BAD BLOOD

Rancher Arrested for Murdering Son, Dumping Him in a Manure Pile

A Colorado man's mother and sister stand accused of shooting him in the dead of night and hiding his body in a horrific location after weeks of family infighting.

Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast

It was such a god-awful thing to happen in God’s country. But the 7 11 Ranch, under the shadow of Indian Head Rock, kept its gruesome secrets for two years—until dozens of cops, wildlife investigators and cadaver dogs swarmed the mountain desert property last July with a search warrant, looking for the man who had stood to inherit it.

His 68-year-old mother made several references to a bear cave before she finally told police to start digging in the corral. Once they found his remains, wrapped in plastic and duct tape, she told investigators that she was the one who killed him. She told them she shot him in his sleep, and then hid his body in a pile of manure.

A year later, he was moved, tossed into a five-foot-deep hole along with a barrel of goat heads.

Jake Millison had confided in his friends to look to his own family if anything bad happened to him. So four days after he went quiet, that’s what they did.

On May 20th, 2015, Millison’s buddies drove the 20 minutes from Gunnison east to the 7 11, and were alarmed to see Millison’s truck, his motorcyles, and his beloved dog, Elmo, on the property. They found his mom, Deborah Rudibaugh, and sister in the corral carrying shovels. A tractor with a backhoe attached to it was parked in the corner. Rudibaugh told them Millison had left “spur of the moment” in the middle of the night for Nevada.

Max Matheny remembers that he and his friends reported Millison missing to the Gunnison County Sheriff’s Office soon after that, but no one would listen. “We were told that there was nothing they could do because Jake was a grown man and could leave town if he wanted to, and they hadn't found a body out in plain sight.”

“They just brushed us off,” added Millison’s childhood friend, Kyle Palmer. “But we knew something was wrong.”

Bad Blood

The 29-year-old Millison, a hard-core jiu-jitsu athlete, had been the caretaker of the 7 11, living there with Rudibaugh. The three-million-dollar mountainous ranch—with its six buildings, creeks and horse trails—had been willed to Rudibaugh by her husband and Millison’s stepdad, Rudy Rudibaugh, who died in 2009. Later, in Deborah Rudibaugh’s own will, she left the ranch to Millison, his older sister, Stephaine Jackson, and one of Rudy’s grown children.

Just a month before Millison went missing, she had a change of heart and wrote him and her stepson out of it, leaving the entire 700-acre spread to her daughter. During her confession, she told investigators that Millison had found the new will and “did not want to share it with anybody else.”

His friends, though, say Millison never wanted the ranch. “He wasn’t into it,” Palmer told The Beast.

Stephaine and her husband, David Jackson, had moved from Denver to Gunnison to help take care of the ranch, but friends tell The Daily Beast that a toxic relationship had developed between the couple and Millison. Things became so heated, they said Millison often stayed at their houses to avoid them. In the affidavit, Jackson’s interviews with sheriff investigators describe vicious arguments over where to plow the snow that piled up on ranch grounds and disagreements about a toolbox, which Jackson claimed Millison had sold to buy a truck.  From these accounts, it appeared that hatred was beginning to boil over, with Millison barring David Jackson from the property with a restraining order and Stephaine Jackson taking her husband’s side.

Authorities believe what followed was a cold-blooded murder and cover-up. Millison’s own family told a string of contradicting tales to lead sheriffs—including that Millison had been an out-of-control druggie who abused his mom and stole off to Vegas in search of a mixed martial arts career. Max Matheny tells a different story to The Beast: “Jake was not on any drugs. He was in good shape, spent a lot of time at the gym and ate healthy. He rarely ever even drank. I would say I saw him drink less than ten times over the entire time I knew him.” Most of his pals report he rarely talked to them about his family problems.

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Other friends who lived beneath David and Stephaine in their apartment building, and who wish not to be identified, say that they were loud and always arguing. One friend, who wished not to be identified, tells The Daily Beast that around the time Millison disappeared, David was leaving the building at weird hours of the night.

“They were burning his clothes within a month after he disappeared,” said Palmer. “Why would they do that?”

“Where Is Jake Millison?”

In October of 2015, five months after Millison stopped answering his phone calls and text messages, the Facebook page “Where is Jake Millison?” popped up with photos and home-grown clues. The page became a community where people who cared about the case could trade information. It’s where friends realized that weeks after Millison went missing, David Jackson had painted his prized Harley Davidson motorcycle and was selling it in the town trade newspaper.

“The family started selling off Jake's things online and we told the authorities about it,” said Max Matheny. “Deb and Steph's stories were constantly changing and we knew they were lying.”

Within weeks of the Facebook page’s genesis, Millison’s part-time sleuth buddies also posted a story from a ranch hand who claimed he saw Millison’s family burning a mattress on the 700-acre property.  

“This is just plain weird,” wrote one friend. “The fact that they’re burning things really makes my spidey senses tingle,” wrote another.

Authorities had been out to the property asking questions, but Matheny says they “bought the story they were told out there.”

A Family Behind Bars

On March 2, 2018, seven months after her confession, Rudibaugh was arrested for murdering her son. Stephaine Jackson and her husband David have also been jailed for the crime—Stephaine for several charges, including first degree murder. Among David’s charges are accessory to murder and tampering with physical evidence

The 30-page arrest affidavit says that last July, Rudibaugh told sheriffs she shot Millison in the top of the head with her Lady Smith revolver while he was sleeping. “I was standing there with a gun in my hand,” she is reported as saying. “And I had a chance of doing it or not doing it and I remember the last thing I asked myself was, do you want to spend the rest of your life in fear of him.”

The murder weapon is still missing. Rudibaugh says she threw it in the Blue Mesa Reservoir dam, where she knew “the water is the deepest.”

The arrests were vindication for Millison’s network of friends, who begged authorities and media to pay attention to what was happening in the small town four hours west of Denver.

The arrest affidavit lists more than a dozen of Millison’s friends and the Facebook page as a critical piece of the investigation.

Tall Tales

The affidavit reveals that in the weeks after Millison’s disappearance, his mom was offering up a host reasons for why Millison would want to leave the ranch—claiming that her son “wanted a princess-like relationship...Mom’s supposed to do all the work and do all the laundry… and he’s supposed to do whatever he dang well pleases.”  Rudibaugh said that maybe he’d left for either California or Nevada to find work. Or maybe it was just to Nevada to get serious about jiu-jitsu. Or maybe he’d vanished to New Mexico to see his dad.

By August, Rudibaugh finally reported her son as a missing person, telling the Gunnison County Sheriff’s Office that the last time she saw him was the previous May 24th, when he took off in a “dark truck” with a mysterious friend who was not anyone she knew from town. Rudibaugh said her son was using cocaine to lose weight for his mixed martial arts, and had taken off with several of her books, including The Anarchist’s Cookbook,  and How to Disappear Without Leaving a Trace.

By November, with still no sign of Millison, she provided authorities with Millison’s cell phone stored in a bag of rice because “it had fallen into a ditch.”  His friends were coming to the ranch looking for him, she said. She was trying to keep them out of Millison’s room.

Stephaine Jackson’s behavior was even more bizarre than her mother’s. Her arrest affidavit reveals that days after Millison was murdered, she posted a cryptic message to her Facebook friends : “Have you ever woken up to such awesome news you want to run outside screaming?” Her best friend responded with “No more jake?” And then “Only news wirth screaming haha.”

There are several theories about which member of the family did what. Rudibaugh has told investigators that she killed her son and moved his body by herself using a pulley, a wench and a four-wheeler along with her “Yankee ingenuity and knowledge of physics and chemistry and stuff to do it.”

But she has stage 4 breast cancer and was coming off of gallbladder surgery. How could a person that frail have dragged a 170-pound body down the stairs to the manure pile all by herself?

Stephaine Jackson says she only suspected her brother may have been murdered after she saw bones sticking out of the manure pile; however the affidavit says she was lying and actually knew about the murder immediately because she was on her cellphone at 3:23 am deleting a message. Jake’s last cellphone activity occurred at 2:29 am.

According to the affidavit, Stephaine knew that she was the sole heir to the land, and thus was the only one of the three with a motive to get rid of him.

The affidavit says David Jackson burned the bloody mattress, buried the body in the manure and then dug the hole in the corral.

The gory details of his easy-going, soft-spoken friend’s death makes Palmer sick to his stomach. “I’ve come to the cold, hard fact that murder happens to people who don’t deserve it.”   denver