The Bonner County Sheriff’s Office investigation into the 2017 killing of Shirley Ramey was Idaho’s first case of a federal gun database leading to a murder suspect.
Now investigators are hoping the tool will prove helpful in a second case: the unsolved murder of George Andres, who was shot and killed within months of Ramey.
Andres was killed by multiple gunshots after apparently interrupting a burglary at his home in Clark Fork, about 20 miles from Ramey’s home, on Dec. 6, 2017. Investigators have not released any information about the weapons used, and they continue to compare fingerprints recovered with new law enforcement database entries. The Bonner County Sheriff’s Office recently uploaded images of recovered casings to the National Integrated Ballistics Information Network, or NIBIN, he said.
The suspect in the murder of Ramey, Judith Carpenter, 57, was arrested more than two years after allegedly shooting and killing the 79-year-old great-grandmother with a 9mm handgun, then stealing a rifle and a blouse from her home in Hope on April 5, 2017.
Lincoln County, Montana, sheriff’s deputies had arrested Carpenter during a road-rage incident in Libby within hours of the killing. They seized a handgun she allegedly pointed at another driver and a rifle that proved to be stolen from Ramey.
Then a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives special agent helping with the Bonner County investigation found out in May that the Lincoln County sheriff’s department had that handgun in evidence. It matched the model of the gun used to kill Ramey, and high-resolution images of shell casings test-fired from the handgun uploaded to the NIBIN proved it was the same weapon.
“We hope that at some point (NIBIN) could lead to another success,” Bonner County Undersheriff Ror Lakewold said.
At first, investigators had a hunch the Andres and Ramey cases were linked because they were exceptionally similar and appeared to be robberies gone wrong, Lakewold said.
“That initially kept us focused on the assumption that they might be connected,” he said.
Investigators haven’t ruled out the possibility, but no hard evidence has emerged to support the theory, Lakewold said. Deputies also believe more than one person was involved in Andres’ murder.
Meanwhile, there are lingering questions about motive and a connection between Ramey and her accused killer. Investigators say they didn’t know each other, but Carpenter had multiple addresses in Bonner County until 2015.
“It appears that it was a random shooting based on our investigation so far, and that she had driven up that road and somehow ended Shirley’s life,” Bonner County Sheriff Daryl Wheeler said.
At a news conference on Friday, Wheeler speculated that Carpenter, who was a licensed real estate appraiser, may have been in the area for work at the time.
“We do know that Carpenter has had ties and still remains with ties to the Sandpoint area,” Lakewold said.
Lakewold said investigators questioned Carpenter about the Andres case, but she exercised her right to remain silent.
The Associated Press reported Carpenter’s husband, Jim Flannery, maintained her innocence outside court Friday. Carpenter has had multiple marriages, and Lakewold confirmed she was married to Flannery at the time of Ramey’s killing.
Bonner County investigators hope DNA results from blood on guns seized from Ramey will solidify their case, Wheeler said.
And deputies continue to interview people about the death of Andres, as recently as a few weeks ago.
“We continue to actively look into new information,” Lakewold said.
Local journalism is essential.
The journalists of The Spokesman-Review are a part of the community. They live here. They work here. They care. You can help keep local journalism strong right now with your contribution. Thank you.
Subscribe to the Coronavirus newsletter
Get the day’s latest Coronavirus news delivered to your inbox by subscribing to our newsletter.