer and soon died. Like the teenager who was accused of killing her, Peggy was motherless at the time of the murder. She also had family in Florida and Wyoming, and on the day she died, was supposed to have gone shopping with her grandmother, Ecie.

As an adult, Peggy was still petite, around 5'2" and between 110-120 pounds. She worked at the Fashion Bar, a clothing store at Foothills Fashion Mall, where she was accessories manager. Peggy didn't have a car, but often talked about getting one. There were economic woes. Chronically broke, she cheerfully admitted to spending her last penny on her Christmas party. She pitched in to help her boyfriend clean his vacated apartment, but it didn't look as if he'd get his security deposit back, which was rough on Peggy because he'd said he would share the money with her. She was bored with work. "If I only had GUTS to go out and forage for a new job," she wrote. This was followed by "Argh."

Photo: Peggy in Hawaii with Ernest Borgnine and Pat Morita, year unknown.

The grown-up Peggy, who was 38 when she was killed, was still described as gentle, as well as quiet and creative, by the supervisor she had worked with for five years. She was also remembered as a reader and a gourmet cook, a person with a ready smile. She knew the right things to say to friends with children. I think Peggy is the last person who'd have wanted to see the wrong person punished for killing her.

Peggy actually wrote letters, which even back in the '80s was a vanishing art. In them she was an occasional, but not overzealous, user of the hand-drawn version of the smiley face icon. She was working on a novel, and by mid-November had been 44 pages into a first draft. "Maybe I'll go scribble a few more lines on The Book… the one I've been writing since time began." She took it seriously enough to buy a typewriter that was better than her old one - because it had Spanish and French characters.

Only weeks before her death, Peggy hosted a Christmas party in the clubhouse of her apartment complex - despite a little incident the at the previous year's party. She didn't figure the management would rent her the clubhouse again "after Barbara (notice I made sure I mentioned it was B.) burned a hole in the carpet. We'll see if we can burn a bigger one this year." She'd shared with a friend the menu and entertainment plans for this shindig, intending to have "chicken Dijon fingers, shrimp paté, salmon cream cheese spread (both in fish molds), veggie tray, orange slices, and a pistachio-almond basket. Plus pool (of course) and a craps table. Maybe poker too."

In mid-January, Peggy played with the idea of going in with her father and brother on a rental house, figuring to reduce her rent bill to a manageable $100 a month. Believe it or not, that would have been possible in Fort Collins at the time. I lived in a $300-a-month rental house that could have accommodated three adults, if two shared a bedroom. A woman who scarcely knew Peggy told police that she had asked for relationship advice. A minister who was a neighbor of Peggy’s reported that they had talked more than once about her tendency to be attracted to “men who were “users” and heavy drinkers” and to pick up “rotten guys.”

Photo: Peggy's desk

According to a friend's description, Peggy was attracted to younger men who dressed well or even flashily. There was a nominal "boyfriend," Matt Zoellner. She'd gone to his company Christmas party, and they "saw" each other frequently, but the relationship seems to have been so open as to almost not qualify as one. Apparently they played jealousy games, and Peggy was prone to leaving bars with strangers just to show Matt what was what. On the night she was killed, they had a fight, and Zoellner was the last known person to have seen her alive.

On that Tuesday night in February of 1987, Peggy got off work around 9:00. She walked home, but had given a temporary roommate her key, so she was locked out. There was more wandering - a bar, another bar; a trip to her boyfriend's apartment, a stopoff at her own place where she finally got in; a midnight return to one of the bars where shortly after 11:45, she seemed friendly and happy, playing with someone's birthday balloon bouquet. Then there was the argument with Zoellner. Shortly after 1:00 AM, she left - and it's still not known whether she was on foot or accepted a ride from somebody, or whether some unguessed scenario went down. If she was walking on Landings Drive that night, it's not known how often she took that route. It's still unknown whether she was killed near where her body was found, or killed somewhere else and then brought there. It's not clear whether her body was carried into the field by one person or two. The issue of whose DNA was found in her underpants was the centerpiece of the proceedings that set Tim Masters free after all the years.

It's not known whose fingerprints were on items in Peggy's purse, or whose hairs were found on her body. What became of the bracelet she wore that night remained a mystery for many years. In fact, there are more questions about her death than answers. We were told that all questions had been put to rest when Tim Masters was arrested and convicted, but as it turns out, that's not even within shouting distance of the truth.

Peggy Hettrick's obituary appeared in the local paper on February 17, 1987. Her funeral took place in Loveland, Colorado and she was buried there, next to her mother. Linda Wheeler-Holloway, the Fort Collins police representative who dealt with Peggy's family, also attended the funeral and looked closely at the other mourners. Later that year, a cousin of Peggy's committed suicide, but it was unrelated to her death.

Photo: Peggy's bookcase

Peggy was buried in the blue outfit shown in the portrait here. Eleven years later, her body was exhumed. The police had recovered a knife whose blade appeared to have a broken-off tip, and theorized that perhaps the broken-off tip could be found lodged in one of her bones. If it had been, they would have tried much harder to connect that particular knife with Tim Masters. But it wasn't.

The gentle, artistic, and fondly remembered woman who was Peggy Hettrick is still dead. Tim Masters finally won his freedom in January of 2008, and looks forward to total exoneration when the true murderer is brought in. That's a desirable outcome, into which many good people are pouring their best efforts. The story won't be complete and justice won't be served until the person who really killed Peggy is identified, charged, tried, and locked up. As her brother Tom Hettrick told a reporter, "They owe it to Peggy to get it right this time." She enjoys peace now, but until this is resolved, a lot of other people can't, won't, and shouldn't.