From the time Mark Irwin’s body was found in his van, high in the Boise Foothills, in late August, police had said the death was suspicious — and little else.
But on Friday, when 45-year-old Francis March was charged with first-degree murder in Irwin’s death, Boise police released a little more information. And Irwin’s friends recoiled at the news.
Irwin was beloved in the international film festival community as a projectionist and a distinctive character, friend John Quackenbush told the Statesman.
“He was absolutely one of a kind,” Quackenbush said. “He had a sense of humor all his own, and he had a way of speaking, a cadence ... I would liken it to (1960s TV personality) Paul Lynde.”
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Friends had been anxious for word about what happened to Irwin. But as of Friday there were still no details of how he died, or why. The cause of death has yet to be determined by the Ada County coroner pending toxicology results, police said. The body wasn’t positively identified until September, based on forensic testing, police said earlier.
March and 19-year-old Anthony Barclay, of Boise, were initially jailed Aug. 25, suspected of stealing items from Irwin, who had been reported missing early that month, Boise police said. That’s the day before Irwin, 61, was found dead in his silver Toyota van in the Foothills, just across the Boise County line.
After further investigation by Boise police, March was charged with murder Friday. Further charges are pending, police said. Both suspects face grand theft and burglary charges, and both remain in the Ada County Jail.
Police said that Irwin knew March and Barclay and that the crime was not random.
High school friend Tad LaMarche said they graduated from Boise’s Borah High in 1973 and also attended South Junior High together.
“During high school we ski raced, shared a lot of laughs, and like a lot of teenagers barely stayed out of trouble,” LaMarche commented on the Statesman website.
“In his early life he was a pro skier, or at least semi-pro,” longtime friend John Quackenbush said, noting that skiing and films were common themes in Irwin’s stories.
Irwin was a well-known projectionist who had worked at Sundance and other film festival, friends said.
Quackenbush, who works in the Harvard University film archives, said Friday that he met Irwin about 14 years ago and worked with him at Sundance and at film festivals in Nantucket, Dubai and Doha.
In past decades, Irwin worked at a Boise multiplex and other theaters, but like other projectionists, he found that jobs dried up starting about 2005.
“When the industry went digital, the only work for projectionists was at film festivals,” Quackenbush said.
Irwin was a member of the IATSE (International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, Moving Picture Technicians, Artists and Allied Crafts) union, which also covers stage hands, so he got work helping with local productions, Quackenbush said.
He said he last saw Irwin at Sundance two or three years ago, but he talked to him several times a year. This summer he reached out and found Irwin’s phone was not in service, then searched online to learn via an Idaho Statesman story that his friend was dead.
Quackenbush knew little of Irwin’s life in Boise, except that he owned a house on Gage Street where he collected cars, motion picture equipment and more.
Irwin’s vehicles included a couple of 1960s-era Cadillacs and an El Camino, he said.
“He described himself as a hoarder,” Quackenbush said with a laugh.
He described Irwin as magnetic and entertaining.
“I’d leave the room for 10 minutes and when I’d come back, he’d have a circle of people around him,” he said. “He had lots of great stories.”
Kristin Rodine: 208-377-6447