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Sheriff: Utah killer John Pinder may have more than 2 victims

Published August 23, 2012 10:05 am

Courts • After Pinder's parents file lawsuit, sheriff says Pinder's guns may be connected to other murders.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

He's already serving two life sentences for the murders of two ranch hands, but Duchesne County authorities believe John Pinder may be responsible for at least two other deaths.

In a status report filed in U.S. District Court, Duchesne County Sheriff Travis Mitchell writes that a Remington rifle, two pistols and a maroon tote bag continue to be held in the sheriff's evidence locker in connection with the "ongoing investigation of at least two additional cold-case murders."

The report was filed in response to a 2011 lawsuit filed by Pinder's parents, Robert and Virginia Pinder, who are suing the sheriff for the return of dozens of firearms seized from their ranch after John Pinder in 1998 killed ranch hand Rex Tanner, 48, and Tanner's girlfriend, 59-year-old June Flood.

The weapons were seized from the Idaho home of Barbara DeHart's estranged husband. DeHart was Pinder's girlfriend at the time of the murders.

According to a Kootenai County Sheriff's Department police report filed within Mitchell's status report, DeHart's husband told police that DeHart and Pinder came to his home after the murders of Tanner and Flood and left the firearms and a bag in his house. He also told police that his wife had told him, "I hope they don't find the vehicle with the two bodies in it, which is buried on the ranch."

Kootenai authorities also interviewed DeHart's daughter, who told police that her mother had said Pinder had killed at least four people, and that there were two females buried in a car somewhere on Pinder's Utah ranch.

Mitchell did not return a call seeking comment on the status of the cold-case investigations.

Pinder kidnapped and shot Tanner and Flood on Oct. 25, 1998.

At Pinder's trial in 8th District Court, another ranch hand, Filomeno Valenchia Ruiz, testified that he witnessed the slayings and admitted he helped to blow up the victims' bodies with explosives and helped gather body parts because he feared Pinder would kill him, too.

Tanner had stopped working after injuring his leg and Pinder had ordered Flood off the ranch, court documents state, after accusing Flood of stealing several documents that would have aided Pinder's estranged wife in divorce proceedings. Pinder had frequently expressed animosity toward both victims, according to the court records.

Ruiz testified that he was with Pinder when the ranch owner confronted the victims at Flood's home. After beating them with a baseball bat, Pinder drove the injured couple at rifle point to the ranch, where he shot them, Ruiz said. He said Pinder piled ammonium nitrate and dynamite around the victims and set off a blast.

Pinder, now 54, was convicted of two counts of capital murder and is serving consecutive terms of life with the possibility of parole.

Magistrate Judge Evelyn Furse met with attorneys this month regarding the lawsuit and scheduled a trial for September 2013.

Pinder's parents claim in their lawsuit that the seized firearms should be returned to them at their ranch, JJNP Ranches in Duchesne, since the weapons were not used by their son in the crimes.

Mitchell outlines in his statement, however, that many of the weapons either belonged to other people, to Pinder himself and not his parents, or were being held because of the cold-case investigations. Mitchell also says that one gun, a 9mm Smith & Wesson, was destroyed by the Sheriff's Office because it had been altered to be "rapid fire," which is illegal.

Pinder's parents also asked for family photographs to be returned, but Mitchell said the Sheriff's Office never had possession of the photographs. Rather, the photographs were used by the defense during Pinder's sentencing.

jmiller@sltrib.com

Twitter: @jm_miller