Investigators believe a young man who was hitchhiking from Junction City, Oregon, to Boise fell victim to a trio of Idahoans who befriended and then killed him, court documents show.
The three Idahoans have been arrested in the death of Hunter Allyn Smith, 18, whose body was found by hunters in the Bruneau Desert in eastern Owyhee County on Oct. 21.
The victim is named in some of the court documents and he reportedly went missing while heading to Boise in mid- to late June. Owyhee County Prosecutor Doug Emery said Thursday that the evidence they have points to Hunter but that DNA tests have not come back.
Nicholas B. Vandenberg, a 27-year-old Melba man, was charged with first-degree murder a week ago. Two others were charged this week with felony conspiracy to commit murder: Montanna R. Reed, 20, of Twin Falls, and Willie K. Rabey, 34, of Mountain Home.
Emery said one of the defendants is believed to have picked up Smith as he was hitchhiking in June. Here’s what prosecutors say happened after that, according to the three criminal complaints filed against the suspects:
Vandenberg, Reed and Rabey devised a plan to invite Smith to Vandenberg’s home, and then later to shoot firearms.
Their plan was for Vandenberg to shoot Smith. The trio loaded guns into a vehicle and rode with Smith to an unspecified location. Reed and Rabey watched as Vandenberg deliberately shot Smith at close range in the upper torso and face/head with a .45-caliber pistol.
Reed and Rabey also watched and/or helped Vandenberg remove Smith’s clothing. One or both helped Vandenberg drag the body to a nearby ditch, and then burned Smith’s clothes.
The group planned to commit other criminal acts in the future, including murder, the charging documents allege.
“There were discussions about other offenses. There’s no specific evidence to any other detailed [murder] plot,” Emery told the Statesman on Thursday.
Emery said one of the suspects had possession of Smith’s ID or driver’s license.
“We can’t find that there was any ill will between the deceased and the suspects,” Emery said. “There doesn’t appear to be any rhyme or reason as to the way this went down as it did.”
In addition to murder, Vandenberg is charged with use of a firearm while committing a felony and destruction or concealment of evidence.
Emery said investigators were looking into a post and related comments on what appears to be Vandenberg’s Facebook page about the discovery of the body.
Vandenberg was arrested in Elmore County and was initially held in the jail there. He was arraigned in Owyhee County on Monday, according to online court records.
He was appointed a public defender. His preliminary hearing is scheduled for Dec. 18.
Rabey was arraigned Thursday on the conspiracy charge, as well as felony destruction or concealment of evidence, according to online court records. A preliminary hearing date in Owyhee County is set for Dec. 18.
No information on Reed, held at the Twin Falls County Jail pending extradition to Owyhee County, was available online Thursday.
Rabey served about four years in prison for past crimes, according to Idaho Department of Correction records. He was sentenced in January 2004 to 3 to 5 years for burglary in Owyhee County.
That sentence was suspended and he was placed on probation. In July that year, his sentence was revoked, and he was sent to prison and ordered to undergo a treatment program there. He completed that program and was released on probation.
In 2005, he was sentenced to 2 to 5 years in prison for a burglary conviction in Canyon County. That sentence was suspended and he was placed on probation. After a violation, he was back in custody in June 2006. His sentence was completed and he was released from prison in February 2010.