Underwood, Joseph

Joseph Underwood

CODY – A Cheyenne man is the lone suspect in a case where a Cheyenne woman was found dead near Cody after her body was allegedly brought here to be dumped.

Joseph C. Underwood, 45, is charged with transporting a dead body from Cheyenne to Park County. Other potential charges for Underwood related to the murder aren’t known at this time.

Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation Commander Matt Waldock said only one person is being investigated as part of the homicide. DCI has said a 45-year-old Cheyenne man who transported the body is considered a suspect in the homicide, but Waldock would not confirm Underwood is the suspect.

The deceased women was identified as Angela Elizondo, 40, in a news release from DCI. Calls to DCI on Wednesday were referred to Laramie County District Attorney Leigh Anne Manlove.

Manlove said she isn’t permitted to comment on the matter because of her rules of professional conduct.

Elizondo was likely killed in Cheyenne and transported to Park County, according to the DCI release.

Her body was found in a ditch Saturday by Cody hunter Marty Dupertuis, wrapped and bound near milepost 67 on Wyoming Highway 120 South, a mile and a half west of the highway on a dirt two-track road.

Underwood’s bail was set at $1 million at an initial hearing Tuesday morning at the Park County Courthouse.

Underwood remained in the Park County Detention Center as of midday Wednesday on four criminal charges.

Underwood is accused of returning to the scene of the crime and then fleeing from authorities. After being pulled over, Underwood threatened to commit suicide, and a struggle ensued to wrestle a firearm from him.

The takedown

After two hours of trying to get Underwood to stand down, Bureau of Land Management Ranger Robert Lind decided to try another tactic. Once Underwood gave him permission to touch one of his wounds, he made his move.

“Robert lunged through the open window, simultaneously grabbing the pistol with enough force to eject the round that was in the chamber,” Park County Sheriff Deputy Robert Cooke II wrote in the affidavit report.

The .38-caliber pistol went flying from Underwood’s hand, and a struggle commenced as authorities attempted to gain entry into the truck.

According to the affidavit, Underwood was able to break away, causing Lind to holster his weapon and start wrestling him through the window of the vehicle.

As Underwood started reaching for his gun, Cooke was shocked with a Taser. He said the Taser was “effective” at keeping Underwood away from the gun and allowed Lind to open the car door. The suspect fell out and gave himself up telling authorities, “all right, I quit, I quit.”

Underwood was taken into custody without further incident, and the crime scene was secured. At the Park County Detention Center, he waived his Miranda rights and agreed to talk about the events that had recently transpired. Cooke said he admitted to transporting the body and depositing it.

Returning to the scene

Almost nine hours after Dupertuis first reported the body, investigators spotted a white truck driving toward the crime scene at 10:43 p.m.

Cooke described the lights coming out of the dark as if someone had just turned them on.

At about 100 yards from Cooke, Underwood turned his lights back off and parked for the next 13 minutes.

The vehicle then started moving toward Cooke, and the deputy turned his overhead lights on, causing Underwood to turn around and flee at 10:57 p.m.

Cooke followed in pursuit as Underwood sped away, reaching speeds of 80 mph once on Highway 120, headed south toward Meeteetse. The highway was closed off to the public at 11:10 p.m.

At milepost 65, Underwood pulled over, and Cooke confirmed his identity. He said in the affidavit that Underwood was already a person of interest in the case.

Authorities tried getting Underwood to give himself up, but he would not relent, continuing to point his handgun at his own head and mentioning on several occasions, “he would not go back to jail” and “had nothing to live for.”

A criminal history

Underwood was involved in a similar incident in 2014, in which he threatened his ex-wife and a friend before shooting himself in the head during a SWAT standoff in Cody. He survived the suicide attempt after two surgeries, but the wound Lind asked to touch Saturday was still visible from this event.

From that event, he was sentenced to four to six years in prison in 2015, after pleading no contest for threatening to use a drawn deadly weapon and two related misdemeanors. He also pleaded no contest to an unrelated charge of battery for choking his then-15-year-old son.

He was imprisoned at the minimum security Wyoming Honor Conservation Camp in Newcastle before being released on parole in May 2018.

Cheyenne resident Kevin Pacheco, 41, said it was Underwood’s callous attitude referencing this event when the two were together in a halfway house last year that made him dislike the man.

“I didn’t like him from the start,” Pacheco said. “He was more concentrated on his attempted suicide than anything else.”

Underwood was also involved in another police standoff in 2004 after shooting bear spray into his then-girlfriend’s car. He fled from police when they attempted to question him about it, and threatened to jump to his death in the Shoshone River before being talked down from that act.

Missed by many

In addition to knowing Underwood, Pacheco worked with Elizondo at the Down Home Diner in Cheyenne and considered her a friend. He described her as a “selfless” night manager who “would give you the shirt off her back, even if you didn’t ask for it.”

He said she even bought him a bicycle.

“She had a kind heart,” Pacheco said.

He said Elizondo was a single mother who abstained from drugs and illegal activities.

In recent months, she had complained of someone harassing her and damaging her property, asking coworkers to escort her to her car after work. Pacheco said she had filed a restraining order against that individual with the Cheyenne Police Department, but also communicated to Pacheco and other coworkers that police were doing nothing to enforce the order.

However, Cheyenne Public Information Officer Kevin Malatesta said they have had no recent interactions with Elizondo or restraining orders. Calls to the Laramie County Sheriff’s Department weren’t returned as of press time Wednesday.

“We (diner staff) all want justice,” Pacheco said. “Not only for the victim, but we want police to willingly pay for the job they didn’t do.”

Underwood has three past charges for violating protection orders in Park County. In 1997, he was found guilty for battery, and in 1994, larceny.

Warning signs

Although Elizondo never officially identified the individual harassing her as being Underwood, Pacheco finds it highly likely it is Underwood because he had seen Underwood inside the restaurant multiple times, which Elizondo may have confirmed when she told Pacheco the restrained individual frequented the restaurant. Pacheco said Underwood was most recently seen at the diner Oct. 31, just two days before Elizondo’s body was found.

However, there are no confirming Laramie County Circuit Court documents to support that Elizondo had a restraining order placed against Underwood, or anyone else, for that matter.

Pacheco said Underwood fluctuated between good and bad moments.

Elizondo told Pacheco the person harassing her had slashed her tires and stole $10,000 cash from her car trunk. But she also said that same person had replaced the tires and shoveled snow from her driveway.

What’s next?

Underwood has not been charged with murder at this time.

In Park County, he is only facing charges for transporting a dead human body and unlawful possession of a firearm as a felon – felonies carrying up to 13 years in prison and $15,000 in fines. He also is facing misdemeanors for interference with a peace officer and fleeing or attempting to elude police officers – charges carrying up to a year and a half in prison and $1,750 in fines.

He was facing no charges related to this crime in Laramie County as of press time, according to court documents.

In a similar case that occurred in 2018, Jonathan Akin had all Park County charges dismissed against him for transporting his girlfriend’s dead body to Powell after allegedly stabbing her in Denver. He was transported to Colorado immediately after, where he was charged with first-degree murder.

Judge Bruce Waters requested Underwood sign a waiver of extradition within his bond conditions.

Underwood is scheduled for a 2 p.m. Nov. 13 preliminary hearing in Park County Circuit Court. County prosecuting attorney Jack Hatfield said he does not know if this hearing will occur before Underwood is transferred to Laramie County or if the hearing will be waived entirely.

Cody Enterprise reporter Zac Taylor and Wyoming Tribune Eagle reporter Isabella Alves contributed to this report.

Isabella Alves is the Wyoming Tribune Eagle’s criminal justice reporter. She can be reached at ialves@wyomingnews.com or 307-633-3128. Follow her on Twitter @IsabellaAlves96.

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