DENVER (AP) – Investigators said the attractive single mom who vanished from western Colorado 4 1/2 years ago was running an escort service, but her father is more blunt.
“I think `escort’ is kind of a polite word for prostitution,” said Frank Birgfeld, whose daughter’s remains were found in a dry creek bed in a Colorado desert this week.
Thirty-four-year-old Paige Birgfeld was twice divorced and living with her three children in Grand Junction, about 200 miles west of Denver, when she disappeared in June 2007. Friends knew her as a devoted mom who sold kitchen products and did other jobs.
Her winning looks and apparent double life attracted widespread media attention to the mystery of her disappearance, including a “48 Hours” segment called “The Secret Life of Paige Birgfeld” in 2008.
Frank Birgfeld, an articulate, gravel-voiced 68-year-old who lives outside Denver, remembers his daughter as buoyant and positive.
“Man, she is, she was very rarely negative,” he told The Associated Press Thursday. “Always looked at things on the bright side. Had a great smile and showed it a lot. And clearly what she liked the most was showing off her kids.”
Birgfeld said he didn’t know about his daughter’s business.
“Absolutely, we weren’t aware of it,” he said.
In retrospect, Birgfeld sees clues, including one of her ex-husband’s cars, a Ford Focus, which she kept for reasons her father didn’t understand.
She offered different explanations. Her name was on the loan. She couldn’t sell it. It was just easier to keep it.
“That was the car she was using for that purpose. I look back, it’s obvious,” he said.
Deputies learned about Paige Birgfeld’s business, called Models Inc., in the course of interviewing acquaintances after she disappeared, Mesa County Sheriff’s Sgt. Matt Lewis said. They didn’t investigate whether the escort service was a front for prostitution.
“That was not the focus of this investigation,” he said. “We were looking to piece together her life.”
Sheriff’s deputies and volunteers staged multiple searches _ including several in the gulley in neighboring Delta County where two hikers discovered skeletal remains on Tuesday.
Lewis said it appeared the body had been buried once and erosion eventually exposed it. Frank Birgfeld, who visited the site Wednesday, said he thinks his daughter’s body had been dumped nearby and was washed into the gully.
He said dental records confirmed the remains were his daughter’s. Sheriff’s investigators say they are awaiting DNA tests to confirm the identity, but they believe the remains are Paige Birgfeld’s.
No one has been arrested. In October 2007, investigators identified Lester Ralph Jones, then 56, as a suspect.
Jones was a client of Models Inc. and remains a suspect, Lewis said. Investigators haven’t spoken with him since the remains were found.
Phone numbers listed for Jones were disconnected. It wasn’t clear whether he had an attorney.
Frank Birgfeld, who describes himself as “a person of decent morals,” said the sex trade is a foreign world to him.
“I can’t tell you how negatively I would have responded” if he had known what she was doing, he said.
But he’s not interested in criticizing her now.
A reporter once asked him what he would say to Paige about her business if she stepped into the room at that moment.
“If she walked in the door right now, I wouldn’t say anything,” Birgfeld said. “I would just hug her.”
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