Ray Wagner is searching for the body of his nephew, Shane Turner. Shane, the son of George Turner of Meeker and Tina Wagner-Turner of Craig, was last seen May 21, 1997, and is presumed dead presumed murdered.
As soon as the weather clears, possibly as early as this week, Wagner will search Highline Lake in Grand Junction. He will use a powerful magnet to search the 80-acre lake for the body of Turner; a magnet designed for, among other things, finding bodies entombed in deep waters.
"I used a magnet like this in the service [in WW II], off the coast of Italy, to search for bodies and do cleanup," Wagner said. "I'm the only one qualified to use it."
Wagner will be operating mostly alone. Authorities have already searched Highline Lake, and Highline State Park and have closed the case on Wagner's missing nephew.
But Wagner isn't ready to quit. He feels justice was never done in Shane's case.
"He was 28 years old when he as killed. [But] they never could have a hearing; they couldn't find the body. And they wouldn't do anything until they found the body," Wagner said.
The tale of Turner's disappearance, which officials agree was probably a murder, the ensuing investigation, and the related deaths to the case is a long and frustrating one. And to Wagner, it seems to add up to something very sinister. He firmly believes more should have been done, and more needs to be done now to solve this case. The situation has taken a massive toll on those who were close to Turner: His parents recently moved to Texas, and his then-girlfriend has also left the state. But Wagner is still in Craig, the town where Shane grew up, and he plans to find his nephew, buried somewhere in Grand Junction.
He just has to keep searching long enough.
The Mesa County Sheriff's Department searched for Turner. Within days, they had a suspect and a good case. The case only got better as investigators dug deeper into what happened that evening of May 21, 1997.
But they could not find a body.
The evening Shane disappeared, he was having dinner with his girlfriend, Michelle Tenner, when the phone rang. A man who identified himself as a park ranger said that Shane's license plate had been called in concerning some problems up at Highline State Park. Shane went out to speak to a man dressed as a Park Ranger. He was last seen leaning against a white, Highline State Park truck, talking to someone sitting inside.
The Sheriff's Department discovered that Kenneth Paul Garcia, Tenner's ex-boyfriend, had been upset with Turner because of his relationship with Tenner, and had made threats. Garcia had once worked as a park ranger, and had friends who were still park rangers. Garcia had access to the only white truck Highline State Park has, he gave conflicting stories about where he was on the night of May 21 and he had a motive to kill Turner.
On May 23, 1997, Garcia exercised his right to refuse to answer inquires from law enforcement. On May 27, the Sheriff's Department executed a search warrant on Garcia's apartment. More evidence was found linking him to the truck, and to his presence in the Highline State Park area.
But no body had been found.
For months, Shane Turner's case was handled as a missing person file by law, it had to be because no one had found his body.
In 1998, the Mesa County Grand Jury began an investigation, first meeting in January of 1999. It met on sixteen occasions, heard testimony or took evidence from 23 different witnesses, and reviewed more than 35 evidentiary exhibits. The case against Garcia was being built and it was a strong one.
An accident saved Garcia from facing charges of murder, but he gave his life in the bargain. Garcia died in a single-vehicle accident on July 21, 1999, just days before he was to be indicted for First-Degree murder and Second-Degree kidnapping in connection with the disappearance of Turner.
No body. And no justice.
Wagner doesn't believe Garcia's death was an accident, and the suicide of Garcia's lawyer, Richard Leech, eight months later, made the situation that much more suspicious to Wagner.
The facts show otherwise.
The Sheriff's Department and the Grand Jury had their man: Garcia.
And Highline State Park and Highline Lake were "a central point in this investigation," according to Janet Prell, Mesa County Sheriff Department Public Information Officer. "We thoroughly searched that lake. We used divers, cadaver dogs and sonar to search Highline Lake. We've worked very hard to bring this case to conclusion.
"The Mesa County Sheriff's Department continues to work this case as the leads come in," said Prell.
The last time a lead came in was more than a year ago. The department has always assisted the family in its search, following up on any lead that was reasonable. And will continue to do so should a reliable tip come in concerning the location of Turner's body, said Prell. The possibility exists that Garcia had an accomplice, and the Department will also follow up any lead about the accomplices, Prell said.
Wagner's assertions about the deaths of Garcia and Leech being somehow connected to Turner's disappearance, and suspicions that created, were refuted by Prell.
"The Colorado State Patrol investigated the scene [of Garcia's accident]. It
was clearly an accident," said Prell.
And the suicide of Richard Leech is a case that cannot be refuted.
"Richard Leech killed himself in front of his wife. She was in bed and he crawled onto the bed and shot himself in the head."
Leech had a history of personal problems.
All that means little to Wagner. His nephew is still missing, and his murderer never punished. Part of the family has moved away, and no questions
have been answered to Wagner's satisfaction.
So this summer on Highline Lake, a man will be searching the waters, using a powerful magnet to dredge the lake bottom. He will be looking for his nephew's body, and an answer to the family's questions.