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Hell On Wheels
William Nack
January 10, 2000
Former wheelchair racer TED ERNST will spend his life in jail because he traded the thrill of sport for the thrill of crime
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January 10, 2000

Hell On Wheels

Former wheelchair racer TED ERNST will spend his life in jail because he traded the thrill of sport for the thrill of crime

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The valley is a tourist mecca—Glacier National Park rises above the clouds 30 miles to the northeast—but it is also a haven for retired folks. Over the next few months many of them lived in terror that two men, armed with guns and crowbars, were just outside their bedroom windows. Streeter had been a popular figure around the valley, and a sense of outrage was mixed with the fear. INN's Wilson had been a friend of Streeter's, and Serena asked him to help with the funeral arrangements. On the day of the burial, dressed in his mourning suit, Wilson stopped by his office. Ted was there. "I hope they catch the dirty bastards who did this and hang them out to dry," Wilson said to Ernst.

"Ted never blinked," Wilson says now. Ernst says he wheeled around, "terrified" of being caught, but he wore a countenance of calm for Wilson and all others to see. The following March he played in the Big Wheels basketball tournament, and between games he rolled up to Detective George Kimerly in the crowd and said, "How's the Streeter investigation going?"

"We're stalled," Kimerly replied, "but we're still plugging along."

Since the Tempo tire prints were identical to those found at the scene of an earlier burglary, Dupont had surmised, correctly, that Streeter had been killed when he interrupted the work of serial burglars. Dupont also knew that Streeter had tried to call the police. (At the scene Detective Mike Miller had hit the redial button on Streeter's truck's cell phone: 911.) By taking tire-and shoe-print photographs to retailers, the detectives also learned what kind of tires and shoes they were looking for. What they did not know was that they were looking for the wrong thing. Since Jesse had walked the murder scene wearing two pairs of shoes, the detectives were looking everywhere for two ambulatory outlaws. Detectives fanned out across Flathead County and beyond, searching for able-bodied burglars who worked together.

"It was the Casablanca syndrome," recalls county prosecutor Tom Esch. "Round up the usual suspects."

The cops got nowhere. "The case got me 50 discouraged," says Miller. "I interviewed at least 75 possible suspects. We were hitting dead ends all the time."

In fact, the Streeter murder may never have been solved had it not been for Jesse. Unlike cool-hand Ted, Jesse had a conscience and was stricken with remorse. He cried himself to sleep. Nightmares tossed him in the dark. "I could taste death in my mouth and couldn't get rid of the smell of blood," he would eventually tell Dr. McKinnon.

One day in February 1998 Jesse was at a church function with Charity Hope Beedy, a close friend. Afterward he told her that something was bothering him and that he wondered whether he could ever get right again with God. "I saw this horrible thing," he said. "I was there when Larry Streeter was shot. Do you understand what it's like [when every time you] close your eyes [you] see someone's head blown off?"

Though he made her promise not to repeat what he had said. Beedy grew as conscience-stricken as Jesse. "She was sick, and she was missing school," says her mother, Lisa. Ten weeks after the church conversation, Charily finally set the tumblers in motion. Without naming Jesse, she spun the tale to a friend, Tanya Fox. whose father, Tod, is a minister. Tod called his lawyer, James Vidal, and Vidal called the detective in charge of the investigation, Pat Walsh. "I was thinking this was just another rumor," Walsh says. On May 18 he heard the story from Fox, learned Jesse's identity from Beedy and drove out to Ed and Debby Ernst's place on McCafferey Road outside Bigfork.

"I need to talk to Jesse," Walsh told Ed. "Someone has told me that he witnessed the shooting of Larry Streeter."

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