The grisly case of Natalie Mirabal, the young Apostolic church member whose headless corpse was found in Lefthand Canyon almost two decades ago, is the subject of the next Real Detective on Investigation Discovery (ID). Real Detective sifts through the files of seasoned detectives to bring you the most baffling and tragic stories of murder. Natalie Mirabal was murdered by her husband, Matthew Mirabal, a devout Christian who vowed to love and protect her. The story of Natalie Mirabal, of Boulder, Colorado, will be told by Detective Steve Ainsworth. Investigation Discovery’s Real Detective episode this week is titled “Puppet Master.”
When the story of 24-year-old Natalie Mirabal hit newspapers in September of 1999, everyone was sure that Pastor Troy’s Platteville Apostolic Church was hiding something surrounding her death. However, the truth was that Natalie Mirabal was savagely beaten and strangled to death by her husband, Matthew Mirabal.
Natalie Mirabal’s murder was a total shock to church and family members. By all accounts, Matthew and Natalie Mirabal were madly in love. They began dating in high school, and they both seemed to love the Lord. Charismatic church leader Troy Hancock even encouraged the young couple to get married.
Pastor Troy’s way with words electrified his congregation. However, according to family members, they felt that the Apostolic church began having too much control over their lives. Natalie and Matthew Mirabal believed in the church so much that they packed up and left their home in New Mexico and headed to an area of Boulder, Colorado, known as Longmont. Pastor Troy had convinced his congregation that they would create a new “promise land” there.
But when they arrived, the proposed “promise land” turned out to be a real-life murder land as soon as Matthew decided to kill Natalie Mirabal so that he could cash in on the $250,000 life insurance policy and continue his illicit love affair with his brother’s wife, Lisa Mirabal.
No one could have guessed that the church-going Matthew Mirabal and Lisa Mirabal had such a secret. Erotic photos of Lisa and recorded telephone conversations between the two were discovered by police. Neighbors told investigators that they used to see Matthew Mirabal going to Lisa’s home when his brother, Marcus, went to work. They also reported hearing sounds of sexual activity coming from the apartment.
Police determined that Matthew and Lisa Mirabal were very much in love. Matthew wanted his wife, Natalie, out of the picture. But there was another reason that Matthew wanted her dead. He knew that the insurance policy was set to expire, and he needed to collect on it before it did. That’s when he devised a plan to take Natalie to the grocery store late at night with their 4-month-old daughter in the backseat.
However, instead of going to the store, police think that Matthew Mirabal made a stop at his job, where he lured Natalie from the car and hit her over the head before strangling her. Then he traveled the dark and winding roads through Lefthand Canyon until he found a secluded spot to behead her. An autopsy report suggested that Natalie Mirabal was already dead when he decapitated her.
Natalie Mirabal was found dead still dressed in her black skirt. Authorities believed that Matthew returned to the grocery store and abandoned the vehicle to make it look as if Natalie had disappeared. Authorities believe that he must have left on foot with the baby in the carrier. Security cameras at the store captured Matthew Mirabal buying the same gloves that detectives found in the car, according to the Denver Post.
Lefthand Canyon has been the scene of countless crimes and murders. Killers love to dump bodies there because the canyon is pitch-black at night. Its isolated location also makes it a prime dumping location.
- In 1978, the body of 18-year-old Christine Jones was found dumped there. The strawberry blond woman was shot in the head. Her case is still unsolved.
- In 1982, 14-year-old Margaret Hillman disappeared after a barn dance party. Her neatly folded clothes and body were found buried there.
- In 1987, 27-year-old Carol Murphy’s dead body was found by hikers. Her case went cold for 20 years, until police arrested her ex-husband, Kevin Elmarr.
Matthew Mirabal was sentenced to life in prison. Lisa Mirabal and Marcus Mirabal divorced. Behind bars, Matthew had another woman writing to him. The woman was identified as Pastor Troy’s wife, Janet Hancock. Prison guards recorded the romantically-charged conversations between Matthew and Janet, according to Forensic Files’ coverage of the murder.
Pastor Troy’s Apostolic church took a huge hit due to all of the salacious scandals. It finally disbanded. As late as 2011, Pastor Troy was still preaching at churches around the country.
Matthew Mirabal still proclaims his innocence. His “wrongful conviction” website can be found here. Lisa Mirabal now goes by another last name. Her Facebook page depicts her as a religious woman who is now in her 40s.
To see how it happened, follow Detective Ainsworth as he recounts the tale by tuning into Real Detective this Thursday, April 13, at 10/9 p.m. Central on ID.
[Featured Image By Colorado Dept. Of Corrections]