CRIME WATCH WYOMING: Father Wants Answers and Justice in Son’s Mysterious Death, Part 2

Lusk police committed to solving six-year-old cold case

Special to the Wyoming Truth

Ken Van Buskirk, 54, disappeared from his home on July 28, 2014. Nearly 18 months later, his body was found near a water tank in downtown Lusk, an area that had previously been searched multiple times in daylight with the help of cadaver dogs. Ken’s death remains a mystery, and his 83-year-old father, Ernie Van Buskirk, wants answers. Check out part one of this story here.

LUSK, Wyo.—By all accounts, Ken Van Buskirk was no angel. Along with an extensive rap sheet, Ken also had a drug addiction and drinking problem that had led to several arrests and DUIs, his father, Ernie, told the Wyoming Truth. Ken’s lifestyle put him in the company of other drug addicts, Ernie noted; he thinks they may have killed him.  

According to police records, Jeff Broberg was with Ken at his house in downtown Lusk the night before he disappeared in July 2014.  Broberg said that Ken had been taking “large amounts of prescription medication” and that he’d hid the pills so Ken couldn’t take anymore. Broberg told police he thought Ken was depressed and had talked about killing himself before Broberg left his house late that evening.

Ernie said he received a call from his son that night. While he was taking a bath, Ken told his dad that he could hear both Broberg and Tim Woodington, who was not mentioned in the police report as being at the house, plotting to kill him in his living room.

Ken’s niece, Violet Blakeley, also received a call from Ken that night while he was bathing. She said he sounded like he was heavily drugged, as he told her that he thought people were trying to kill him.

Ken begged her to come over, Blakeley told the Wyoming Truth, but she couldn’t get away because she didn’t have transportation and her children were asleep. Her heart sank, she said, when she went to her uncle’s house the next day and saw police cars lined up outside.

Ken Van Buskirk’s remains were discovered on Feb. 21, 2016, near a water tank in downtown Lusk. The area had previously been searched multiple times by law enforcement and cadaver dogs after he went missing 18 months earlier. (Wyoming Truth photo by Jennifer Kocher)

Even more troubling yet to Blakeley was her conversation weeks later with Woodington when she ran into him at a local liquor store. Blakeley said that Woodington was drunk and allegedly apologized to her for what he’d done to her uncle. Woodington told her that he’d taken Ken to an underground bunker in Colorado to try to ween him off heroin, but Ken escaped somehow, even though there was a thumb print scanner to get out the bunker door.

The confession made no sense to Blakeley. Still, there was something about Woodington’s emotion at the time that seemed genuine and stuck with her.

Woodington later led investigators to the non-existent cave, according to police report, telling them he possibly did something to Ken with the help of Broberg, but he couldn’t remember exactly what happened.

For his part, Woodington failed a polygraph test in November 2014, just over three months after Ken disappeared. 

According to a polygraph examination report by G&P Polygraphs, LLC, Woodington claimed that he and Ken were friends and co-workers who frequently worked together as handymen. He said that he’d had no reason to harm Ken and that Ken had spoken to him about wanting to leave Lusk.

In his report, the examiner wrote that he found Woodington’s answers to be not “truthful,” and when he told Woodington he did not pass the polygraph, he put his head down and did not refute the results.

Again, Woodington told the examiner that he had nothing to do with Ken’s disappearance. But he went on to say that he suffered from blackouts and had even blacked out at some point the prior week, according to the polygraph report. When the examiner asked if he might have harmed Ken and blacked it out, Woodington acknowledged “it was possible.”

Broberg initially consented to a polygraph yet failed to show up for his appointment, and then said he wanted a lawyer present if he was to do it. According to police records, Broberg denied any knowledge of Ken’s disappearance and death.

Woodington told the Wyoming Truth in July over Facebook messenger that Ken’s death was a “touchy subject” because he considered Ken to be like a second father, and he, too, wants answers.  

“I don’t really know what happened to him, but I would like too [sic],” he wrote in a Facebook message. 

Efforts to reach Broberg on social media went unanswered.

Another key figure in the case is Traci Bocardo, who was on the phone with Ken the night he disappeared. She told police that she heard Broberg and Ken struggling because “Van Buskirk was trying to kill himself by taking pills.” Bocardo also did not answer a request for comment.

Pictured above is Ken Van Buskirk, then 39, with his grandmother Agnes (Van Buskirk) Wimmer in 1999.

Mysterious light on “Tank Hill”

Ken’s body was discovered by Devon Sherman and Kenny Mazac on the night of Feb. 21, 2016, police records show. Mike Smith, who was with Mazac and Shilo Smith, had called police to look into a mysterious light on Tank Hill behind Weed and Pest building on W. Griffith Blvd.

The pair told police, according to case documents, that they saw a bright light on “Tank Hill” and walked up the hill to try to determine its source. Partway up the hill, Mazac told police that Sherman discovered a body on the hill.

Both the Niobrara Sheriff Department and the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI) were called in to help process the crime scene.

“The story about ‘seeing a light on the hill’ seems to have just been accepted with no follow up,” Ernie said. “That’s the weakest story I’ve ever heard. No forensic pathology was done.”

Ernie suspects foul play. He thinks his son’s criminal history and possible involvement in a prescription drug ring may have negatively impacted how police investigated the case. He also believes his son could not have physically walked up the hill on his own, given Ken’s shortness of breath from his heavy smoking and lung cancer.

What’s more, Ernie finds the initial police investigation reports to be “very poorly written.”

Retired Laramie and Crook County Sheriff Deputy and former private investigator Dave Wolfskill agreed with Ernie’s assessment after reviewing the police files provided by the Lusk police. Wolfskill, a Hulett resident and co-founder of We Help the Missing, a national nonprofit of private investigators and volunteers, also had helped on Ken’s case. He called it a “lazy investigation.”

“In my humble opinion, those interviews were so soft,” Wolfskill said. “You have to know how to dig for info. There was no digging. It was very passive.” 

Both Ernie and Wolfskill question why there was no follow up on who picked up Ken’s hydrocodone medications from the pharmacy after he disappeared. They also wonder why his body wasn’t discovered on the first extensive multi-agency search 18 months earlier.

Whatever the reasons, Ernie would like to see his son’s case reinvestigated, so he finally can get answers about Ken’s death—and, hopefully, peace. He does not believe Ken’s case was given its fair due.

Lusk Police Chief Bo Krein agreed.  The case is open, he said, and his department plans to re-investigate. He, too, had questions about the light on the hill and why it was not thoroughly vetted by the former investigators.  

“We’re committed to finding answers,” he said. “His dad and family deserve that.”

Anyone with information is asked to contact the Lusk Police Department at (307) 344-4055.

Spread the love

Related Post