Naked teen dies of hypothermia on rural road
Her journey started here on Co Rd 161
I can’t think of a lonelier situation. Stripped nude and walking along a desolate highway while freezing to death, literally. Possibly being followed and harassed by a car.
This is apparently what 15-year-old Stephanie Ann Bauman went through in the last hours of her life on a viciously cold Tuesday night 30 years ago.
Stephanie died of hypothermia in the early morning hours of Oct. 28, 1980. A passing motorist spotted her nude body lying in a ditch County Road 173 near U.S. 36.
Police speculate she collapsed and died around 6 a.m. because traffic on the road picks up at about 6:30. Someone surely would have spotted a nude woman walking along the road.
Her clothes were discovered near an old windmill and frozen water trough about a mile away. Apparently, from that location off County Road 161, she “walked briskly or ran down a dirt path to County Road 161” (Mitchell, 2010).
She was on the left side of the road with a shallow ditch beside it. The time was estimated at 4 a.m. Footprints say she walked into the ditch and back out at one point on her journey south. She slipped in the dirt as she stepped back out. She walked into the middle of the dirt road at another point.
“She continued walking along 161 for three-tenths of a mile when she came to its intersection with Colorado 30, the extension of Quincy Avenue. She followed that highway for about 2.8 miles, when it ended and turned into County Road 173” (Mitchell, 2010).
Along Colorado 30, her footprints show her backed up against a wire fence, 20 feet off the road. Apparently, this was to avoid a car that drove part way into and out of the ditch according to tire tracks left.
She continued walking after the car pulled out of the ditch, turning north at the end of Colorado 30. According to her footprints, she walked about a half mile in the middle of the dirt road.
A few hundred yards later, she collapsed off to the side of the road, rolled into the ditch, and succumbed to hypothermia.
And those are the known facts in this case. What happened prior to her death is unclear.
If she ran away at the behest of a friend, at what point did they become separated?
Stephanie Bauman had a difficult life as a young girl, alternating between her parents’ homes in Littleton, Colorado, and St. Louis, Missouri. She ran away a few times and was placed in a group home for teens.
Tired of the home’s strict rules, she agreed to run away at a friend’s suggestion. She stayed with different acquaintances while on the run from the group home. She was trying to arrange a return home with the help of out of state family members.
Initially, Stephanie was a Jane Doe with no identification. Two Denver post employees teamed up to identify the girl and assemble a detailed account of events. Bonnie Timmons drew the illustration from an autopsy photograph in hopes of identifying her and reporter Dana Parson put together the account of her last moments according to sheriff’s Sgt. Ron Martin.
When the article and illustration appeared in the Denver Post on Nov. 9, 1980, Stephanie was recognized by her stepmother. Her tortured father identified her body.
Was Stephanie forced to strip by someone else or did she strip as hypothermia set in?
As investigators tried to piece together what caused the girl’s death, her family had a closed casket funeral. Two witnesses saw a late model silver Lincoln sedan with four women inside that morning.
They were reportedly dressed and acting like prostitutes. The car was on a dirt road five miles south of Byers. One witness spotted the same car many hours later with one of the four missing from the car.
Theories are that she was forced to strip near the windmill by a person or persons unknown and followed and harassed by a car on her four-mile trek through freezing temperatures.
Rumors suggest that she met a pimp that “demanded something she wasn’t willing to do” (Mitchell, 2010). Surely her nudity and the sighting of a car “full of prostitutes” contributed to this theory.
However, I think there may be another, much less sinister, solution.
Those suffering from hypothermia are known to disrobe. This ironic phenomenon is so common, it has a name: paradoxical undressing. Between 20 and 50 percent of all hypothermia cases involved paradoxical undressing (“The word: Paradoxical undressing ,” 2007).
Mountaineers and rescue teams are prepared to find undressed sufferers. Those coming upon naked urban hypothermia sufferers may incorrectly identify them as crime victims (Ramsay & Shkrum, 2006).
At no point on her 4-mile trek was more than one set of footprints found. Is it possible there was no second party? Could she have been completely alone out there, stripping as hypothermia set in?
She moved in and out of ditches and off into the middle of the road. Hypothermia sufferers experience disorientation and confusion.
Was Stephanie chased by someone?
Was she alone out there?
The only evidence of a second party on the road is the tire tracks in a ditch. But the tracks stop there. The car didn’t appear to follow her. Was the car harassing her? Could it have been someone drunk that veered off into the ditch for a moment?
One would question how the driver could miss a nude woman. Why wasn’t help summoned? After she was found, why didn’t an eyewitness come forward?
Is it possible it was too dark to see her? She did appear to get far out the vehicle’s way.
If she was alone out there, what was she doing there? She had run away from the group home and had been ‘couch-hopping’ at acquaintances’ homes. She had been trying to arrange a trip back home.
Had she nowhere to go at this point? Was she simply wandering around? Perhaps trying to find a place to wait out the night? I’m not familiar enough with the area to know how likely it is she walked there. Was she dropped off?
Rumors and questions
Investigators say they have DNA that could one day identify the killer or killers. Without knowing the origin of this DNA, it’s hard to speculate. Nothing I could find mentioned evidence of sexual assault.
Could the DNA have come from another source – the coat perhaps? Or did she struggle with someone leaving blood traces?
Could the DNA be from someone she hitched a ride with? This was 1980, a time when girls still hitchhiked.
In one article, she is described as being bruised. Could this be the result of stumbling around in the dark with hypothermia? Sometimes hypothermia sufferers engage in a process known as 'terminal burrowing'.
Victims crawl into a protective position, often bruising themselves in the process (Boese, 2008). Could this be why she was found in the ditch instead of the road?
The article asks why she didn’t seek help when she could clearly the lights from several farmhouses along the way. This may be another indication of hypothermia confusion. If she were running from someone, why not go to the farmhouse?
Could she met have up with a pimp as rumor says?
All we have to go on is a sighting of some women in a car who were ‘dressed like prostitutes.’ But the clothing found near the windmill wasn't what would come to mind as ‘prostitute wear’.
The car may be a red herring and have nothing to do with the case.
If we go with the car scenario, where was the pimp? Did the women chase her down and strip her?
If the pimp was there, what was the scenario where she lost her clothes at the windmill?
In any event, there's nothing to suggest she ever engaged in prostitution (nothing I could find anyway). And the idea she met a pimp is speculation.
If we go with a scenario involving foul play, I think given the area, a hitch hiking or abduction scenario seems more likely. She was trying to get back to family members. She could have hitched a ride trying to make it home.
I wonder if the assumption she was forced to strip or that anyone was with her at all hindered the investigation into this young girl's death.
Do you have any information about Stephanie's death?
There may or may not have been a crime here. But maybe someone knows what led to her death. Did someone give her a ride that night? Did anyone see her wandering around that night with or without clothes? It’s important to Stephanie’s memory to know the circumstances that led to her death.
If you have any information on this case, please contact the Arapahoe County Sheriff's Office at 303-795-4711, or email Coldcase@co.arapahoe.co.us.
Sources and references
Arapahoe County Sheriff's Office. (2011). Cold cases. Retrieved from http://www.co.arapahoe.co.us/Departments/SH/Cold%20Cases/Cold%20Cases.asp
Boese, A. (2008). Paradoxical undressing. Retrieved from http://www.weirduniverse.net/blog/permalink/paradoxical_undressing/
Mitchell, K. (2010). 15-year-old girl stripped, dies of exposure. Retrieved from http://blogs.denverpost.com/coldcases/2010/09/26/15-year-old-girl-stripped-dies-of-exposure/1691/
Ramsay, D., & Shkrum, M. (2006). Forensic Pathology of Trauma . Totowa, NJ: Humana Press.
The word: Paradoxical undressing . (2007, April). New Scientist, (2600), . Retrieved from http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg19426002.600-the-word-paradoxical-undressing.html
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