An ugly crime near one of the one of the most stunning places in the world, the popular ski destination of Jackson Hole, Wyoming.
Ben Bradley was a young man in love with life, and the deep powder. He always took the high road, and took the fastest way down again -- until his journey brought him to a sudden dead end.
Bradley was found brutally beaten and stabbed to death in the middle of the Wyoming wilderness on Oct. 1, 2006.
Ben Bradley was a mountain man starting from a very early age, according to his parents. When he comes of age, 6-foot-5-inch-tall Ben moves from his California home to Winter Park, Colorado to be closer to the slopes. His life consists of eating, sleeping and snowboarding, and working odd jobs off-season.
In June 2006, Ben headed out to another favorite spot: Jackson Hole, Wyoming, about 450 miles away. He plans to celebrate his 29th birthday with friends the best way he knows how: By snowboarding off a glacier. And he's using his favorite mode of travel: his thumb. When he makes it to Rock Springs, Wyoming and calls his parents. But his parents are out driving in an area with no reception and the call doesn't get through.
"We know he was picked up in Rock Springs," said Ken Bradley, Ben's father. "We had the cellphones checked into and his last phone call was from the cell site there at Rock Springs."
When they don't hear from him for the next couple of days, Ben's parents take it in stride. One thing they know about their son is that he can take care of himself.
"He would just go off to the side of the road in the forest there, open up his bag and sleep," said Ken. "It's not something he hasn't done before. I've known him actually to go up into wilderness for four days and just camp out in the wilderness."
They also know that he would never miss a ski date. And as the days pass, Ben's friends at Jackson Hole become worried when they don't see him.
"They called us up and said 'Ben was supposed to be here this weekend and he didn't show up,'" said Ken. "I was kind of freaked out because that's not really like Ben."
Alarmed, Ben's parents fly out to Rock Springs. They begin a desperate search for Ben in the unforgiving western Wyoming landscape. They hand out pictures of Ben all the way up to Jackson Hole. But there is no sign of him. They fly home again and post his picture on a missing-persons website.
And then, three months after Ben goes missing, a possible break: Ben's backpack is turned in to police by a man named Tommy Bowman, who says he found it soon after Ben disappeared. Bowman claims it was floating in a river about 70 miles south of where Ben was last reported.
"He had observed one of the missing fliers that Ben's parents had put up in hope of locating Ben," said Sweetwater County Sheriff's Sgt. John Grossnickle. "He told the records clerk at the Rock Springs Police Department that he had the missing person's backpack. There was some personal belongings inside the backpack, and one of them was a vehicle title that had the name 'Benjamin Bradley' on it."
Just two days later, Ben's parents get a terrible phone call. Their Ben has been found murdered: blunt-force trauma to the head and multiple stab wounds. His body was dumped at a remote site in central Wyoming in the shadow of a foreboding natural landmark called Boars Tusk, about 30 miles of mostly dirt road north of Rock Springs. On his body, cops find Ben's identification and cellphone, along with several hundred dollars. Police are puzzled about a motive.
Police give Tommy Bowman a polygraph test. He is not named a suspect in the case, but cops keep a close eye on him.
"In all of the interviews his statement has never been consistent," said Sweetwater County Sheriff's Sgt. John Grossnickle.
But Bowman's decision to go on national television with his story about how he found the backpack leaves lawmen baffled.
"This was back in June. I was out JetSkiing with my best friend Tinea and stumbled across it floating in the water from one of the main beaches," Bowman said in a live televised news interview.
"The information that Tommy was giving was not accurate," said Grossnickle. "Tommy implicated other people being with him when he located the backpack, which was not true. In fact those people were watching because he had called them and said 'I'm gonna be on TV,' and they were astonished to find out that he had dropped their name like that.
"He also indicated that he showed no deception in that polygraph," said Grossnickle. Is that accurate? "No, it is not."
But the case gets blown wide open when Eric Conn enters the picture. Conn he was sitting in jail 1,100 miles away in St. Louis, Missouri, on another charge. During his interview with police there, he starts talking about the details of Ben Bradley's death -- details that had never been released before.
"He was here in our community within the time frame of Ben's disappearance," said Grossnickle. "He implicated himself in Ben Bradley's death."
To this day police are keeping most of those chilling details to themselves. But they are sure that Conn is the real deal.
Conn also reportedly told federal agents in a separate interview that he and two other unnamed males attacked Ben after spending hours partying, and that one man hit him with an ax handle before the second man stabbed him. Conn was arrested shortly after and charged with first-degree murder in the killing of Ben Bradley. And his testimony links him to Tommy Bowman. Bowman was charged with accessory after the fact of homicide.
Detectives pull the thread and more persons of interest come spilling out, like two local men about town Tracy Warren and Chris Dove.
"There's been several people that have come forward and implicated Tracy Warren with the homicide and have put Tracy Warren with Ben Bradley prior to his death," said Grossnickle. "Chris Dove was a roommate of Tracy Warren's, also an acquaintance of Tommy Bowman, and there was a circle of people that were more than likely active in criminal events in that area."
Warren and Dove have not been charged in the murder. But it looks like the law has been dealt a pretty good hand in cracking this case. And then, only days before the trial, Eric Conn throws a monkey wrench into the case that brings the wheels of justice to a screeching halt. He now says he has an alibi.
"Eric Conn had told his defense attorneys that he was actually in custody on June 2nd in Los Angeles, California," said Grossnickle.
That's pretty much the date cops have pinpointed as Ben's disappearance. But Conn claims there is no way he was even in Wyoming at that time.
"We looked back and looked at the records of the jail and probation, parole in Los Angeles County and that is correct," said Grossnickle.
Ken and Mary Bradley are skeptical. Ben's remains were found months after his disappearance. The exact time and date of his murder remain unknown. They believe Conn had time to do the murder and be in Los Angeles give or take a few days.
The district attorney cancels the court date. And everyone suspected is kicked free and charges are dropped against Eric Conn and Tommy Bowman.
"The rug had been pulled out from underneath us," said Grossnickle. "We understand that there's rules we have to play by. We have to do thing procedurally correct. But we also understand that everything that we have is on our side and there will be a conclusion."
Cops say they are still building evidence in this case. And all four men -- Conn, Bowman, Warren and Dove -- remain persons of interest in Ben Bradley's murder.
Police say Conn, Warren and Dove are currently in custody on separate and unrelated charges. Crime Watch Daily has reached out to Tommy Bowman but has received no response.
But police say the men have plenty of family and friends in the Rock Springs area. And someone might have the answers they need to solve this murder once and for all.
There's one piece of crucial evidence still out there that they would love to get their hands on: Ben Bradley's single most prized possession, his custom-made snowboard.
"It would be another piece of evidence that we could corroborate with statements," said Grossnickle.
Ben paid well over $1000 for his custom board, choosing his own graphics and placing the order online.
In Rock Springs, police say they are close to getting their hands on that board.
"One of Tracy Warren's siblings had called our office and stated that the snowboard had been in Tracy's house," said Grossnickle. Tracy's sister reportedly made the call.
Crime Watch Daily went to Tracy's sister's house to see if we could get some answers, but she did not appear on camera.
And police say Tracy's parents also told them they saw the snowboard in Tracy's living room. We tried them at home too but were unsuccessful.
Investigators insist that someone, maybe several people, know exactly who killed Ben Bradley, and may be just too afraid to come forward.
Tips can be made anonymously to the Sweetwater County Sheriff's Office at (307) 922-5295.