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Suspect arrested in connection with Cody abduction

Cody Police Chief Perry Rockvam (center) responds to a question from Big Horn Radio Network News Director David Koch (in left foreground) at a Monday morning press conference, while FBI supervisory senior agent Bob Evans of Cheyenne looks on. Rockvam and Evans were discussing the arrest of a suspect — 39-year-old Jesse Paul Speer — in connection with an Oct. 8 abduction in Cody. Cody Police Chief Perry Rockvam (center) responds to a question from Big Horn Radio Network News Director David Koch (in left foreground) at a Monday morning press conference, while FBI supervisory senior agent Bob Evans of Cheyenne looks on. Rockvam and Evans were discussing the arrest of a suspect — 39-year-old Jesse Paul Speer — in connection with an Oct. 8 abduction in Cody. Tribune photo by CJ Baker

After an intense week-long investigation, a 39-year-old Montana man was arrested Saturday in connection with the Oct. 8 abduction of an 11-year-old Cody girl.

Jesse Paul Speer of Manhattan, Mont., was arrested Saturday evening in Belgrade, Mont., after police reportedly matched his vehicle to the one used to abduct the girl and found that he matched the description of the suspect. Speer has been charged in Park County with felony counts of kidnapping, aggravated assault and using a firearm in the commission of a felony.

Speer waived his right to contest his extradition to Wyoming at a Monday court appearance in Bozeman and is expected to make his first appearance in Park County’s Circuit Court in roughly 10 days, said Park County Attorney Bryan Skoric.

Speer is alleged to be the man who lured the girl into a Toyota 4-Runner on the afternoon of Oct. 8 under the guise of needing help to find a lost puppy. The girl initially agreed to help, but said that when she changed her mind, the man pulled a handgun from his pocket and directed her into the vehicle, according to an affidavit from Cody Police Detective Sgt. Jon Beck filed in the case.

The girl was with two friends in front of the Park County Complex, but the friends were talking and facing the other direction and did not see the weapon, Beck’s affidavit says.

After leaving with the girl, the man parked his SUV in a church parking lot and bound her hands, the affidavit says. The abductor then reportedly drove the girl to the Carter Mountain area and assaulted her. After that, he put a cloth bag over her head, drove in what the girl believed were circles, untied her and walked her away from the vehicle, Beck wrote.

“The man then told (the girl) to count to 50 before she turned around,” Beck said. The girl opened her eyes to find herself alone in a sagebrush area and walked back to the road, where she was found by hunters Shane Larsen and Jim Laske at around 8:15 p.m.

She immediately began crying and told the men she’d been kidnapped, Beck wrote.

That was the start of an exhaustive six-day search by Cody police and state and federal law enforcement.

At a Monday morning news conference at Cody’s City Hall, Mayor Nancy Tia Brown praised Cody police and the many other law enforcement agencies who “worked tirelessly and relentlessly to make sure that the message was sent clearly and strongly that this is not OK, and that we will not accept this, and that in our city and in cities across our state and our country, people need to feel safe.”

Perhaps the biggest help in the case came from the girl herself, who reportedly provided police with an extremely detailed account of her ordeal and of her abductor.

“She’s a tremendously strong girl,” said Cody Police Chief Perry Rockvam, adding that, “Our investigators that interviewed her and spent time with her constantly praised her and what she did for them and how she assisted with this case.”

The abductor reportedly hit the girl in the back of her head with his gun when she refused to keep her head down in the vehicle. Despite that, she appears to have still found a way to observe almost the entire route the man took up to Carter Mountain.

She retraced the route for police the day after the incident, Beck said in the affidavit, including showing them a point where her abductor got lost and was observed by two farmers or ranchers. Police later were able to speak with those men, who confirmed seeing a white SUV at the time the girl had described.

Two Cody High School students who had been hunting also reported seeing a white SUV with what they believed were Montana plates on Carter Mountain that day.

A logger found a Thule cargo box on Oct. 11 in the area where the girl reported being assaulted, Beck wrote. The sergeant said, given the fact that the luggage bin was relatively new, he believes the abductor removed the bin immediately after the assault to make his vehicle more difficult to identify.

Officers spent the week analyzing hours and hours of surveillance footage from businesses, schools and gas stations in Cody and many miles away in hopes of finding the vehicle on tape, Rockvam said.

The footage reportedly paid off, with police able to find a record of the vehicle driving through town and stopping at a Cody liquor store midday on Oct. 8, Beck’s affidavit says. The various footage of the SUV backed up the girl’s account of the abduction, Beck wrote.

“If it were not for them (those businesses), we would not have been able to locate a suspect,” Rockvam said.

Despite some apparently grainy images, officials at Toyota Motors Corporation in San Antonio, Texas, helped police determine the vehicle appeared to be a Toyota 4-Runner SR5 from 2003, 2004 or 2005, Beck wrote.

The biggest break, however, likely came from surveillance footage captured some 130 miles away and a full day before the abduction.

The FBI obtained surveillance footage of cameras at Yellowstone National Park’s North Entrance. On Saturday, a special agent combing through the footage found the 4-Runner entering the park at 4 p.m. on Oct. 7 and exiting the Northeast Entrance at 5:20 p.m. More importantly, the Park Service’s higher-resolution cameras captured a legible Montana plate number and images of the driver — a white man wearing eye glasses, a tan hat and a blue or black jacket, Beck wrote.

That’s the same outfit the man was reportedly seen wearing at the Cody liquor store and roughly the same description as given by the 11-year-old.

The plate obtained by the cameras belonged to Speer’s 2004 Toyota 4-Runner. He was arrested in the vehicle, wearing a blue jacket and glasses with a blue line on the side of the frames, during a 5:30 p.m. traffic stop in Belgrade on Saturday, Beck wrote.

The girl’s description had included glasses with a blue line down the frame, according to Beck’s affidavit.

Her friends had described an older man with white hair, while the girl had described him as having strawberry blond hair, which matches Speer’s hair color, Beck said.

Rockvam said a picture of the girl was posted outside the Cody Police Department’s command center last week so that investigators working the case “could be reminded of why were were there and what our job was.”

He also said the investigation is continuing and that additional charges will be filed.

Skoric declined to comment on whether more charges are pending.

The affidavit also includes allegations of sexual assault and of photographs of naked young girls being seen in the SUV.

Online reports indicate Speer is an accomplished landscape and nature photographer who frequented the Rocky Mountains in Wyoming, Montana, Idaho and Colorado. Speer updated his Google Plus page on Oct. 10 — about 48 hours after the abduction — with a photo of the cloud-wrapped Teton mountains, writing that he’d been busy with fun photography and that more images would be coming soon.

“Keep making and sharing great art everyone!” Speer wrote in closing.

Rockvam said the man has no history of criminal activity.

Within hours of media outlets identifying Speer on Sunday as likely being the suspect — before any official confirmation that he was the man being charged or any information being released about the case against him — many Internet users on Facebook and other websites jumped to outrage that the man hadn’t already been executed. Before the pages were taken down Monday, several hundred comments were posted on Speer’s personal and photography business’ Facebook pages, most hurling insults, some suggesting ways to kill him and a few calling for investigations of his friends, family and acquaintances.

Responding to a massive influx of traffic to her personal blog and re-postings of her photo on other websites, Speer’s ex-wife posted a statement on Monday expressing shock over the abduction and her ex-husband’s arrest, and support for the 11-year-old Cody girl.

“It’s a nightmare to wake up with your life changed like this,” she wrote on her blog. “I have talked with his (Speer’s) family, his girlfriend, and some mutual friends. We are all in shock, hoping they have the wrong person but afraid they do not. Our pain does not compare to the victim’s pain, but it is there nonetheless and it’s miserable.

“If he has done this, he has hurt an awful lot of people,” she wrote.

She said the couple had been separated/divorced since 2009 and that she has had full custody of their children. She said she and Speer remained cordial to one another until a few months ago, “when he just stopped talking to me.”

She opened her statement extending sympathy to the 11-year-old girl.

“I am so devastated and sorry that this has happened to you,” she wrote. “You did not deserve it, and I am proud of you for being a fighter, fighting him off and surviving. You are amazing. You may have saved many more lives.”

FBI Agent Bob Evans, who supervises the bureau’s Wyoming presence, said the arrest of a suspect was a very positive ending.

“These cases are horrific for law enforcement, they’re the worst kind that we work, but the one positive I always take away is the way the community and the way law enforcement just rallies,” he said. “Nobody asks to go home.”

Rockvam noted that Cody has now had a murder, two bank robberies, a robbery at knife point, two shootings and an abduction in 2012.

“I would have to say that the innocence of our town has been lost in some ways this year,” he said. “I think that everybody in our community recognizes that ... Cody is not the same as it once was, and that there’s things we are facing that we’ve not faced before.”

Rockvam urged parents to be careful, know where their kids are and teach them safety around strangers.

“We just can’t be naive and think that everything is OK,” he said. “We always have to be on guard and be smart.”

Mayor Brown agreed, saying, “It’s still a great place to live, but we need to be smart, and we need to be aware.”

1 comment

  • posted by KodyKoyote

    October 29, 2012 2:39 pm

    Thanks to the FBI agents who solved this crime.

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