Chronology of events surrounding the murder of John Michael (Mike) Crites. By Connie L Crites
Our ordeal began on Wednesday, June 29, 2011. My mother received a call from the Lewis & Clark County (LCC) Sheriff, asking if she had heard from Mike recently. Apparently, nobody had seen nor heard from Mike since Sunday the 26th.
Mike’s neighbor, Marc, had reported him missing for several reasons. There had been a lot of issues surrounding trespassing and the use of the road (Turk Rd) up to Mike’s property. Because of these issues, threats had been made directly to and about Mike. On Monday the 27th, Marc saw Mikes dogs running loose, at which point he knew that something was wrong. He then went to Mikes house, found the front door not just unlocked but open, and all of his vehicles were there. Since Mike had not called to ask him to feed the dogs while he was gone, Marc knew that he had not planned on an extended hunting or hiking trip. Mike loved his dogs as if they were his children, and he never left for more than two days without having Marc come up and feed them. At this point, Marc called the LCC Sheriff’s office and subsequently some deputies came up to Mikes to check out the area with him. The following Wednesday, the sheriff called my Mother and by Thursday morning Mike had been added to the Montana missing persons website as an official missing person.
In the days to follow, we (my sister, my mother and I) were in constant contact with the Sheriff’s office. That Thursday a search and rescue team was dispatched, with a helicopter, 4 people, two dogs- one cadaver and one “live person” dog. They searched his 80 acres and some surrounding areas. They found nothing. Thursday night I spoke with the search and rescue deputy who said that they had turned the matter over to a detective, as it did appear that foul play may have been involved. The LCC Sheriff’s department did know about the circumstances, ie the ongoing road issues and the threats, so they advised us that they were going to pursue the criminal aspects of the investigation further.
We (my Mother, Tim and I) decided to go to Helena immediately. We did not want this swept under the rug as just another missing person’s case, and we really hoped that he would turn up, maybe injured in the woods, something.
We arrived in Helena on July 4th. The day after we arrived, we found Mike’s wallet, with cash, credit cards and drivers license still inside, in his glove box in the truck that was parked right out front. The tailgate was down as a working surface, and there was a small tree in a bucket of dirt on the tailgate. With his keys still in the ignition, his wallet in the glove box, his front door open, and his tailgate down right in front of the house, it was evident that he was in the midst of a planting project, outside, when somebody (or bodies) got him. Another thing that gave credence to the murder theory was that the last conversation my mother had had with Mike, he had ended with “Mom, if they find me dead up here, please tell them about the crazy guy down the hill. I love you, goodbye.” My Mother said that this was the first time that she had ever heard Mike sound scared, but naturally nobody expects that their son’s fears of being murdered will actually be realized.
We went back up to Mike’s house on Wednesday, July 6th, because we wanted to go through some of his things to see if we could find any clues, and we also knew that another search and rescue team would be out that morning. This time, they had two cadaver dogs and four people on foot. The team seemed genuinely concerned and conscientious and they searched all day. At that point I think that everyone finally agreed that he was not laying injured somewhere on or near his 80 acres; he had been murdered.
On Thursday morning we met with the detectives, in order to discuss their plans going forward. My mother gave them permission to put down Mike’s beloved dogs, who were still running loose, since at that point we knew that Mike was dead, and his wolf-hybrids could not survive without him. We searched for hours for the dogs, in hopes of luring them back into their kennel, because we knew how much Mike loved them. At one point we heard one of them howling, and it was the most pitiful sound I think I have ever heard an animal make. I think also we were really holding out some hope that he was just injured, and that his dogs would lead us to him.
After being home for a few weeks with no news, we again felt like we had to do something. On July 27 – we (me, Tim and his son) went out to Helena to conduct our own search. A few of Mike’s friends and neighbors who knew the land better than we did had some ideas as to where the police had not searched, so we spent the day covering those areas.
During this trip the stark reality hit me that we were looking for a body….not my brother. I just couldn’t quite wrap my head around the whole thing. Even though you know someone has been murdered, without a body it just doesn’t seem real. After a few days of looking around, talking to the detectives and going through more of Mike’s things looking for clues, we once again left Helena with my brother still missing.
On September 9,there was still no body, so we decided to go out one more time, because we again felt like we had to do something. On this trip, my sister flew out from Dallas, and two of Mike’s childhood friends drove out from Colorado with me, Tim and my mother. The media coverage had substantially died down, so we went downtown, hit the farmers market and local businesses, and passed out flyers, asking people to keep their eyes open for a body while hunting or hiking. This did regenerated some media interest and got people talking. We also sealed up Mike’s house for winter, and tried to take care of some personal matters. Since he still had not been declared dead, there was only so much we could do.
We did consider this a successful trip in that the media became re-involved, and we were able to get the word out to hundreds of people as to what was going on. Once again though, we had to leave knowing that my brother had been murdered, but unable to find his body. I left deflated, hopeless and uncertain, and I could tell that this was really starting to take a toll on my mother. However, there was nothing else that we could do, so we had no choice but to go home, and wait.
On October 4th, two bags of “human remains” were found on national forest land near MacDonald Pass, west of Helena. My mother had to give her DNA for testing, and we anxiously awaited the results. It was not until January 10th that the remains were declared to be Mike’s. That same day, we found out from the newspaper article regarding the remains, that a default judgment had been entered against Mike in November 2011, when he failed to respond to a summons? (well, he was dead, so he couldn’t) After going through thousands of pieces of paper at Mikes we found no evidence of a pending lawsuit so doubted that Mike even knew about it! More on that later!
On June 27th, 2012, we went back to Helena. From January until June there was a lot of testing at the crime lab, questioning of witnesses, searching for more clues, but still no arrests have been made. There is a very strong case against certain individuals and we again met with the detectives in order to see what they have. This trip was very eventful. For detailed information check the Helena IR and search “Crites”. I will hit on the highlights here, and a more day by day account is on the blog page. While we were there, someone put up a sign right before Mike’s land that announced a“private drive”. The interesting thing about this is that the private drive goes right through Mike’s land, right on the lower logging road that had been in dispute with an out of state landowner. Also while we were there, the crazy guy took down Mike’s neighbors surveillance camera and was caught doing so.
We got home on July 3rd and were told by the Sheriffs that crazy guy was going to be arrested for taking down the cameras. That Friday, July 6th we received word that he was indeed arrested, for tampering with evidence (since this camera has been used during the homicide investigation. They set bail at 250,000 because this is a felony charge, and he spent the weekend in jail.
On July 11th, we received a call that the newspaper had managed to get the 11 page affidavit used for crazy guys arrest, and a blockbuster story came out in the paper, with all of the heinous details, names of suspects, basically all of the stuff that we were very careful not to release!! I was upset because laying out the entire case (in my opinion) means that the bad guys get a head start on their defense…..they now know everything!! The only good thing is that crazy hadn’t been able to raise bail so was still in jail. Although he got out a few days later, at least he spent over a week there.
On July 16thwe again made the front page of the Helena IR, when we filed our motion to set aside the (bogus) default judgment. This bogus lawsuit was filed against Mike by crazy, his wife, and crazy’s flying monkey and alleged that Mike was doing exactly what THEY had been doing, ie harassment, etc. After research, we are 100% certain that Mike was never served. There are lengthy affidavits, by me and Mike’s neighbor’s, on file with those details. The bad part about this whole thing is that they (the bad guys) still think that we will “settle” with them on this, so have refused our motion to set aside (in a very poorly written document that you really should look up!) Their lawyer thinks that $5000 apiece is nominal. So we, the victims family, are supposed to pay the (alleged) bad guys $15,000 to make this go away? WOW. At least the comments in the newspaper make it evident that Helena is aware of who the bad people are. Sometimes I don’t understand our legal system though…even though this is bogus, we have so far spent almost 5K on lawyer fees just to get this set aside, and we are not done yet.
It is now August 14th, and not a whole lot going on. We know they are still working the case, the crazy guy walks free, we are not out of the woods fighting this ridiculous lawsuit, and Mom (thankfully) is in Denmark. I don’t think I will tell her about the lame lawyer who has now come out of the woodwork with a 7K claim against the estate. This is the guy who botched Mike’s old 2005 road case, we had to get another lawyer who tried to undo the damage, and my Dad told the guy he was NOT paying that final bill and would report him to the bar if he tried to collect. He never did try to collect. But I guess he figures this is easy money….Dad is dead (thank you Montana FWP) and so is Mike, and now I will have to try and find all of the paperwork to fight his claim, oh yeah and pay more lawyer fees. It just never stops…this whole thing has been the gift that just keeps on giving!!
August 22: On Monday I received notice from my estate lawyer that three of the bad guys had each submitted a claim against the estate for damages, $25,000 each!!! Wow, 75K for a judgment that was only rendered because Mike was murdered so didn’t respond to the (non-served) lawsuit, and the judge is still looking at our filings and has not even made a decision whether or not to overturn it. Even if the judge does not set aside the ruling, and we move on to decide the damages to be awarded, where in the world would you come up with $75,000? I guess Mike was “harassing” them when he told them to stay off his friggin land. The article that came out in the Helena IR on Tuesday was very well written and has all of the facts for those of you who want more info. If you read the article,(Click Here) you may want to also take a look at the comments as they are pretty interesting.
August 29: Received an email from our attorney with a copy of the judge’s ruling to set aside the default judgment! This means that the bad guys have no claim to the estate! One less thing to worry about. Unfortunately, earlier that week I learned that since nothing was done to follow up on my complaint about Ford building a “private drive” through Mike’s land, he ended up completing the driveway! I would not have known, had one of Mike’s friends not gone up there to hike around. After following up with the County, it appears that although this logging trail was (at last!) deemed to not be an easement, they did not follow through and tell Ford to cease and desist on building. The ball was dropped, and in essence, thanks to the County once again not doing right by Mike, Ford has been allowed to dance on Mike’s grave. We are following up with the detectives and the County Attorney’s office to see what can be done to right this wrong! There does not seem to be a sense of urgency with Lewis & Clark County to fix their mistake and follow up on my complaint. PLEASE PRAY –it is so difficult to get all of these things handled, from out of state, but we KNOW that GOD can make it right.