We found this story on Dateline NBC and were blown away after learning about a vicious rapist who left Amber smith for dead. After going down the rabbit hole, we decided to do the case. This case had a huge twist, which made it the things of nightmares...
Dateline: left for dead season 29 episode 3
Stefan Moon befriended victim before being identified, convicted (coloradoan.com)
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This case is like something strait out of a horror movie. If you could ever think about what your worst nightmare would be this would be it. I think my worst nightmare would be working on a channel setting that keep developing holes and no matter how many times I laser it it keeps getting more holes. Haha I'm just kidding.
I think my worst nightmare would be a home invasion. We almost had one when I was 12. A man who murdered two people tried to break into my house, covered in someone else's blood. Thank God for my mother. Who threatened the man with a shotgun from the safety from the kitchen. He was on the other side of the door with something in his hands jimmying the door. He didn't stop even though we were screaming at him. I army crawled all the way to the kitchen and slid up the wall to call 911. Mom ran down stairs lime a gazelle and grabbed the shot gun. She pointed it at the door and screamed "if you come through that fucking door I'm going to blow a hold in you the size of a water melon" (shotgun noise) and then he dropped the whatever he had to Jimmy the door and took off.
A few days later we found out that the man trying to break into our house shot a gas station attendant less than a mile from my childhood home. Blew his brains all over the ground. They closed the gas station after that had happened. Nature took over the empty lot. A few days after that murder he stabbed a man at another gas station that was less than a mile from my home town. That was the night he tried to break into our home, with all the lights on, and while he knew we were home. When his name came out in the papers we realized it was our meter man. The man we said hi to all the time. Who seemed nice and attractive. I feel like the people you know are the ones you really have to watch out for.
In Fort Collins Colorado, on august 31st, 2013, Dane stratton barely on the job for 2 months was patrolling the streets. At 4 am people were calling 911 about a screaming woman in cotton wood Glen Park. Someone reported the woman was screaming "help, help".
Stratton got the call and felt something wasnt right. He went as fast as he could to the park to see where the reports were coming from. He drove all around the park, put the spot light on and saw nothing. Statton did a u turn and saw her. She was laying on a concrete path, bound, with red duct tape on her face, ankles and wrists. Her eyes were covered. She was badly beaten and bloodied. Found only with one sock on, otherwise Completely nude. She was strangled and left there to die.
She told the officer her name was Amber smith and he rushed her to the er. When stratton asked what had happened, amber kept saying she didn't know. All she knew at the time was that it was dark, she knew she was in danger and She could hear cars in the distance. Amber said, “I knew I was alive at that point… I knew I had to get out of there, so I gave it all my might to scream through the duct tape.”
The drs checked out her head injuries. She had a broken jaw, a brain bleed and ligature marks on her throat. she told a female officer she woke up, was naked and bleeding. Amber had also been raped but didn't know she was raped. In the hospital they did a rape kit on her and found unidentified semen in her vaginal cavity. She was 20 years old at the time of her attack.
Amber said she remembered drinking vodka with a friend in the park, Eric Vanagoonas. They were just hanging out and drinking on a park bench. The park she was drinking in wasn't the same park she was found in. The two parks were 1.5 miles apart. Which was odd, because she had no memory of leaving the park. She also had no memory of anything after her encounter with Eric. Which immediately, made me think it was possible Eric drugged her, but the truth was more shocking then where my brain could have taken me.
Amber was under a different name, while in the hospital, in case the person who tried to kill her came back. Being left for dead left room for her attacker to come find her to finish the Job. Police knew this and did all they could to shield her from her attacker.
Amber was young, pretty, had a lot of friends. She worked at 711 and was a single mother. Just trying to make ends meet. The day she was attacked she had a sitter for the baby.
All areas of Amber's body was stabbed. Police stabbed her mouth, vagina, duct tape, neck and any other area they thought might have DNA. They also took fingernail clippings to see if she might have inflicted defense wounds on her attacker. And by doing that she may have had DNA under her fingernails as well.
They located Eric's address but he wasn’t home. Erics mother said he was helping out at the local church, so detectives went to meet him there. Eric said he saw her that day and they were drinking in Rossboro park. He said that Amber passed out on the bench. Eric tried to wake her up but she was out cold. So he left her there in the park.Which i found incredibly awful. He said he felt bad and drove back to check on her but left again.
That guy wasn't her friend. At all. Any person who just leaves you completely inebriated out on a random ass park bench doesn't really give a shit what happens to you. Eric said he felt bad about leaving her there and drove back to check on her. Police said he flat out lied about coming back for her. You must have not really thought highly of her if you just leave women in public like that. I'm not saying it's his fault she was attacked. But I am saying that leaving any friend intoxicated anywhere is fucked up. Period.
Amber felt embarrassed she drank too much with Eric. She said she didn't remember anything after her interaction with eric. When she woke up she was on her stomach and was bound. Amber said she remembered a rope going around her neck from behind and being strangled. She said she got hit in the face really hard. Amber was strangled again and went unconscious. She described it like there was this light and then nothing. She said she thought she was in a dark house. She woke up in a different park screaming for help. The next thing she knew Stratton found her.
4 days after being rescued she was released from the hospital. The police put Amber in a safe house to hide out. She was terrified he would still find her. Police gave amber an alias to go by so no one could say she was staying there. The trauma she endured made her suspicious of everybody. Amber didn't know if someone was a stranger or a friend.
The DNA results came back. The profile was completed and they knew that would be the only way to identify her offender. They uploaded it to the criminal codis database. Unfortunately, there weren’t any hits on the DNA. As far as eric was concerned, he wasn't a match either. So eric was cleared as a suspect. Police thought this guy was a repeat offender and that this wasn't his first time. They were shocked that this person wasn't in the codis database. Police were at a loss and didn't know where to go from here.
Eric, however, gave some other names of people amber knew. 10 men were questioned and swabbed. Each of the 10 men were ran through the codis database. None of them matched the DNA profile of Amber's attacker.
Months went by and nothing was happening. The case was going cold. Police were still at a loss. Amber wanted to know who had done this to her so she could move on. Because police couldn’t give her any real answers yet, She bottled up her fears. Amber started feeling tremendous guilt. Her survivor’s guilt was getting really bad. It plagued her and told her that this is your fault, if you didn't get drunk in the park this would Have never happened to you. Amber also had awful ptsd, every person she passed she would think "is it him?". The depression and anxiety was making amber into a shell of a person. She started isolating herself. Her friends and family were worried about her until a friend invited her to stay with them In their house.
This new living situation consisted of Mostly men. Brice and Stephan (also known as Sam) were her two roommates. Stephan was very supportive of Amber's pain. she stated that their first interaction consisted of him giving her a dirty look. However, by 2015-2016, the pair had
developed a friendship. Amber also told Sam about her traumatic experience, and he consoled her. At one point, he even asked her if she wanted a hug. she started getting back to who she was, slowly, while living there. Living with these guys made her feel safe and she started coming around a little bit.
Detectives were looking for links in other cases now. Det. Seymour was even looking into another case where the person used duct tape to bind his victims. She linked the cases and tested the suspects DNA. Unfortunately the DNA didn't match the perpetrator of these other crimes. Again and again she chased down every lead but nothing was matching up. The case was closed two years after the incident. The detectives were on a rotation after a certain amount of time and Seymour didn't want to give up this case until she figured out who did this to amber.
Patrol officer Stratton had ptsd after the incident. He suffered from nightmares and could Hear her screams everywhere he went. Stratton would drive his patrol car around looking for this guy at night. He interviewed people hanging out in the park and check out people who left bars. Stratton even gave some drunk people rides home when they were intoxicated. Hoping this doesn't happen to other women and trying to protect them from the dangers of the night.
Brice's bike was stolen. The bike was found at the pawn broker's after Brice called the police. He had an idea who the bike thief was and told police. The Suspect in the bike robbery was booked and swabbed. Why you may ask? Because anyone who lies to a pawn broker in CO. Has to give a DNA swab because it's a felony to lie to pawn broker's while selling stolen goods.
It was 4 years after Amber's attack when det. Seymour’s boss called her to tell her the cbi had a new codis hit on the DNA from the case. Surprisingly, The man who stole the bike matched the DNA from Amber's case. The stars were aligning for detective Seymour. Who knew they would get a hit on such a petty crime.
Det Seymour went onto Facebook to see what this guy looked like and she was shocked that this was the guy who assaulted amber. The detective called amber to let her know she had an update on her case. Det Seymour went to Amber's apartment to see her. When Seymour showed the photo to amber, amber was in disbelief. She told det Seymour it was a huge mistake. That the DNA was wrong. She couldn't believe what she was seeing.
Amber told detective Seymour the man in the picture was Sam moon. Her friend, her confidant, her old roommate. Amber only met him two years ago and told him all about what she went through. Amber said there's no way her good friend, who was gentle and good to her and her daughter, was a vicious rapist killer...
Amber was told to get Sam on the phone to get him to confess. Amber was still not convinced it was him but she called him anyway. They hadn't spoken in a while so they had gotten the pleasantries out of the way. Amber then goes right into her case.
She tells Sam his DNA matched from her crime scene. Sam lies of course and says he didn't hurt her. When she asks him how did his DNA get in her vagina from two years before she even met him. He said he didn't know. Stammering over his words. He was stuttering like crazy and kept repeating himself. Eventually he flips and realizes that maybe the police are listening to his phone call. So he goes "Rossboro park right? We had sex, I didn't hurt you, we had sex."
He said, you were giving out free blow jobs because you had an ad on Craigslist. So he said, I met you in the park and we had sex. Sam then said " this conversation is done, I didn't hurt you. "
Then he just hangs up the phone on amber. Of course, amber didn't have any ad on Craigslist. Sam knew that call was being recorded or that she was going to tell authorities. So making up a story like that was going to be his defense. To slander amber.
Sam was brought in for questioning and he cried like a little bitch. He lied to investigators and told them over and over that he was innocent. He eventually told detectives he had responded to a Craigslist ad and met amber there to have sex with her. That it was consensual, then he Went home and told his roommate Brice that there was a girl in the park giving out free sex. Sam then said that his roommate brought the girl home and took her into brice’s bedroom. There was screaming. Sam said he hid in his room while this was going on. That blood was pooling under the door and he looked under the door and saw Brice try to murder amber. Sam said he didn’t report his roommate. The next day Sam said his roommate beat the shit out of him and said that if Sam told anyone he would kill him.
Detectives didn't buy it. They told Sam that his DNA was on the duct tape, in her vagina, on her neck and under her fingernails. That his DNA alone was on her. Sam stuck to his story and blamed his friend Brice.
Detectives went to Sam's parents house. Detective Seymour asked sams father about the duct tape. His father said that there was red duct tape in their garage a long time ago but it had gotten used up. Detective Seymour told sams parents the DNA matched their sons in Amber's case. She wanted to get a feel for anything unusual in Sam's life. His parents said he was a kind and mild. But he did a lot of stupid things as a kid. Like juvenile pranks and unpaid parking tickets. That he was taught right and he knew better.
Detectives went to the house Sam lived in and tried to look under the door to see if they could see anything under the door but you couldn't see anything which proved Sam was lying about blood seeping under the door.
Sam's friend Brice denied everything and said Sam was mad at him for reporting him for stealing his bike. Brice told Detectives Sam was pathological liar.
Detectives even went onto Craigslist to see if there was ever an ad that offered up sex for money. Detectives said there was no such ad on Craigslist. None they could find that was to the extent that Sam said there was.
Amber still didn't believe her friend could have done this. all the way up until her trial. It was so hard for her to believe it because of his entire demeanor. Even after all he said to her on the phone. Amber was victimized all over again by all of the gaslighting Sam was doing. Trying to convince her she was the problem. That he didn't hurt her and that she asked for this, that it was consensual.
August 2019 the trial started. Detective Seymour told the story to the jury. She let them know when Sam's phone was seized there were 624 searches for rape porn on his phone. They thought this would be a slam dunk case because of all the DNA evidence. They were going for the maximum sentence. Detective Seymour was determined to find justice for amber. She was too involved at this point not to.
Dave Stratton choked up on the stand. He said his ptsd made it so vivid for him. His testimony left a very human element to the case. The first time he saw amber since the night he found her was in court. He wanted to hear her voice. All he could remember was her screaming and wanted a new memory to replace the old one.
The defense said cross contamination is how DNA got onto amber. Which made me laugh. The DNA was on the inside of the duct tape too so their argument was dumb as fuck. Sam's defense also stuck to the story that Brice was the killer. I guess they were going for the old sodit. Someone else did it.
Amber finally came around to believing her friend Sam was her attacker. It took up until she was sitting in front of him to finally let it sink in that one of her best friends was her worst enemy. She was hurt, angry and finally knew who it was. Amber took the stand and was able to take back her power. Her testimony gave the jury a well-rounded view of her attack. Amber said it was extremely nerve wracking to give her account of what had happened in front of all of those people but it needed to be done.
Also at the trial, Amber said, “I’m angry, upset, sad … so many things. But one thing I’ll never be is Stefan Moon’s victim. I’m broken, but stronger than I’ve ever been.”
The jury deliberated while everyone anxiously waited their verdict. The jury found Sam moon not guilty of attempted murder. That was a huge blow to the prosecution But the jury did find him guilty of sexual assault and kidnapping. The judge gave Sam the maximum sentence. 128 years. So he's never getting the fuck out and thank God for that.
As far as amber is concerned, she is doing pretty well. Amber is a survivor of addiction and has been on a few podcasts to be interviewed which I thought was pretty awesome. She is focusing on her son and education. Amber is trying to become an addictions counselor to help people by sharing her story with them. Go amber!
Dateline: left for dead season 29 episode 3
Stefan Moon befriended victim before being identified, convicted (coloradoan.com)