A decade after John “Mike” Crites went missing from his home near Helena, his sister filed a lawsuit seeking an unspecified amount from the man suspected of killing him and scattering his dismembered body near MacDonald Pass.
In her capacity as the personal representative of Mike Crites’ estate, Connie Crites of Denver filed the lawsuit against Leon M. Ford and an unknown Jane Doe who may share responsibility in her brother’s death. The case was filed on June 28 in 1st Judicial District Court in Lewis and Clark County.
Ford, of Oak Harbor, Washington, was arrested in August 2020 on suspicion of deliberate homicide and tampering with evidence in connection with Mike Crites’ death. His criminal trial has been delayed until Jan. 24.
Ford's attorney Palmer Hoovestal of Helena could not be immediately reached for comment.
Some body parts belonging to Crites, who was 48 at the time of his death, were found in trash bags near MacDonald Pass outside Helena in October 2011. Additional remains, including his skull, were found west of the Continental Divide near Elliston in September 2012.
According to an affidavit of probable cause filed in August, a projectile recovered from the victim’s head was consistent with handguns found in Ford’s Oak Harbor home. Court records also say both sets of remains were wrapped in the same type of cable ties Ford had previously removed from a warehouse at the Oak Harbor air base where he worked. Ford had also taken a box of heavy-duty trash bags from the warehouse, according to investigators.
Ford owned 15 acres north of Mike Crites’ property up Turk Road in the hills northwest of Helena at the time of the killing, and court records show the two men were involved in a bitter land dispute in the years leading up to the victim's disappearance and death.
Mike Crites told a friend that he had asked Ford to meet him on June 26, 2011, to discuss the issues, and video footage showed Ford’s vehicle traveling to a disputed section of road that day. The next day, a friend went to check on Mike Crites and he was nowhere to be found.
Connie Crites said she has no doubt that Ford killed her brother and noted “I’m pretty sure there was more than one person that either assisted or knew about it.” Because of the deadline to file a civil suit, she said, she could not wait for a conviction.
“We basically just did that because we don’t want to lose the right to do so,” she said.
Her wrongful death/survival claim asserts that Ford is responsible for damages including lost earnings, funeral expenses, pain and suffering and other special damages in an amount to be determined at trial.
“I never thought we would still be dealing with this 10 years later,” she said, adding “closure is a long way off.”