Man Sentenced to Life for Murdering Mom of Three Who Secretly Ran Escort Service
Lester Ralph Jones was convicted Tuesday, in his second murder trial, of killing Paige Birgfeld — a Colorado mother of three who authorities say ran an escort service before she went missing in 2007.
Jones received a life sentence moments after a fresh panel of jurors found him guilty of kidnapping and murdering Birgfeld, whose remains were not discovered until 2012.
Detectives investigating the single mom’s disappearance — and later, her homicide — learned that Birgfeld juggled a number of jobs in order to support her children, including running an escort service under the pseudonym “Carrie.”
Jones was identified as a suspect early on, according to police, who said he was a client and one of the last people to see the Grand Junction, Colorado, mother alive before she disappeared.
According to prosecutors, Jones was a client of Birgfeld’s and killed her in 2007, later dumping her remains in a mountainous region in Colorado’s Delta County. Her car was found burning in a parking lot near her home, and across from Jones’ workplace, the day after she disappeared.
“I don’t know about closure,” Birgfeld’s father, Frank, said soon after her body was found. “I think of my daughter at least three or four times a day every day. The fact that we found out where she is, I don’t know that this is going to change that.”
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Birgfeld’s escort work was known to her closest friends but it was a surprise to her parents, PEOPLE previously reported.
“I knew she did exotic dancing and maybe she had some dancers she booked jobs for, but that didn’t matter to me,” one friend told PEOPLE in 2007. “Her actions as a mother spoke much louder than anything else.”
Another said, “There is a very clear line between legal and illegal, and she made sure that line was never crossed. She knew if she crossed that line, she could jeopardize her kids.”
Tuesday’s guilty verdict comes nearly four months after Jones’ first murder trial ended with a hung jury, forcing Mesa County District Judge Brian Flynn to declare a deadlock-driven mistrial.
For Birgfeld’s murder, Jones was sentenced to spend the rest of his life behind bars. He will never be eligible for parole, court records show. For the kidnapping, he received an additional 12-year sentence.
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Jones has a history of prior criminal convictions and served brief prison stints for assault and attempted kidnapping, according to court records. His attorney could not be immediately reached about a possible appeal.
Birgfeld’s family did not immediately responded to inquiries.
But the Mesa County Prosecutor’s Office said in an email to PEOPLE, “We believe in our justice system and thank the Mesa County District Attorney’s Office, our investigators and deputies as well as members of the public who put in countless hours of hard work into this case. We also would like to thank the Grand Junction Police Department, Grand Junction Fire Department, Delta County Sheriff’s Office, and Colorado Bureau of Investigation for their work on this case as well.
“While this verdict will not bring Paige Birgfeld back to her family, we are happy it will give her family closure.”