On Sept. 24, 2007, a body was found at the base of a bridge east of Payson. The victim was identified as Tim Salazar, a popular hunting guide who had been reported missing by family three days earlier.
The Gila County sheriff's detective who was called out to the scene declared it an accidental fall within a matter of hours, but Tim Salazar's family did not agree with that conclusion.
"I said there was no way, no way that could have happened," said Tim Salazar's brother, Michael Salazar. He believes Tim Salazar was too accustomed to the outdoors to simply fall off of a bridge in the forest.
Tim Salazar was related to three retired police officers with decades of experience from Phoenix, Mesa and the Arizona Department of Public Safety. They say they saw a conclusion filled with holes.
For starters, they point to the location where Tim Salazar's body was found. It was 9 feet from the base of the bridge. They argue that if someone simply fell from the bridge, that person would fall straight down, not 3 yards away.
"This is indicative in my mind of a person who was placed there and laid to rest," said Bill DeLaTorre, Tim Salazar's cousin and a retired Phoenix police sergeant. He believes Tim Salazar was killed somewhere else and dumped under the bridge.
There is evidence in the autopsy photos that Tim Salazar was in a fight, including cuts on opposite sides of his head and on his left knuckle. But that's just the start of it. It turns out, that someone may have wanted Tim Salazar dead.
"The last time I talked to my brother, he says that a guy was bothering him a lot. They were calling him six times a day, threatening to kill him. And the last thing he told me was it's too late. It's going to be him or me," said Tim Salazar's brother, Andy Salazar.
On the night Tim Salazar disappeared, he was hauling a camper up to the mountains for an elk hunt. But on the way, he met up with an old high school sweetheart named Julee Barron. Barron's boyfriend at the time, a man named Mike Norris, reportedly had a jealous streak.
According to police reports CBS 5 News examined, this is a timeline of events leading up to the discovery of Tim Salazar's body:
Tim Salazar and Barron were together outside of Globe between 9:30 p.m. Thursday and 2 a.m. Friday, during which time they reportedly had sex.
Norris called Barron repeatedly during that time.
Tim Salazar was reported missing Friday.
His body was found Monday, three days later.
Norris disappeared that weekend and was a no-show at an unrelated court hearing Monday morning.
DeLaTorre said there was no manhunt for Norris, even though the family told investigators they thought Norris had something to do with Tim Salazar's death.
"The first thing I would have asked is had anybody threatened him? Had he had any trouble with anybody recently?" said Rudy Casillas, Tim Salazar's cousin and a retired Mesa police lieutenant.
Norris is now serving a three-year prison sentence for drug charges but agreed to speak to CBS 5 News on the phone. He denied he had anything to do with Tim Salazar's death and said he left town the weekend Tim Salazar died because of a job in Utah.
"All I know is I was investigated by Gila County Sheriff, DPS. I voluntarily took a polygraph test and all of that just to give the family peace of mind that I didn't do it," said Norris.
Before getting off the phone, he said Tim Salazar was not the first lover Julee had buried. It turns out her husband committed suicide years earlier. When confronted in front of her home in Globe, she refused to answer any questions.
Gila County Sheriff John Armer contends his office has investigated every angle of the Tim Salazar case, even handing it off to DPS for an independent review.
Armer said Norris' alibi for the night Tim Salazar died was verified. He argued that there's not enough trauma to Tim Salazar's body to indicate he was beaten to death. He saw the most likely conclusion being that Tim Salazar fell off the bridge while looking for elk.
"It's been a tremendous amount of taxpayer dollars thrown at this case and it's just not there," said Armer.
Tim Salazar's family believes there are enough questions to reopen the case. In fact, the medical examiner has changed the cause of death from accidental to "cause unknown."
"We don't want to get anybody in trouble. We just want a fair investigation," said Andy Salazar.
Copyright 2012 KPHO (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.
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