by William Skink
When we bought our tickets to Colorado this Spring my wife and I wondered if an August departure date would be our ticket out of a smoke-filled valley. Well, I think we got our answer.
The last time our family had Summer Colorado plans the circumstances were quite different. We had one less kid, the trip was by minivan (not plane) and instead of leaving behind smoke, I was leaving behind the murder case of a homeless man I had a small role in assisting the authorities with.
That was the summer of 2014, and this year’s trip got me thinking about that summer and what happened to Jack Berry under the Reserve Street bridge.
My role started before Jack’s body was found in the river. I was told by another camper living in the area that his friend Jack had been shot, but at the time I didn’t believe him. He had mental health issues and was prone to inappropriate outburst during conversations, especially when under the influence.
About a week later I knew he wasn’t delusional when I heard a body had been found in the Clark Fork River. I had a weekly appointment to meet a client I was working with who lived in the area, and the day I heard about the body was the day I was supposed to visit him.
I biked toward Reserve early to try and catch him coming back from his daily convenience store stop. I didn’t want to go near the Reserve Street bridge that day. As I was biking I heard my name shouted out. I looked to my right and saw a group of people sitting against the back-end of what is now Jimmy Johns.
The guy who shouted my name was one of the only people I recognized. They knew me from my work at the shelter and asked if I had heard the news. I said I had and that I was worried it was someone I knew. That’s when Jack’s girlfriend spoke up, identifying herself and claiming to know exactly what happened.
With pen and notepad I took down her statement. She told me who was involved and described what they did to his body. He was beaten, then tortured, then shot and dumped in the river. I scribbled notes, trying to keep up as it poured out of her.
Later, after debriefing with my supervisor, I wrote up a report and hand-delivered it to the Sheriff. He told me the description of what was done to Jack matched the initial examination of the body. Hoping it wasn’t true, that confirmation sent shivers down my spine.
My trip to Colorado that summer became an escape. A few days after the initial shock, the same client who shouted me out ran into me at the shelter and warned me that one of Lino’s accomplices was sitting there listening as Jack’s girlfriend told me what happened. Knowing what I know now, I am almost certain it was Jonah Cook.
To put it mildly, I was slightly alarmed to hear that someone who may have participated in the torture and murder of another human being had been sitting within striking distance of me as I squatted scribbling down details of this horrific crime.
That was bad enough, but it got worse.
Before getting to what I know, let me back up and say there is an ongoing question about what happened to one of Lino’s followers, Missoula resident Monte Swanson. Monte fled Missoula with Lino, Lino’s girlfriend and Jonah Cook but has since gone missing. This article is a good account of events leading up to Monte’s disappearance. Here is a portion of that story:
After a month and a 100-officer manhunt involving police dogs, Lino was found in a river bottom near Shreveport, Louisiana, and subsequently extradited to Montana to face a deliberate homicide charge. Marchese was also picked up, but those charges were later dismissed.
While Lino was facing extradition for the murder charge he denied, Swanson and Cook remained in a camp outside Shreveport. The last time the Eldeens spoke with their son, a Shreveport sheriff’s deputy agreed to go out to the camp and give Swanson a phone.
It was early September 2014, and he told them he was fine and they were moving on to Maine.
According to interviews Dominick conducted with Marchese later, Cook told her that Swanson disappeared in Mississippi. He told Marchese that Swanson went to go panhandle and never returned, leaving a puppy unattended in the camp.
Let me fill in some additional context to this excerpt. There was a 100-officer manhunt to find this killer and his accomplices because several opportunities to catch him locally were missed. I know because one of the calls trying to alert police to Lino’s presence at Kiwanis park came from me.
I left on my road trip knowing Lino and his crew had fled Missoula. I didn’t know what direction they went, but I was unsettled hitting the road, enough to call my boss for any updates. She told me they were ticketed in Colorado, just a half hours drive from where I was staying. Police didn’t know who they had, so they were off again.
When I came across a guy panhandling in a parking lot, I gave him a buck and told him I worked at a shelter in Montana and that a homeless man had been murdered and his killer was on the run. The guy looked up, nodding his head. He told me police were all over the camps asking questions.
Lino was eventually caught, brought back and sentenced to prison. Jonah Cook is a free man. And Monte Swanson, as far as I can tell, is still missing.