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Special Order Cable Ties Lead Officers to Suspected Killer

Leon Michael Ford was charged with deliberate homicide and tampering with evidence in June 2011 killing

HELENA — Special order cable ties, images from a trail camera and a history of bad blood over road access eventually added up to an arrest in a 2011 homicide in a rural neighborhood northwest of Helena, charging documents said.

Leon Michael Ford, of Oak Harbor, Washington, was arrested Wednesday on a warrant charging him with deliberate homicide and tampering with evidence in the June 2011 killing and dismemberment of his neighbor, John Michael Crites, 49.

Ford appeared for an extradition hearing in Island County, Washington, on Thursday and another hearing is set for Monday, Washington state court records said. Ford’s attorney, Craig Alan Pratt, did not immediately return a phone message Friday seeking comment.

According to investigators, Crites called a neighbor just before 9 a.m. on June 26, 2011 to say he’d had a confrontation with Ford the night before and that Ford was coming back to talk with him. He asked the neighbor to witness the conversation, but the neighbor declined, court records said. The neighbor advised Crites to record the event and call him after they had finished talking. Crites never made the call, court records said.

Game cameras owned by Crites’ neighbor recorded Ford’s pickup truck traveling toward Crites’ residence later that morning. Five hours later, the game camera captured Ford’s pickup speeding down the road away from Crites’ residence.

Neighbors called sheriff’s deputies two days later because they had been unable to contact Crites, the door to his house was open and his two hybrid wolves were outside their enclosure.

Ford told investigators he hadn’t seen Crites on June 26. Ford and his wife left Helena on June 29, court records said.

It was more than three months later, on Oct. 5, 2011, when some of Crites’ remains were found in a plastic garbage bag on the east side of MacDonald Pass. His skull and other bones were found the following September on the west side of the pass. Both bags containing Crites’ remains also contained special order cable ties that match those that records show Ford took from his employer’s inventory in February 2011, court records said. An autopsy determined Crites had been shot twice in the head.

Four handguns were seized in a search of Ford’s house in October 2012, prosecutors said.

“I have had a cold case unit working on this for quite some time and it’s taken a long time to track down witnesses, either bring in or eliminate suspects and go through physical evidence, circumstantial evidence, and finally arrive with a charge,” Lewis and Clark County Sheriff Leo Dutton told the Independent Record newspaper on Wednesday. “It has been a long, arduous process.”