HOLBROOK—Two men have been indicted for murder by a Navajo County grand jury in connection with the strange case of 44 year-old Craig Cavanaugh of Farmington, New Mexico, whose dead body was found near Heber on August 5, 2019.
A review of court records and media reports including one from NBC Dateline’s Missing in America series help piece together events which led to the arrest of Shawn Eckard, 51 and Jason Johnson, 47. They are both convicted felons and were already serving time in state prisons (Arizona and Colorado, respectively) at the time that they were indicted.
The case in Arizona began when Farmington detectives asked the Coconino County Sheriff’s Office (CCSO) for help with a missing person case on July 17, 2019, according to a CCSO press release. Cavanaugh is described by his family’s Facebook page as a “beloved father of two daughters, a loving son, devoted fiancee.” He left Farmington in his 2012 Toyota truck on July 4, 2019, to take a job in Peoria, Arizona, and disappeared. Farmington authorities began a missing persons investigation and the CCSO became involved.
Cavanaugh’s phone pinged in at the Mazatzal casino in Payson on July 4, and a Payson Roundup report says that a witness saw him in there. Between July 5 and 7, his credit cards were used in Payson and Glendale by two men. A camera at the Home Depot in Glendale captured images of the men whom authorities say are not the murder suspects Eckard and Johnson, according to the Farmington Daily Times. Oddly, on July 12, Cavanaugh’s truck “was found abandoned in New Mexico,” reported ABC News 15.
Reports say that detectives developed information that two the suspects were with Cavanaugh in Payson, and from one of those suspects got information that led to the discovery of Cavanaugh’s body off Highway 260 in Heber. The body was identified as Cavanaugh through fingerprints several weeks later. So who was the suspect? Authorities aren’t saying, but it could have been Eckard.
Shawn Eckard was arrested in Gila County on August 15, 2019 for weapons violations, (he is a thrice-convicted felon) theft and a drug charge. Court records say that these violations happened on July 4, the very day Cavanaugh went missing in Payson. Whether the theft was of Cavanaugh’s credit cards is not yet known, but Eckard was held in the county jail in Globe from the time of his August arrest through December, at which time he went to prison per a plea deal on the theft and drug charges.
After the Navajo County grand jury indicted him for the first degree murder of Cavanaugh, a Class 1 felony, the court issued an arrest warrant and Eckard was served with that while in prison.
The second suspect, Jason E. Johnson pleaded guilty to three felonies in the La Plata County District Court in Colorado on March 3, 2020: Car theft, drugs, and a weapons charge. Johnson was arrested on October 3, 2019 in Colorado for the weapons charge, and in December, 2019 on a car theft charge. He was sentenced March 5, 2020 and is serving 11 years in a Colorado prison. The car theft couldn’t be in relation to Cavanaugh’s truck; otherwise it would have been filed in Arizona. Johnson does not appear to have a criminal record in Arizona, that is, before the first degree murder charge he now faces.
Like in Eckard’s case, the Navajo County Superior Court issued a warrant for Johnson’s arrest after it received the grand jury’s indictment. According to a CCSO press release, Johnson was served with that warrant the day he was sentenced in Colorado, but Navajo County court records do not reflect that. There is no next court date listed for Johnson, but Eckard’s next date in Navajo County is May 14.