killer bride glacier national park

Murder at the Loop

With all the talk in the northwest about the Killer Bride who pushed her husband off the cliff at the Loop in Glacier National Park, there have been questions about how law enforcement works in the Park.

The truth is that some rangers in Glacier Park are fully-certified law enforcement personnel and handle most crimes within the Park boundaries. When a crime is more serious in nature, such as a homicide, the Feds may be called in to investigate since the crime would have occurred on federal lands. But, part of the Park is on county land (in this instance, the west side of the Park is in Flathead County), there is often collaboration.

In The Wild Inside, I chose to use a lead investigator from the Department of the Interior instead of an FBI agent as my main investigator, but the situation – the need to call in a federal department – is similar. So when a man is found dead and bound to a tree near McGhee Meadow in Glacier, my main character, Ted Systead, is called in to investigate. Here’s a quote from my lead investigator explaining his situation after he flies in from Denver to Flathead County Airport:

By car, we were thirty minutes from the West Glacier entrance, by helicopter, five, and since local Crime Scene Investigations had already been on scene for a few hours, every minute counted. Fred had informed me earlier that one of the two local FBI guys stationed in Kalispell had been called in to meet the Chief of Park Police and the County Sheriff, but had deferred the case to us since they were knee-deep in some type of militia-band drama. Not to mention that they rarely dealt with homicide anyway.

I know it’s confusing, but this is the way it works: when there’s a life-threatening incident or a possible homicide in a national park, the National Park Police, which is federal, preserves life if necessary, then the scene. But, to preserve the scene, they typically need help, so they call the County Sheriff’s Office, which has concurrent jurisdiction with the part of the Park it contains. Ultimately though, the Feds have preeminent jurisdiction, so if the FBI or DOI think they need us, we go.

In The Wild Inside, as you can see from the quote, I also took liberties and used Park Police as the acting law enforcement division in Glacier. Although National Park Police does, indeed, exist and is usually active on federal lands in or near urban areas, such as Washington DC, it is not active in Glacier. Fully-trained rangers handle most law enforcement issues in Glacier.

In the Johnson-Graham case (my only knowledge of the case comes from the media), the FBI collaborated with the County to investigate the death of Johnson’s new husband of eight days off a cliff. In early December of 2013, she pleaded guilty to second degree murder.

Author: Christine Carbo

Christine Carbo is a teacher and writer living in Whitefish, Montana with her husband, Jamie, their three kids, one dog and one cat. Her love of Glacier National Park inspired her first novel, The Wild Inside, which was published in early 2015 by Atria Books / Simon and Schuster.