Ring of Fire

Records in murder case reveal the casual violence of the skinhead subculture

It would be three months before anyone would care that Mathes was dead. That's when Elizabeth Hall decided to tell police about the specks of his blood that were still in her trunk. Hall was Jeremy Johnson's girlfriend until she broke up with him in April 2002 and subsequently moved to California. It was her car that Johnson was driving that night.

Hall eventually decided to contact a relative in law enforcement and tell what she knew of the night her boyfriend came home bloodied and upset and confessed he and three others had killed someone.

Hall wrote it all down in cheerleader-neat handwriting on Cox Communication stationery, titling her account "A Story of Complete Terror as Heard and Seen by Elizabeth Hall."

Hall would be one of several former girlfriends who would eventually tell police similar stories.

Hall, who is believed to be living in California, could not be reached for comment for this story.

In addition to Hall's version of that night's events, police also took statements from a girl who told police she began dating Gaines just after she turned 15 and had aborted his baby. She said Nelson had warned her never to admit to the pregnancy for fear Gaines would get in trouble for impregnating an underage girl.

The night of the murder, the girl told police Gaines entered the bedroom agitated and covered in blood and confessed to killing a man and dumping him in the desert. "He still had blood on him, the car still had blood in it. It was disgusting," the girl told detectives.

Kelly Coffman had also heard her then-boyfriend Patrick Bearup occasionally boasting about the killing. She described conversations in which Bearup was "bitching" about how no one had thought to bag the trunk before placing the body inside, and "laughing" about cutting off Mathes' finger.

But Coffman, who police believe helped start the barroom brawl at River City Pockets pool hall that led to the murder of Cole Bailey, never bothered to inform the police of what she had heard until it might be worth something to her. Coffman traded her knowledge of Bearup's involvement in the Mathes murder with prosecutors for a reduced sentence; she had been charged with aggravated assault, on a bartender, in connection with the Cole Bailey case.

Although Bearup (and his father, Maricopa County sheriff's deputy Tom Bearup, who is running for sheriff against Joe Arpaio) claims he had left the skinhead movement, material recovered when a search warrant was served on his home at the time of his arrest suggests otherwise. Police seized Nazi videos, five computers, several bulletproof vests, an SS ring and white supremacist tee shirts, boots and braces. They also discovered a secret room in Bearup's closet hidden behind a false wall with a security camera monitor and a loaded Glock 9 mm with several clips.

"I'll tell you this," Bearup told Detective Paul Dalton after he was arrested. "I've never killed anyone, I've never claimed to kill anyone."

Dalton excused himself for a moment and left the room, as he did with Nelson. He returned and showed Bearup Mathes' ring.

Bearup quit talking and -- in what is perhaps the only moment of wisdom in this story -- he asked to speak to his attorney.

E-mail susy.buchanan@newtimes.com, or call 602-229-8440.

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