Murder of Tabernash man in Wyoming still under investigation
Sky-Hi Daily News
The murder of 28-year-old Ben Bradley of Tabernash remains unsolved more than a year after his body was found in the Red Desert north of Rock Springs, Wyo.
In the past year, his death has received national attention on Fox news and “America’s Most Wanted.”
The story begins in Grand County on June 2, 2006, when Bradley stood at the side of the road ready to hitchhike from Tabernash to Jackson, Wyo. He planned to celebrate his 29th birthday on June 4 with friends and get in some late-season snowboarding.
He also planned to pick up a vehicle he left in Wyoming the previous winter and drive it back to Grand County.
He was scheduled to return to Tabernash by June 6.
He never made it to Jackson Hole.
His body was found four months later in a remote area 25 miles north of Rock Springs with multiple stab wounds and a fractured skull.
Within days of Bradley’s disappearance in June 2006, Sgt. Leo Piechocki, an investigator with the Grand County Sheriff’s Office, was assigned to the missing person case. His findings in the initial search laid the foundation of what would eventually become a murder investigation.
During his investigation that June, Piechocki obtained a search warrant for Bradley’s banking records and learned that Bradley left a small amount of money in his bank account before leaving. A check of his cell phone records revealed the last call he made was from Rock Springs to his friends in Jackson Hole.
Interviewing Bradley’s Tabernash roommates, Piechocki was told Bradley left June 2 carrying a backpack, sleeping bag, snowboard boots and his Never Summer snowboard. This snowboard was a one-of-a-kind model, called a “split-board” which allows the rider to split it into two skis to walk up slopes.
Piechocki obtained the board’s serial number and a description of its unique graphics.
Piechocki conducted telephone interviews with Bradley’s friends in Jackson Hole.
They said that, after he failed to show up, they drove to Rock Springs to search for him and contacted a service station clerk who might have seen him on June 2.
Piechocki also contacted three Rock Springs gas stations in the vicinity of where Bradley was believed to have been last seen. None of them had surveillance camera tapes for June 2. One of the clerks did remember seeing a hitchhiker carrying a snowboard but could not recall seeing him get into a vehicle.
Newspapers in Wyoming printed stories and law enforcement agencies distributed posters about Bradley’s disappearance during the summer of 2006. Piechocki received several phone calls from people reporting possible sightings of Bradley at the time of his disappearance.
“Most of those callers reported physical descriptions, locations and dates that did not match,” Piechocki said.
A couple of the callers did volunteer credible descriptions of Bradley, but nothing definite could be learned about what had happened to him.
With no real leads and the case growing cold by the end of the summer of 2006, Piechocki decided to go to Wyoming to conduct his own on-the-spot investigation.
Over the weekend of Sept. 8, he traveled Bradley’s probable hitchhiking route to Rock Springs. Along the way and in the Rock Springs area, he distributed missing person flyers and talked to residents.
Piechocki admitted that, as he made the trip, he suspected that Bradley had fallen victim to foul play.
“I did not find anything of note on that trip,” Piechocki said. “I kept stopping to check places where a body could have been dumped. As it turned out, I was just a few miles from where he was found.”
The break in the case finally came about two weeks later when 35-year-old Tommy Bowman, the manager of a Rock Springs cafe, brought Bradley’s backpack into the Sweetwater County Sheriff’s Office in Green River, Wyo. He claimed to have recognized Bradley’s name from a vehicle title found in the backpack after he had seen one of the flyers.
Bowman said he found the backpack floating in Flaming Gorge Reservoir about 20 miles south of Rock Springs on June 3 while he was jet skiing. He told Sheriff’s deputies that he had not turned it in earlier because he had gone to California where he was injured and hospitalized.
On Oct. 1, Bowman led Sweetwater County Sheriff’s investigators to the spot at Flaming Gorge Reservoir where he claimed he had found the backpack.
On that same day, about 70 miles north of the reservoir, hikers in the Boar’s Tusk area of the Red Desert found Bradley’s decomposed body.
The missing person case immediately became a murder investigation led by the Sweetwater County Sheriff’s Office.
Wyoming investigators searched Bowman’s residence where they discovered blood on some of the furniture. A DNA analysis by the FBI showed it was not Bradley’s blood.
Piechocki remains suspicious about Bowman’s story.
“There are just too many coincidences,” he said. “He finds the property about the same time as Bradley goes missing but several miles away from where the body is eventually found. And, as it turns out, one of the two credible witnesses who claim to have seen Bradley in Rock Springs also knows the guy who found the backpack. What kind of coincidence is that?”
In a telephone interview, Lt. Bob Mizel who is heading up the murder investigation for the Sweetwater County Sheriff’s Office, was more cautious, describing Bowman simply as a”person of interest.”
“I hestitate calling anyone a suspect,” Mizel said. “He allegedly found the property where he said he did.”
Mizel said the Bradley murder case is still being “actively investigated” by his detectives who are “covering leads every day.” He said possible suspects have already been interviewed “three and four times to clarify” different pieces of information.
“We don’t know how many were involved in this crime,” he said.
One of the major holdups in the investigation, Mizel said, is the failure of Wyoming’s state crime laboratory to complete the forensic portion of the case.
“I don’t want to criticize because I understand the state lab is short-handed and underfunded,” he said. “But in this case, we’re hoping the forensic results will open up new avenues in this investigation.”
Another key piece of evidence in this murder case is Bradley’s snowboard, which is still missing.
“We want to remind everyone that the snowboard is still out there somewhere. It has not yet been recovered,” Mizel said.
Over the past winter and spring, investigators in Wyoming reportedly checked more than 1,400 snowboards at equipment swaps hoping to find Bradley’s board.
Bradley’s 173-centimeter snowboard, which is worth more than $1,000, is described as a black “Never Summer” model. Painted on its surface is a bald eagle grasping white ribbons with the words “Denver” and “USA” written above five yellow lightning bolts.
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