Cold Cases: Idaho Falls, Bonneville County law enforcement continue to work on unsolved cases
The March 22 arrest of Kenneth Ryan Jones for the murder of Stephanie Eldredge brought a 12-year-old mystery closer to closure.
Idaho Falls Police Department Sgt. Jessica Marley was able to find probable cause to charge Jones after devoting her focus exclusively to Eldredge’s case.
In Bonneville County, there are eight other murder and missing persons cases that remain unsolved. They range widely through the area’s history, from the recent disappearance of Jed Hall to the murder of Donna Lemon nearly half a century ago.
Across the country in recent months several high profile cold cases have been solved using new DNA databases, and there’s hope in some of the local cases that these new investigative methods could lead to the perpetrators’ identities.
In May 2017, the Idaho Falls Police Department released a DNA-based sketch of the man who killed 18-year-old Angie Dodge more than two decades ago.
Parabon Nanolabs, the Virginia company that produced the DNA sketch in the Dodge case, has helped identify suspects other cold cases, including:
— William Earl Talbott II, who is accused of the 1987 killings of Jay Cook and Tanya Van Cuylenborg in Washington state.
— Coley McCraney, 45, who faces murder counts in the 1999 killings of best friends J.B. Beasley and Tracie Hawlett in southeast Alabama.
— Cecil Stan Caldwell, who died in 2003 at the age of 59, was identified as the man who fatally strangled Clifford and Linda Bernhardt in 1973 in Billings, Mont.
The New York Times reported last month that Parabon’s work has led to 49 genetic identifications, reopening a number of cold cases.
All of the local cold cases are still open and under investigation by the Idaho Falls Police Department and Bonneville County Sheriff’s Office. The time law enforcement can devote to each of them varies based on the officers’ workload and the available evidence.
Idaho Falls Police Department Spokeswoman Jessica Clements said the department conducts regular reviews of cold cases, a practice that lead to progress in the Eldredge case.
“They aren’t just waiting on a shelf somewhere collecting dust,” Clements said.
Anyone with information about these cases can contact both departments at 208-529-1200 or call Crime Stoppers at 208-522-1983.
The cases are listed below from the most recent to the oldest.
Matthew Jedediah “Jed” Hall was last seen around 6 a.m. Jan. 22, 2018. He left the house in a silver 2009 Nissan Versa. Attempts to ping his cellphone have been unsuccessful.
Hall had made a threat of self-harm, but police are skeptical that was his intention when he left. His father, Allen Hall, is a former police officer, and he told the Post Register in September that people who take their lives are usually found quickly.
The only clue lies in a journal page Jed Hall seems to have left behind on accident. The page lists items Jed Hall planned to take with him, including survival supplies. The page also includes plans to disguise himself so that others would not notice him.
Dorothy Mary Kajpust was 54 years old when she was found severely beaten in a trailer home near Ririe on Aug. 21, 2004. She died four days later from her injuries.
The Bonneville County Sheriff’s Office determined Kajpust had been hit several times in the head with a blunt object. Kajpust was staying with a woman who was house sitting the trailer for a truck driver who sometimes passed through Idaho Falls.
The house sitter had left around 1 a.m. to get coffee and returned around 5 a.m. to find Kajpust beaten.
Kajpust was moving from one truck stop to another when she died, making money by cleaning the trucks. She was buried a week after her death, a funeral that lasted five minutes with no family in attendance. Three weeks later a Lincoln High School student organized a memorial service for Kajpust and raised money to give her grave a headstone.
Amber Shawnell Hoopes was last seen watching television at her grandmother’s house on Sept. 14, 2001. Her grandmother went to bed at 10:30 p.m. When she woke up at 1:30 a.m. the lights and television were still on, but Hoopes was nowhere to be seen.
Investigators learned Hoopes had been home as late as 1 a.m. because her computer had begun downloading music around that time.
A Classic Truck & Auto truck owned by the family was found a few blocks away. Keith Hescock, who had been a painter for the company until a disagreement with Hoopes’ family, was a suspect in her disappearance. In 2002, he shot himself during a standoff with police after he kidnapped a 14-year-old girl. Hescock told the girl she was not his first victim.
Darwin Vest was a mainstay in the Post Register’s pages for several years, mostly for his knowledge about hobo spiders, a name his sister coined for Tegenaria agrestis. Vest was instrumental in lobbying a special committee of the American Arachnological Society to give the spider its common name.
Vest, a research toxinologist, was 48 when he disappeared in 1999. He met with friends at the Frosty Gator for trivia night before heading to The Golden Crown Lounge. He left to go home in the early hours of June 3 but never arrived at his house.
Family members said Vest always called if he was staying out late. Over the past 20 years, there’s been little new evidence in the case. His family had him declared legally dead in 2003.
Tonya Teske, an 18-year-old woman from Shosoni, Wyo., was found dead and naked near an entrance ramp to U.S. Highway 20 on Aug. 15, 1997.
It took a week for the Bonneville County Sheriff’s Office to identify her because her face was swollen when she was found. A trucker recognized a sketch of her and said deputies in Gallatin County, Mont., had questioned her about soliciting sex at a truck stop two days before her body was discovered. There was also a warrant for her arrest in Utah County, Utah. An autopsy did not find a definitive cause of death but did rule out natural causes.
An Idaho truck driver became the primary suspect months after Teske’s death. Law enforcement from Idaho, Utah, Nevada and Wyoming became involved, investigating the possibility her death was connected to other murders with similar circumstances, but an arrest was never made.
Angie Dodge was killed in her I Street apartment on June 13, 1996. For eight months police investigated the case, leading to the arrest of Christopher Tapp, who spent 20 years in prison. He was released from prison in 2017 after his attorney, Public Defender John Thomas, argued his confession was false and had been coerced by police.
Though Tapp’s murder conviction still stands, Angie Dodge’s mother Carol said when he was released that she does not believe he murdered her daughter.
The killer’s DNA was recovered at the scene and has been tested against criminals nationwide since 1996. The DNA is not a match for Tapp.
Randall Leach was hitchhiking from Wisconsin to Bend, Ore., to visit his sister when he disappeared on Nov. 7, 1980. Days before his disappearance, Leach, 20, had stayed at a dairy farm in Idaho Falls.
Leach’s disappearance is one of the most mysterious cases, with little evidence or explanation. The farmers were quickly ruled out as suspects during the investigation, meaning there are no suspects.
Leach was described by his family members as a young idealist who liked to travel. He had spent a year studying in Kenya but had never hitchhiked before his disappearance.
The oldest cold case in Bonneville County, Donna Lemon was found dead on the bank of Snake River on July 9, 1973. Lemon, who was 20 years old at the time, had been stabbed. Her car was parked a mile away with blood on the door handle. It’s unknown why Lemon, who was from Montana, was in Idaho Falls at the time of her death.