NewsLocal News


Police seek new leads in 20-year-old cold case shooting death of Denver street vendor

Ben Avila shot while selling produce on July 4, 2000
Posted at 10:20 AM, Jul 03, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-03 20:26:37-04

DENVER — Denver police are focusing on a 20-year-old cold case dating back to July 4, 2000.

Benjamin Avila, a 69-year-old street vendor, was shot and killed while selling pinon nuts and produce out of his pickup truck in the city's Westwood neighborhood.

His family remembers that day vividly.

"My grandfather would get up at 3 in the morning, have tea and go take produce out to where he sold it," said Benjamin's grandson, Shawn Roybal. "We had a family barbecue (on July 4) and around 1:30 or 2:00 he was ready to leave, because he wanted to go back to where he sold produce."

Roybal said his grandfather loved to work.

"He grew cantaloupe, honeydew, watermelon, onions, pistachios, pinon nuts and chili on land he owned near Avondale, (east of Pueblo) and brought it to Denver to sell," Roybal said.

Some of that produce was sold on the "honor system."

"He left a note under his windshield and said, 'please leave the change under the windshield wiper,'" Roybal said.

A family friend drove by later that day and saw numerous police cars around Benjamin's truck.

Roybal remembers getting a phone call.

"My mom's friend was hysterical, and I knew I had to get the phone to my mom immediately," he said.

Motive still unknown

Police aren't sure if robbery was the motive.

They said a witness reported hearing an argument between Avila and another man just before the shooting.

"There was no money left," Roybal said.

Twenty years later, family members still choke up with emotion thinking about Benjamin's last moments.

"He died by himself. No one was there to comfort him, or hold his hand," said his daughter, Cheryl Avila-Garcia.

Family wants answers

The first few Independence Days after Benjamin's death were very traumatic for the family.

"That was my Dad's favorite holiday. It was my Mom and Dad's anniversary, wedding anniversary," said his daughter, Diana Lopez.

But the pain has eased somewhat.

"Now, it's a time where we do get to celebrate bringing the whole family together," said grandson D.J. Lopez, who was just ten years old when his grandfather was killed.

Still, the family wants answers.

They want to know who killed Benjamin.

"I think the big question is, why? Because he was such a good person," granddaughter Shantelle Lopez said.

They're asking anyone who has information about the 20-year-old murder to come forward.

Police are seeking new leads and are asking for help.

"Twenty years later, someone can have a change of heart, I believe, whether it's they heard something, saw something, or they did it," Denver Police Technician Jay Casillas said. "That's the hope with this."

Angel from Heaven

Family members believe Benjamin has communicated with them since his passing.

Daughter Marjorie Rael told Denver7 that when an accident shut down I-25, they had to take a detour and got lost.

A car pulled up with a man inside.

"He said, 'well, follow me,'" Rael said.

Once they got home, they waved thank you to the other driver and got a familiar signal in reply.

The driver raised his hand, with his thumb pointed skyward.

"My dad would always do that," Rael said, giving a thumbs up. "He did the same thing. The man did the same thing with thumb."

Rael said that driver was like an Angel from Heaven.

Crime Stoppers

If you have any information about the shooting on July 4, 2000, contact Denver Police or Metro Denver Crime Stoppers at: (720) 913-7867.

You can remain anonymous.