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Girlfriend’s Death Greatly Exaggerated Search Called Off When ‘Victim’ Turns Up Alive

A Bonner County man who said he strangled his girlfriend and used a tractor to bury her body led authorities on a frantic search of a backwoods home Tuesday.

It was all for naught when the man’s girlfriend, 33-yearold Jodie Castro-Edwards, showed up alive and well at the Bonner County Sheriff’s Department hours later.

“She didn’t know anything was wrong until she saw on TV that she was supposedly murdered,” Sheriff Chip Roos said. “She was a little distraught about it and disgusted with the silliness of it all.”

Early Tuesday morning Stephen Ray, 37, called Kootenai County authorities and confessed to killing Castro-Edwards.

He said he fought with his girlfriend, strangled her and buried her body in a ditch near his camper on Homestead Road, about 28 miles south of Sandpoint.

The fabricated story sent Bonner County detectives, deputies and the prosecutor, along with a pack of reporters and cameramen to Ray’s home about 7 a.m. A backhoe was called in to dig up several freshly filled-in trenches and a search-andrescue dog combed the area.

About seven hours later, CastroEdwards called the Sheriff’s Department from a pay phone in Sagle to say she was OK.

“Apparently Mr. Ray tends to hallucinate when he drinks and made up the whole story,” Roos said. “He and his girlfriend did snap and snarl at each other the night before, but she left to stay with her sister.”

After the fight, Roos said Ray continued drinking beer and filling in ditches with his tractor.

“He must have been steamed about the fight, sat there and drank and filled in holes,” Roos said. “Then somehow he put two and two together and came up with five and gave us this story.”

Ray first relayed the fabricated story of the murder to his ex-wife, Belva Ray, who lives in Post Falls. She convinced Ray to turn himself in to authorities and drove him to the Hauser Lake Smoke Shop to call police.

When deputies arrived Ray told them, “I think I killed my girlfriend, I think I buried her.” He said he remembered going home after a night of partying in Sandpoint and grabbing his girlfriend. He also remembered having blood on his hands and blacking out, according to the police report.

Officers found a spot of blood on Ray’s shirt and said he smelled of alcohol. Ray was arrested and booked into the Kootenai County Jail. Searchers then went to Ray’s camper in Bonner County and began looking for a body. They said the inside of the camper was torn up like there had been a struggle, and neighbors said they heard the couple fighting the last two nights.

“I could hear her (CastroEdwards) screaming at the top of her lungs two nights ago. They were having a huge fight,” said Steve Demo, who lives nearby.

Another neighbor, Tom Ewing, said Ray was also fighting the day before with the power company because they were digging ditches near his home.

“He was pretty wound up when I talked to him. He parked his tractor in the road to block the power people from coming up,” Ewing said.

After Ray’s girlfriend turned up, Kootenai County authorities charged him with obstructing and delaying police officers and filing a false police report.

Late Tuesday, Ray’s ex-wife paid the $300 to bail him out of jail.

The search cost Bonner County about $5,000 for equipment and manpower, but Roos said he had not decided whether to also charge Ray with filing a false police report.

“Right now we are just thrilled we don’t have a murder case on our hands,” Roos said.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo