The Strange Murder of Natalie Bollinger
The teenager hired a hitman to kill her, or did she?
Natalie Bollinger via Broomfield Police Department
The story surrounding Natalie’s murder is odd, to say the least. Drugs, Craigslist, and a stalker all play a part in this case, but how involved was each element, and why are there still multiple unanswered questions?
Natalie was 19 years old and about to finish high school in Broomfield, Colorado. She’d gained a scholarship, studying to become a registered nurse at college, and for all intents and purpose, she was a happy young woman. However, there was another side to the teenager that wasn’t as straightforward, and that’s what makes this case even more strange.
Natalie went missing just after Christmas, on the 28th of December 2017. Two weeks before her disappearance, she’d written a lengthy post on Facebook, updating her friends on a known issue she’d been dealing with.
For the past two years, Natalie had been having problems with a stalker. Shawn Schwartz, believed to be in his mid-thirties or forties, had become enamoured by Natalie’s generosity. Schwartz was homeless, and Natalie had given him rides to where he’d needed to go and ended up befriending him when no one else would. He’d become obsessed.
The Facebook post written by Natalie via Facebook
When Natalie moved to Virginia, Schwartz followed, sleeping behind her work building. He bombarded her phone with texts, emails and calls, even threatening her family. The issue had become so bad that Natalie had filed for a restraining order, which had been granted earlier in December, just before she went missing.
The Facebook post told friends to ignore Schwartz, saying that acknowledging him would only make the situation worse for her. The problem was that Schwartz was already part of the thread; only Natalie didn’t know.
He’d created a fake profile and was commenting on the Facebook post, defending himself, and telling Natalie and her friends to “re-examine their intentions”. It’s not known how long he’d been friends with her on the social media channel.
The day after Natalie went missing, her body was discovered not far from her home, in the wooded area of a dairy farm in Adams County. Her identity was confirmed a few days later. Natalie had been shot in the head, and a 9mm casing was found near her body. According to the Coroner’s report, Natalie also had an extremely high dose of heroin in her blood, which would likely have been lethal.
Suspicion immediately pointed to Shawn Schwartz, but he was never arrested or charged in connection to Natalie’s murder. Instead, Schwartz began posting his suicidal tendencies on Facebook, leading to police finding him at St. John’s Episcopal Church on Pine Street. He was taken to Boulder Community Health’s Foothills Hospital, where he yelled at staff and police officers, who later arrested him for the disruption.
Shawn Schwartz via Boulder County Sheriff’s Office
However, despite an obvious suspect in Schwartz, police quickly found another person of interest. An inspection of Natalie’s phone records and internet use found that she’d been talking to another man, and between them, they’d sent around one hundred messages.
Joseph Michael Lopez had answered an advert in the ‘women seeking men’ section of Craigslist, which he said later turned out to be created by Natalie. According to the 23-year-old pizza delivery guy, the advert was entitled, ‘I want to put a hit on myself’, and Natalie was looking for someone to end her life for her because she didn’t have the nerve.
However, this wasn’t the only story he would tell them.
In the first account he gave to police, he said that he’d messaged Natalie out of curiosity after seeing the Craigslist advert. After exchanging details, Lopez picked her up from her home in Broomfield after his shift at the pizza place, and the pair went to scout locations for where she could die. He said she’d told him that she was having issues with her boyfriend, and it had all become too much. However, he told the police that they couldn’t decide on a place, so he drove her home.
The issue with this account was that Lopez’s car’s GPS placed him at the murder scene. The second story he gave police had a slightly different commentary. He told them the pair had gone location scouting, but once they’d arrived at a spot near a dairy farm, Natalie had shot herself in the head with the 9mm she’d brought with her. He’d then left her and hadn’t reported the act to the police.
“He didn’t respond as a human being,” chief deputy district attorney Ally Barber told WLKY at the time. “He responded as a predator.”
The problem with this account, police told Lopez, was that given the bullet’s trajectory into Natalie’s skull, she could never have pulled the trigger. So, once again, Lopez changed his story.
He told investigators that he’d messaged Natalie, hoping to convince her not to kill herself. Even after they’d gone to scout places to kill her, he was hoping she’d reconsider, but she didn’t. That, he said, was when he agreed to kill her himself.
He said the pair prayed together, and then he shot Natalie in the back of the head, shaking uncontrollably and without looking at his target.
Lopez’s final account made more sense than the others, given the evidence. However, it was still murder. The gun he used to shoot her was still in his car when he was arrested, and her purse was still in his possession too.
During one of the interviews, Lopez told investigators that he kept a journal in high school where he wrote kidnapping stories about torturing people and ending their lives. Lopez was charged with first-degree murder, however, the charge was dropped to second-degree when he agreed to plead guilty.
Joseph Lopez Adams County Sheriff’s Office
Joseph Michael Lopez was sentenced to 48 years in prison, rather than the life sentence he avoided by pleading guilty. If he serves the entire term, he will be released by the time he’s 71.
As for the Bollinger family, they weren’t aware that Lopez made a deal with the district attorney. Instead, during the sentencing, they took the opportunity to criticize their daughter’s killer in court publicly.
“You took advantage of my daughter,” Ted Bollinger said. “She was vulnerable and drugged… You premeditated, brutally shot and killed my baby. I asked for an eye for an eye. You have been protected. The Bollinger family had no say in this. This is a deal with the devil.”
There was never any evidence that a Craigslist advert ever existed, and it’s unclear how Joseph Lopez and Natalie Bollinger became acquainted.
Shawn Schwartz still claims his innocence on Facebook and to whoever will listen. In an interview with Heavy.com, he adamantly told them he didn’t stalk the 19-year-old.
“I told her that if she didn’t stop the harassment against me, I would expose people in her family. And that’s what prompted her to do it…she’s been threatening with a restraining order for over six months. I have also been trying to get help for over six months. In Virginia we had a lot of fun…I held her hand once, but that was it. We had no sexual relationship, I was her friend. I went to Virginia because Natalie got into a car accident within 24 hours of telling me she wanted to kill herself. That’s why I went there. We were friends.”
His videos can be viewed on his YouTube channel.
Natalie would now be in her twenties and attending nursing school. She leaves behind her family, including her twin sister Alycia, who also went missing nearly two years after Natalie’s murder. She was found safe shortly after.
There are still unanswered questions relating to this case. It’s unclear why there was so much heroin in Natalie’s system, and it doesn’t look like it’s ever been investigated.
There’s also the issue of why Natalie had a gun on her while driving around with Lopez, or even how the pair came to know each other.
If Schwartz’s testimony in his videos is taken into account, Natalie wasn’t a happy person and had threatened to take her life before. So, could it possibly be that Lopez was acting on her instruction, rightly or wrongly?
Perhaps these questions don’t need answers. With Lopez placed at the scene, there’s evidence that he was involved in her death, but it’s still unclear how much of his story is accurate, and we’re unlikely ever to hear a complete account of what happened that evening.
Resources & further reading
'Person of interest' in Natalie Bollinger death charged with assaulting officer in Boulder Shawn Schwartz, a "person of interest" in the death of Broomfield teen Natalie Bollinger, was charged Wednesday in…www.dailycamera.com A man says a 19-year-old woman hired him to kill her on Craigslist, and alleges he tried to change… Joseph Lopez pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in the death of 19-year-old Natalie Bollinger. Bollinger's body was…www.insider.com Family of woman, 19, outraged by plea deal for her murderer Joseph Michael Lopez will was given a jail sentence of 48 years behind bars but he will be eligible for parole, much to…www.dailymail.co.uk Man Charged With Killing 19-Year-Old Natalie Bollinger Claims She Hired Him To Kill Her Joseph Lopez allegedly told police the Craigslist ad was titled "I want to put a hit on myself" Joseph Lopez, 22, was…people.com