When Rusty Bitton's body was discovered under the I-84 Connector bridge on Americana Boulevard Oct. 28, Boise police detectives found the 37-year-old had died from blunt force trauma to the head. Based on reports from witnesses, 24-year-old Scotty Turnbull was identified as the suspected assailant and taken into custody soon thereafter. While he has yet to be formally charged, prosecutors accused him of two other attacks--on a man and woman--shortly before the beating that left Bitton dead. Prosecutors say their investigation is continuing, but Turnbull is being held on $1 million bond in connection with the other two attacks.
The chaos has calmed in the days following the violence, but life under the bridge has been tense for the dozens of homeless men and women who claimed their spots on Americana throughout the summer and into the fall.
"Momma" Karen Shay says she "sees it all." Wearing a sweatshirt and wrapped in blankets and sleeping bags, Shay told Boise Weekly that she knew Turnbull, his ex-girlfriend and Bitton.
"The whole atmosphere around here since the weather changed has been sketchy," Shay said. "Everybody's been on edge. As soon as the weather started changing, all kinds of crap started happening. There were at least three guys I know of that ended up with black eyes. And then this. What the hell is going on?"
Nearby, a dozen other people were sitting among piles of blankets, sharing cans of PBR. Just a few feet away was a makeshift memorial with bouquets, a candle, a cigarette butt and a puddle of spilled milk.
One man stopped on his bike to look at the flowers.
"I knew Rusty," the man, identified only as "Reaper," told BW. "He was more like a brother than a friend."
Reaper's friends call him that because he builds "killer bikes," and Bitton was his business partner. Reaper said Bitton used to tune up his rims and never charged more than a cigarette or a couple of bucks. Reaper added that he was trying to get Bitton to stop drinking. He pulled a bike key out of his pocket.
"He was the last one to use it," Reaper said. "I haven't used it since."
Reaper agreed with Shay that things have been edgy in the camp under the bridge since Bitton's death. He added that he's a peacekeeper and tries to step in whenever a fight breaks out.
"I just walk in between them, tell one to go one way and one to go the other way and if he wants to get punky with me, I just put him in his place and he goes his way," Reaper said.
He wasn't there the night his friend was beaten to death.
"If I was here, it wouldn't have happened," he said.
Shay said she's watched police investigate the homicide, but she's been less than impressed with their efforts.
"They've been around," she said. "Investigating, gathering evidence. But they seem to be going really slow. They were asking [Prime Cuts Butcher Shop] across the street to see their film footage. You think they'd have asked for that days ago. I see them, they are dragging their feet. They're lackadaisical about it, they really are."
Boise Police Department spokeswoman Lynn Hightower said the investigation is still ongoing, and doesn't know how long it will last.
"In cases like this, where an individual has lost a life, it'll take as long as it takes," she said.
Rumors have circulated regarding the whereabouts of Turnbull's former girlfriend. Some say she's been released, but others argue she's still in the hospital. She was admitted to a local hospital--Hightower could not confirm which one--the night of Oct. 27 with a fractured skull after Turnbull allegedly attacked her.
Shay said Turnbull was released from prison only a few months ago. His criminal record includes aggravated battery in 2003, arson in 2004 and aggravated assault in 2005. Most recently, he was in prison on drug charges.
Shay also expressed frustration over interactions with the police, who she said are constantly hassling her to move and busting her and her friends for littering or smoking in Rhodes Park, where she said skater kids smoke more than anybody under the bridge.
A few nights ago, Shay said people sleeping under the bridge were mugged by strangers who took their food stamp cards.
"[The police are] always cruising around here, and we're always getting pinpointed, you know?" she said. "Well, where are you guys when we need you? They're not there."