'87 murderer left a bloody trail in southern Utah

Published: Monday, Sept. 6 1999 12:00 a.m. MDT

Editor's note: Joseph Mitchell Parsons has dropped his appeals and is scheduled to be executed Oct. 15 for the stabbing death of a California man in 1987. This story, based on police reports and witness interviews, examines the circumstances that led to Parsons' arrest.

BEAVER -- Twelve years ago, Dave's Texaco was a place to stop, fill up the gas tanks and buy a sandwich.Or on one morning, a place to cover up a murder.

It was at this roadside gas station that Joseph Mitchell Parsons stopped early one summer morning in 1987, telling a young man working there he needed to hose out his car to get rid of the red paint.

It wasn't paint. It was blood from a 30-year-old man whom Parsons had stabbed at least 18 times. Richard Ernest was slain 23 miles south of the gas station on Aug. 31, 1987.

The victim made one fatal mistake during his trek from California to Colorado to look for a construction job: He was trusting.

Frustrated over marital problems and alone in his blue Dodge Omni, Ernest had 1,100 miles to drive before he reached Denver.

Those are long miles to go alone.

Near Barstow, Calif., Parsons was trying to hitch a ride.

Ernest stopped, unaware his newfound traveling companion was a fugitive who had walked away from a Nevada halfway house to which he had been paroled on a robbery charge.

By the time Parsons killed Ernest at a rest stop where the two had stopped to sleep, Parsons knew all about his victim. They must have talked a lot.

After the slaying, in a front seat covered in blood, Parsons drove another mile and dumped his victim's body on the east side of I-15, covering it with a sleeping bag. At some point, he slipped out of his own clothes and put on a blue pullover shirt and white Bermuda shorts that belonged to Richard Ernest.

He drove 22 miles north, pulled into the south side of Dave's Texaco in Beaver and parked the car.

An identity assumed

It was early on a Monday, before 5 a.m.

Parsons walked into the gas station and started talking to the 19-year-old man who had just started working there that summer.

"He told me his whole life story, but it was this other guy's story from the get-go," the man recalled.

The former gas station attendant, now 31, asked that his name not be printed. He still fears Parsons, even though it has been 12 years and Parsons is scheduled to be executed next month.

"When I look back on it now, he was probably contemplating on killing me."

At the outset, Parsons told the employee he had just been divorced, was headed to Denver and was driving his former wife's car. He said there were a lot of tools in the car that belonged to his ex-wife's boyfriend, and he wanted to get rid of them.

He told the young man he could have the expensive construction tools if he lent him the use of a hose to wash out the red construction paint that had spilled in the car.

It was all a lie.

The young station attendant believed him, anxious to get on with his own duties.

"He seemed a little bit nervous. I was, too. I had people depending on me to have my job done, and I was busy doing other stuff. I really wasn't watching him that much."

As the employee began to clean the lube bay of the gas station, Parsons backed the car up to a Dumpster on the north side of the business.

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