On the early morning of September 27, 1951, Orrin C. Wood, a logger from Weippe, was travelling along U.S. Highway 12 to his place of employment in Orofino when he stopped by the side of the road to use the lavatory.
Wood crossed the bank about 15 feet when he made a startling discovery.
A young boy’s body lay in the weeds, bent over and kneeling, his throat s*lit from ear to ear, and his hands clasped behind his back as if he had been bound. Lonnie Jones, who would have turned 13 on November 1, had been missing for four days when he was last seen leaving the Clearwater County Fair.
It is still the only documented mu*rder case in Clearwater County that has not been solved 65 years after its discovery. Although almost everyone involved in the investigation is now deceased, many locals who have heard about it since they were children still have nightmares about it.
Wood provided details of the scene during a coroner’s inquest that was held at the Clearwater County Courthouse two days after the body was found.
Wood told the coroner, W.E. Gilbert, “Well, I was just driving down the highway coming down and I got the cramps and I had to stop and I pulled over to the side to stop and I never thought about it and got out and started down over the bank there and there it was.”
“A body,” Wood added. “I started down over the bank there and was taking my trousers down before I saw it, and I was pretty close to being on top of it.”
Wood hurried to Orofino to notify the sheriff. Wood later became the case’s top suspect but was never charged.
Boy last seen leaving the fair at midnight and taking a ride
Jones resided in Weippe with his grandmother, Ethel Spence. On Saturday, September 23, the two of them had been at the fair, but Spence decided he wanted to go home around 3:30.
Jones begged to be permitted to remain.
Why can’t I stay, he asked. To the coroner’s jury, Spence spoke. “I remarked, ‘Well, you have been down here all day and you will want to come back tomorrow.’ And sort of standing there, he asked, “Why can’t I?” He said, “I saw Tommy,” and I didn’t respond. He arrived in the morning along with (Tommy) Jared’s group. ‘I seen Tommy and they said they would be going back after a while.’”
In the end, Spence consented to let her grandson stay at the fair because she thought he could get a ride home. After giving him one dollar, she cautioned him, saying, “Lonnie, you remember that if you miss your ride, you will have to walk home.”
Leroy Kidder, 19, and Bob Hill, 17, two young men from Kamiah, were heading home shortly after midnight after picking up their dates when they spotted a young boy hitchhiking at the end of the Orofino bridge.
Jones answered the phone and requested a ride to the Greer bridge, which is about 7 miles upstream.
Added Kidder Jones sat in the front seat as the other two casually discussed the fair and acquaintances with Jones.
Jones appeared happy and confident that he could find a ride to take him the rest of the way up the grade to Weippe when they let him out at the bridge, Kidder told the coroner’s jury. Kidder noticed that there were vehicles travelling in both directions.
Kidder and Hill discovered Jones’ disappearance in the newspaper two days later.
The sheriff’s office was contacted, and Kidder, who is now 84 and resides in Lewiston, claimed they were asked to travel to Orofino to identify the boy. Kidder claimed recently in an interview that he was unaware Jones was deceased at the time.
Like a naive child, Kidder claimed, “I thought they’d found him.”
Sheriff V.L. “Slim” Holloway started looking for the mur*derer right away. Later, Colfax resident Henry Savage, a retired FBI agent, was added to the investigation.
Wood was among the suspects who were rounded up and brought inside to be questioned.
There is not much evidence or documentation left from the 65-year-old case.
Son of Tommy Jared and lead detective in the case since 2004, Detective Mitch Jared of the Clearwater County Sheriff’s Department said there didn’t seem to be any solid evidence connecting any of the suspects to the crime other than the idea that they were homose*xual.
According to an old Lewiston Tribune newspaper article, Jones’ body was nude and he had been se*xually assaulted.
Photos of the crime scene demonstrate that Jones was dressed when he was discovered. He had a full stomach when he died, according to an autopsy. Jared, however, claimed that he had not found any proof to back up the boy’s alleged molestation.
The 65-year-old case’s documentation, however, is scant. The only remaining evidence is a large binder kept in a small cardboard box that contains transcripts of interviews with the suspects and others.
Jared remarked, “I don’t have access to them, but there might be other records somewhere. They have left.
“When I look inside, I can see that the FBI received items, but we don’t have those items. There is nothing to send; I had hoped we could send something for DNA testing. They either didn’t have anything about the case or couldn’t find anything,” Jared said.
Jared claimed that everyone who took part in the initial investigation has passed away.
“This happened in 1951, and since we’re so far removed from it, I can’t seem to find anyone who is familiar with it.
Jared stated, “This is the only (case) that we have that is unsolved and for which we have case files, photos, and some pieces of evidence. But even the scant evidence we do have isn’t really described in a way that makes it clear from where it came. There is simply no chain of custody; it is merely a box with an item in it.
When Jones’ grandparent failed to appear at home the following morning, she went back to the fair and started looking for him, she told the jury at the coroner’s inquest in 1951.
According to reports, Jones went to a movie with some friends, and the last time anyone saw him was when Kidder and Hill picked him up at the end of the bridge.
Kidder claimed that over the years, he and his friend Hill frequently discussed the mystery and wished they had handled it differently.
Kidder and Hill, however, experienced issues of their own for a while. They became aware that someone was observing their every move and that they were being followed, which made them suspects. Also, they believed that the mur*derer might be pursuing them.
We were two terrified children, he recalled. The Kamiah chief of police “talked to us and said, You boys want to listen real carefully through the questions” when they were called before the coroner’s jury. Don’t respond to questions you’re unsure of because they might mix them up a little for you.
We managed just fine, and after the inquest they distanced themselves from us, Kidder claimed.
The boy said there would be people by to pick him up, but Bob and I wished we had continued with him to Weippe because there were many people (coming and going).
“So we dropped him off at the end of the bridge without thinking, we suppose. After leaving, news of Lonnie Jones’ disappearance appeared in the newspaper around Monday morning.
Detective Jared claimed that when he was younger, he recalls his father and grandmother discussing the case.
Jared stated, “It was a rumour we heard. “I know my dad talks about how the kids were really scared because this had never happened to one of their own,” I said.