Murder Ranch

It was the family vacation that dreams are made of… which will now haunt my nightmares. I struggled with whether I should share this story pubicly, because of you know…murder, but I decided to go for it, with no identifying info…because, as I may have mentioned… murder.

I decided we should do a COVID-friendly weekend getaway before our lives get crazier, the weather gets colder, etc… so I began my AirBnB search. I was looking for a place in the mountains, so we could do some outdoor exploration, apple picking, all the fun fall things. I came across this ranch about 2 hours away with a rustic two-bedroom cabin, a pond with paddleboats, an apple orchard on the property, and what sealed the deal… mini donkeys and a mini horse that we could play with whenever we wanted. The AirBnB listing was by a woman named Diana.

We tempered our expectations, as our last AirBnB experience was a slight disappointment. We counted on a tiny dirty old cabin, with poor sleeping conditions for the kids, but thought, hey… if the cabin sucks, there are always the donkeys! We hyped our 2 year old up for the trip by referring to it as our “donkey farm vacation,” and after a couple of weeks of that I got a streak of paranoia… “OMG… what if the donkeys and horse are dead or something by the time we get there??” Then we are stuck in a tiny dark cabin with no farm animals.

“Why would the animals be dead??” my sister asked when I expressed this concern.

“I don’t know… maybe not dead, but just not there?!”

Again, tempering expectations. Anyway, Thursday arrived, we spent most of the day playing Packing-Tetris, stocking the car with every sort of baby/toddler/dog item that could be needed in the wilderness (including Mac ‘n Cheese, which not packing was my major mom-fail at our last AirBnB experience), plus obviously enough booze for 3 nights at the ranch. “DID YOU REMEMBER THE WINE???”

By 1pm… we were all packed into the car…2 kids, an 85 lb Goldendoodle, and a trunk packed so high we couldn’t see out the back window. We were on the road. Only one infant projectile vomit and wardrobe change later, we arrived at the large iron gate of the ranch. It was picture perfect…even more beautiful than the photos.

We drove down the gravel path, past the picturesque pond, with the promised paddleboats tied to a small dock, and pulled up at the “Rustic Cabin.” We were greated by a friendly ranch hand, Ricardo, and told that he was there for whatever we may need during our stay.

We entered the cabin, and to our surprise, it was much bigger and nicer than how it appeared on the listing. When does that ever happen? We had a large deck in the back, equipped with a picnic table and a grill, overlooking the gorgeous mountains. There was another balcony off one of the bedrooms with rustic wooden chairs and another beautiful view.

We unpacked the car, and I read the guest handbook, to make sure we were familiar with all the ranch rules before we headed out to explore. There were like… no rules. Play with the animals whenever… go on the paddleboats whenever… swim in the pool at the main house whenever… pick apples at the apple orchard whenever…just watch out for rattlesnakes. Have fun. The end. Ok… awesome.

As we headed out of the cabin to check out the property, we met an older gentleman in full rancher attire. He introduced himself as the ranch owner… let’s call him “Hap,” so he doesn’t find this in a google search and come for us. He welcomed us, and told us he was available for anything, and would be happy to give us a full tour. I asked him a few questions, including who “Diana” is, the person I was communicating with through the listing, thinking she might be his wife. He said she was just a woman who ran the rental listings because he was too busy to run the ranch and the rental by himself.

Over the next few days we became really friendly with Hap. He came by our front porch a couple of times throughout the day, or would stop to chat around the property while passing by on his tractor. He offered full use of one of his 4-wheelers to Trace when he saw how excited he was to look at his. He told us to take the red one whenever we wanted, and he parked it right outside our cabin for us. Let me tell you, this was a 2 year old’s dream come true. “Mommy, my want to go on the tractor again,” is a statement I could probably take a break from for a while. Hap sat down with us on our porch one afternoon while Trace was napping, and talked about life, family, his children and grandchildren. During this conversation I asked him if he was married. He hesitated for several seconds and said “no.” I then asked if he was in a relationship? Again… a long hesitation… and he said “ehhhhh…”

“Haha is it complicated?” I asked?

“Ummm… yeah I guess so… a story for another time.”

I pushed a little more, and peppered him with a beer… figured that’d get him talking… I thought maybe we’d get some juicy stories, but the dang guy doesn’t drink, and clearly didn’t want to discuss his love life further. So I left it at that.

The rest of our time at the ranch was nothing short of amazing. We were planning all of our future trips back, thinking about who we could bring with us next time to stay in the little glamping cabins on the pond, taking advantage of country life to its fullest. It was the breath of fresh air we needed, and Trace was having the time of his life. He picked apples and pears straight from the tree, throwing them to the donkeys and horses, roamed the fields with Oliver, road the “tractor,” fed the ducks from an enormous bin of corn kearnals, and took a few trips out on the paddleboats. He also ate Mac ‘n Cheese, obviously. A toddler’s paradise.

Over the weekend, Hap made several comments about how beautiful and lovely our family and children were. He expressed how the ranch was a perfect place for “kids to just be kids,” and how it was “so safe out here… you don’t have to worry about things like kidnappers.” Ginge and I both thought that comment was a little strange, but let it slide, and didn’t discuss with each other until later on.

As Ginge was packing up the car to leave on Saturday, and I was doing a final round of donkey and horse visits with the kids, Hap walked by and I had one last conversation with him. He again, told us how special he thought we were, and commented on what a hard worker and special person I am, which made me feel the slightest twinge of uncomfortable, since really, he barely knew anything about me. He mentioned the kids again and how wonderful they were. He told me he really wanted us to come back, and to just give him a call whenever and he would make special arrangements for us. I asked him for his contact info.

“Ok, take out your phone and type in ‘Hap’ and I’ll give you my phone number.”

That was a weird way to put it, but I did as he instructed. After I entered his number, I asked what his last name was. He just looked at me, with a half smile, again, hesitating for a moment, and said, “Just Hap is fine.” I laughed at him and asked if he really wasn’t going to give me his last name, to which he just chuckled back. I told him he was funny and put my phone back in my pocket. Old man things I guess.

Before walking away, I had one last question. I wanted to know about the cabin we were staying in. Ginge had commented when we got there that it seemed someone lived there, since there were full cabinets of stuff with locks on them, and the place was completely decorated in all sorts of random “rustic” decor from all different time periods. It felt like someone’s personal space they’d created over many years, and not like an empty, sterile, “AirBnB only” kind of a rental.

“Did someone live in this cabin before you started renting it out? I know you just started doing the AirBnB rentals 4 months ago, but it’s so well decorated, and feels lived-in.”

Another big pause from Hap. He really didn’t want to answer this one. I could see his wheels turning. “Well… I don’t talk about this. I don’t ever tell people. But my wife died in a car accident about 6 months ago. She was the decorator.”

His eyes literally filled with tears as he was telling me this and I immediately felt so sad, and terrible for pushing him on his relationship status the day before. This was so new to him and he clearly did not want to talk about it. He told me he loved her so much and missed her every single day. I expressed my genuine sympathy for him, and my heart hurt. We said goodbye and got into the car and left the ranch.

On the way out, I told Ginge about my convo with Hap, and how sad I felt for him. We then discussed the fact that he didn’t want to give me his last name, and I wondered why.

“Well, he was in law enforcement… he was a narcotics officer… maybe he doesn’t want us looking him up and finding anything from back then?”

Who knows. We didn’t give it a ton more thought. We just spent the ride home planning our next trip back to the ranch. Shortly after we got back, I went on AirBnB and gave Hap and his ranch a glowing review. He asked me to do so, and it was the least I could do after the spectacular weekend.

The next morning, I got on my computer and pulled up AirBnB to look up the little glamping cabins on the property. They were managed by the same woman as the cabin, Diana. I clicked on Diana’s profile to read all of the reviews from the different listings she managed, including the little cabins and the main house where Hap lived, but also rented rooms out of. Almost all of the reviews were over-the-top-positive. There was one, however, which was not. It was the longest one. The renter recounted his time staying in the main house with Hap. He was with a group of gay friends, a couple of whom were black. He spoke about the extremely racist and anti-gay comments Hap made over their weekend, and how uncomfortable they all felt staying there. He wrote about a story Hap told him about a black man who came onto his father’s ranch when he was younger, and they shot him in the face and killed him.

I was horrified. This was the same man we just spent a whole relaxing weekend with? I kept digging into reviews, which didn’t go back too far, but I realized that people were referring to the listing owner, Diana as “Diana” in the more recent ones, and mentioning they hadn’t met her, but in posts from several months ago, they talked about a “Di” who was so amazing and hospitable, and showed them around the ranch, etc. One of them referenced Di as Hap’s wife.

Hmmm… that’s weird, I thought. At first I thought Diana and Di were the same person, and if that were the case, how was I communicating with a dead person? Was she not dead? I was confused. I needed more info cuz you know… I’m nosy. Since Hap wouldn’t give me his last name, I just google searched “Hap” and then the town’s name. What I saw pop up as suggestions were a bunch of “Hap and Di’s.” I clicked.

Sooo here we go. Di was Hap’s fiancée, not to be confused with Diana, who is a neighbor who is now running the AirBnB listing. Di (the fiancée…yes, this is confusing) was a multimillionaire, owning multiple properties in the mountains, one of which was the ranch we stayed on. DI WAS MISSING. She went missing mysteriously from THE RANCH WE STAYED AT, just four months ago. Hap was the only other person on the property at the time she disappeared, and the last one to see her alive (well, or dead for that matter, as her body has still not been located). The case began as a missing persons investigation, and is now classified as a homicide investigation.

Wait… WHAT? Hap told me his wife died in a car accident 6 months ago. SEE RABBITHOLE… JUMP IN RABBITHOLE. Article after article, crime thread after crime thread, I dug deeper and deeper. I enlisted the help of a few friends who moonlight as detectives. Turns out, two weeks before her disappearance, Di transferred her properties and other assets into a new trust. Hap was listed as the first trustee, so would be set to take over her ranch if anything were to happen to her. If she is not found within five years, he will officially inherit her estates.

I’m sitting in front of my laptop in shock. No. This can’t be true. Hap definitely has nothing to do with this right? I watched an interview he did. He expressed how much he loved his fiancée, and wanted to find her. I read more. Di went missing on a Saturday. Hap noticed she was missing around 7:30pm. He enlisted the help of neighbors to search their 115 acre property, but nobody notified the police until late Sunday. By the time the Sheriffs arrived at the ranch on Monday to begin their search, Hap had already left in his RV to drive to Colorado and New Mexico “on business.”

Wait, I’m sorry. Your beloved fiancée is MISSING… her purse and cell still in the house, her car outside, and you LEAVE THE STATE IN YOUR RV before the police arrive?!

No, no, no. This can’t be. He didn’t do it. That nice old farmer is not a murderer. But now I’m remembering that one review… about that man he shot in the face (or witnessed being shot, maybe?) on his father’s ranch. But maybe that was a terrible, racist tall tale? Or maybe it wasn’t.

I’m thinking back to things he said. Why would he tell me his wife was dead from a car accident? Maybe he just didn’t want to get into the fact that she was missing? And that they weren’t married yet? But the creepiest part of all was the conversation we had about kidnappers. He stated OUT OF NO WHERE, that our kids were safe out here “BECAUSE THERE ARE NO KIDNAPPERS.”

  1. Who even says that?
  3. Giving him the benefit of the doubt… let’s just say we believe he DID NOT KILL HER… then guess what? SHE GOT KIDNAPPED. FROM RIGHT IN THIS EXACT LOCATION. And you choose to list the main benefit of a family vacation at this spot as “there are no kidnappers here.”

I ran into the house from my “office” in the old trailer in the side yard, to:

  1. Make sure my children were still not kidnapped, cuz at this point I’m slightly weirded out.
  2. Relay the findings of my investigation to Ginge.
  3. Ask Ginge if he thinks there’s any way we could still go back to the ranch for vacation next year (he says no). But like, maybe if he gets arrested? Then maybe prices will be cheaper too! (he says probably not).

Well I’ll be damned. Did we literally just spend 3 nights at a murder ranch? Was Di buried somewhere back there in the meadow? Was Hap so interested in our children and in us returning because he was part of a child trafficking ring, and used this first trip to butter us up and stake us out so he could steal our children next time???

Article upon article, I couldn’t find anything concrete. The police seized “evidence” from the ranch, taking blood from bedsheets, a bandaid, and toilet paper, and also searched Hap’s storage unit in New Mexico, and impounded the RV, where they took a section of the seat which also contained some evidence. Another report had him listed as a registered sex offender, being charged with molesting three women in Colorado.

But here he was… still running the ranch. Telling stories about his life and his kids, and his “dead wife.” I guess he wasn’t aware of my level of nosiness… and how little information I needed to sniff him out on the World Wide Web. I wondered if he thought I already knew something, based on my probing questions. I wondered if he was debating how to answer me, knowing he had a secret and not sure if I also knew his secret. I replayed so many conversations in my head from the weekend.

I wondered if I should call the cops and tell them about some of our convos. Ginge told me I had nothing to go on, nothing concrete to contribute to an investigation, and that I should stay out of it. I thought about if it were my loved one who were missing… wouldn’t I want every little bit of information to be reported, even if it didn’t prove anything? And was there even anything to prove? What if this poor innocent old farmer really is in the dark about it, had nothing to do with Di’s disappearance and was completely heartbroken? Am I jumping to conclusions? Maybe the fact of the matter is that we just spent the weekend with a murderer.

I’m torn. And slightly scared. If this is all true, does he know where we live? Can he find us?

Today was Amazon Prime Day. I bought a Ring Doorbell.


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