Episode 062: Maggie Long

November 14, 2022

A house on fire. A missing teenager. A community in shock. Five years later, they’re still asking: What happened to Maggie?

Episode Media
Maggie Long (Facebook)
Maggie Long (Facebook)
Location of the Long property off County Road 43 (Google Maps)
Aftermath of the fire at the Long home (CBS4)
Some of the fire damage inside the Long home (9News)
Sketches of possible suspects in Maggie’s murder (FBI)
Episode Sources
Episode Transcript

Welcome back to Bite-Sized Crime. This week I’m bringing you a case from Colorado, one that seems to have fallen victim to a confusing and chaotic investigation, but also one that still has the potential to be solved. This episode includes graphic descriptions, so listener discretion is advised.

Seventeen-year-old Maggie Long grew up in the small town of Bailey, Colorado, about 45 miles outside of Denver. Maggie’s parents were Chinese-Vietnamese immigrants who had fled North Vietnam during the war. They were able to find success in the United States through business, and by 2017, the Long family was living a comfortable life in Colorado, running multiple restaurants and investing in real estate. Their four children, Lynna, Connie, Maggie, and Derek, had all been taught the value of hard work, and they managed to balance school, clubs, and helping with the family businesses. The Long family was well-known and respected in the community of Bailey.

Maggie was especially well-known and well-liked. A senior at Platte Canyon High School, Maggie was an active part of the student body. In addition to being a straight-A student, she was on the softball team and the student council, she was a member of the Speech Club, and she performed in school plays with the Drama Club. Maggie had a passion for musical theater, and she spent many after-school hours at the Venue Theatre in the neighboring town of Conifer, where she acted and sang in multiple performances during her high school years.

Maggie was also passionate about helping those less fortunate than herself. Every year on her birthday, Maggie would spend hours making sandwiches and handing them out to people on the streets of Denver. She often talked about how she wanted to serve her community and leave the world a little better than she found it.

On the afternoon of December 1, 2017, Maggie was at school preparing for a concert planned for later that evening. Maggie was part of the organizing committee, and she wanted to make sure they had enough snacks and water for the audience. Around 2:30, she told her friends that she was running home to grab more cookies and she would be back in a little while. It was only about a 20 minute drive from the high school to the Longs’ home on County Road 43, so Maggie had plenty of time to make it back before the concert.

But hours passed, and Maggie didn’t return. She wasn’t responding to calls or texts, and the concert was about to start. Her friends were concerned; it was very unlike Maggie to not show up to something, especially an event that she had organized.

Meanwhile, Maggie’s older sister Connie was also starting to wonder where Maggie was. When she stopped by one of the family restaurants, her mom was upset that Maggie hadn’t shown up to help at the restaurant that afternoon. For some reason, Connie felt unsettled by the whole thing.

She knew that Maggie had a concert that night, so Connie drove to the high school, figuring Maggie would be there helping out as she usually did. But Maggie wasn’t there. Later, Connie described the moment she realized something was very wrong. “I waited in the auditorium and just kept looking at the door to see if Maggie was gonna come through. And then when the opening band started, I just felt like I couldn’t stay cause… I just had a gut feeling that something was wrong… So then I just thought, ‘I just need to drive home.’”

When Connie pulled up the house, her anxiety turned into fear. Smoke billowed from the home, and emergency vehicles filled the large driveway. Connie watched in shock as firefighters worked to put out the fire, all the while desperate to know where her sister was.

Connie immediately called around to the rest of the family, and everyone rushed to the scene. They noticed that Maggie’s car was in the driveway, but no one could say where Maggie was. Not only were they watching their family home go up in flames, but one of their own was missing, and they couldn’t seem to get any answers.

For hours, the family watched and waited, trying to piece together what had happened.

According to reports from first responders, 911 dispatchers received a call around 7pm from the tenant who rented the Long’s attic apartment. He told the dispatcher that he could hear people in the main house arguing loudly and throwing things around. He also suspected that they were trying to set the house on fire. The tenant was too afraid to leave the apartment, not sure who or what he would find downstairs.

It’s unclear when the fire actually started, but by 7:24, emergency vehicles were on the scene. By 8pm, they were able to rescue the tenant from upstairs, and by 8:45, the fire was out. But still, no sign of Maggie. Law enforcement at the scene refused to let the family inside the house, so as they waited, they posted Maggie’s picture on Facebook, asking anyone who may have seen or heard from her to reach out.

The community also waited for answers. On local message boards, residents went back and forth wondering about the activity at the Long property. Several people mentioned seeing the smoke above the trees. But the Longs lived on 27 acres of woodlands, and the house sat a quarter mile off the main road. Unless someone had driven up to the house to take a look, it would be impossible to really know what was happening there. By the next morning, word had spread that the fire was at the Longs’ house and that their 17-year-old daughter was missing.

Unfortunately, the information coming from law enforcement was sporadic and vague. The day after the fire, Park County Sheriff Frank Wegener said that his department was actively working a crime scene on County Road 43, but they weren’t organizing any search parties. A few hours later, a message on the department’s Facebook page read, “This is an arson investigation and we don’t believe there is a risk to the public. We continue to ask for prayers for the Long family.” That evening, in a statement to the press, Undersheriff Dave Wohlers said that they had no suspects in the arson, but that they were investigating the possibility that it was connected to Maggie’s disappearance as well as considering the idea that she may have been involved. According to his statement, there was no body found at the scene of the fire.

The lack of communication was frustrating to local residents, who worried about Maggie’s safety and their own. On December 3rd, Sheriff Wegener acknowledged the frustration and asked for patience as they worked with the Colorado Bureau of Investigations. Members of the press waited for updates, but the sheriff’s office kept saying that there was no new information to reveal.

On December 4th, there was an unexpected development: a local judge issued a gag order that forbade law enforcement from speaking about the case. According to news reports, the Park County District Attorney requested the gag order, which was then signed by the judge.

A headline from local news outlet KDVR said it best: “Gag order on missing Bailey girl case deepens mystery”. And that’s exactly what it did. Gag orders are usually issued during a trial, but the Park County Sheriff’s Office hadn’t announced any arrests in Maggie’s case, and it wasn’t like they were releasing much information anyway. The gag order seemed to just raise more questions and put the community on edge.

For the next three days, those who knew Maggie had nothing to go on but hope. The Platte Canyon School District announced that they would have extra counselors on site for any students or staff members who needed emotional support, and local churches held candlelight vigils to pray for Maggie’s safe return.

Finally, on December 7th, there was an update, but it wasn’t what they hoped for. In a press release, the Park County Sheriff’s Office announced that human remains discovered at the burned home belonged to Maggie Long, and they believed it to be a homicide.

The news was an absolute shock. Hadn’t the sheriff’s office said that there was no body found at the scene? For six days the community had been searching for a missing girl who wasn’t missing at all. Now, it turned out that Maggie had been gone the whole time.

Sadly, this was not news to Maggie’s family. According to Connie, as they waited outside their burning home on the night of December 1st, barred from going inside, the sheriff came to them and said that they had found Maggie’s charred remains. The family was then instructed not to talk to the media or discuss the case with anyone until further notice. I can’t even imagine how difficult that must have been for them, privately grieving, not able to share that grief with the community that had supported them through the ordeal.

The community was not happy with the situation either, and the actions of law enforcement over the next few weeks didn’t help matters.

On December 8th, news outlets reported that a statewide Be On the Lookout alert had been issued for a suspect in connection to Maggie’s death. The BOLO stated that the Park County Sheriff’s Office was looking for a tan-colored minivan driven by a white male in his 20s with possible burn marks on his arms. But the next day, they walked it back, saying that the BOLO was only supposed to go to other law enforcement agencies, not to the public. Undersheriff Wohlers said that the information released was just a tiny piece of the puzzle, and that they didn’t actually have a suspect. “If we knew who we were looking for, we would broadcast it from every corner. We have an army of people working on a bunch of [tips] at this point.”

Although Wohlers was hesitant to discuss suspects, he did say that investigators believed that whoever killed Maggie had also stolen weapons from the house, including an assault rifle, 2,000 rounds of ammunition, and a 9mm handgun. They also believed that a large green safe and multiple jade figurines had been taken.

When asked why they had kept Maggie’s death hidden from the public for so long, Wohlers said it was standard practice to hold information back in an investigation. “If someone goes to great lengths to conceal a crime, the last thing you want on the investigation side is to allow that information to get out. If a suspect tries to conceal something, it’s not a good tactical investigation plan for them to know exactly what law enforcement has… It’s basically a cat-and-mouse game with suspects or anyone else involved.”

For those of us who follow true crime, we know that yes, this is a common practice, and it usually serves to help rather than hinder an investigation. However, I can’t help but be a little skeptical in this case. How does it help an investigation to send the public on a wild goose chase, searching for a missing person who isn’t even missing? Wouldn’t that energy be better spent searching for the person responsible for killing an innocent girl? In a close-knit town like Bailey, I think that sort of information would have spurred them to action.

Unfortunately, the Park County Sheriff’s Office continued to drop tiny pieces of conflicting information like breadcrumbs. They didn’t have any suspects, but the suspects they did have had been cleared. Here’s a description of a vehicle, but never mind, it’s not really important. An unknown assailant killed Maggie, but don’t worry, the town is completely safe. As you can imagine, the residents of Bailey were frustrated and disheartened by all the back and forth.

Of course, they didn’t let the lack of answers stop them from celebrating Maggie’s life. On December 17th, what would have been her 18th birthday, hundreds of people gathered at Platte Canyon High School for a beautiful memorial service. Friends shared memories of Maggie, and the family expressed their gratitude to the Bailey community for their support and thanked them for how well they had loved Maggie.

The director of the Venue Theatre, where Maggie had spent so many hours acting and singing, announced that they would be providing an annual scholarship in Maggie’s name. The Maggie Long Award would provide tuition for students who demonstrated the kind of character Maggie herself had embodied: kindness, empathy, hard work, and resilience.

In another touching tribute, a group of Maggie’s friends gathered together on December 28th to make sandwiches and hand them out in downtown Denver, just as Maggie would have done.

As the new year approached, Maggie’s family and friends continued to wait for news. But the Park County Sheriff’s Office didn’t seem to have much to give them. In January, investigators began taking voluntary DNA samples from men in the community, focusing on those between the ages of 15 and 25. Undersheriff Wohlers told FOX31 that they were collecting the DNA just to “cover their bases.”

In February, Sheriff Wegener gave a long-awaited press conference with agents from the FBI and the CBI. He again asked the public to call in with any tips and announced that there was a $20,000 reward for information leading to a conviction. He also said that although there were no strong suspects yet, “tremendous progress has been made in the investigation.”

Wegener also released photographs of the items believed to have been taken from the Long home, the same items Undersheriff Wohlers had mentioned back in December. When asked by reporters why it had taken two months for them to release the images, Sheriff Wegener replied, “A lot of it had to do with the amount of information that we were processing.”

The rest of his statements were just as vague. He told the gathered audience that they were conducting interviews and working with the Long family to gather evidence, and he reiterated that the community was not in danger. “I guess you have risk and threats every day… But based on the information we have gathered we are confident that… there is no threat out there right now to anybody else.”

Months passed without any new information. Maggie’s classmates went to prom and prepared for graduation; her family prepared to sell the house on County Road 43. Life continued on, even as Maggie’s loved ones mourned her loss.

Finally on May 4, 2018 – five months after Maggie’s death – the FBI released a sketch of a person they believe was seen at the Long home the day she died. Interestingly, the sketch is of the same person from the accidental BOLO released back in December: a light-skinned male with short hair driving an older model van or truck. The FBI also released images of vehicles that looked similar in make and color to the ones seen at the home.

Right after this announcement was made, agents with the CBI and the Park County Sheriff’s Office set up a table at a gas station near the Long property, handing out fliers to passersby. While I do think this is a great idea, I can’t help but wish they had done it sooner. Memories fade quickly, and expecting people to remember a vehicle five months after the fact seems like a monumental task.

Again, months passed, and as the one year anniversary of Maggie’s death approached, investigators still had few details to release. They believed that the Long family had been targeted, but they couldn’t say why. It did seem as though Maggie had walked in on a burglary in progress, interrupting a crime and paying for it with her life.

In January of 2019, there was a new sheriff in town – literally. When Tom McGraw was elected Park County Sheriff, he promised that finding Maggie’s killer was one of his top priorities. “Sometimes in a homicide investigation when you get some new eyes on it and some new ideas you can get some new information… We might have to start all over again and re-interview everyone in the case.” McGraw also indicated that if he had been in charge in 2017, he would have asked the public for help from the get-go.

Within three weeks of taking office, Sheriff McGraw held a press conference. There, he announced that investigators were looking for three suspects in the death of Maggie Long.

After conducting hundreds of interviews, having conversations with old and new witnesses, investigators believed they had a better picture of what happened on December 1, 2017.

According to McGraw, the suspects spent a significant amount of time in the home that afternoon. Investigators believe that Maggie surprised the burglars, who then attacked her and left her for dead. They also believe that Maggie was purposefully set on fire as the suspects attempted to burn the house down and hide the evidence.

Sheriff McGraw asked the public to think back to the days right after the murder, focusing on anyone they came in contact with who may have shown signs of being near fire, such as burn marks on their hands or singed hair. The suspects may have acted strangely, evading questions or even moving out of town. McGraw emphasized that no tip was too small, no piece of information was insignificant. “We ask the public to carefully review the updated information and consider whether someone they know could have been involved in this incident.”

Time has continued to pass in Maggie’s case, and investigators continue to track down leads. Maggie’s family eventually sold the property on County Road 43 and moved out of Bailey, hoping to get some separation from the reminders of what happened that horrible night. Her sister Lynna told 9News that the house had lost its meaning after Maggie’s death. “It’s not about… coming home without her because it’s not a home anymore.”

In May of 2021, the FBI announced that they were investigating Maggie’s case as a possible hate crime. Sheriff McGraw said that he didn’t know what led to the change, but it would allow them to put even more resources behind their investigation. “Having that extra manpower will help us go in different directions. It’s an option we have never explored before, but we’re looking at now to see if it is a real possibility.”

Maggie’s family was surprised by the announcement, but supportive. Lynna told CBS4, “This is an angle that wasn’t looked into in the past, and at this point it is no stone left unturned. Looking at the extent of violence in this crime, that is certainly an angle to look more closely into.”

Connie agreed. “It’s an angle we have not considered before, and at this point, we have no problem looking into that lens, if it means it will bring more leads.”

It’s been nearly five years since Maggie Long was murdered. Every December on her birthday, her family and friends gather together to remember her. Her sisters go through her belongings, reading notes she wrote to herself and looking through old yearbooks. Connie told Dateline, “When we’re with her friends, and we’re all together, we feel Maggie’s vibe, and it’s like we’re with Maggie. We want to make sure she’s never forgotten.”

The investigation into Maggie’s death is still active and ongoing. You can see the suspect sketches and information flyers on the podcast website. There is currently a $75,000 reward for information leading to a conviction in the case. If you have any information about the death of Maggie Long, please call the FBI tip line at 1-800-CALL-FBI or submit a tip online at fbi.gov/tips. Your call can be anonymous. We just want justice for Maggie.

I’d like to end this episode with words written by Maggie herself. I hope you’ll find her message as inspiring as I did.

“I think the only real cure to cope with loss is to continue to be good people. Be kind, be caring, be passionate, be thoughtful. Know the value of the people around you and spread good vibes. But most importantly, don’t limit your boundaries. Share love and consider everyone around you, from strangers to acquaintances to peers to friends. We all have our circle of close people, but it surely wouldn’t hurt to feel the comfort of everyone on your side. I think enough people have experienced pain to understand that life is far more measurable in joy and good memories than to be scorched by cruelty and misery.”