PORT ANGELES — Authorities searching last week for clues to who murdered two people found a handgun under vegetation near an Agnew-area road where Clay Lee Haltom, 60, and his girlfriend, Bryana Emila Presler, 43, were shot to death Feb. 24.
Brian King, Clallam Sheriff’s Office chief criminal deputy, said investigators are exploring possible links between the .22-caliber Ruger semiautomatic pistol and murder suspect Christopher Lee Haltom, Clay Haltom’s son. The search for evidence was completed Friday.
King said the younger Haltom, 40, was seen on a Port Angeles pawn shop surveillance video at 11:45 a.m. Feb. 24 while buying bullets for a .22-caliber Ruger semiautomatic pistol, the weapon in Haltom’s hand as he approached the counter, according to the video.
The elder Haltom and Presler were found dead in the front seat of their SUV shortly before 4 p.m. Feb. 24, their Ford Explorer resting against a tree following a low-speed collision, King said.
The vehicle sat across the street from property where their travel trailer is located in the 80 block of Wild Currant Way, with Clay Haltom on the driver’s side, King said.
Christopher Haltom remained in the Clallam County jail Saturday on $66,000 bail. He is being held on charges so far unrelated to the killings.
King said evidence indicated Haltom, who lived with his father and Presler, was in the vehicle when the two were murdered.
County Prosecuting Attorney-Coroner Mark Nichols said Friday that Clay Haltom and Presler were shot in the back of the head, according to an autopsy performed last week.
Shortly after the shooting, Christoper Haltom was arrested a half-mile west of Wild Currant Way on Olympic Discovery Trail by a deputy who was heading to the crime scene and knew Haltom was wanted on an illegal weapons warrant stemming from the pawn shop video.
Investigators, intent on searching for evidence in the area of the presumed path that Haltom took before his arrest, set out Friday morning looking for evidence. Deputies included a former Coast Guard swimmer and a certified diver to help search Siebert Creek, King said.
“It’s more about places we continue to want to search,” King said Friday morning. “We haven’t exhausted all the areas we feel, based on the information we have, the areas that could contain potential evidence.”
King said investigators found the gun covered with vegetation near Siebert Creek.
It was in an area that appear to include the path Haltom took when allegedly fleeing the murder scene based on shoe prints that have already been identified, King said.
“We took a number of shoe prints in the snow and mud and general soft ground,” he said.
“We’re still in the process of doing that forensics, but the shoe prints are consistent with the shoe pattern we believe our suspect is wearing.”
The Ruger needs to be ballistics-tested, King said.
“Now, we’ll be looking at the bullets that were recovered during the autopsy from the decedents. We believe … this is the type of handgun that was used in the homicides,” he said.
“We’re consulting with the crime lab now and shifting toward the forensics discussion and the processing of evidence at the State Patrol Crime Lab.”
The Crime Lab’s examination could take, at a minimum, months, he said.
Christopher Haltom was a person of interest in the murders before becoming a suspect due to an increasing amount of evidence, King said.
Haltom, a convicted felon, remained incarcerated in the Clallam County jail on Saturday on a charge of first-degree unlawful possession of a firearm that was filed against him Wednesday.
Before his arrest the day of the shooting, Haltom had been charged with unrelated crimes of burglary, theft, malicious mischief, possession of stolen property, and possession of a stolen vehicle.
Haltom also was being held on a gross misdemeanor warrant from Kitsap County.
He had been on court-ordered release on two theft charges and single counts of burglary and malicious mischief, according to the jail roster.
His bail was set at $25,000 at his first appearance last week and increased to $66,000 Wednesday after he was charged with unlawful possession of a firearm, a Class B felony.
Haltom has six felony convictions, according to a supplemental probable cause statement that corrected the original probable cause statement that said he had seven felonies.
Haltom has a history of auditory hallucinations, delusional beliefs and paranoia, according to Jan. 5 mental competency evaluation for an active criminal case.
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.