Since I have moved to Colorado I have spent most of my time looking for jobs and listening to old episodes of the podcast “My Favorite Murder” (full disclosure: I am listening to it as I type this.) If you haven’t heard the podcast, I highly recommend it. It’s about exactly what the title would suggest which is, the favorite murder cases and stories of comedians Georgia Hardstark and Karen Kilgariff. If you’ve heard the podcast then you know that they will do mini episodes where they read listener submitted home town murder stories. Listening to these old episodes got me thinking about the crime related things that I or my close friends and family have experienced growing up in Billings Montana. This is a compiled post of those stories.
DISCLAIMER: This post is a fucking bummer. I’m telling you now. If you get uncomfortable about murder, just scroll down to the last story, have a good laugh at my bizarre life and then move on. Okay, on with the post.
Story #1 The Serial Rapist: When I initially asked myself the question: What is my hometown murder/crime story? a few things immediately came to mind (I’ll save the most interesting one for the end of this post). The first one took place one summer either at the end of middle school or the beginning of high school. I have mentioned my childhood friend group previously on the blog, but for those that don’t know we pretty much had free reign throughout the entire neighborhood. However, this particular summer, my mom told me and my sister that we needed to be careful and come home earlier because there was a serial rapist in Billings. Billings is a pretty sleepy town so this scale of crime was pretty unheard of. Before he had been identified and caught they were publishing articles in the newspaper about how to stay safe as a woman. This pretty much was the extent of my knowledge on the subject so I took to google. Like I said, Billings is pretty uneventful, so I found the story with a single search. The Rapist’s name was Toby Griego and in the spring of 2013 to the late summer of 2013, when he was caught he invaded the homes of, and raped 3 women, and attempted to rape a fourth. Which explains why everyone was so freaked out when it happened. He wasn’t just raping people he was stalking them, then breaking into their homes and then raping them. In the case of one victim, he had delivered a mattress to her house and then came back a week later and attacked her. He wore gloves and pretty much covered up all evidence, so it took them awhile to catch him. He was ultimately found guilty and sentenced to 22 consecutive life terms without parole. He appealed to the Montana Supreme Court in 2014 but they agreed 5-0 that his trial was fair and he’s been in prison ever since. A job well done by the Montana court system for once.
Story #2 The Carpet Killer: In late 2017, a decapitated body was found wrapped in a carpet on a dirt trail on the west end of Billings and his head was found wrapped in a towel a few feet away. The body belonged to Myron Wesley Knight and prior to this blog post my only knowledge of the case was from driving with my friend down a quiet road when she suddenly said “hey this is where they found that headless body isn’t it?” I got the rest of the story from my dad. “He won some money at a casino. The man gave his winnings to the casino attendant and told her if anything happens to him a couple of transients were to blame. They went to the hobo camp and killed him.” he said. The two “transients” he had named, Donald Cherry and Jeffrey Haverty, had already been arrested for different things by the time the police had received the information. They both claim to have nothing to do with the murder but Cherry’s girlfriend told the police she had came back to the camp from the gas station to find the dead body and Haverty decapitating it. What gets me the most about this case is that in the end Knight only had six dollars on him. Why would you murder someone prior to knowing how much money they had, if money was your end goal. The two men are set to appear in court later this year.
Story #3 Just a Real Tragedy: I’m going to keep this one brief because it’s just incredibly sad. A few years back in 2015 when I was in high school, a kid that I had gone to school with since 1st grade accidentally shot his friend who was throwing rocks from outside his window. He thought he was an intruder and shot his gun out the window hitting him in the head and killing him. The kid who was shot also went to our school and I remember we had a school wide assembly, and it was the only the only time everyone actually went to a school assembly. It made national news, and was ultimately ruled an accident. The whole thing was incredibly sad and awful. The kid that shot him clearly felt absolutely terrible and this case surprisingly did not change the fact that in Montana we still hand every child a gun the second they exit the womb.
Story #4 Missing Sidney Teacher: Back when I was in middle school we would always talk about current events in our history class and I remember as a class, following the case of a missing teacher from Sidney Montana. Looking back, it seems maybe they shouldn’t be discussing missing persons cases with 12 year olds and that this probably has nothing to do with my constant fear of being murdered. Anyway, they eventually found the body of Sherry Arnold, who was a math teacher for 18 years. She had been missing for nearly 3 months. She was found in North Dakota, in a shallow grave. The two men responsible for her murder were Lester Van Waters Jr. and Michael Spell, who were apparently looking for work in the oil fields and also coked out of their minds when they decided to carry out the random attack. They strangled her then purchased a shovel at Walmart to bury her with, which they later returned… and Walmart accepted that return. Waters received 80 years and Spell recieved 100 but both will be eligible for parole in the coming years.
Story #5 Jeanette Atwater Murder: When I was searching for content for this post I was texting my dad who told me about the unsolved murder of a woman found in a burning car in the 80s… Except it wasn’t the 80s it was January 16th of 2000 (there were a lot of other unsolved murders of women in the 80s though, so it’s an understandable mistake.) Jeanette Atwater was found in the trunk of her burning car, burned to the point that she had to be identified by her dental records later. She died of smoke inhalation so it was assumed she was still alive when the car was lit on fire. She had been at a bar with coworkers all night the night before and didn’t leave with anyone but couldn’t be seen leaving the bar on the security cameras, which is one of the reasons the case remains unsolved. Her 3 children were in Washington at the time with her ex husband who was extensively questioned and not considered a suspect. HOWEVER, there was a man that purchased 1 dollar of gas and a book of matches at a convenience store a couple minutes away from where she was found, just a few hours before authorities arrived at the scene. where matches were found that seemed similar to the ones in the convenience store. The store clerk was stoned or something because they had no idea what the man might look like, just that he was wearing strong cologne. They had the man on security footage but no one could ever identify him. The case is still unsolved to this day.
Story #6 Peeping Tom: I have saved this one for last because it is the only one that I am directly involved in and if you’re my friend then you have probably already heard it because I love to tell this story to anyone that will listen. It goes like this. In my parent’s house, the window of my old bedroom faced out towards the street, and it was on the first floor so anyone walking down the sidewalk could clearly see it. Our house also didn’t have any air conditioning, so I had a window fan, and only had a sheer blind over the top half of the window. My bed was next to the window with the head in the corner of the room and the bottom against the window. My room arrangement clearly revolved around avoiding the heat and not avoiding what happened to me that summer when I was 16 (maybe 17 now that I think about it). There was a lot of gravel on that side of the house (I have no idea why) and I always thought I could hear someone walking on it at night. However, I have been incredibly paranoid and neurotic my whole life, so I brushed it off as an animal or the wind or something. UNTIL one night I was laying in bed reading, ignoring the weird gravel noises when through the fan (it was turned off that night) a voice said “Why don’t you touch yourself little girl.” Although I was 16 (or 17), I always have been quite small and look younger than I am so this voice probably assumed I was 14 or 15. For all my neurotic research on murder and the like, my first reaction was to throw my comforter over my head to hide, even though that is stupid and unproductive. I realized this after a moment and used all the courage I’ve ever held in my small heart to run out my bedroom door and wake up my parents. My dad went outside immediately with a shovel but the creep had already left, my dad did however see a door close at a house across the street and a light on inside. We called the cops and needless to say I slept on the couch for the next week. I also bought blackout curtains and never opened my window again. I would rather sleep in a puddle of sweat than being watched by a pervert. The scariest thing about the whole situation was that I had heard the gravel sounds outside before so whoever it was could have been watching me for awhile before this event and even scarier… after… but that’s a story for another day.
If you have any interest in hearing that story or any of the other cases and murders connected to Montana that I found while researching the details of these ones, like this post or let me know in a comment! Also if you have a crime/murder related story that you remember you can send it to me on social media. I would love to hear it!