Cold Case: Detective Sergeant Donald Laabs

By: KKTV's Jeannette Hynes
By: KKTV's Jeannette Hynes

In the history of the Manitou Springs Police Department, only one officer has been killed in the line of duty---Detective Sergeant Donald Laabs. And to this day, his murder remains unsolved. Crime Stoppers reporter Jeannette Hynes has more in this Cold Case File from December 18, 1975.

Donald Laabs had worked for the Manitou Springs Police Department for only 17 months. But in that short time, he left behind a legacy, especially in narcotics enforcement. He received his detective sergeant promotion from the department nine days before he was shot and killed.

"He's always in our minds. You can see that when you walk in the door. It’s kind of one of the first things you see." Lieutenant Robert Swain didn't know Detective Sergeant Donald Laabs. But he sees his picture and his badge every day. "It humbles you when you come in every morning. You see that it is a dangerous job. You have to be careful."

Swain also knows Laabs' reputation. "He was an outstanding narcotics officer. There's a story that goes---right out front of the police department here, he bought some narcotics off an individual, and had his police scanner in the back pocket of his blue jeans, and the guy never picked up on it," says Lt. Swain. A letter from the U.S. Department of Justice says Laabs was, “a valuable component.”

As a narcotics officer, he would pick up hitchhikers, make a drug deal, and arrest them right there. That may have gotten him killed on December 18, 1975. Early that evening, he was driving on I-25---on his way home after a day of fighting crime. Someone driving by saw Laabs' 1968 4-door Cadillac sitting along side I-25 near the old Arvada exit. Laabs had been shot several times. But before he died, he managed to fire at least two shots from his own gun.

Some 28 years later, Colorado Springs police detectives are still searching for the detective sergeant's killer. "Could have this been motivated based on his position as a police officer? Was he doing investigations involving narcotics? Was somebody upset or angry with him?" says Detective Derek Graham with the Colorado Springs Police. Major Crimes Unit.

In Cold Cases like this one, time typically works against an investigating officer. But Detective Graham hopes time is working for him. "A lot of times people think, ‘That case was cleared. That case was solved.’ In reality, it hasn't been. It's still an open case. It's still an active investigation."

With an old score possibly settled so long ago, now's the time for the truth. And inside the Manitou Springs police department, officers will never forget Donald Laabs. "Obviously, he paid the ultimate price," says Lt. Swain.

Detective Sergeant Donald Laabs came from New Jersey, where he worked narcotics. When he got to Colorado, he worked on a statewide narcotics task force. Laabs was only 28-years old.

Colorado has no statute of limitations for murder. And 28 years later, police are still actively looking for leads.

If you know something about Donald Laabs' death, you can call anonymously to Crime Stoppers at 634-STOP in Colorado Springs or 542-STOP in Pueblo. If your tip leads to an arrest, you could earn a cash reward.


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