A former Cody resident has been arrested as part of a homicide investigation.
Joseph C. Underwood, 45, is charged with transporting a dead body from Cheyenne to Park County.
Matt Waldock, Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation Commander, said only one person is being investigated as part of the homicide.
The deceased woman was identified as Angela Elizondo, 40, of Cheyenne, in a Monday DCI release, which stated she was believed to have been killed in Cheyenne. DCI has said a 45-year-old Cheyenne man that transported the body is considered a suspect in Elizondo’s homicide, but Waldock would not confirm Underwood is the suspect.
Her body was found by Cody hunter Marty Dupertuis, wrapped and bound near milepost 67 on WYO 120 South, 1.5 miles west from 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 charges related to the body of a dead woman found deposited in a ditch Saturday west of WYO 120 South. 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.
A heroic takedown
After two hours of trying to get Underwood to stand down, BLM ranger Robert Lind decided to try another tactic. Once Underwood gave him permission to touch an old gunshot wound, was when Lind 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’s 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 tasered him. 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, “alright, 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 towards 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 distance from Cooke, Underwood turned his lights back off and parked for the next 13 minutes.
The vehicle then started moving towards 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 WYO 120, headed south towards 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 on Saturday was still visible from this event.
From that event, he was sentenced to 4-6 years in prison in 2015, after pleading no contest for threatening to use a drawn deadly weapon and two related misdemeanors. He also pled 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 Cheyenne Police, but also communicated to Pacheco and other coworkers that police were doing nothing to enforce the order.
“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.
Although she never officially identified this individual as being Underwood to Pacheco, he finds it highly likely it is him because he had seen him inside their restaurant multiple times, a point to which Elizondo may have confirmed when she told him the restrained individual frequented the restaurant. Pacheco said he was most recently seen at the diner last Thursday, just two days before Elizondo’s body was found.
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.
Underwood has not been charged with murder at this time.
In Park County, he is only facing charges for transporting a dead human body, unlawful possession of a firearm as a felon, felonies carrying up to 13 years in prison and $15,000 in fines. He is also facing misdemeanors for interference with a peace officer, fleeing or attempting to elude police officers, charges carrying up to 1.5 years in prison and $1,750 in fines.
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 down 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 if Underwood is transferred to Laramie County or if the hearing will be waived entirely.
(Zac Taylor and the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle contributed)