A true story of murder and false identity | PostIndependent.com

A true story of murder and false identity

Greg Masse

A sordid tale of murder, theft and deception has a Marble woman grateful to be alive and a former Glenwood Springs resident facing a first-degree murder charge in California.

Kathy Spiars, who now lives in Marble, was married to a man who she says told her nothing but lies about his past. Those lies, she claims, were to cover up for a murder he committed more than two decades ago in California.

That man is 53-year-old Eric Wright, who is charged with first-degree murder and awaiting trial in San Joaquin County, Calif.

The story begins back in 1980, when Spiars, now 53, met Wright while he was working at Mr. Greenjeans, a now-defunct bar in Englewood.

Even in the beginning, back in 1980 when she met the man who called himself Steven Marcum, there were telltale signs that something was wrong. He told her the house where he grew up burned down, his parents were dead and he had to change his name because he used to work for the CIA.

The two met when “Marcum” was working as a busboy and eventually a bartender at the Englewood bar.

“He took to me like you wouldn’t believe,” Spiars told the Post Independent. “He was so charming back then.”

The two married in 1981 and eventually moved to Glenwood Springs, where she owned Natural Hair, a salon in the Tamarack Building on Grand Avenue. Spiars said Wright worked at the Timberline Condominiums in Snowmass Village, the Yampah Hot Springs Vapor Caves and as a manager at the Hot Springs Pool.

Meanwhile, Contra Costa, Calif., sheriff’s deputies were investigating the death of 57-year-old Lester Marks, a California man whose body was found Aug. 7, 1980, floating face-up in the California Aqueduct with his ankles and left wrist shackled with a large steel chain.

One thing police didn’t find was the 17.5 pounds of gold bars possessed by Marks. In 1980 the price of gold averaged $662 an ounce – the year of the highest gold prices in history – making Marks’ bars worth around $185,000 for the full set.

According to a May 2002 story in the Pleasanton, Calif.-based Tri-Valley Herald, Marks was known around Bay Area race tracks as a dealer in jewelry. Shortly before his death, Marks became widely known when the press covered a tangle between him and the Internal Revenue Service.

“A cache of jewelry and seven gold bars weighing a total of 17.5 pounds … were returned to Marks when the IRS could not prove the goods were stolen.

“Shortly after that, Marks – minus the gold – turned up dead,” the article said.

During the initial investigation, sheriff’s deputies found links between Wright and Marks, but less than two months later, Wright disappeared.

Police found Wright’s white Honda Civic on Sept. 19, 1980, at a Bay Area Rapid Transit station. It had a .38-caliber bullet in the door and blood – later found to be animal blood – smeared on the door.

At first police thought Wright was the victim of foul play, but later they ruled that he was missing on his own accord and a federal investigation was opened into his disappearance.

The investigation was closed later that year and the case remained cold until April 1993.

It was then that California authorities were contacted by Silt police telling them Spiars told them she believed her husband was Eric Wright. Spiars informed Silt police he was living in Colorado, and she felt he could have been involved in a California murder.

Spiars described the long journey that finally brought her to the shocking realization that her husband, Steve Marcum, might be the suspected killer, Eric Wright.

“Something happened that scared me. The phone rang and someone asked for Eric Wright,” she said.

Once Wright found out about the call, Spiars said he took off and was gone for a few days.

“I really thought we were going to get killed because he knew too much,” she said.

“His story was that he was in a bar and his date was harassed by a guy. Steve (Marcum) said he got in a fight with the guy and killed him by breaking the guy’s neck. The problem is, he said, that he killed a high-profile kid, committing a sin for the CIA, killing a civilian,” she explained.

Spiars said she saw the gold bars early in their marriage, but he had told her they were from his dead father’s estate.

“He used to keep gold in the freezer and toilet,” she said.

Another incident that raised her suspicions was when he became angry, picking a fight with her “for no reason” and frightening her.

“This was not my best friend, it made me suspicious big-time,” she said.

Her suspicions were confirmed, ironically, when she tried to locate a sentimental gift for him.

“In September (of 1992) I wanted to get him a high school yearbook. He said all his belongings burned up in a fire, his dad died in Vietnam, and his mom died of an aneurysm,” she said. “I called and happened to get ahold of a teacher, Chuck Knox. I said, `Hi, I’m looking for a yearbook for the class of 1967.'”

Knox told Spiars that was the same year he graduated. Then, when she described her husband – known to her for the past 12 years as Steven Marcum – Knox said she was talking about Wright.

“He goes, `That’s Eric Wright, class president,'” she said.

Suddenly everything started to make sense.

From there, Spiars covertly started to look into his past. She found out his parents were alive and well, his house never burned down and he left a wife and child high and dry in California.

She found out Wright served a tour of duty in Vietnam as a Marine from 1968 to 1970, then became an Alameda County Sheriff’s Deputy in 1970. He eventually became the youngest person ever to make lieutenant on the force, reaching the rank when he was just 29.

She used old phone bills, kept from years ago, to track down his parents and discover links he had with California. Each detail helped to unravel the mystery.

“You can’t imagine, this can consume your life,” she said. “It was very, very exciting to find this out, but it was really frustrating, also.”

Finally, she confronted him:

“You’re not Steven Marcum,” she said.

Soon after that, he disappeared again. Then, on April 29, he was arrested and extradited from Mexico to California to face a charge of murder from 22 years ago.

Wright is now being held with no bail in San Joaquin County Jail awaiting trial for the first-degree murder of Lester Marks. He pleaded innocent at his arraignment July 8, and his preliminary hearing date will be set on July 30.

Looking back on everything now, Spiars said it’s hard to believe she was married to a man who was living a lie for 12 years.

“It’s very seductive, subtle. You want to believe them,” she said, talking of herself and others who have been fooled. “He used a little bit of truth to it. It was always the same thing, he changed his name because of this or that.”

He used money yielded from the gold to keep her happy, taking ample vacations and buying her a Porsche.

Wright’s arrest affidavit refers to a letter he wrote to his wife. It said, “He lived a crazy life for 13 years because Kathy fell in love with the man who was that lie. Lie, cheat, steal, kill? Maybe. I would’ve done anything to keep you in my life.”

“When he finally told me he took a false name, he bragged about how easy it is to get a birth certificate,” Spiars said. “He said it’s easy to do. I found five different Social Security Numbers.”

One of the main reasons for talking to the Post Independent, Spiars said, is so those in the valley who thought she was crazy when she told them the story might now believe her.

“Some people in Glenwood Springs thought I was making the whole story up,” said Spiars, who went by the name Kathy Marcum. “The story’s true and I’m not a liar and I’m not crazy and I wish people would have believed me. … Some people were very disappointing and treated me like a leper, but some people believed me, and God bless them.”

“He hurt so many people in this town,” she said. “He’s a sick man. A dangerous sick man.”

People in other areas were hurt, as well, Spiars said, including the wife and child he left in California.

“That’s why we want everyone who knows about Steven Marcum/Eric Wright to come forward,” she said.

He worked at the lodges in Snowmass Village, as well as in the Yampah Vapor Caves in Glenwood Springs.

“Then he got fired at Yampah Hot Springs for acting inappropriately,” she said.

His next occupation, she said, was especially disturbing: He went to people’s houses to give them massages.

San Joaquin Sheriff’s detective John Basalto said Spiars is an integral part of the prosecutor’s case against Wright. She is listed as a witness who will be called for the prosecution at Wright’s trial.

“She basically got the ball rolling when she did her initial investigation and made inquiries into his old department in California,” he said. “That’s basically how (San Joaquin Sheriff’s Lt.) John Huber was able to start putting things together, based on a lot of Kathy’s information.”

Spiars said sheer will kept her going throughout the investigation.

“It’s just been a long, hard road,” she said. “Was it worth it? Yeah.”


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