UPDATE: Former exotic dancer accused of killing Ketchikan surgeon
Jordan Joplin, the former exotic dancer accused of stealing two tons of valuables from a deceased Ketchikan surgeon earlier this year, has now been charged with the doctor's murder.
Records show a Ketchikan grand jury handed up charges of first- and second-degree murder this week, accusing the 32-year-old western Washington resident with killing Dr. Eric Garcia on March 16.
The Ketchikan District Attorney and police officials could not immediately be reached for comment. Joplin was already facing a first-degree theft charge, to which he has pleaded not guilty.
Authorities have still not said how Garcia died. Read our original story below for more on this case ...
KETCHIKAN, Alaska -- It was cold inside the house, near freezing, the day police found Dr. Eric Garcia’s body. Someone had propped an upstairs door open with a pillow.
But officers saw no blood. No obvious signs of violence, said Deputy Police Chief Josh Dossett.
“There was nothing suspicious about the actual body or the scene to indicate at the time that there was any foul play,” Dossett said of the March 27 discovery.
It was what had gone
from the ocean-view home that raised red flags among investigators and the doctor's friends.
Police later learned that two tons of belongings, including expensive watches, gold and a coin collection worth as much as $500,000, had disappeared from the home in the days before Garcia’s body was found. The man who first called Ketchikan authorities to report the doctor might be missing, 31-year-old western Washington resident Jordan Joplin, now stands accused of stealing the goods.
Joplin also is a suspect in the ongoing investigation into Garcia’s death, according to a March 31 statement of probable cause filed by the King County Sheriff’s Office. Described by a former girlfriend as an exotic dancer, Joplin is scheduled to stand trial for felony theft in August.
Here is what we know so far about the case, the theft suspect and the death of a doctor that at times left Ketchikan without a local surgeon on duty for emergencies. A story that police say is just beginning.
“A lot has happened in this case that is not public knowledge and probably will not be for a long time,” Dossett said. “Or at least until you go to grand jury or even see trial.”
Largely unknown in Ketchikan, Joplin told police that he and Garcia met about three years earlier and were close friends.
How they crossed paths is unclear, Dossett said. “Everyone around them got a different story.”
Joplin has a lengthy criminal history in Washington state, including a 2011 guilty plea for attempted theft of GPS units from a Washington Wal-Mart. An ex-girlfriend who filed a restraining order against Joplin in 2013 said he was an exotic dancer for at least two years during the time she knew him.
“He seemed to do whatever he needed to to get money,” the woman told KTUU in a phone interview today.
Joplin said he had once worked on fishing boats in Alaska, she recalled. But prosecutors say his only current connection to the state appeared to be Garcia.
On public records, Joplin recently listed his hometown as the small Washington community of Forks, west of Seattle. He told police he was visiting Ketchikan on March 16 to see Dr. Garcia.
It was the last day anyone saw the surgeon alive, according to police interviews.
Joplin told police that he left Ketchikan March 17 and returned to Washington. He had planned to catch up with Garcia that week at a medical conference in Las Vegas, but the doctor never showed, Joplin later told investigators.
Around that time Joplin phoned Ketchikan police saying he had not heard from Garcia as expected, and police visited the doctor’s home for a welfare check, charges say.
The house was locked and appeared to be vacant. Garcia’s colleagues were not worried because the surgeon was expected to be out of town for business, and police did not enter the home at that time, Dossett said.
Meantime, on March 18, Joplin was still in King County according to district court records that show he was ticketed for speeding.
More than a week after leaving Ketchikan, Joplin called Ketchikan police again. He said he would be in the Southeast Alaska town on March 27 and could let officers into Garcia's home, Dossett said.
Joplin pulled up to the house driving the doctor's truck, Dossett said. He waited outside as police entered and found Garcia’s body on the second floor.
It appeared Garcia had been dead for about 10 days, police said.
There was no indication of foul play, Dossett said. Yet police noticed Joplin appeared to be acting strangely for someone who had just found out his good friend had died.
“He was very aloof,” Dossett said. “He was, the way he was acting with this female he had brought up with him, I guess overly romantic with her right there in the driveway. This was supposed to be his good friend that has passed away.”
A friend of Garcia, a local real estate agent who had helped the doctor move into the home, told police Garcia had an extensive collection of gold and coins worth as much as half a million dollars. Other valuable collectibles such as hard liquor and 20 to 30 watches worth $2,000 to $8,000 apiece should be inside the home as well, the man said.
Police searched the house and found items appeared to be missing. They came across a computer table with no computers, for example. Joplin told investigators that the electronics had been damaged and removed.
When police looked in Garcia’s truck – the vehicle driven by Joplin – they found a receipt for a local shipping company. Soon, they learned that Joplin had been caught on surveillance cameras loading more than 4,000 pounds on to three containers that he then shipped to his home state of Washington.
It took Joplin at least four trips, using the doctor's truck, to load Garcia's possessions in the containers, the charges say. According to the receipt, they were shipped the day after Garcia was last seen alive.
Authorities tracked the shipping containers to Seattle. Inside they found Garcia's belongings, including the expensive liquor, a portion of the watch collection inside a display case, a portion of the coin collection, a flat screen TV and two laptop computers, among other items.
Joplin was arrested and transported to Ketchikan, where he is being held at the local jail. He declined an interview request by KTUU and has pleaded not guilty to the theft of Garcia's belongings.
A defense attorney for Joplin later argued that some of the items Joplin shipped to Washington were Garcia’s personal effects such as toothbrushes, clothing and expired passports.
“Property that is strongly indicative that Dr. Garcia may have intended to actually relocate to Washington,” said public defender Deborah Macaulay. “These are not the types of things someone typically steals from another person.”
At the same hearing, Garcia’s brother, Saul Garcia, said the surgeon’s family strongly opposed any attempt to lower Joplin’s bail, which had been set at $200,000 given his alleged access to the doctor's cash, his proximity to the Canadian border and the fact that he was believed to have traveled internationally in the past.
Joplin has not been charged in Garcia’s death and, according to his attorney, vehemently denies any involvement. Ketchikan police say the FBI is aiding in the case, looking at seized cell phones, in particular.
Dossett would not say how the surgeon died, citing the ongoing investigation. However, he said the cause of death determined by the medical examiner does not rule out homicide.
“The cause of death is something that gave us some concern,” he said.
Garcia was one of only two general surgeons working in Ketchikan. While the hospital has since found a replacement, his death not only devastated friends and family but forced some patients to be medevaced out of town for treatment.
“We did end up having several days, maybe it was a total of eight or nine, where we had no surgical coverage in this community,” said Dr. Peter Rice, medical director for PeaceHealth Ketchikan Medical Center.