Nadja Medley, 48, and her 14-year-old daughter, Payton, moved to Caldwell in May with Mike Bullinger, according to their friends and Facebook pages. On Tuesday, they were identified as murder victims, and investigators said Bullinger, a fugitive, faces three charges of first-degree murder.
The third victim, identified through dental records June 30, was Bullinger’s wife, Cheryl Baker, with whom he bought the rural acreage on KCID Road. Lack of dental records for the Medleys delayed their identification until the state crime lab could match their DNA, according to the Canyon County Sheriff’s Office and coroner’s office.
“It isn’t surprising at all, but there was hope against hope that it wouldn’t be them,” Nadja’s longtime friend Christine Roppel said Tuesday. “Now I have to go through grieving again, because it’s real.”
Also Tuesday, the Canyon County Sheriff’s Office announced a felony homicide warrant has been requested for Bullinger, 60. The pilot and outfitter had previously been called a person of interest in the case, with a no-bond warrant for failure to report the deaths. Canyon County officials held a news conference Tuesday afternoon but released few new details.
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The three decomposing bodies had been in a shed on the KCID Road property a week or two before Canyon County deputies, responding to a request for a welfare check, discovered them June 19. Each of the three victims had been shot once and placed, partially covered, in the shed, investigators said.
Two days after that grisly discovery, investigators named Bullinger as the sole person of interest, and police throughout the nation have been searching for him ever since.
The motive behind the killings is unclear, investigators said. Baker’s brother told the Statesman she had just retired from her job as a charter school teacher and had been getting the couple’s Ogden, Utah, home ready for sale in preparation to move to Caldwell. Bullinger, a pilot doing contract work for an Idaho company, had moved to Idaho ahead of her, Byron Baker said.
Roppel and other friends of Nadja Medley said they feel sure she didn’t know Bullinger was married; Roppel said she was told he was divorced.
“I had not seen Nadja that happy in a long time,” said Roppel, who lived about a mile away from Medley in South Weber outside Ogden for about nine years before moving to Florida in 2015. She said the couple met when Nadja, a recent widow and massage therapist, helped Bullinger with his back pain. Roppel said she met Bullinger a couple of times, and he seemed, “OK, but kind of quiet.”
As for Nadja, she said, “I called her my hippie friend. She was into natural living, gardening. … She was highly principled.”
“Her daughter Payton was amazing, a straight A student,” Roppel said. “Mike was really good to Payton, from everything Nicole told me.”
When Nadja and Payton moved to Idaho to be with Bullinger, they seemed very happy and optimistic about the change, she said. Mother and daughter had gone through hard times, emotionally and financially, after Nadja’s husband died of a heart attack in August 2014, she said, but this spring as they prepared for a move to Idaho, they seemed very happy and optimistic for the future.
“It just looked like it was going to be such a happy ending for her,” Roppel said.
Nadja Medley’s Facebook page features numerous smiling photos of her with Bullinger and a video of their new home, which appears to be the property on KCID Road near U.S. 20/26. Since late June, her Facebook page and that of her daughter have featured memorial banners.
At Tuesday’s news conference, Coroner Vicki DeGeus-Morris said DNA from items used by mother and daughter was matched to bone marrow from the discovered bodies.
The time lapse between the murders and the bodies’ discovery gave Bullinger “a head start” and put investigators at a disadvantage, Sheriff Kieran Donahue said, but tips have been coming in on a daily basis.
“Some of those leads have produced evidence” that warrants first-degree murder charges, chief deputy criminal prosecutor Chris Topmiller said, declining to disclose any details.
“We feel it’s a strong case now,” Topmiller said, and Donahue agreed.
When the search for Bullinger was announced, investigators said he was last seen June 11 in Ogden, Utah, in a car registered to his wife. That’s about the same time friends and family say they last heard from the Medleys and Baker.
Since the manhunt began, sightings have been reported in Utah, Wyoming and Eastern Idaho. Baker’s Ford Focus was discovered July 12 near Moran, Wyo., in a remote campground near the border of Grand Teton National Park. Investigators said the car may have been in the area for about three weeks before anyone reported it to police.
“Three weeks in a case like this is a big jump on law enforcement,” Donahue said.
Roppel said Nadja and Payton went camping in that area with Bullinger last year.
Friends and family wondered publicly whether Bullinger, an outfitter with extensive backcountry experience, may have hiked into a remote area. Extensive searching turned up no further signs of the fugitive.
Then, on July 20, another sighting was reported in the backcountry near Eastern Idaho’s Swan Valley. Bonneville County deputies searched the area without success, and investigators said they had not confirmed the man spotted in the area was indeed Bullinger.
Kristin Rodine: 208-377-6447