DENVER (AP) — Three people have been arrested in connection with the killing of five people at a bar that was then set on fire, apparently to hide the crime, and the motive was robbery, Denver police said Thursday.
Police Commander Ronald Saunier said the suspects went to Fero's Bar & Grill bar to rob it before closing time Wednesday, but he didn't go into details about how it turned into a murder case.
"It appears that the motive of this crime was robbery, that they came in there, I don't want to say that it was a robbery gone bad, but it wound up being a robbery. The arson was set to try to cover up the crime scene," he said.
An officer on patrol around 2 a.m. Wednesday noticed a fire at the bar, where a regular poker game was held Tuesday night. Inside, firefighters found the bodies of one man and four women, including the bar's owner, 63-year-old Young Fero. Investigators think the fire had been burning for about 15 to 20 minutes before the officer spotted it.
Joseph Hill, 27, and his brother, Lynell Hill, 24, and Dexter Lewis, 22, were all arrested in Denver starting late Wednesday night, police said.
Investigators were led to the trio because of some tips that came in after a news conference that afternoon. Saunier said he believes the suspects had been to the bar before.
The Denver medical examiner identified the other victims as Daria M. Pohl, 22; Kellene Fallon, 45; Ross Richter, 29; and Tereasa Beesley, 45. Pohl, Fallon and Beesley were from Denver. Richter was from Overland Park, Kan.
The medical examiner didn't release the cause of death. Police haven't said how they died and wouldn't discuss whether any weapons were found.
The suspects are being held on suspicion of first-degree murder, felony murder, aggravated robbery and arson.
Two of them apparently have criminal records in Colorado. According to court records, authorities were already looking for Lynell Hill for failing to appear in a matter related to a 2010 case.
An arrest warrant was issued for Lynell Hill on Oct. 9 for failing to appear in what began as an assault case in suburban Arapahoe County. He ended up pleading guilty to harassment by striking, shoving or kicking, according to court documents. A lawyer who represented him in that case didn't immediately return a call seeking comment.
Records show that a Dexter Lewis with the same birthday as the suspect arrested pleaded guilty to robbery charges in Jefferson County. There was no indication of a sentence being handed down in the records.
Lewis' lawyer in that case remembered him as "very articulate and very nice" and said he didn't seem like the kind of person who would commit the crime he was accused of then.
"He was very sweet, very intelligent," said Sara Garrido, who was a public defender at the time but is now in private practice. She didn't remember the outcome of the case.
Lynell Hill and Lewis were scheduled to appear in court Thursday but Denver County Court Judge James Breese rejected a request by the media to have a photographer in the courtroom, saying "there are still people to be interviewed and evidence to be gathered." Police haven't released mug shots of the suspects.
He also ordered the court records sealed.
The bar is in a strip mall about five miles south of downtown Denver, just beyond the upscale Cherry Creek North shopping district. The bar attracted both regulars and people staying in nearby hotels, but neighbors said it didn't seem busy most days.
Frequent patron Chris Brady said the bar's customers ranged from "semi-homeless-looking people" to patrons in suits and ties.
He was at the bar for a regular poker game held Tuesdays and left at about 11 p.m.
"There was nobody random or crazy in there," Brady said.
Brady said Fero was known for cooking up beef dishes for customers at a moment's notice and usually would close the bar herself.
She bid him goodnight Tuesday as he paid his tab.
"She said, "Thank you, sweetie. Have a good night,'" Brady said. "I said, 'You too.'"
Danny Fero, who said he was Young Fero's ex-husband, said he talked with Young Fero about a month ago regarding a visit with their daughter, but she made no mention of any threats. He said he was shocked by the events at the bar he once co-owned with her.
He told The Denver Post the two met when he was working as a spokesman and photographer for the U.S. Army in Seoul, South Korea, and she was a clerk at the Korean Ministry of Agriculture. The two later married and had a daughter.
Jerry Richardson, who maintained an ATM at the bar, described Young Fero as "feisty."
"When she wanted that machine fixed, she would tell you about it," Richardson said.
Few details were immediately known about the other victims.
At an address listed for Pohl, a man who answered the door declined to comment. But neighbors Bert and Suzanne Kasben expressed disbelief that the studious 22-year-old was killed.
"She was always working," Bert said, adding he knew she held several waitressing jobs.
The Kasbens said Pohl was one of three sisters in a tight-knit family who often were seen walking their dog in a quiet cul-de-sac.
Meanwhile, Beesley was listed in state records as the owner of Maxim Lounge, another Denver bar.
Associated Press researcher Rhonda Shafner in New York and AP writers Dan Elliott and Nicholas Riccardi in Denver contributed to this report.