WONDER VALLEY — Nearly 10 years after Jean Leppan’s body was found in a shallow grave here, her ex-husband was arrested for murder.
Charles Leppan, 41, was arrested at his house in Clarkston, Mich., Sunday, Oct. 13. He was booked at a county jail and is awaiting extradition to California for the murder of Jean Leppan, according to a Sheriff’s Department news release.
John Thomas, a prosecutor who works in San Bernardino County’s cold-case investigation unit, was with two sheriff’s detectives when they knocked on Leppan’s door Sunday.
“He was surprised when we showed up,” Thomas said via telephone Tuesday, Oct. 15.
Jean Leppan was last seen alive in January 2004, when she and Charles Leppan, then a sergeant in the U.S. Marine Corps, were sharing a Yucca Valley house while trying to reconcile.
Leppan never reported her missing, and he remarried two weeks after she disappeared, investigators said.
A man walking his dog near Ironage Road, 22 miles east of downtown Twentynine Palms, found Jean Leppan buried in a shallow grave on May 12, 2004. She had suffered a traumatic injury and homicide detectives could not identify her from the remains. Investigators used dental records to identify her on May 27, 2004, and immediately brought in Charles Leppan for questioning. After the interview, they arrested Leppan for investigation of murder. The next week, however, Leppan was released when the district attorney’s office decided not to file charges against him.
“We did not want to go forward with the case at its present stage of investigation,” Linda Root, the prosecutor supervising the Joshua Tree district attorney’s office, told the Hi-Desert Star at the time.
While Thomas would not share why the cold-case team was able to arrest Leppan again, he said it was not DNA evidence, but more in the line of “old-fashioned police work.”
“A lot of it can be attributed to the original investigators and the work they did in the case, because they did an outstanding job,” he said, referring to Detective Gina Perez and Sgt. Bobby Dean.
Now out of the Marine Corps and divorced from his second wife, Leppan was living in the Clarkston Lakes Mobile Home Park at the time of his arrest, the Clarkston News reports.
On their way to Michigan to interview Leppan, investigators also questioned Leppan’s second ex-wife, who lives in the Midwest, Thomas added.