Murder arrest at Squaw Valley drug operation ends months of agony for missing man's family

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- An arrest for murder brings resolution for a Squaw Valley mother who reported her son missing seven months ago.

"If all this is true, my son was murdered," said Linda Dixon. "What can any parent say? You never expect your son to be murdered."

A bouquet of flowers and his name rest near the place where sheriff's detectives think they found Gary Duane Smith's body.

The 46-year-old lived a complicated life, but with a simple approach.

"He would stop and help people here," Dixon said. "I've heard stories. When people saw him, he would always have a smile on his face. If you were broken down on the side of the road, he would stop and help you. One of his downfalls was drugs."

Drugs are what first drew deputies to the property where Smith lived in a motor home until he disappeared in July.

Deputies served this search warrant at the home in September, eradicating marijuana for the third time in less than 18 months. They seized two guns, a rifle, and ammunition, but they didn't find Smith, so his mother kept searching.

"On my weekends off from my job, I would come home and look for my son's body," she said.

She thought Gary might've met the same fate as Donnie Lee and Aleksey Shelest, who both disappeared from Squaw Valley in 2016 under suspicious circumstances, and whose bodies have never been found.

"We have been living in limbo," Dixon said. "It's been hard because you hear all the stories about what happened to Gary, what they did to him."

But in January, she got word of a search just around the corner from the property where he lived -- a parcel owned by Roger Johnson.

Deputies found human remains. They're still conducting DNA testing, but they believe they know the cause of death and detectives arrested Johnson over the weekend.

For Dixon, it's starting to sink in that she really has seen her son for the last time.

"He was riding his bicycle, eating the plate of food he got off the taco truck and he had a smile on his face," she said. "He looked healthy. He had gained weight. And if that's what the good Lord gave me for his last picture, I'm happy."

If prosecutors file charges, Johnson will make his first court appearance Thursday.

Gary Smith leaves behind his parents as well as a 17-year-old son.
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