January 5, 2005
The crimes Ann Phillips was gunned down March 24, 1974. She'd been riding in the passenger seat as her husband, Tom, drove the couple home to their Broadmoor home just after midnight. They'd spent the evening at Mr. G's, a bar they owned on East Platte Avenue. Tom Phillips pulled over after a car with a detachable police light signaled for them to stop. Masked men then robbed the couple, shot Ann Phillips and knocked out Tom Phillips. More than a year later, Eloise Bonicelli's murder appeared on the surface to be a burglary turned deadly. On Nov. 23, 1975, a gunman in a stocking cap burst into the front door of her West Arvada Street home to shoot her in the heart after wounding her nephew. Police suspected the husbands, but were unable to make the cases. Tom Phillips benefited from his wife's $315,000 life insurance policy; Joseph Bonicelli avoided a costly divorce. Cracking the cases Tom Phillips was granted immunity from prosecution in exchange for his testimony at the trial of Delfino Ortega, the man now serving two stacked life sentences for arranging both contract killings. Phillips told the jury that he paid Ortega $10,000 to have his wife killed. He also admitted to introducing Joseph Bonicelli to Ortega so Ortega could arrange Eloise Bonicelli's murder. More damning evidence came from Ortega himself. A career criminal who was paroled after agreeing to cooperate with investigators recorded a conversation with Ortega in which Ortega said of the crimes, "I just put people together on it." Why Phillips escaped prosecution After 25 years, the cold cases still burned authorities. Prosecutors described the immunity deal with Phillips as a last-ditch effort at justice. Joseph Bonicelli died in 1998, and the aging Phillips was in poor health. Wilfred Marquez, the man described during Ortega's trial as the actual triggerman in Bonicelli's murder, was charged, but the case was dropped due to a lack of evidence. Marquez was imprisoned on an unrelated conviction. The man behind bars Delfino Ortega was described by family members as a real-life Santa Claus. A series of witnesses, including a New Mexico police officer, took the stand at his trial to describe Ortega as a generous, model citizen committed to improving his community. During the 1970s at his barbershop on East Pikes Peak Avenue, Ortega offered manicures, the latest hairstyles and bets on football games. In the 1980s, Ortega moved to Rio Rancho, N.M., to open another barbershop where he'd cut veterans' hair for free. But prosecutors painted a different picture of the only man to be convicted in connection with the murders. Ortega was a fence for stolen goods, they said. He made $20,000 -- $10,000 per hit -- for arranging each of the two murders, and was the likely shooter in Phillips' murder, according to prosecutors. Ortega was also suspected of fatally shooting a man who worked in his barbershop just 18 days after the Bonicelli murder. Ortega told authorities he shot Benny Valdez, a heroin addict and ex-con, in self defense after Valdez attacked him. Ortega was charged with first-degree murder, but the charges were later dropped.