A Salt Lake City man was arrested Friday on charges of murdering three men in 2014 and trying to destroy the evidence by burning the bodies in a crematorium.
Richard Christopher, 53, is facing three first-degree felony counts of aggravated murder in the deaths of Danny Kiko Gallegos, 35; Braden Parker Emerson, 23; and Levi Joseph Collins, 34.
The three men disappeared Nov. 1, 2014, last seen together leaving Gallegos’ home in his Chevrolet Tahoe, along with Gallegos’ dog. A day later, Salt Lake County Animal Control called police to help them with a dog found assumedly abandoned inside a Tahoe, according to charging documents filed Thursday in 3rd District Court.
Police learned the Tahoe and the dog belonged to Gallegos. When they searched the car, they found bloodstains and a possible bullet hole. Investigators analyzed the blood and determined it was Collins’ and Emerson’s.
Gallegos was a drug dealer who had been cooperating with federal authorities at the time of his disappearance. In investigating his absence, police learned Gallegos had been using someone — identified in court documents as J.C. — to funnel purchases through. Gallegos’ apartment was rented out in J.C.'s name, and J.C. bought a Lamborghini “and other high-tickets items” for Gallegos.
Investigators learned that on the day of Gallegos’ disappearance he was supposed to meet with J.C. to give him $200,000 in cash to purchase a home, according to court documents.
J.C. told investigators that when Gallegos arrived at J.C.’s business to hand over the money, Christopher shot him and then went outside, where Collins and Emerson were waiting in the Tahoe. Christopher allegedly told the men he needed a ride to his RV, and when they arrived, J.C. said, Christopher shot Collins and Emerson.
According to the probable cause statement, J.C. and Christopher later broke into a Utah County crematorium where J.C. once worked that was designed for cremating large animals and burned the bodies. The next day, the two men allegedly drove to a Davis County campground and burned the men’s remains and belongings a second time.
Police later found remnants of cellphones, keys and human bones at the campsite, court documents state.
Investigators learned that after the men disappeared, J.C. and Christopher bought a car, motorhome and trailer with cash. When police searched the motorhome, they found “unique jewelry” belonging to Gallegos, in addition to guns, ammunition and more than $60,000 in cash.
A few days after the men were killed, J.C. reportedly admitted to a friend he had “helped cover up a murder.” J.C. has been granted a “use immunity” agreement, meaning he will not be charged in connection with the alleged crimes so long as he tells prosecutors the truth about what happened, Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill said.
Gill declined to comment on how a 2017 confession by Christopher’s son, Justin, contributed to the case, as well as if J.C. and Justin Christopher are the same person.
The confession came in November 2017, as Justin Christopher was about to be sentenced for laundering drug money for Gallegos. The Salt Lake City jeweler admitted in court that his father, Richard Christopher, had killed the three men and that he had helped dispose of the bodies. Justin Christopher’s lawyer, Loni DeLand, told the judge his client and Gallegos were arguing in the jewelry store when Richard Christopher walked up and shot Gallegos in the head.
Shortly thereafter, Christopher said, his father shot and killed Emerson and Collins.
DeLand later told The Salt Lake Tribune that the Christophers incinerated the bodies at a Spanish Fork pet crematorium where the son had worked.
Richard Christopher has also been charged with aggravated robbery, a first-degree felony; obstructing justice, a second-degree felony; three counts of abuse or desecration of a human body, third-degree felonies; and possession of a firearm by a restricted person, a third-degree felony. He was arrested Friday before entering the federal courthouse in Salt Lake City where he was scheduled to appear.
He is being held at the Salt Lake County jail. His is bail is set at $3 million, cash-only.
Convicted of felony domestic violence in Idaho in 2007, Richard Christopher pleaded guilty in Salt Lake City’s federal court to being a felon in possession of a firearm and was sentenced in October 2015 to just over 3½ years in prison.
As Gill and Salt Lake City Police Chief Mike Brown discussed the case at a Friday news conference, members of the victims’ families sniffled and wiped away tears as they watched.
“It’s been a long four years, two months and 17 days,” Collins' mother, Judy, said. “But I want to give kudos to all these guys up here for doing everything possible that they could.”