Police Look For New Leads In Eastman Murder Case

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It's been more than a year since 54-year-old Ira Eastman was kidnapped from his Payson home and murdered. Payson Police say that despite a lack of forensic evidence from tests at the crime lab in Phoenix, they are continuing to actively work the case.

"I don't consider it a cold case yet," Payson Police Commander Don Engler said. "We are still working on it."

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Ira Eastman

Eastman was taken from his home on East Luke Drive on the morning of March 15, 2004. Two days later, divers with the Gila County Sheriff's Office found Eastman's body at the bottom of a swimming hole on the East Verde River off Houston Mesa Road. They later recovered the gun.

GCSO deputies made the discovery while looking for a gun that a boy had found while swimming in the river. According to deputies the boy found the .22 caliber handgun in a black sock on a ledge near the river. When he saw what it was, he threw it in the water.

An autopsy revealed that Eastman died of a single gunshot wound to the temple. Although Payson Police Detectives suspect the gun was the murder weapon, the bullet, which exited Eastman's body, was never recovered so the crime lab could not definitively establish the gun was the murder weapon.

Months of forensic testing of evidence collected both at Eastman's home and the river yielded nothing in the way of useful information, Det. Matt Van Camp said.

Engler said five staff members have been assigned to review the case in its entirety to see if fresh eyes can break the case open.

"One of the things Chief (Gordon) Gartner has assigned is for administrative and investigative staff to review the entire case and provide further information or recommendation on areas that need to be investigated," Engler said. "We are doing that in an attempt to follow-up on areas that need a little more attention."

Engler said the review team will also assess whether any physical evidence needs further forensic testing.

For months after the body was found, Payson police detectives followed leads and developed hypothetical theories of the crime.

A person of interest

A few weeks following the murder, Payson police thought they had a break in the case when they arrested 39-year-old Timothy Wallis of Young. Wallis had once owned the gun found in the river and had a relationship with Eastman and his widow, Peggy Tepolt.

Wallis was arrested on weapons charges and is still in custody at the Arizona Department of Corrections, Engler said.

In an interview in April 2004, Tepolt told the Roundup that she and her husband considered Wallis a part of the family. When she found out in 2004 that Wallis, on probation at the time, had bought a gun, she and Eastman took the gun and stored it in their safe at home.

"(Wallis) admitted to me that he had a gun and he wasn't supposed to because he was on probation," Tepolt said. "(Ira) paid what he owed on the gun and we stored it in our safe. That was the last time I touched that gun and I had no idea it wasn't in the safe anymore."

Police could never tie Wallis directly to the murder and Tepolt said that he may have been set up by former prison mates who were out to get him.

Tepolt said only she and Eastman had access to the safe, but believed the gun was stolen prior to the kidnapping by an acquaintance of Wallis who had been at the house before and knew the combination. Tepolt has her suspicions about who is responsible for the murder of her husband.

Engler said he had followed up on Tepolt's theory, but it went nowhere.

In July, the Payson police had the swimming hole where Eastman's body was found, drained.

Officers sifted through the sludge, but according to Van Camp, nothing of evidentiary value was recovered.

"Unfortunately, we didn't find anything on the river bottom that could assist us in the case," Van Camp said. "But, we felt the river had to be searched thoroughly."

Van Camp would not say if officers were looking for any specific piece of evidence.

Tepolt has since moved to Oregon.

"The Payson police have bungled this investigation," Tepolt told the Roundup. "Ira was my knight in shining armor -- he was a sweet, gentle man with an incredible mind."

Engler said they continue to have no firm suspects, but no one has been ruled out, including the family and acquaintances of the victim, but he would not elaborate.

"On an unsolved case, we need to look at any areas that may help us," Engler said. "There is an old adage that everybody is a suspect until proven differently. We are still working under that auspice."

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