A Spokane television news crew investigating the disappearance of a suspected cop killer discovered a body Wednesday not far from the wanted man’s home.
Photographer Tom McDonald and reporter Gary Darigol of KHQ-TV found the corpse in a 40-acre pasture off Rocky Ridge Road in southeast Spokane about 12:30 p.m.
The body was lying at the bottom of a rock outcropping and apparently had been there for some time, authorities said.
The pasture is not far from 16th and Carnahan and less than three blocks from the home of Ted E. Kirby, a retired Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy accused Monday of killing a fellow officer 14 years ago.
Despite an announcement by Los Angeles authorities that the body is that of Kirby, Spokane County sheriff’s deputies said the corpse was too badly decomposed to make a positive identification. They also would not guess at a cause of death.
“It appears to be male. There appears to be some head trauma,” said Deputy Dave Reagan, Spokane Sheriff’s Department spokesman. “There is nothing inconsistent at this time with suicide.”
A Sheriff’s Department chaplain notified Kirby’s wife, Denise, of the discovery Wednesday afternoon.
An autopsy has been scheduled for today, Reagan said. A pistol was found near the corpse, he added.
The 54-year-old Kirby disappeared from his home June 30 after submitting a saliva sample to Los Angeles detectives investigating the murder of George Arthur, 37.
Kirby reportedly left his wedding ring on a table and walked away, apparently carrying nothing more than his gun. Authorities said he was despondent over the potential charges against him.
Darigol said he and McDonald went to the area Wednesday looking for Kirby’s corpse.
“We had reason to believe he was suicidal, and we went up into the woods to investigate,” said Darigol, a longtime Spokane broadcaster. “We knew he was on foot. I’m familiar with this area, and we just came up here poking around.”
The property owner grazes horses on the land, and neighborhood kids sometimes hike in the area, residents said.
Darigol said they crawled under a barbed-wire fence to gain access to the private property and combed the area for about 20 minutes before coming across the corpse. They shot some videotape of the body then called authorities.
The tape shows the body, apparently that of a man, lying on pine needles. The corpse is clothed and sporting high-top Nike shoes. The graying hair on the body resembles that of Kirby’s.
Major crimes detectives who had been working with Los Angeles authorities on the Kirby case arrived at the scene to investigate. They removed the body about 4:15 p.m.
Reagan said the Sheriff’s Department was planning to begin its own search of the area today.
“I guess Gary saved us the trouble,” he said.
The Los Angeles County district attorney issued a warrant for Kirby’s arrest Monday. The warrant charged him with capital murder.
Los Angeles detectives believe Kirby shot Arthur to death in June 1985, as the sergeant drove home after his shift at the Men’s Central Jail.
Kirby was working as a deputy at the time.
The shooting occurred as Arthur was pulling his van onto southbound Interstate 5 in Los Angeles. Investigators believe Kirby was in the van with Arthur.
Arthur lost control of the car after he was shot, and it slammed into a freeway divider. Witnesses reported seeing someone crawl out of the wreckage and run away.
The crime remained a mystery until recently, when investigators were able to match DNA evidence discovered near Arthur’s wrecked van to Kirby.
Jealousy may have been the motive for the murder, according to Los Angeles authorities. There has been speculation that the two married men were romantically involved with the same woman at the time of the slaying.
Kirby continued working for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department until 1996, when he retired.
That year, he and his wife bought a house on South Koren in south Spokane and began a relaxed life of yard work and garden parties, neighbors said.
“ Ted did all the yard work,” said Claire Wickham, who lives adjacent to the field where the body was discovered. “And Denise is just the sweetest thing. She just had us all down to coffee about a month ago.”
Neighbors in the well-to-do subdivision said Ted and Denise Kirby have been married for about 8 years.
“From what Denise told me, she and Ted had a really good relationship,” Wickham said.
The couple have a reputation as being good neighbors, doing favors for the people who live around them and throwing parties. “They’re both just the nicest people,” Wickham said.
Kirby recently had been working part-time as a baggage handler at Spokane International Airport, Wickham said.
“He had been working a couple of days a week or just filling in when they needed him,” she said. “He said he was doing it just to keep himself busy.”
The sight of squad cars and TV trucks in the neighborhood left many residents shaking their heads Wednesday.
Spokane’s serial killer dumped three of his victims in an overgrown gravel pit not far from their homes in 1997 and 1998.
“We’ve had other incidents on Carnahan Hill, now this,” said Ray Wickham, Claire’s husband. “It’s just a shock.”