CSI La Pine: Murder investigation hampered by fire, frigid temps

Crime scene investigations, all the rage on television, typically are portrayed in warm, sunny climes like Las Vegas or Miami. But this week, in frigid La Pine, the investigators sifting a fire-hit mobile home for clues into an apparent murder have been facing their own weather-related challenges.

Deschutes County sheriff’s deputies confirmed Thursday that Leonard L. Gray, 60, whose remains were found in his burned-out mobile home on Monday, was an apparent murder victim.

An autopsy was performed Wednesday at the state Medical Examiner’s Office on the remains found Monday afternoon in the 29-year-old mobile home at 16068 Dyke Road, said sheriff’s Capt. Randy Wight.

Deputies responded around 3:20 p.m. Monday to a report of a mobile home fire, and arrived to find it fully engulfed in flames, deputies said.

The autopsy confirmed the identity of the victim, and the “results indicate that Mr. Gray was the victim of a murder,” Wight said in a news release.

“The specific nature of the injuries sustained by Mr. Gray are being withheld at this time to facilitate the ongoing investigation into the circumstances surrounding his death,” Wight added.

It’s the first homicide of the year in Deschutes County’s jurisdiction, compared to two in all of 2001. (There were three killings in Bend earlier this year.)

Sub-zero temperatures are just one challenge facing sheriff’s detectives and other members of an interagency major crime team. The biggest hurdle is that the remains were found in the burned-out rubble of his mobile home – a blaze being investigated as possible arson.

“I would say he did not die from the fire,” sheriff’s Capt. Randy Wight said Friday.

There were eight or 10 crime team investigators working at the scene Thursday, and Wight said, “I expect we’ll be there for a while. The mobile home was wrapped in plastic Friday, presumably due to temperatures that dropped to minus-8 degrees, and crime scene tape still surrounded the scene as well.

“You have to go through (the scene) with a fine-tooth sifter,” he said. Investigators are “looking for evidence of any indication of robbery, that sort of stuff. What’s present, what isn’t present, evidence related to the injuries.”

“In a homicide, you keep your options open and you examine everything,” the sheriff’s captain said. “You never know what’s going to be important.”

Snow doesn’t really get in the way of an investigation, Wight said, “but cold does. Temperature is a major problem for us at this point. It affects the scene itself. Things are frozen.”

“It takes time to process any homicide scene,” he said. “This particular one is more difficult than most.”

Plus, he acknowledged, `we have a lot going on beside” the on-scene investigation, as detectives interview family members, including two brothers, a daughter who lives in the area, an ex-wife and relatives of his current wife. But Wight said there’s no arrest imminent, with much work remaining to do.

The Oregon State Police and State Fire Marshal’s Office has assisted in the on-scene investigation, along with La Pine and Sunriver firefighters.

County property tax records indicate Gray co-owned the 1973 Sturgis mobile home with wife Lynda Gray. A neighbor told The Bulletin earlier in the week that the woman who lived there was out of town on the day of the fire.

The property tax records also indicate that Leonard Gray did business from his home as Central Oregon Mason Contractor.