A tale of two guns

Chance and diligence played big roles in the Aug. 1 arrest of Shirley Ramey’s alleged killer

By Lyndsie Kiebert
Reader Staff

Judith M. Carpenter, 57, of Coeur d’Alene, is in custody at the Bonner County Jail, charged with the 2017 killing of 79-year-old Hope woman Shirley Ramey. Bonner County Sheriff Daryl Wheeler announced the arrest at a press conference Aug. 2, noting the combined efforts of the Kootenai County Sheriff’s Office and Emergency Response Team, Coeur d’Alene Police Department and ATF.

Daryl Ramey stands next to a photo of he and his wife, Shirley, together.
Photo by Taylor Viydo, KREM 2 News.

The arrest, which occurred at Carpenter’s Kootenai County home Aug. 1, came two years after Daryl Ramey returned home on April 5, 2017 to find his wife dead at their home on Trestle Creek Road. She had been shot twice in the head while standing near her back door.

BCSO ruled the case a murder, and a few days later arrested Nathan Utt, who lived in a camper just down the road. Utt was exonerated the next day, having been out of state at the time of the murder.

Beyond the mistaken arrest of Utt, the story of how Judith Carpenter came to be accused of murdering Shirley Ramey — a well-liked former Hope city clerk — is a story that spans three counties in two states.

As it turns out, Carpenter was already in custody in Lincoln County, Mont., mere hours after Ramey’s murder. Not only that, but sheriff’s deputies there had a pair of guns in their possession that would ultimately be central to connecting Carpenter with the murder. But Lincoln County authorities held Carpenter on unrelated charges, and didn’t yet know about Ramey’s murder or the significance of the firearms they had locked away as evidence in Libby. The guns sat silently for more than two years until a tenacious ATF agent took up the case.

The story of how Carpenter was arrested is the story of those two guns. It reveals the contours of inter-agency communication and collaboration, how the United States tracks and locates firearms in circulation throughout the country and how chance and diligence come together in making or breaking an investigation.

Casings at the scene

At the time of Ramey’s murder, two 9 millimeter shell casings were collected at the scene, as well as an intact 9mm bullet. While searching the area around the Rameys’ home, officers found two fresh bullet holes in a camper trailer parked on the road, along with two additional 9mm casings. A Savage Model 99 rifle had been stolen at the time of the murder, as well as a blouse.

In February 2018, BCSO turned over the 9mm casings to ATF. The agency then ran the casings through its National Integrated Ballistics Information Network (NIBIN) program, which catalogs and compares ballistics from evidence gathered across the nation. ATF Special Agent James Butler took an interest in the case, and prompted surrounding law enforcement agencies to test fire and enter ballistics for all confiscated 9mm guns into NIBIN.

On May 18, 2019, the NIBIN system found a match between the casings found at the Ramey murder scene to test-fired cartidges submitted by the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office in Montana.

Investigators connected the casings to a Glock Model 19 9mm pistol that Lincoln County deputies seized from Carpenter during a road rage incident, which also occured on April 5, 2017 — shortly after the alleged murder.

“This is the very first case NIBIN had in the state of Idaho where they’ve [been] able to match up shell casings with a homicide,” Wheeler said at the press conference.

Road rage in Montana

Carpenter allegedly pointed a pistol at another driver while driving north on Bull Lake Road. Lincoln County authorities arrested Carpenter for assault with a weapon and confiscated two guns — the Glock and Savage Model 99 rifle. Lincoln County Sheriff Darren Short told the Reader in a phone interview Aug. 6 that due to mental health concerns, Carpenter was never convicted in Lincoln County. Instead, she received a pretrial diversion: an alternative to prosecution that moves an offender from the traditional justice system and into programs facilitated by the U.S. Probation Service.

Carpenter told deputies at the time of her Montana arrest that she found the rifle at the corner of Highway 2 and Bull Lake Road. According to the affidavit, blood was on both guns at the time they were taken into custody.

BCSO received both guns from Lincoln County on June 10, 2019 and submitted them, along with crime scene evidence, to the Idaho State Police Forensic Services Unit for analysis. Forensic investigators confirmed the casings found at the 2017 murder scene matched Carpenter’s Glock, which she purchased from Black Sheep Sporting Goods in Coeur d’Alene in 2005. Records also show that on April 3, 2017 — just days before the Ramey murder — Carpenter checked the pistol at the Canadian border.

Officials have not identified a motive at this time.

Short said his department entered the Savage Model 99 rifle into the National Crime Information Center system immediately after seizing it to see if anyone had reported it stolen. At the time, their search yielded no results.

Bonner County Detective Phil Stella told the Reader in a phone interview Aug. 6 that that’s because Daryl Ramey didn’t have the serial number on hand when he noticed the rifle missing, and it took BCSO a couple of weeks to obtain that number and enter the gun into the stolen weapons catalog. Stella also said BCSO kept the missing rifle a secret from the public in an effort to hold onto information that could determine the legitimacy of potential leads or confessions.

When asked about the blood on the guns, Wheeler said at the Aug. 2 press conference that he wasn’t sure why it wasn’t noticed and investigated while the gun was in Lincoln County’s custody.

“You can’t go to Yoke’s and complain about the service at Safeway,” Wheeler said. “It is what it is.”

Short told the Reader that the blood wasn’t visible to the naked eye and only noticed when close-up images of the weapons were recently reexamined.

Community closure

Wheeler said he’d met with Daryl Ramey following the arrest and that he seemed “very relieved.”

“It’s affected the whole community of Bonner County, and especially the community in Hope and Clark Fork,” Wheeler said. “This is really going to bring, hopefully, some closure to this incident.”

Wheeler also noted Aug. 2 that there is no known connection between the Ramey murder and the December 2017 murder of 73-year-old Clark Fork man George Andres at his home up East Spring Creek Road.

Carpenter’s bond is set at $1 million. A preliminary hearing is scheduled at the Bonner County Courthouse for Wednesday, Aug. 14 at 1:30 p.m.

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