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Suspect in Idaho woman's murder identified through DNA, authorities say

DNA belonging to a man who died in October was found in the victim's SUV and underneath her fingernails, according to the Idaho County Sheriff's Office.
Credit: Idaho County Sheriff's Office
Leanna Maree Bailey

WARNING: This story contains graphic information.

ELK CITY, Idaho — A man who died by suicide in October is suspected of killing an Elk City woman less than one month before his death, authorities said on Wednesday. 

Leanna Maree Bailey, 58, was killed on or about Sept. 15, 2020, according to the Idaho County Sheriff's Office. 

Investigators believe 47-year-old Billy Jack Jones, who had been cooperating with the investigation, murdered Bailey, the sheriff's office said. He had been interviewed several times but was unable to complete a polygraph examination.  

Bailey had been living in the Elk City area since about May at her brother Troy's property. She was cleaning up and preparing it for sale, the sheriff's office said. 

The sheriff's office said a woman had dinner with Bailey at the property on the evening of Sept. 14 and left at about 8 p.m. She was the last to see Bailey alive.

RELATED: Authorities search for suspect in Elk City woman's September murder

The two agreed to meet the following day and gave one another a hug before the woman drove away, according to the sheriff's office. 

As the woman drove away, she was met by Jones driving toward her in a Ford pickup flashing his lights to get her attention, authorities said. The two had been in a long-term relationship that has recently ended. 

Jones seemed excited and his arms were covered in scratches, according to the sheriff's office. He told the woman that he had been mushroom picking in the dark on the hillside across from the property. 

At a later date, the woman said Jones admitted he had been secretly watching her and Bailey, according to the sheriff's office. 

Credit: Idaho County Sheriff's Office
Billy Jack Jones

A conversation between Jones and Bailey on Main Street in Elk City on a previous day became heated. Jones was upset and angered this had happened and local residents witnessed it, the sheriff's office said. 

According to the sheriff's office, Jones later told investigators something to the effect of "you don't do that to someone in a small town."

The woman and Jones were paid to help Bailey clean up her brother's property. Bailey caught Jones stealing items and this led to some of the conflict, the sheriff's office said. 

On Sept. 15, Bailey failed to meet her friend as planned. When the woman drove to the property, she found broken tinted glass in the driveway and Bailey's car missing, the sheriff's office said. 

Bailey was reported as a missing person to law enforcement after a few days with no contact. Her body was later found in the back of her red Saturn SUV off an embankment about three miles from her home on Sept. 19 when a hunter noticed the vehicle.

Credit: Idaho County Sheriff's Office
Leanna Maree Bailey

Investigators believed Bailey was killed while sleeping in her car at the property, the sheriff's office said. The rear seat of the SUV was folded down and converted to a sleeping area with blankets and mats. It appeared to investigators that the assailant broke out the driver’s side rear window of her car and attacked her from that doorway. 

According to the sheriff's office, Bailey was severely beaten with bruising on her hands, arms, shoulders, face and head. Her nose was broken and she had a major skull fracture. 

Bailey has also been strangled and shot three times with a .22-caliber weapon.

Investigators noticed blood smears on paperwork in the closed glove compartment and front passenger door pocket of the vehicle, according to the sheriff's office. They believed the killer searched through the door pockets and glove compartment.

According to the sheriff's office, investigators saw a significant scratch on Jones' upper right lip. He was interviewed several times and denied killing Bailey.

A polygraph examination for Jones was canceled before it began, the sheriff's office said. His heart rate was elevated and erratic. 

Investigators questioned Jones about possibly using methamphetamine before coming to the examination and he denied drug use, according to the sheriff's office. He consistently told investigators that he did not use any drugs other than occasional marijuana. 

Jones agreed to see a doctor regarding his heart abnormalities and meet investigators the following week to reschedule the polygraph examination, the sheriff's office said. 

Following the polygraph, Jones met with his ex-girlfriend and Bailey's friend, who made it clear their relationship was over. The woman told Jones words to the effect of, “I’m having a hard time believing someone I shared my bed with for 13 years is capable of killing someone," according to the sheriff's office. 

She and other Elk City residents also told investigators that Jones no longer had a duffle bag that contained extra clothes, survival items and an axe, according to the sheriff's office. People said Jones "always" had the duffle bag. 

Sheriff's deputies were called to Elk City to investigate Jones' suicide on Oct. 8. They found methamphetamine, marijuana and paraphernalia in his home, along with three empty .22 cartridges on a table.

On Nov. 25, 2020, investigators received the DNA report from the Idaho State Police forensic lab, the sheriff's office said. 

A mixture of DNA was found in the blood smear on the front passenger door pocket. It was identified as belonging to Jones and Bailey. 

During the autopsy, Bailey's right fingernails were clipped and another mixture of two DNA sources was found belonging to Bailey and Jones. 

Investigators believe probable cause exists that Jones killed Bailey and, if he were living, they would arrest him for the crime, the sheriff's office said. 

"Although investigators consider this a senseless tragedy, LeAnna’s fortitude and fight with her killer provided critical evidence in identifying her assailant. LeAnna truly had the last word," the Idaho County Sheriff's Office wrote in a press release.