by Travis Mateer
It’s officially fire season in Montana, and an image from an urban camper posted on Facebook compelling his fellow campers to NOT start campfires got me thinking about the summer I helped authorities identify a homeless man who brutally murdered another homeless man under the Reserve Street bridge.
Before the FBI joined the hunt for the homeless man who COULD HAVE been caught in Missoula if local cops had believed several people, including me, about where Kevin Joseph Lino was before fleeing town, this psychopath was living down the Kim Williams trail with a gang of street youth. They moved locations to the Reserve Street area after a campfire got out of control and started running up the side of the mountain.
Lino’s gang didn’t mesh well with other campers in the area, and some kind of argument precipitated the beating, torture, and execution of Gilbert “Jack” Berry. I had a client living in this area, so the day the body was found in the river, I was on my way to deliver his weekly cash allowance from his payee when the girlfriend of the murdered man waved me down.
The girlfriend was sitting with several people behind a business on Mullan road, near the Reserve Street intersection. She told me what happened to her boyfriend, including details like symbols being carved into his unconscious body before Lino shot him in the head with a 9mm handgun.
I immediately biked back to the Poverello Center, wrote up what I was told, and delivered the information to Sheriff Carl Ibsen.
Here’s some local reporting, after the murder, about the homeless situation in Missoula that summer (emphasis mine):
Missoula may be a tourist destination, but a more sinister type of visitor is raising concerns within the community.
Local law enforcement agencies called a meeting last week after a local transient, Gilbert “Jack” Berry, was brutally beaten, tortured and killed by several non-local transients.
Two of the suspects were arrested and charged with felonies in conjunction with the July 30 murder. But the man who allegedly pulled the trigger, Kevin Lino, has not been apprehended. Berry’s murder was followed by an alleged rape, perpetrated by another transient who listed no address when he appeared in Missoula Justice Court.
Earlier in July, a woman was attacked while she was walking home along the Higgins Avenue Bridge. William Ashley Sandel, the transient man who was charged with the crime, told police he wanted to “do something with someone new” and admitted to grabbing another woman running along the Kim Williams Trail the week before.
So, why wasn’t Lino apprehended in Missoula? He wasn’t apprehended here because law enforcement didn’t move fast enough when they had actionable information. I told one officer where Lino reportedly was (Kiwanis park, beating one of his Pitbulls), then a homeless man I know told a cop the exact apartment where Lino was hiding, and finally the manager of the bus station called when she saw Lino and his accomplices in their car before they fled town.
One of Lino’s accomplices, before she became an accomplice to murder, was photographed and featured in a local photography book. And, strangely enough (because that’s my life) so was I!
After helping the Sheriff’s Office identify Lino as the trigger man, I was told one of the people hanging out with the girlfriend, when she talked to me, was still loyal to Lino and was told to hang back and watch who talked. Did that worry me? Fuck yes it worried me, so I started my family vacation early and hit the road myself.
I thought that by leaving Missoula I would be heading TOWARD safety, but after reaching my destination in Colorado Springs, I found out Lino and his accomplices had been ticketed for panhandling by authorities JUST 10 MILES AWAY from where I was staying. How did I find this out? The director of the Poverello at the time, Eran Pehan, was friends with a local FBI agent, so she gave me a heads up.
I asked some local panhandlers about anything they’d heard, and they confirmed that law enforcement was checking camps for Lino’s gang, but his crew had already continued south, to Louisiana, where he was eventually caught.
Going back to the Missoulian article, here’s a local cop’s accurate assessment of Missoula’s homeless dynamics at the time (emphasis mine):
“The person that was killed was a Reserve Street local,” Missoula Police Officer Andy Roy explained. “And the kids that killed him were a new group that came in. This would be a good reminder that we have a town that has open arms for these folks … but we don’t know anything about these people that are coming into our community.”
Andy Roy has a point. Lino is actually a suspect in a eerily similar transient murder case out of Massachusetts.
Roy, who is the city’s main bicycle police officer, primarily deals with the homeless and transient population. He said there’s a big difference between the local transient population and the newcomers. The locals heed his warnings and abide by city ordinances, for the most part. But when he approaches the new transients, Roy said he’s consistently met with a “lousy” attitude.
He explained that over the past few weeks there has been an influx of transients coming in and overstaying their welcome in camps near the Kim Williams Trail and off the Reserve Street Bridge. He would like to see a multi-agency task force work together to monitor the camps before the behavior moves downtown.
My downtown pal, Officer Roy, was right at the time, and he’s still right. There are multiple sub-populations that make up the broader homeless population, and only those with direct and frequent contact, like service-provider and cops, seem to understand this reality. This is one reason I interact with non-corrupt cops so well.
I hope those who are on the receiving end of my frustration about “urban camping”, like the Executive Director of the Clark Fork Coalition (who finally DID call me back claiming not to have received my other messages) understand that I’m not exaggerating the safety issues with homeless camps that her political expediency is causing her to ignore until this week.
But don’t take my word for it, here’s the FBI from the national CBS report (link above):
Before I ended my aggravating phone conversation with the ED of the CFC, she told me she is only interested in talking about solutions. Ok, Karen, let’s talk about solutions.
A new homeless plan is being discussed as the budget talks continue here in Missoula, but there are LOTS of people who don’t want to see me have ANY input because of what I know. But one unexpected supporter of my local truth-finding efforts has given me some incredible insight into how publicly-funded retaliation operates in this town, and it’s beyond alarming.
To ensure our local officials are aware of what I’m aware of, I went to the Housing and Redevelopment Committee this morning to make a public comment. Here it is:
Yes, my knowledge of local homeless/transient dynamics is extensive, so to conclude this post, here’s a reminder that some missing people are never found, because some murders are never solved.
Last year I was abruptly reminded of a Lino accomplice–Monte Swanson–who disappeared in Louisiana, never to be heard from again. Why abruptly? Because Missoula is still a small town, and I briefly worked at a warehouse with his ex-girlfriend.
Thanks for reading!