WILDER -- A cold case is a case investigators just can't find an answer to. These cases aren't closed, the suspects aren't caught, and the victim's families are left wondering.
One such murder case in the Treasure Valley has perplexed local and federal officers for 25 years. It happened 4th of July weekend, 1986 in Wilder.
Victim's mother: 'It's just like yesterday'
The 4th of July was on a Friday in 1986. The Lenon family had a picnic in the park. That picnic is where Casey Lenon last saw her son, Gary Lee Lenon, alive.
"He wanted us to come and spend it with him, so we did." Gary Lenon's mother Casey Lenon said.
Gary Lenon was 31-years-old and had recently moved to Wilder for a job, though he wanted to be transferred to Boise where his mother lives.
"He wasn't too happy over there. He wanted to move from Wilder. He wanted to be transferred over here, but he never made it," Casey Lenon said.
In fact, the week before the picnic, Casey Lenon says her son told her he felt threatened and bought a gun.
"Gary went and bought one for protection," Casey Lenon said. "I guess he was being harassed or something."
She says Lenon was being harassed by men who wanted him to open up the convenience store he managed late at night to give them beer and money.
"They were always hanging around. They used to give him a bad time because they wanted him to get out of bed in the middle of the night and sell them beer, and he wouldn't do it because he wasn't supposed to," Casey Lenon said.
Casey Lenon says after the Friday picnic, Gary Lenon made plans to spend part of the weekend with her in Boise. He never came for a visit, and Casey Lenon began to worry.
Lenon's body discovered days after murder
On Monday morning, Gary Lenon was supposed to show up for work to unlock the store. He didn't come in at 5:00 a.m. like he normally did, and his family got more worried.
"I started calling him. And I called him until 9 o'clock, and he didn't answer so I knew something was wrong," Casey Lenon said.
In 1986, a coworker explained to KTVB, Lenon hadn't been around all weekend.
"When I closed up on Saturday night, his car was sitting there, and there wasn't anyone around. I didn't see anyone all day Sunday and his car was under the carport," the coworker explained.
After Gary Lenon's sister called police, officers went to his apartment to check on him. They found the door unlocked, went inside and found his body just inside the door.
Police found a grisly scene that Monday morning: Blood on the kitchen floor and on the walls. Newspaper articles from 1986 offer more detail: Gary Lenon was on the floor with his chest slashed open. The coroner said Lenon died of more than 100 stab wounds.
The coroner determined Lenon had been killed on Saturday night, a day after the picnic, two days before police found him.
"If I hadn't called over there looking for him, I don't think they would have found him. That gave these people a chance to get away," Casey Lenon said.
The suspect gets away
As Lenon lay dead in his apartment for days, the man who police would later accuse of the murder, 21-year-old Jose Ballardo, was in the Canyon County jail.
"He was arrested hours after what was believed the time of the incident in Caldwell for possession of concealed weapon," Wilder Police Chief Dusty Tveidt said.
Ballardo did not stay in jail for long. An Idaho Press Tribune headline explains: Murder suspect "unwittingly freed by legal officials".
Police say timing allowed Ballardo to get away. Police were just beginning to investigate Lenon's death as Ballardo appeared in court Monday morning for the misdemeanor charge. A judge released Ballardo on his own recognizance.
"At the time, the murder of course had not been reported and so he was not the suspect at that time," Tveidt said.
It was a week and a half after Lenon was killed that prosecutors charged Ballardo with 1st degree murder, but he had vanished and was never arrested.
"It's believed he's possibly in Mexico," Tveidt said.
Lenon's mother, Casey Lenon says she had seen Ballardo at the convenience store, and she thinks he is one of the men who had harassed her son.
A cold case gets new life
Now, nearly 25 years later, Lenon's case is cold, but not forgotten. Last year, Canyon County Victim Witness Coordinator Aleshea Lind-Boals found out about Lenon's story.
"This was a real man with a real family. And we really want to bring him to life and give him the justice that he truly deserves and the attention. Until this whole thing is over, he deserves the attention," Lind-Boals said.
Lind-Boals approached others at the Canyon County Courthouse to see what could be done. She pulled Lenon's file, finding more than she'd bargained for.
"Once I asked for the Lenon case to take a look at it, the warrants department said, well do you want the eight others? I said, what eight others? And they brought me all of them. That's when I realized, there weren't just Casey Lenon out there, there were eight other families that deserve this same attention," Lind-Boals said.
Now because of the Lenon case, Lind-Boals, prosecutors, detectives and others make up the Canyon County Cold Case Task Force, a special team dedicated to the cases like Lenon's.
The task force is currently investigating nine murder and vehicular manslaughter cases. They have identified suspects in all cases.
The investigation continues
"I probably look at it somewhere around a dozen times a month," Wilder Police Chief Dusty Tveidt said. "When I have a chance I'll make phone calls, go back to it, read over reports again, try to get a better understanding. Maybe something that I didn't catch the first time or the second time I try to look at that stuff again."
Tveidt says tips have come and gone. Ten years ago, officers dug up a Caldwell yard after a tip indicated they might find the murder weapon. That search yielded no results. Tveidt has tried working with immigration officials and others, but he's had no luck so far.
The boxes of evidence from the case are still intact, but there are other challenges investigators face in looking at this case.
"At that time, stuff was done a lot differently. Some information given that maybe wouldn't be given today," Tveidt said. "Just trying to locate certain documents and that stuff is a challenge. Locating witnesses and officers involved is a challenge as well because some of which have passed away. About every angle of it is a challenge that you don't face with a new case that occurs now."
No effort is wasted
While there is still no arrest nearly 25 years later, no effort is considered a waste because for those searching, each clue investigated might be the one that cracks the case.
"I would like to see closure in this case especially for the victim's family. It's been a long time they've been awaiting that closure. As his mother gets older, I would like to see closure to that before she passes away," Tveidt said.
"You never know. It just takes one person to crack a case, and that's what we're hoping for," Lind-Boals said.
"I'd like to see something happen before I'm older. Before I'm not here, I mean," Casey Lenon said.
Because the case is still open, police will not release how they know Ballardo is the killer. Lenon's mother, however, says the gun Ballardo was arrested with that day in Caldwell belonged to her son. She believes that's the significant piece of evidence. Police still have not located the murder weapon.