Murder suspect told sheriff where to find missing man's body, documents say - East Idaho News
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Murder suspect told sheriff where to find missing man’s body, documents say

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CHALLIS — Nearly one month after Charles “Charlie” McBride disappeared, Benjamin J. Savage — now a suspect in McBride’s death — called Custer County Sheriff Stu Lumpkin and said he knew where McBride’s body was.

That’s according to a redacted affidavit of probable cause obtained by on Thursday. Savage, 36, is charged with first-degree murder and remains in the Custer County Jail on a $1 million bond.

What we know

Savage was the last known person to see McBride on Feb. 25 as the two went to work near Morgan Creek in rural Custer County. Savage, who owns an excavation company, was in the area working on private property.

“Charlie had been working for (Ben) off and on. He was helping him cut wood and load wood and things like that,” Charlie’s sister-in-law Mari McBride told Dateline NBC. “Ben says he had come by to get Charlie to go work with him that day. But when Ben went to go pick him up, Ben says he wasn’t there.”

RELATED: Charlie McBride has been missing for one month. His family and friends want answers.

On March 7, Lumpkin said on Facebook that deputies had combed the area where Savage had been working. That post has since been deleted.

“The area was checked for any fresh fire pits and freshly dug holes, there was no evidence of any fresh dug holes or any fire pits found on the property,” he wrote. “All buildings were checked, and Charlie was not found in the Morgan Creek area.”

But his body was indeed there.

The newly released probable cause documents show that on March 22, Lumpkin received a phone call from Savage, who said he was in Pennsylvania. Savage said he knew where McBride was and what had happened.

“Mr. Savage said he knew the whereabouts of the missing person, Charles McBride,” the probable cause statement says. “He stated that on February 25, 2019, he and Charles McBride went to work together at the Powell property. … When they arrived at the location, Mr. McBride went to work on the woodpile, and Mr. Savage went to work in the shop.”

While working in the shop, Savage told investigators, he heard “a loud bang” and came outside to see what was happening. Court documents say Savage told detectives he found a woman, whom is not naming because she has not been charged, by the woodpile and Savage saw “Charlie McBride had been shot and was deceased.”

Savage said he did not see the woman carrying a weapon, and he did not know what she shot McBride with.

It’s not clear what Savage did after he saw that McBride was dead, or what happened to the woman Savage claimed was also at the work site. But during the phone conversation, court documents indicate Savage told Lumpkin that McBride’s body was buried on the property where they had been working and he described how investigators could find it.

Two days later — March 24 — McBride’s body was discovered burned and buried in the Morgan Creek Drainage.

RELATED: Body of missing man found burned and buried; investigators treating case as a homicide

The probable cause statement also shows that by March 28, “Idaho State Police and Custer County Sheriff’s Office investigators completed numerous interviews and have gathered evidence to determine Ben Savage was alone with Charlie McBride on the Powell property when the murder of Charlie McBride took place.”

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Charles McBride | Courtesy photo

Court documents do not mention any specifics of the investigation or how they reached their conclusion that Savage and McBride were alone. The documents do not indicate any motive for the killing either.

While Savage was allegedly in Pennsylvania, contacted him. In a phone interview, he claimed he did not kill McBride and had nothing to do with the disappearance.

“He was high on meth,” Savage said. “That’s all I can tell you right now. I’m working with the police right now. It’ll come out soon.”

On March 30, Savage was arrested at the Idaho Falls Regional Airport and later charged with first-degree murder.

RELATED: Custer County man arrested on murder warrant at Idaho Falls Airport

Sealing the case

The day before Savage’s arrest, Custer County Prosecuting Attorney Justin B. Oleson filed a motion to seal the murder case. Oleson argued that because the matter was still under investigation and contained “very graphic and sensitive information,” the public should not know the details. Plus, “unnecessary media attention may contaminate the potential jury pool in Custer County,” he said.

Magistrate Judge James H. Barrett agreed with the motion and sealed the case.

No information was posted to iCourt, the state’s online court portal, and Custer County court personnel refused to release any information, including basic details such as upcoming court dates and bond details.

It’s highly unusual for an entire court case to be sealed, although prosecutors may request specific portions of court records be sealed. reached out to Oleson several times for comment, but our messages were not returned.

We approached Dr. Zac Gershberg, a professor of media history and law at Idaho State University, about the situation, which he called “incredibly strange.”

“Legally when someone is charged, no matter what it is, that is public knowledge and should be available to the public and press,” said Gershberg. objected to the sealing of the case and voiced our concerns with the 7th Judicial District on Wednesday. Within 24 hours, a redacted affidavit of probable cause and other court documents were released and posted on iCourt.

Savage’s criminal history

Savage is a familiar face in the Custer County Courthouse. He was charged Dec. 6 for misdemeanor domestic assault for a fight that allegedly occurred on Nov. 24. Savage pleaded not guilty, and on March 11 — two weeks after McBride was reported missing — Oleson filed a deferred prosecution agreement.

In January 2017, Savage pleaded guilty to misdemeanor malicious injury to property. Oleson, who is now prosecuting Savage, served as his defense attorney. Barrett sentenced Savage to one year of probation with 180 days of suspended jail time.

Oleson also defended Savage in a January 2015 case when Savage was found guilty of misdemeanor inattentive driving. Barrett sentenced him to one year of probation with a suspended 90-day jail sentence.

Before 2015, Savage was convicted on numerous charges in multiple counties including fleeing or attempting to elude a police officer, Fish and Game violations and underage drinking violations, according to court documents.

Savage is scheduled to appear for a preliminary hearing on the murder charge April 15 in Custer County.