DEATH OF AN ECO WARRIOR

LEROY JACKSON TRANSFORMED HIMSELF FROM A PHOENIX STREET WINO INTO A CHARISMATIC NAVAJO ENVIRONMENTALIST. HIS FRIENDS THINK HE WAS MURDERED FOR HIS EFFORTS.

Jackson's friends and family do not believe he would take methadone willingly. But there were no indications that the methadone had been injected in his body, no other signs of foul play. The police postulated that he took the drug, then felt drowsy, pulled over and went to sleep and died. Adella Begaye maintains that the van's gas tank was near empty when it was found; Jackson would have fueled up before heading over the mountains. And, according to early reports, the extra car key that Jackson carried in his wallet was missing. It looked as if he had died elsewhere and been driven to the site where he was found. And how else to explain why the van was not there when David Lange stopped at the rest stop?

As for the poisoning theory, Major Frank Taylor of the New Mexico State Police dismisses that as unlikely. "If you really wanted to kill him, you'd give him much more," he says. "These people would have had to have studied him in detail, and then you're talking about someone with a medical background."

Speculation in the press centered on Jackson's choice of accommodations in Taos. He stayed with a white acquaintance named Mark Marcus, who rents a house south of town in an area called Rinconada. Marcus is a silversmith. Police contend that they know little about him, that they have leaned on him, but have not gathered enough about him to even obtain a search warrant.

But this much is known: His longtime friend Francesca Lorimer had recently been convicted of drug possession in Missouri. Last February, Lorimer was driving eastbound on I-70 when she was stopped for speeding. Police searched her car and found 26 pounds of marijuana and a vial of methadone. At the time, she told police that the methadone belonged to her boyfriend, presumably Marcus. She pleaded guilty to one count of possession of marijuana, and the methadone charge was dropped. In October she began her four-year sentence in Missouri. But she was still in Taos while Leroy Jackson was there.

On October 1, the day Jackson disappeared, Marcus left town to drive Lorimer to Missouri, where she was to face sentencing and incarceration.

Marcus told New Times that Lorimer's possession of methadone is "thoroughly unrelated" to Jackson's death. "I have nothing to do with the whole thing," he says. "I didn't know the magnitude of what Leroy was doing. He was just a friend that I met through another mutual friend years ago." Of events that fateful weekend, he claims, "I was preoccupied with other things."

Jackson had so many "close friends" in so many places; but none of them seemed to know very much about his past or personal life. He was outgoing and laughing, with many, a back slapper and hand shaker, a fellow people liked to see appear in the doorway. To yet others he was always sober and serious. His conversation tended toward interesting or amusing anecdotes that were seldom revealing. He often used other folks as a sounding board for his environmental ideas, though without touting his emergence as an environmental leader. Many of his friends were not even aware of that facet of his identity. Leroy Jackson spoke very little about himself.

He had distinct groups of friends: his environmentalist colleagues, his trading and business associates, and his road friends, some of whom were traders, and others who were left over from his vagrant days. These latter would often travel with him on long trading trips, and what they talked about is anyone's guess, since they are so difficult to track down.

Those road buddies who were with him in Taos might have insights into whom Jackson dealt with and met with before he disappeared.

Sam Hitt of Forest Guardians has retained a private investigator on Adella's behalf; the private eye refuses to share his findings with the press, but Hitt claims he has found precious little. Jackson's road friends have left vague hints in Taos and on the reservation that they know who is responsible for the death and that it will be "taken care of in the Navajo way," whatever that means.

The vagueness of Jackson's death has of course spawned more fanciful talk: that it was the result of some plot involving BIA and NFPI. NFPI general manager Ed Richards counters with an opposing theory: "You know, Leroy was getting tired of being at the forefront of this," Richards says, "but yet his people pushed him. Maybe he didn't want to do it anymore, and he was too deep into it, and they needed a martyr. Maybe they did it themselves."

Richards also contends that two years ago, Jackson threatened to put a Navajo hex on him, and Richards claims he said, "You'd better not be saying that because most of the time those kinds of things turn around and end up coming back at you."

As Earl Tulley had warned earlier, "defending the holy mountain" had cost a life.

Earl Tulley imagines that his friend Leroy Jackson is somewhere in the afterlife, "riding alongside the other great heroes of the past. I'd like to think he's advocating on our behalf."

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