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Butte Sheriff calls on the public for tips in severed legs case

Michal Wayne Canada
Posted at 8:00 PM, Aug 16, 2023

BUTTE — For Butte Sheriff Ed Lester the unsolved case of a pair of severed legs has followed him through his career since he took over as top cop of the Butte-Silver Bow County Police Department in November of 2012.

Earlier that same year in late June, just off Moulton Reservoir Road north of Butte, hikers made the gruesome discovery of the legs that were inside a garbage bag along with jeans and a pair of boots.

Despite the dismembered legs being in the beginning stages of decomposition, police said the body parts came from a white male who was likely killed at another location.

“We’ve always been interested in working on this case but it kinda went cold because there was just nothing in the database,” says Sheriff Lester.

A year after the dismembered legs were found the case was entered in the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System and for the last decade the man’s identity has remained a mystery, that is until a break in the case came in August.

Michael Wayne Canada, a 46-year-old drifter who had worked at one of the two Butte Safeway stores just before his death was identified on Aug. 14 as the missing person and the case is being investigated as a homicide.

“It was always in the database to see if a person would turn up but there wasn’t a lack of DNA. I think some people get a misunderstanding that there was no DNA. Well, we had the two severed legs so there was plenty of DNA material, “says Lester.

“There was just no other matching DNA in any database that we could locate to identify the victim.”

With the help of the Montana Division of Criminal Investigation and a private genetic sequencing laboratory, Butte police were able to find a close relative of Michael Canada, and a link was made.

“We have to pay a fee and it’s not, you know, it’s a fairly expensive process, um but it’s really a high-quality lab and we ended up partnering with the state and submitting the DNA to Othram laboratories and so they were able to make the identification with assistance from the Division of Criminal Investigation in their being able to obtain DNA from a close family member," says Lester.

Now Butte police are seeking the public’s help as they piece together Canada’s final days in Butte.

“It’s a puzzle but it reminds me of a puzzle where you don’t really have a picture of what it’s supposed to look like and then you start getting the pieces and then as you get more and more pieces to the puzzle you start getting a better idea of what the whole picture is and that’s what we’re hoping happens in this case. "

And the puzzle needs more pieces.

"We just encourage anybody who has any information at all about Mr. Canada, even if it’s just a rumor to give us a call and we’ll run those rumors down and see. You can remain anonymous if you want to, there’s probably reward money that would be associated with an arrest and conviction but even if It’s just a rumor – it's something that you don’t think is consequential, it might be given the other information that we have as far as the investigation and so don’t be afraid to call us and give us whatever information you have and it might and it might be the piece to the puzzle that solves it. “

Anyone with information about the victim can call investigators Ryan Eamon (406) 444-3874 or the Butte field office at (406) 691-7108 or Capt. Jeff Williams at (406) 497-1157.