Officials suspect foul play after a Great Falls man was found near death and partially bound in electrical wire near Lincoln.
Lewis and Clark County Sheriff Leo Dutton says a tow truck driver reported a suspicious Ford Mustang parked at the trailhead of Lincoln Gulch on Aug. 20. Search crews including dogs scoured the area, but due to rain and rugged terrain, they called off the search two days later.
The vehicle was rented by Lee Klette, 42, of Great Falls, whose family had not heard from him, although no missing person report was filed.
On Aug. 24, another Great Falls man was in the area prospecting with a metal detector when he found Klette in critical condition.
“He was hypothermic – his body’s core temperature was in the 80s which is not very sustainable with life,” Dutton said. “As a result of inactivity and exposure, his medical condition was dire and his body had begun to shut down.”
Authorities believe Klette was in the elements for five days and doctors said he was a few hours from death, Dutton said. He was transported via helicopter to Missoula, where he underwent surgery and survived, although he may lose some digits. The man suffered no broken bones, but it remains unclear due to exposure how several injuries may have occurred.
The two Great Falls men apparently knew each other but investigators believe that is coincidental, Dutton said.
How Klette ended up in the woods and bound in electrical wire remains a mystery to investigators. He has recovered to the point of speaking with law enforcement but refused to provide details about his disappearance. He did claim to have wrapped himself with the wire, Dutton said.
“The hard part is that he’s not talking. It is suspicious and if he’d died, we would have a homicide on our hands,” he said. “It begs the question of what really happened.”
Klette was unable to communicate effectively until a few days ago and authorities have not yet located who they believe is a key witness, Dutton said. Without several pieces of information and lingering questions, he says investigators did not cast a wide public net until the man declined to explain what happened to him.
The lead investigator on the case is Deputy Mike Hayes, who serves on the FBI Violent Crime Task Force. Authorities believe Klette had moved across several states, which led to federal assistance in the investigation, Dutton said, but he did not elaborate on why the man was believed to have traveled across state lines.