Police Still Pursuing 2004 Murder Mystery

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An almost two-year-old case in which 54-year-old Ira Eastman was kidnapped and later murdered continues to frustrate Payson police detectives.

"We have physical evidence being examined and we are following every lead we receive," Payson Police Commander Don Engler said. "We don't consider it a cold case. Detective (Matt) Van Camp is leading the investigation."

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Ira Eastman

Eastman was kidnapped March 15, 2004 from his Payson home, and his body was discovered two days later in the East Verde River.

Engler said an autopsy revealed Eastman died of a gunshot wound, but because the bullet -- which exited his head -- was never found, detectives do not know if a .22 pistol found in the East Verde was the weapon used in the killing.

According to deputies, a 12-year-old boy swimming in the river found the pistol.

The boy's mother later called the Gila County Sheriff's Office to report the find.

The youngster told Gila County Sheriff's officers he found the weapon in a sock near the swimming hole, became frightened and threw it in the water.

While searching for the handgun, sheriff's department divers found Eastman's body at the bottom of the swimming hole.

Engler said evidence was collected at the river and at Eastman's home, but none has yet yielded sufficient clues to name a solid suspect.

Last spring, following months of extensive forensic testing, Engler and Police Chief Gordon Gartner assigned five new officers to assist Van Camp.

"We did so in an attempt to follow up areas that need a little more attention," Engler said.

After Eastman was murdered, police had the swimming hole where his body was found drained.

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A diver for the Gila County Sheriff's Office emerges from the East Verde River with a .22 pistol. While searching for the pistol, divers discovered the body of Ira Eastman.

According to Engler, the search turned futile when no clues were found in the mud and sludge.

Also in the spring of 2004, Police arrested Young resident Timothy Wallis, 39, on weapons charges. After the arrest, Wallis became a suspect in Eastman's death because he once owned the gun found in the river and was an acquaintance of the dead man and his widow, Peggy Tepolt.

Eastman and Tepolt, who moved to Payson in 1992 from their previous home in Newport, Ore., had befriended Wallis, a friend of Eastman's stepsons, Reuben and Brian Wallace.

Tepolt told the Payson Roundup after Eastman's death that when she found Wallis had bought the gun -- and was on probation -- she took it and Eastman locked it in a safe in the home.

"Wallis admitted to me he had a gun and wasn't supposed to because he was on probation," Tepolt said.

Tepolt also said Eastman paid the balance Wallis owed on the firearm and stored it in a safe in the home.

Tepolt, who has since moved out of state, said she doesn't know when or how the gun was removed from the safe.

During the early stages of the murder investigation, she also told police Wallis might have been set up by former prison mates who harbored a grudge against him.

Engler said Tepolt's suspicions were investigated, but produced no clues or suspects.

Police have not been able to tie Wallis to the murder.

In May 2004, Payson police arrested a man for aggravated assault who claimed to have information about Eastman's murder.

While being questioned by Sgt. Rod Mamero about an assault, 33-year-old Jared Olsen said he had information police would find useful.

Engler will not reveal the nature of what Olsen told police, but said it was investigated thoroughly and "did not pan out."

Although police have no solid suspects, no one has been ruled out.

"Everyone is a suspect until proven differently," Engler said.

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