Apparent motive: Inheritance dispute over family’s ranch
By Kristy Acuff
A Shakespearean tragedy continues to unfold in the Gunnison Valley with the arrests of a mother, her daughter and her son-in-law on charges of first-degree murder and desecration of a corpse in connection with the death of the mother’s son, Jacob Millison.
Jacob Millison’s remains were discovered in July 2017 buried in a horse corral on a Parlin ranch owned by his mother. Millison had been missing since May 2015.
According to Gunnison County undersheriff Mark Mykol, “Since he went missing, his friends kept saying something was wrong and our team at the Sheriff’s Office and CBI (the Colorado Bureau of Investigation) kept listening. The case could be classified as very disturbing.”
Deborah Sue Rudibaugh, 68, is being held in the Gunnison County Jail without bond on charges of one count of first-degree murder (Class 1 felony), one count of abuse of a corpse (Class 2 misdemeanor), one count of false reporting (Class 3 misdemeanor) and one count of tampering with a deceased human body (Class 3 felony).
Rudibaugh was arrested Friday, March 2 in Mesa County and then transferred to the Gunnison Detention Center.
Rudibaugh’s daughter, Stephaine Jackson, 33, who is also Jacob Millison’s sister, was arrested Wednesday, February 28 outside of Gunnison on charges including first-degree murder (Class 1 felony), two counts of tampering with a deceased human body (Class 3 felonies), seven counts of accessory to murder in the first degree (Class 4 felonies), three counts of tampering with a witness (Class 4 felonies), two counts of tampering with physical evidence (Class 6 felonies), concealing a death (Class 1 misdemeanor), and abuse of a corpse (Class 2 misdemeanor). Jackson is being held on a $500,000 bond.
According to Mykol, the case continues to be under investigation, the charges are merely accusations and the suspects are presumed innocent until or unless proven guilty.
Deborah Rudibaugh is scheduled to appear in court on March 12. Stephaine Jackson’s court date is scheduled for March 9 at 10:30 a.m.
On Tuesday, March 6 at approximately 1 p.m., officers with the Gunnison County Sheriff’s Office and the CBI arrested David Daniel Jackson, age 34, on the charges of accessory to murder in the first degree–after deliberation, a Class 4 felony; tampering with a deceased human body, a Class 3 felony; tampering with physical evidence, a Class 6 felony; concealing a death, a Class 1 misdemeanor; abuse of a corpse, a Class 2 misdemeanor; and false reporting to authorities, a Class 3 misdemeanor. The arrest took place at the Gunnison County Sheriff’s Office and went without incident. David is Stephaine’s husband. Jackson’s bond is set at $100,000.
The victim, Jacob Millison, was initially reported missing by his friends in May 2015. Investigators ultimately determined he was murdered on or around May 16, 2015. He was 29 years old at that time. It took family members three months before they also reported Millison missing in August 2015. Acting on a search warrant issued after a tip to law enforcement officials, the Sheriff’s Office, along with officials from the CBI, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the Colorado State Patrol, Gunnison Emergency Medical Services, and the Gunnison Police Department searched Rudibaugh’s ranch property in July 2017 and discovered human remains buried in a horse corral, remains that were later determined to be Millison’s.
The siblings, Stephaine and Jacob, had apparently been in dispute over who would inherit the sprawling 700-acre ranch from their mother, according to Rudibaugh’s arrest warrant affidavit.
Approximately two weeks before Jacob’s disappearance, Rudibaugh re-wrote her will, leaving the ranch solely to Stephaine. Rudibaugh stated that Jacob had been upset and had been violent with her even when the ranch was left to him, Stephaine and a half-brother in a previous will.
The ranch is located within the Quartz Creek Valley between Parlin and Ohio City and contains the notable Indian Head rock formation. The property is said to be worth millions of dollars.
According to her arrest affidavit, Deborah Rudibaugh admitted to shooting Millison in the head with her stainless steel .357 Lady Smith revolver while he slept because, she says, he had been threatening her physically and verbally and urging her to re-write her will leaving the ranch solely to him.
When asked why she did not notify police that Millison was threatening her, Rudibaugh dismissed the suggestion. “The only thing I figured that would happen is they would go haul him off, yell at him a bit, release him and then he’d be back again,” said Rudibaugh.
After shooting him, Rudibaugh says she waited a few days to let her mind settle before removing the body. Police questioned the 70-pound woman about how she managed to move her son’s 170-pound body from the second floor of the ranch lodge to the horse corral where it was eventually discovered. She replied, “Yankee ingenuity and my knowledge of physics and chemistry and stuff to do it.”
Rudibaugh told officers she wrapped the body in plastic and tied and taped the plastic to prevent blood leakage. Then she parked a front loader at the back door and, using the winch on her four-wheeler, she pulled Jacob’s body into the front loader. She then drove the front loader to the corral and using the backhoe, made a hole in the manure, put the body in, and covered it with manure.
After Millison disappeared, his friends set up a “Where is Jacob Millison?” Facebook page to aid the investigation. Comments on the page implicated both his sister and mother in his disappearance long before their arrests. One friend commented in October 2015, “A buddy that has worked at the ranch a couple times since Jake’s disappearance told me the last time he went out Deborah said she and Stephanie had to burn Jake’s mattress because it was filthy, bugs, stains or something. Another weird action to take?”
According to the arrest affidavit, friends who visited the ranch on May 20, 2015 to search for Jacob reported seeing both Stephaine Jackson and Deborah in the horse corral holding shovels. When asked where Jacob was, Deborah told his friends that he had left suddenly in the night without his dog to travel to Nevada for a martial arts training class and that he had dropped his cell phone in an irrigation ditch, which was why he wasn’t answering their calls.
One friend later told the police, “Thinking back on it, it seemed like Deborah was making things up and stumbling over what we were asking.”
The affidavit states that Stephaine and her husband, David Jackson, reported finding Jacob’s body in the manure pile and confronting Deborah. “Stephaine was upset and said, ‘Mom, we found some bones, remains out in the corral. What the hell is going on?’ Deborah told Stephaine it was the remains of a bear and to cover them back up,” states the report.
Deborah goes on to admit, “It was basically a day and a half when I decided that we needed to dig a pit and get it deeper because obviously something had happened, bear, mountain lion, something to make it exposed.” She says she “mainly” dug the hole by herself but asked David to help and when he finished, Deborah moved the body into the hole and had David cover it up.
According to her affidavit, when asked if she felt better after telling police about the ordeal, Rudibaugh said, “No, because of the repercussions because Stephaine will lose the ranch without me. Stephaine won’t be able to keep it because she won’t earn enough money from the horse rides. David would have to get off his ass and work a lot harder. He is a decent son-in-law but lazy. I’m more thinking that hell, three years in prison, oh, well, they have to take care of my medical.”
Rudibaugh is suffering from stage four breast cancer and believes she has only three to five years left to live.