When a gunman shot and killed a 63-year-old retiree in a quiet Colville-area neighborhood, detectives say he left behind a crucial piece of evidence: The suspected murder weapon.
A handgun located near Gordon R. Feist, who was found in the wreckage of his utility terrain vehicle Sunday with two bullet holes in his head, helped police identify Eric Lee Booth, 26, as a suspect in Feist’s murder, Stevens County Sheriff Kendle Allen said Thursday.
Booth, who was arrested Wednesday, appeared in Stevens County Superior Court on Thursday on charges of second-degree murder and possession of a stolen firearm. He remains in jail on $750,000 bail.
Investigators believe Booth was trying to burglarize Feist’s upscale rural home south of Colville when he encountered Feist and told him he needed help because his car had run out of gas.
Allen said it appears Feist, who also had a gun with him, recognized Booth from when he had done some maintenance at the home, and agreed to help him with gas for his car. Police found a full, 2-gallon gas can in the back of the crashed vehicle.
Detectives suspect Booth feared Feist would discover his story was a lie and realize Booth intended to burglarize his home, Allen said, so he shot him as they were driving on Smart Way, causing the vehicle to crash into a utility pole.
“The suspect knew the jig was up here and didn’t know what to do and subsequently made the decision to shoot him,” Allen said. “Maybe it just got to the point where there was too much questioning. We can only surmise what happened.”
Kevin Searls, Feist’s next-door neighbor, was relieved by the arrest but haunted by the death of Feist, who owned trucking businesses in California before moving to Stevens County about three years ago, he said.
“I feel that he was robbed of his last part of life. You’ve worked your whole life and you get to 60-something and you finally get to take it easy and somebody takes it from you,” Searls said. “And over nothing.”
Feist’s girlfriend is a real estate agent in Ukiah, Calif., and neighbors said she split her time between there and the couple’s home on Smart Way, about four miles south of Colville. Feist, who Searls said also owns a home in Hawaii, had the home built in the past couple of years and said it includes a shop filled with equipment. Feist was a gun owner, and Booth likely knew of valuable firearms kept at the home, Allen said.
Searls said the suspect’s arrest has brought relief to the small, quiet neighborhood.
“I stopped packing my gun around with me,” he said. “For those few days, I carried it with me everywhere.”
Allen said the stolen .22 Magnum Derringer handgun left at the scene was crucial to Booth’s arrest, but that a series of coincidences helped seal the case.
Investigators theorized that the gunman also was injured in the crash and that he fled without retrieving the pistol from the wreckage because a neighbor who heard the crash was coming out of his home to see what had happened.
The pistol was among several reported stolen from a home in west Stevens County on June 28, the sheriff said. On Tuesday, a landowner reported finding a gun safe on public land at Prouty Corner Loop Road, which led investigators to buried firearms that had been stolen in the June burglary. Meanwhile, the Sheriff’s Office had alerted other law enforcement agencies that they were looking for someone with possible facial injuries from a broken windshield on Feist’s vehicle.
Then, in what Allen called a “good coincidence,” state prison officials who were following up on an unrelated case encountered Booth at a home on Old Dominion Road on Wednesday. They contacted the Sheriff’s Office after noting a gash across his forehead and nose. Feist had suffered similar injuries, Allen said.
The home is across the street from where the safe was found, Allen said. Detectives served search warrants at the property Thursday.
Booth’s father, who could not be reached for comment, owns a water pump service operated on property on Old Dominion Road, west of Colville.
Searls said Booth may have accompanied his father to Feist’s home a couple of months ago to help with a project.
Forensic experts with the Washington State Crime Lab have been in Colville this week collecting DNA samples and other evidence for analysis, Allen said.
Allen said investigators don’t yet know if anyone else was involved in Feist’s killing but said they believe Booth had help in June when he allegedly stole the gun safe that contained the murder weapon. The investigation is ongoing, he said.
Booth has no felony convictions. He’s to be arraigned on Aug. 2.