Word On The Street, And Word From A Retired Cop, Is Western Montana Has A Serial Killer, Or Killers

by Travis Mateer

12 years before Sean Stevenson was allegedly strangled unconscious inside the men’s dorm at the Poverello Center by Johnny Lee Perry, Forrest Clayton Salcido was brutally murdered by two teenagers right where the smiley face, pictured above, is located. The spot is the California Street bridge. From the link:

The murder trial of Anthony St. Dennis is slated to begin Monday in Havre, 280 miles from the Missoula footpath where a homeless man was beaten to death more than a year ago.

St. Dennis, who is now 19, was arrested Dec. 7, 2007, along with a co-defendant, Dustin Strahan. Both men are charged with deliberate homicide in connection with the fatal attack on Forrest Clayton Salcido, and are in custody at the Missoula County Detention Center awaiting separate trials.

Strahan, who went to police after seeing news reports about Salcido’s death, will testify at St. Dennis’ trial as a witness for the state. He’ll do so under a letter of “use immunity,” which is granted to witnesses in criminal cases to prevent their testimony from being used against them in a criminal prosecution. In Strahan’s case, that means his testimony cannot be turned against him at his own trial.

According to charging papers, Strahan told police he was disturbed by the experience, although he initially told investigators that he and St. Dennis attacked Salcido because they happened upon the man raping a woman. Investigators say Strahan later admitted the attack was random and unprovoked.

Police officers found St. Dennis later the same night, hiding in a closet at his grandmother’s house in Missoula. They also recovered a pair of tennis shoes covered with splotches of dried blood. Once at the jail, St. Dennis called a woman on the phone and “made several admissions that he had killed the man on the California Street Bridge,” according to charging papers.

This murder turned out to be a random act of violence, and one of the young men turned out to have some modicum of conscience about the violence he had contributed to.

The deaths that started happening in 1974 were a different story, and that story ended up being framed by the book To Kill And Kill Again as “The terrifying true story of Montana’s baby-faced serial sex murderer“.

Here is something from the introduction that may be pertinent for 2023:

While the sheriff’s department didn’t explicitly link the two killings, the talk of the town did. The townspeople were already swept up in rumors about devil worship in neighboring Idaho, where only months before, in November, a young newlywed couple from Rathdrum, in northeast Idaho, mysteriously disappeared. Word had spread that the couple had been abducted and sacrificed by a satanic cult, that Rathdrum was the center of a devil-worshipping cult. In the minds of Missoulians then and now, Rathdrum, though two hundred miles away, is considered to be just over the hill. And it was no big stretch of the open-minded imaginations of many Missoulians to believe the tales that linked satanism with news reports of cattle mutilations reported in the Plains states to the east, beginning in the fall of 1973, and in eastern Montana in 1974. The animals were found with their lips, udders, and genitals removed, cut off with what was alleged to have been “surgical precision.”

Yes, in BIG western states, mileage is experienced differently. That would make Superior, Montana, feel even closer. It’s also worth noting that this significantly less-populated County next door, with VASTLY less resources, is the same County where Rebekah Barsotti was found dead EXACTLY a year ago today. And where Joey Thompson was found dead earlier this month. But not Terry Stahl. No, Terry Stahl was found UPstream, near Rock Creek Lodge. I say upstream, but it’s not clear how close to water Stahl was found.

The body of a missing Missoula man was discovered near Rock Creek Lodge over the weekend. 

A decomposed body was found by someone in the area about a mile east of the lodge on Saturday around 7 p.m., according to a news release from the Missoula Police Department. 

The body was brought to the state crime lab for examination. According to Missoula County Sheriff and Coroner Jeremiah Petersen, the deceased is Terry L. Stahl Sr., 67.

Stahl was reported missing by family in March and was last seen in the Rock Creek area in February.

When this missing person case was first reported in the media, a certain Detective I’m quite familiar with was the point-of-contact (emphasis mine):

I didn’t get the word from the street until I went to a Cannabis dispensary on Broadway, near the Poverello Center. I was looking into a tip that someone has been flooding the market with $1,000 dollar pounds of weed, but what I heard instead was the buzz around town that a serial killer might be prowling. And that people on the street were scared.

A Sheriff candidate in a different County related the same concern to me many months ago, before this latest string of missing persons turning up dead; one older man, one younger man, and one woman (who was pregnant).

There’s another story I thought of when beginning this post, and it came from the young man who helped me clean up the meth shack AND identify the builder, Todd Spence. Before I relate the story, it’s important to note that this young man was 3 weeks clean, and that there was no power I had to influence the trouble he was in. I say this because I really think he was trying to figure out what happened to him.

There isn’t much of a story to tell, actually, because the young man has no recollection of committing the robbery charge he’s now facing. Chronic drug users are often times reluctant to describe experiences that deviate from their regular fucked up experiences, because, for the most part, who really cares, and who is going to believe them?

Well, I do in this case, and here’s why. The swiftness of the blackout this kid experienced, and the fact he was around people he didn’t know, led him to use an unusual term that caught my attention: hoodwinked. He felt HOODWINKED by what happened, he said. Why is this an unusual term? Maybe because this:

The image, above is of a man in a Masonic hoodwink which dates from the early 1800’s to the early 1900s and were sold by DeMoulin, a Masonic lodge supplies manufacturer, as well as other purveyors (sellers) of lodge supplies.

Freemasonry is not the originator of the hoodwink.

Religious rites and initiations of civilizations and tribes dating back centuries before the believed or known origins of Freemasonry used blindfolds to represent going from darkness (ignorance) to light (knowledge).

Hood: The word, “hood,” in old German and Anglo Saxon refers to a head covering, as in a hat, or helmet. A hood might also be of cloth. To “hood” is to cover. Hooded garments have been worn throughout history.

Wink: The word, “wink,” in old German and Anglo Saxon refers to a closing of the eyes. The word, “wince,” , is similarly derived from the word “wink”. The word “wink” pertains to the eye.

Maybe none of this is relevant to what’s happening here, or in other places around the country with unexplained, or poorly investigated, deaths, especially those of young men around water.

Or maybe, thanks to the internet and ALL the great things that can be ascertained these days with just a phone and wifi connection, your average street hood thinks he, or she, or THEY, can LARP around as secret society killers themselves.

More likely than a seasoned pattern killer, I think we have something far more pernicious going on here, and that’s the increasingly rapid dissolution of societal norms, combined with institutional corruption on nearly ever front. Therefore, don’t be surprised when clear signals sent to would-be criminals that real accountability is a thing of the past lead to tragic results, like the seemingly psychopathic 21 year old charged for killing his mother over Mothers Day weekend.

From the link (emphasis mine):

A search of the bags revealed blood-covered shoes and clothing items, along with nitrile gloves and a piece of white carpet with suspected blood stains. The carpet piece looked like a match to an area of carpet cut near where the victim’s body landed, the affidavit stated.

Handwritten notes were also found. Statements on the pieces of paper included “Alibi: break-in next door,” “she has too much power,” “no regrets, no remorse,” “dissociate. But don’t answer questions with specifics,” “Ask what happened. Act dumb. Act sad,” and “See it as a game!

It’s important to understand we are living in a predator-rich environment now after years of slow degradation where the figurative frogs (us) were able to be blissfully unaware of what the warming water actually meant. The luxury of being blissfully unaware is over, people. It’s time now to get the fuck out of the water before it’s too late.

If you would like to help me wake the frogs up to the risk they’re facing, consider supporting Travis Impact Fund (TIF), or making a donation at my about page. A new $100 donation to my TIF just got me closer to achieving 1/5 of the modest $5,000 goal!

Thanks for reading!

About Travis Mateer

I'm an artist and citizen journalist living and writing in Montana. You can contact me here: willskink at yahoo dot com
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1 Response to Word On The Street, And Word From A Retired Cop, Is Western Montana Has A Serial Killer, Or Killers

  1. John Kevin Hunt says:

    I hate it when I spend significant time on a reply, then hit some random key by accident and it’s deleted, gone who knows where. AAARRGGGHH!! Some day I’ll learn to draft responses in a word processor first, then paste. I’ll try to re-create what I’d almost completed when disaster struck:

    I’ve felt for years that there is a serial killer, perhaps a pair of them working together, in Missoula’s extended environs. When I moved back here five years ago, I was intrigued by the Jermain Charlo disappearance, followed shortly thereafter by disappearances of two more young woman (one Native American, one Anglo) who shared uncannily similar appearances, ages, and circumstances surrounding their disappearances.

    I had spent 30+ years in Oregon representing persons accused of murder, including a case with eight serial victims, and a serial rapist who killed his final victim in the course of an epic struggle inside her apartment. One of the tasks I performed in the eight victim case was examining records of the Green River Task Force.

    Because of the many similarities among those year 2018 disappearances, I contacted jurisdictions in Missoula’s extended envitrons offering to volunteer doing tedious desk work such as coding tip sheets, etc., explaining my prior experience. I received no responses. While Montana now has a “statewide database” for missing indigenous women, a database is only as good as its utilization is constant. To my knowledge, there is no multijursidictional task force with investigators from each jurisdiction, funded and in continuous operation, with a central headquarters, taking and following up on tips, analyzing cases for signature-like similarities, subjecting old evidence in cold cases to DNA analysis unavailable prior to the late 80s, and so on. If one exists, I’d like to know about it. I’m talking about an operation like the Green River Task Force that operated from 1982-1988. While it’s true that Green River Serial Killer Ridgway was not apprehended until a decade after the GRTF folded, it rurns out that Ridgway was an early suspect and could have been caught earlier but for some fortuitous circumstances tthat put him on the Task Force’s back burner. He had actually been questioned in the case years before the GRTF closed up shop.

    The other day, I re-posted to Facebook an article about another corpse being recovered from the Clark Fork, and my comments (“Is the Clark Fork Becoming Missoula’s East River?”). Perhaps I should have have used “Green River.” I noted the recently disappeared Joseph Thompson and Nefataree Bartell, whose corpses were discovered in the same area. It’s conceivable that two, or more, individuals or pairs unconnected with each other, are perpetrating many of these murders. We don’t have sufficient details to know. I’ve no reason to connect Thompson’s and Bartell’s disappearances, and Thompson had been seen walking up a road in Gold Creek drainage the night he vanished. But as you point out, when a spate of alarming, apparently homcidal crimes occurs and the State fails to respond with the resources necessary, this encourages *copycats* and psychopaths to act out their repressed obsessions/compulsions. A copycat obvuiously doesn’t share the same brain as the original perp(s), and so the copycat’s murders won’t fully share the specific attributes of the original’s. Serial killers typically move on to new hunting grounds after a while, and take periodic “breaks” from their avocation ranging from months to years or even, in some cases, decades.

    Of course, task forces can make mistakes. Take the Atlanta Child Murders that terrorized that city for years, which the FBI’s online “vault” describes this way:

    “Between 1979 and 1981, approximately 29 African-American children, teens, and young adults—mostly boys—were kidnapped and murdered. A majority of the killings shared common details. The FBI joined the multi-agency investigation in 1980. In our files, the major case is called ATKID, short for the Atlanta Child Murders. The investigation was closed following the conviction of Wayne Bertram Williams for two of the murders in 1982; after the trial, law enforcement linked Williams to 20 more of the 29 murders. This release was made prior to the creation of the FBI Vault; the files have since been renamed to enhance the clarity of the information, but the content remains the same.”


    What the FBI doesn’t disclose is that the suspect it apprehended in the case, Wayne williams, was not convicted of any of the child murders, but only of the murders of two adults. Despite a plethora of circumstantial evidence pointing to the psychologically disturbed Williams — and his own course of publicity-seeking in which he “anonymously” (and in interviews and press releases) taunted investigators while adamantly denying guilt — there are may reasons to doubt that he was the killer of the 29 children. Unsurprising to defense lawyers familiar with the lies and falsifications of evidence exposed by an FBI lab whistleblower years ago that led to hundreds of vacated convictions, the “tri-standed weave” of carpet fibers that supposedly fingered Williams, turned out not to be the unique “fingerprint”-like evidence the FBI claimed it was, at Williams’ trial. And of course, the introduction of evidence from the child cases tainted the trial for the two adult murders.

    The Atlanta Child Murders case was officially re-opened:

    “Although the homicides appeared to stop after Williams was arrested, some believe that he was not responsible for the Atlanta Child Murders — including some of the victims’ families. The tragic case was later explored in the Netflix series Mindhunter in 2019. And that same year, the real Atlanta Child Murders case was reopened in the hopes of finding the truth.

    “But will the city’s new investigation truly bring justice to the children? Or will it just lead to more questions without answers?”


    Perhaps the most glaring example of how even the most convincing cirumstantial evidence, consisting of multiple, separate circumstances that defy any suggestion of mere coincidences, ocurred in the never officially solved Zodiac Killer serial murder spree that terrified Californians in the 70s. The Grateful Dead’s Jerry Garcia said that the general fear produced by those murders was the inspiration for the band’s popular song “Dire Wolf” (which appeared on the Workingman’s Dead studio album).
    I highly recommend the movie “Zodiac” (1970) starring a strung-out Robert Downey, Jr. and Mark Ruffalo. Downey plays a citizen investigator/journalist.

    Returning to my original theme: If there is/are (a) serial killer(s) operating in these environs, the mere creation of a statewide database won’t catch them. A fully funded, continuously operating task force, not tokenism, is required.

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