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Suspect arrested in 2011 killing of Helena-area man Mike Crites
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Suspect arrested in 2011 killing of Helena-area man Mike Crites

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Mike Crites

Crites was an avid trophy deer and elk hunter.

A man in Washington was arrested Wednesday in connection with the killing of John "Mike" Crites, whose dismembered remains were found in trash bags near MacDonald Pass outside Helena in October 2011.

Additional body parts belonging to the 48-year-old Helena-area resident, including his skull, were found about a year later west of the Continental Divide near Elliston.

The suspect, 66-year-old Leon Michael Ford of Oak Harbor, Washington, was taken into custody just before 10 a.m. Pacific Time in Oak Harbor. He is accused of deliberate homicide and tampering with evidence, both felonies, and will be arraigned in Oak Harbor on Thursday.

Ford owned 15 acres north of Crites’ property up Turk Road in the hills northwest of Helena at the time of Crites' death, according to Independent Record archives. The two were involved in a dispute about trespassing and property access, and they were scheduled to meet on the last day Crites was seen alive.

Lewis and Clark County Sheriff Leo Dutton said “there’s evidence that we feel is credible to believe that he allegedly committed these crimes,” but he declined to elaborate further. He said the circumstances surrounding the arrest are detailed in the affidavit of probable cause filed in Lewis and Clark County Justice Court, which was not immediately available Wednesday evening.

Dutton said his officers have interviewed Ford in Oak Harbor and knew where to find him. He said his office has been working closely with law enforcement in Oak Harbor, and three deputies from Lewis and Clark County traveled to Washington to assist with Wednesday’s arrest.

“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,” Dutton said. 

When asked whether there are any other suspects, Dutton would only say “at this time we are focusing on Leon Ford.”

Dutton said his office will ask to have Ford extradited to Lewis and Clark County to stand trial. 

“It has been a long, arduous process,” he said. “There’s a lot of people to thank, but we’re not done.”

In 2014, the victim’s sister Connie Crites announced that her family was offering a $10,000 reward to anyone who could provide information leading to the arrest and conviction of her brother’s killer.

Crites revisited

Connie Crites, the sister of Helena-area resident Mike Crites, talks with her family in her brother’s home in 2014. 

Crites revisited

Pack rats have overrun the home (shown here in a photo photo from 2014) Mike Crites built himself. His sister said the rustic house will probably need to be demolished.  

110116-ir-nws-crites

Investigator Andrew Blythe looks down at the ground on a visit to the approximate site where some of the remains of John "Mike" Crites were found on MacDonald Pass.

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