POWELL — Angela Elizondo told her mother last fall that, if anything ever happened to her, her body “would be found in the mountains near Cody.” In only a matter of weeks, Elizondo’s words proved prophetic.
On Nov. 2, a hunter found the 40-year-old’s body — wrapped up in a bedsheet and tied to a handcart — abandoned in a ravine along a remote two-track ranch road south of Cody.
Elizondo had also told Cheyenne police who they should talk to if she ever disappeared: Joseph C. Underwood, a former Cody resident she had dated, who had a history of criminal violence and mental health problems.
Underwood himself had reportedly complained to a Cheyenne officer about Elizondo in September, saying that police “had better do something with her, or she will end up dead.”
Laramie County prosecutors now believe it wasn’t an idle threat. They’re alleging that Underwood killed Elizondo on Nov. 1 and sexually assaulted her body before bringing her remains to Park County.
A native of Casper and a longtime Cheyenne resident, Elizondo was a mother of one son.
Her obituary, published in November, said she had worked in the healthcare, retail and restaurant industries while volunteering for Meals on Wheels and helping the homeless.
“Angela was characterized as a strong, hardworking, unconditionally loving, giving, and accepting person who strived to be the best mother she could,” read a portion of the remembrance.
Underwood is facing felony charges of first-degree murder, two counts of strangulation of a household member and a misdemeanor count of stalking in connection with Elizondo’s death.
A Laramie County Circuit Court judge recently allowed the case to proceed toward a trial, finding enough evidence behind those charges to send the case to the county’s district court.
Judge Denise Nau did dismiss a count of first-degree sexual assault at a Jan. 24 preliminary hearing, concluding that the statute does not apply when an individual is deceased, the Wyoming Tribune Eagle reported.
However, Underwood faces a minimum sentence of life in prison if convicted of premeditated murder or — if the Laramie County District Attorney’s Office chose to seek it — the 45-year-old could face the death penalty. He is set to enter a plea to the charges on Thursday morning in Cheyenne.
After Elizondo’s body was discovered in Park County in November, authorities didn’t have to search for Underwood. They arrested him only hours later, when he allegedly returned to the scene.
Officers with the Park County Sheriff’s Office and the Bureau of Land Management took Underwood into custody after a high-speed pursuit and a standoff, in which he reportedly threatened to shoot himself in the head.
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In later interviews with agents from the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation, Underwood allegedly said he and Elizondo had, at her request, gotten together on the night of Nov. 1, the Wyoming Tribune Eagle reported.
However, they reportedly got into an argument at his apartment. Underwood said they “had a discussion about their inability to trust each other” and she returned a ring he’d given her, DCI Agent Tina Trimble wrote in an affidavit. Underwood recounted that he then “blacked out, as he has done in the past” and found himself sitting on top of Elizondo’s dead body, the affidavit says.
“Joseph Underwood did not specifically know, but believed he possibly strangled Angela Elizondo, causing her death,” Trimble wrote.
An autopsy later determined Elizondo had been choked and died of blunt force trauma to her head, charging documents say. After having sexual contact with her body, Underwood allegedly purchased rope and a handcart at a Walmart and drove Elizondo’s remains across the state to a spot about two miles off of Wyo. Highway 120 and roughly 15 miles south of Cody.
DCI’s investigation found that Cheyenne police had documented four incidents involving Elizondo and Underwood between Sept. 4 and Oct. 5.
In the final October incident, Underwood allegedly tried to run Elizondo and her new boyfriend off the road and then confronted them at a gas station. Cheyenne PD’s reports were all “very brief” and contained few details, Trimble wrote in her affidavit, but “in all the calls, it appears as though Elizondo and Underwood both reported that the other was engaging in unwanted contact with the other.”
Underwood claimed before and after his arrest that Elizondo had stalked him, but neighbors, coworkers and the woman’s mother told DCI agents that he appeared to be stalking her.
Underwood, they said, “parked in front of Elizondo’s home for long periods of time at all hours of night watching her house,” drove by her mother’s home and frequently visited the restaurant where she worked, sometimes sitting in the parking lot, Trimble wrote.
“A few weeks prior to her death, Elizondo asked coworkers to walk her to her car as she did not want to encounter Underwood alone.”
Underwood had engaged in violence against romantic partners and family members in the past, court records show.
That includes a July 2014 incident in Cody in which he reportedly choked his 15-year-old son. The following month, he threatened his then-wife and another family member with a gun as they picked up her belongings. An hours-long standoff with Cody police ensued in the August 2014 incident, ending when Underwood shot himself in the head. He went on to recover — though he reported having no memory of the standoff — and served roughly three years and eight months in prison before being released in May 2018.
Underwood’s court-appointed defense attorney in the murder case, Brandon Booth of Cheyenne, said in a November filing that his client also has “a long history of treatment and mental health history starting from a traumatic brain injury at a young age.”
January’s preliminary hearing in the case had been delayed by two months so Booth could gather various records about Underwood’s mental health.
“This gathering of this information will assist counsel in assessing [Underwood’s] mental state to determine whether requirements under the law are satisfied,” Booth wrote in a motion, apparently referring to Underwood’s competency.
To date, no request has been made for an evaluation of whether Underwood is fit to stand trial. Underwood has remained in custody since his Nov. 2 arrest and is currently being held by the Laramie County Sheriff’s Office, with bail set at $1 million.