Last month, following the New Times article linked here, the Tempe Police Department reportedly had a canal -- in which the body of 47-year-old Jeff Ahlers was discovered shot to death in June -- drained so they could look for evidence. They didn't find anything, but a Tempe man walking on a canal path tells New Times he did -- he found a gun, and a cell phone, in the now-empty canal less than a mile upstream from where Ahlers' body was discovered.
The man, who wants to be identified only as Jerry, says he was walking his dogs with his wife on a canal path near Kiwanis Park in Tempe last Tuesday when he looked down into the drained canal and saw what he thought was a fake gun sticking out of the mud.
Jerry lowered himself down to the muddy bottom of the canal and discovered the gun was real. He says, a bullet was jammed in the chamber. Then, about 30 yards downstream, he found a cell phone.
He says he immediately turned the gun and cell phone over to police. He even asked cops if his picking up the gun would have tampered with any fingerprint evidence they may be able to lift off of it. They told him "no" because it was likely sitting in water for six months.
The canal, we've been told, began draining about three weeks ago in the midst of criticism that the investigation into Ahlers' death had stalled. Not to mention, the criticism that the Tempe Police Department was unable to determine whether Ahlers' death was a murder or a suicide -- information his friends and family are desperately seeking.
We've spoken with several of Ahlers' friends, each of whom say he was a happy guy with no reason to kill himself. All say the suggestion that he may have committed suicide just doesn't add up.
At the time of his disappearance, Tempe Sergeant Steve Carbajal told New Times Ahlers often walked along canal paths near his home and that there was nothing out of the ordinary about his behavior before his disappearance.
Carbajal said Ahlers had a good relationship with his family and spent his time doing volunteer work with his wife, which Carbajal said was going well.
For months, we've been asking the TPD for updates on the case. Each time, we're told roughly the same thing: "We are actively continuing to work the Jeff Ahlers case. [We] do not have any information at this point that [we are] able to release."
They wouldn't even say whether a gun was found near his body, which, we argued, would only make sense had Ahlers killed himself.
It now seems the Tempe Police Department didn't even check the bottom of the canal at the time of the shooting, even after suggesting the victim had committed suicide.
Workers at a nearby power generating station say they weren't allowed to work on an area of the canal -- roughly, a mile-and-a-half stretch from Guadalupe to Baseline Roads -- last week because the TPD planned to search the canal bed for evidence. But Jerry beat the cops to it.
After turning the gun over to police, he says, he took detectives to the spot where he found the gun. He took us there this afternoon -- the canal grate where Ahlers' body was discovered is about 3,000 feet downstream from the spot Jerry found the gun.
Meanwhile, Ahlers' friends and family still have no idea how he died. The medical examiner's report is currently "pending" because the ME is waiting for information from the TPD before making that determination.
So, why did it take the Tempe Police Department nearly six months to drain the canal after finding a body in there? Your guess is as good as ours -- the TPD isn't talking.
When we first asked yesterday for an update on the case, we were promptly told "We are actively continuing to work the Jeff Ahlers case. I do not have any information at this point that I am able to release" by a department spokesperson.
In an email sent about an hour later, we asked more specific questions:
1) Do the police believe the gun found is related to the Ahlers case?
2) If so, does that signify anything as to whether it was suicide or murder?
3) To whom does the cell phone belong?
4) Why wasn't the canal drained six months ago -- when Ahlers' body was found shot to death and no gun was found?
We got no response to that email.
Finding a gun doesn't mean Ahlers' death was a suicide -- but that claim now makes more sense considering guns don't just get up and walk away. The gun jamming could also indicate whoever was holding it didn't have a good grip on the handle after the gun was first fired, which could also be consistent with a suicide, a former police officer familiar with firearms tells New Times.
But going to the very edge of a fairly open bank of a canal in a municipal park to commit suicide seems strange (the gun was found in the canal right next to a basketball court) which it seems is what Ahlers would have had to do in order to have his body fall directly into the water.
If Ahlers was murdered, finding the gun gives detectives a better idea of where the shooting occurred, or, at least where it went in the water, because guns sink quickly -- more quickly than a body, or a cell phone (which Jerry found about 30 yards downstream of the gun).
If that's the case, and Ahlers was murdered, the location of the actual crime scene (not where his body was found) might have been helpful to detectives six months ago -- when the canal should have been drained.