Canal victim Matthew Templeman’s abandoned camp an eerie memorial to his homeless life, death

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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Deep in the overgrown grass and weeds on a vacant North Auburn patch of land, canal victim Matthew Templeman’s tent is still standing, his meager possessions little disturbed since he died a month ago. Templeman, 39, had lived the unsheltered life of a transient for less than a year in Auburn when his body turned up in the debris rack at the end of the Wise Canal. That was May 5 and almost a month later, his tent stood in a grim memorial to his hardscrabble life and the mystery of his death. The words “Homeless Hungry Anything Helps” were hand-scrawled on one piece of cardboard. “Stranded Diabetes Anything Helps” read another. Yet another pleaded “Need Work Please Help.” A paperback edition of the Bible sat closed near a jar of peanut butter, Ziploc bag of ground coffee and another paperback – Chicken Soup for the Soul – Rekindle the Spirit. Templeman, who claimed a degree in psychology from the University of Washington, could talk intelligently but had a nasty penchant for getting drunk, people who knew him said Tuesday. In the end, a bender on the 20-ounce cans of Icehouse and Keystone beer strewn around his tent may have been his downfall. Jonathan Samarin, another homeless man, said Templeman took him under his wing for a short time after he found himself out on the street, bringing him to his camp for chili and a place to lay a sleeping bag. But Samarin doesn’t drink and he soon found himself trying to avoid his hard-drinking friend. “I doubt foul play,” Samarin said. “He was drinking a lot and that was dangerous for him in dangerous places.” Since Templeman’s death, his campsite has been left virtually undisturbed. “I haven’t been out there out of respect,” Samarin said. But that’s just one theory in a death of a man little is known about who became the fifth in a strange string of five Auburn deaths leading back to January 2009. The cause of Templeman’s death has stymied investigators. Auburn Police Sgt. Victor Pecoraro said the case is still open and still under investigation. By location, it’s been tied to the other five bodies found in the Wise Canal, starting with David Lee Miller, 51, whose corpse was spotted Jan. 14, 2009, floating in the water. Miller owned a mobilehome near the canal. He had yelled to construction workers that someone was chasing him but he also had a history of delusional behavior. The next victim, Brad Ashcraft, 61, was known as a transient living in local homeless camps. His body was discovered in the strainer July 29, near Mt. Vernon Road. Nicasia Garcia-Bonilla, 42, of Auburn had been reported missing March 23. His body was bound in the canal March 26. The body of Larry James, 57, of Grass Valley, was found in the canal Feb. 28. Authorities have no witnesses to say how any of the five entered the canal water, leaving police and members of the public such as nearby resident Dan James to mull the possibilities. Like Samarin, James said he’s not ruling out a slip. But James – who walks his dog in the vacant Bohemia property near Luther Road and Highway 49 – said he’s also not ignoring suicide or a deliberate push into the water. James said he came across Templeman in the late fall and brought him soup his mother had made and an occasional donation. As he had with Samarin, Templeman offered a bowl of chili to James and impressed the visitor with an erudite air. But James remembered the last time he saw Templeman before his death in late March or early April. “He looked pretty sick and messed up,” James said. “He was obviously on something – drugs or alcohol – and had scars on his hands and face.” Samarin said he continues to look for work and will be taking away from Templeman’s death the need to “keep it straight.” “It’s motivating me even more,” he said. “But it’s difficult. I contact relatives to help and they say they’d like to help but they’re having a hard time too. I was living from paycheck to paycheck and now I have no paycheck.” He stays at a homeless shelter at nights while looking days for an elusive paycheck. James said people in Auburn should get used to seeing more Matthew Templemans in the future. “There’s no solution with an economy like this,” James said. “And once you get in, how are you going to get out?”