The death Saturday of Robert Williams, 71, ends the prosecution of the man investigators believe murdered Rebecca Bartee, a 41-year-old employee of the District Attorney’s Office of the 18th Judicial District.
“A murdered prosecutor. An untimely, but ultimately brave witness. A DNA match. The only thing missing is justice,” said District Attorney George Brauchler. “From the moment we identified Williams’ DNA in the tub of our murdered colleague, our office and ACSO investigators set about to hold him accountable for his inexplicable, cold-blooded murder and attempt to cover it up. We sought justice for Rebecca Bartee. The Bartee family and our community were denied that justice.
“No murderer should escape responsibility for evil conduct. This community and our office can rest assured that the murder of their public servant Deputy DA Rebecca Bartee has been solved. Whatever justice Williams didn’t receive here, he surely will receive now.”
On June 7, 1999, District Attorney employees contacted the Arapahoe County Sheriff’s Office when Bartee did not report for work.
An investigator responded to her home in the Copper Terrace Apartments on South Dayton Street, where he found her dead in her bathtub. The coroner classified her death as a homicide, caused by drowning and possibly strangulation.
Bartee’s apartment did not show signs of forced entry or robbery. There were no rugs or towels on the racks in the bathroom – they were found wet in the washing machine.
Technicians collected evidence, including fingerprints and hairs. Detective interviewed neighbors and family. People were ruled out as suspects; no one was identified. The case grew cold.
In February 2017 a local news reporter contacted the Sheriff’s Office to say he had been approached by a man who said he had information about an old murder.
Investigators contacted the man, who said he believed his acquaintance, Robert Williams, had strangled a young woman at the Copper Terrace Apartments years before.
The man related that he had seen Williams accosting the woman in the hall of the apartments one day. The man intervened, and the woman left. Williams also had problems with other women in the complex, the man said. Williams made unwelcome advances and looked in people’s windows.
The man knew that Williams had served time in prison in California.
The day the woman’s body was found, the man told investigators, Williams acted strangely.
Investigators reported that the man told them “I am not going to do die not letting that girl’s family know what happened.”
Investigators were able to corroborate much of what the man had told them, including that Williams was convicted in Los Angeles of the 1983 strangulation murder of his estranged girlfriend.
The Colorado Bureau of Investigation had been able to extract a DNA profile from one of the hairs found in Bartee’s bathtub, and that evidence was reexamined in light of new information pointing to Williams. Ultimately, CBI analysts determined that the DNA on the hair found in Bartee’s bathtub matched Williams.
Williams was arrested Aug. 29, 2017. He appeared in Arapahoe District Court on Aug. 31, 2017, and was charged with first-degree murder in the death of Rebecca Bartee.
“It is tragic that after 18 years of waiting for an arrest in this case, the family and friends of Ms. Bartee will not have the opportunity to see the man charged with her murder stand trial and be held accountable for this brutal crime,” said Senior Deputy District Attorney Chris Wilcox, who prosecuted the case with Chief Deputy District Attorney John Kellner. Both attorneys work in the District Attorney’s Cold Case Unit.