Acceptance comes slowly after deaths of mother, daughter — (The Gazette Telegraph)

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The Gazette Telegraph,  (Colorado Springs)

March 10, 1994

Author: Marcus Montoya[]

Lisa Procell and her daughter, Lee Braun, were the best of friends. Both loved going to the opera and ballet together, shopping, sleeping over, hanging out.

“The two of them were inseparable,” said Procell’s ex-husband and Braun’s father, Bill Procell.

So perhaps it was not surprising that mother and daughter were together on the last day of their lives. The mystery is why Lisa Procell and Lee Braun froze to death near their car and within a few hundreds yards of a neighborhood in Teller County.

“I would like to feel that we’ve probably brought up and thought of just about every scenario you can think of,” said Teller County Sheriff Gary Shoemaker. “Now, putting the answers to those scenarios is sometimes more difficult.”

The coroner knows what killed the women – exposure – and he knows the deaths were accidental. But nagging questions remain: What were the women doing about 30 miles from their original destination that day? Why had both taken the drug Zoloft for which neither had a prescription? And where did they get a supply of a drug that’s usually taken to combat depression?

Those are the questions both police and Bill Procell keep asking. The cops want the answers to stamp “case closed” on the women’s files. Procell wants to know because both women had great dreams and plenty to live for. He understands intellectually that their deaths are accidents. But in his heart, it’s harder to accept.

“All the easy answers we can think of just don’t work,” he said. “I guess it will bother me all of my life.”

Source of drug remains a mystery

Lisa Procell was found by a hiker of Feb. 25, her body lying face down in the snow at the end of the Kinsgton Circle cul de sac. Her car, a 1987 Plymouth Horizon – with her purse still locked in it – was stuck bumper-deep in the snow some 40 feet away.

The next day, with the help of an El Paso County Sheriff’s bloodhound, officials came upon Braun lying dead beyond a nearby hill. Her small dog Badger was still alive and tethered to her wrist by a leash.

Her footprints show she wandered aimlessly about one-eight of a mile in a semicircle from the car, bringing Badger and her keys along. She zigzagged back and forth down a draw, sat or slipped on the snow, continued on, and finally fell where she was found.

No other footprints were found to indicate she was chased by anyone from her car. And officials can’t imagine her stopping to collect her purse and lock the car if she was fleeing someone.

Both women had concentrations of the anti-depressant Zoloft in their systems, said El Paso County Coroner David Bowerman.

Procell, in fact, had a toxic amount in her system, but that level could have elevated after her death because of chemical changes in the body that may allow the drug to be released from cells, he said.

The drug could have affected the women’s actions or could have interacted with other medications in their systems to cause them to act erratically.

“Any medication can alter their clear thinking,” he said. “They probably weren’t thinking clearly.”

But, Bowerman said, because there aren’t many documented studies on Zoloft’s absorption rate into the body, he couldn’t say if the amount in their systems could have come from a suicidal binge session or if it built up over time.

“It’s just too new to answer that question for you,” he said.

A more interesting question may be just where the women got the drug in the first place.  Bill Procell said he didn’t know that either one of them was taking Zoloft or any other anti-depressants. He learned it from reading the Gazette Telegraph.

“That’s the very first I’d ever heard of it,” he said. “It was a total surprise to me. An absolute, total surprise.”

Investigators from the Teller County Sheriff’s Office and the 4th Judicial District Attorney’s Office have not been able to trace a prescription for the drug for either women.

“As far as I can tell, they’ve checked all the legitimate sources they can check,” Procell said.

There were no prescriptions or drug bottles found in the car or on either woman.

Procell couldn’t understand why either woman would be taking anti-depressants – both had been in good spirits before their disappearance.

“Depression normally exhibits itself in one way or the other, even to untrained observers,” he said. “Those signs weren’t there.”

Daughter had recently gotten married

Both women, described as so close they often were inseparable, certainly had plenty to live for.

Braun was recently married to Mark Braun, a pressman.

She spent her formative years growing up overseas with her parents. She spoke fluent French, German and Greek and a smattering of Russian and Turkish.

After exploring several majors and schools, she settled on the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs and political science, her father said. She had a grade-point average of 3.0 and had only her senior project to finish before graduation. She wanted to go on to law school.

Her mother had chosen helping African people with AIDS as her profession.

She served with the Peace Corps in Lesotho, in southern Africa, in 1988, and in 1990 joined the United Nations’ World Health Organization in Zambia. She created and managed AIDS projects for that country.

But she contracted malaria in late 1992 and was forced to return to the United States in April 1993 and its modern medical care rather than die in Zambia, where 80 percent of the limited hospital beds are already filled with AIDS patients.

Still, she wanted to return to finish her work.

So she and her ex-husband began work on a proposal for the Agency for International Development to return to Africa and create an AIDS intervention project in Malawai, where there aren’t any malaria-carrying mosquitos.

“Lisa was absolutely ecstatic about this project we were going to turn in,” he said. So excited, she started calling friends in Africa, paving the way for her return some time early this fall.

Bill and Lisa Procell were married for 18 years before splitting in 1982. They remained close friends and when she came back from Africa, Bill Procell cleared out the master bedroom and bath for her.

Many would say that she’d done her share, gone beyond her share actually, Bill Procell said.

“Her answer was you haven’t done your part until AIDS is controlled and is no longer threatening the very structure of those countries,” he said. “I guess if that’s the way you approach your life’s work, that’s a reasonable approach.”

In the interim, she earned a nursing assistant’s certificate because she wanted to work with the sick. She routinely gave talks about her experiences with HIV and AIDS intervention to different groups in Colorado Springs.

So the first thing Bill Procell thought of when he got the bad news was that his loved ones were crime victims. But he has confidence in the police work done on the case and has to accept that, despite his gut reaction, Lisa and Lee died accidentally.

“No matter what my thoughts are, they were not abducted, there was no foul play, et cetera,” he said. “That means that they either deliberately went up there on their own for whatever reason, or somehow they were confused and wound up there.”

To help occupy the time, he’s been writing to his ex-wife’s friends around the world trying to explain what happened.

“In each case I try to think, you know, why?” he said. “I still have absolutely no clue.”

Quote: “All the easy answers we can think of just don’t work. I guess it will bother me all of my life.” Bill Procell

Quote: “No matter what my thoughts are, they were not abducted, there was no foul play, et cetera. That means that they either deliberately went up there on their own for whatever reason, or somehow they were confused and wound up there.” Bill Procell

Copyright 1994, 2002 The Gazette (Colorado Springs, CO)

Record Number:  120772