Category Archives: Cold Cases

Linda Malcom’s family hasn’t forgotten her, and neither has Port Orchard Police

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When Linda Malcom’s family gets together, or passes the phone around at holiday gatherings for siblings living afar, there is this constant feeling that something isn’t right.

And even when they joke around about their late sister and daughter, when they ask “What would Linda say about that?” or recall some goofy thing she did, invariably the mood changes and the loss is felt.

“We start out with Linda, she might come up in conversation, and we try to come up with something funny she did or said, and still it turns,” said Dianna Malcom, 55, Linda’s sister. “It always seems to turn back to the fact of what we have had to deal with, what happened, and that we have no answers.”

April 30 marked the sixth anniversary of Linda’s death, who was 47. Her rental house on the 1100 block of Sidney Avenue had been set on fire, likely to conceal the crime.

Her death is one of 32 unsolved murders in Kitsap County dating back to 1961. Although the killers have not been brought to justice, there are developments in the cases that keep detectives rethinking and theorizing. Just last week the remains of a young man found in South Kitsap in 2009 were identified.

Port Orchard Police Chief Geoffrey Marti said investigators assigned to the case will rotate, with Det. Beth Deatherage becoming the primary lead. Det. Jim Foster, who has been on the case for four years, will rotate back to assignment as a uniformed officer, but will be on day shift with Deatherage so they will be able to compare notes.

Marti said the investigators will review the case and reinterview sources. Some have moved out of the area, and others have died.

“It makes it difficult,” Marti said, but noted the department is still committed to the case. “I am glad to say the detectives have been able to keep developing things to work with.”

Linda’s family has been steadfast in pushing for more information, to get her name out and to appeal to the decency of those with information about her death.

“We don’t forget,” Dianna said.

Raised in Springfield, Ill., the Navy brought Linda to Kitsap County. Despite being two time zones away from her hometown on the prairie, and her big family — she was one of nine kids — she decided to stick around. She worked as a paralegal and liked singing karaoke.

Linda is buried in Springfield, and her family keeps her grave clean and will pour out a bit of wine in her honor. Her mom is mobile, and tends to the gravesite. Her dad has more difficulty getting out of the house, but it is their wish to see justice delivered before they die.

“I don’t think (mom) wants to go before she knows who did this to her daughter,” Dianna said.

Those with information on Linda Malcom’s death can contact a tip line set up by the Port Orchard Police. The number is: 1-844-TIP-POPD, or 1-844-847-7673.

Poulsbo cold case surfaces

“Poulsbo Police are investigating as a homicide the death of Donald E. Hellie, 47, 194 6th Avenue., in Poulsbo, whose body was found in his home by police Saturday afternoon.” 

Those were the words of a brief story that ran in the Bremerton Sun 34 years ago, on Sept. 19, 1977. Why are we bringing it up now? It turns out his violent stabbing death had eluded kitsapsun.com‘s database of unsolved homicides spanning the last half-century.

We published the database in May 2010 following several months of research. We knew we might miss a case or two. And sure enough, after the database was posted, we received several calls and emails that referenced deaths we’d missed.

Earlier this year, we relayed the story of 20-year-old Matthew Evans, when his body was found on a Saturday morning in August 1993 along Old Clifton Road. His death, classified as a homicide, has been added as well.

But I’d also heard from readers in Poulsbo since the database was published. And so I asked the Poulsbo Police Department to look in their files and see if they had any cold cases. I got some limited information this week, but it included a date of death: September 16, 1977.

Using that, I got into our newspaper archives and found a few clippings around that date. Lo and behold, I found three articles (which you see here) pertaining to the homicide.

The case is cold, but open — and now, added to the database. And as we’ve said before, it’s important to remember these cases for posterity. But any helpful tips toward solving the cases will have made the project worthwhile.

Can murder of federal Seattle prosecutor be solved?

Thomas C. Wales, a federal prosecutor based in Seattle, was killed 10 years ago this month. And close to the anniversary of his tragic death, efforts to find his killer are once again being ramped up.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder Wednesday came to Seattle to help shine the light on the case, in the hopes that a tip or clue could come forward that will help bring justice to the unsolved murder of a Western Washington federal prosecutor.

We’re not strangers to cold cases here in Kitsap County. Four in five homicides go unsolved. Indeed, as a country, 6,000 people a year get away with murder.

Here’s more about the Wales killing from a news release by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Seattle:

SEATTLE – Attorney General Eric Holder joined U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Washington Jenny A. Durkan, the Wales family and the FBI in Seattle today to announce a new media and social media effort to seek information related to the 2001 slaying of Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas C. Wales.  Wales worked as a federal prosecutor in the Western District of Washington for 18 years before he was shot and killed 10 years ago in his home the evening of Oct. 11, 2001.

“Tom was a dedicated public servant, a committed advocate, and a loving father and friend,” Attorney General Holder said.  “Although this case remains unsolved, and Tom’s killer remains unknown, our resolve to uncover the truth – and to help Tom’s family, friends, colleagues and neighbors find the answers and the closure that they deserve – has never been stronger.”

“The message to the public is: what you know may matter. Please call. What may seem to you to be a small, insignificant observation could be a critical clue for law enforcement,” said U.S. Attorney Durkan.  “It was one month after the 9-11 attacks. Think back, remember what you saw, heard or knew, and use the FBI tip line.  You could make the difference.”

In conjunction with the anniversary, the FBI is launching a major media and social media effort to encourage people with information to come forward.  Investigators believe there are people who have not yet contacted the FBI, either because they are fearful or they do not believe their information is significant.

This effort includes advertisements in The Seattle Times and The Stranger, on Seattle-area billboards, and in commercials on local radio and television which start today and run through the anniversary of Wales’ death on October 11th.  The FBI has also launched a new web page, www.fbi.gov/wales which is solely committed to posting and receiving information from the public about the Wales case. Additionally, the FBI will use its existing Facebook, Twitter and YouTube pages to reach the public across the country to seek any new information.

In addition to these efforts, anyone with even the smallest bit of information is encouraged to contact the FBI and can do so confidentially by phone at 1-800 CALL FBI or by email at walestips@ic.fbi.gov. People can also send anonymous tips to the FBI at PO Box 2755, Seattle, Washington, 98111.

“The murder of Tom Wales was more than a single act of violence against an individual,” said Greg Fowler, FBI Inspector-in-Charge of the case.  “It was a crime that impacted many, but no one more than his family.  Tom Wales left behind a legacy and a life that cannot be replaced.  We remain confident that, with the public’s help, we will find those responsible and bring them to justice. “

The FBI and the Seattle Police Department have led the joint investigation since the beginning.  They are joined by staff from the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office.

“It is regretful that the suspect in Tom Wales’ murder has not been brought to justice,” said Seattle Police Chief John Diaz.  “We will continue to work with our federal partners and do everything within our investigatory power to solve this heinous crime.”

“Attorney General Holder’s presence is a powerful reminder of the Justice Department’s dedication to pursuing justice in the murder of Tom Wales,” said Dan Satterberg, King County Prosecuting Attorney.  “Local prosecutors will continue our partnership with federal investigators on this case.  We are determined to solve this terrible crime.”

The compete library of information, including copies of the print and broadcast media pieces, the FBI “Seeking Information” poster, details about the tiplines and more can be found at www.fbi.gov/wales. Additional information regarding the FBI’s efforts is available at www.facebook.com/FBI, twitter.com/#!/FBIPRESSOFFICE and www.youtube.com/user/FBI.

Tracking the Homicide: How Police Investigate the Most Serious of Crimes

Kitsap County’s local detectives are acutely aware they’re on the clock when called to the scene of a mysterious death.

“If you haven’t ID’d a suspect in the first 72 hours, the chances of solving a case dramatically decrease,” said Bremerton Detective Sgt. Kevin Crane.

I interviewed Crane and other investigators for Sunday’s story and database about Kitsap’s cold cases. We used the information I gathered for a graphic in the paper, but I wanted to go into greater detail. Here’s what I learned.

Day or night, Crane, and other detective supervisors are on call for the city’s most serious crimes. He’s ended vacations early to get to the scene of a fresh and suspicious death.

Homicide investigations most often start with the line officer who’s responding to a 911 call. If the victim is alive, the priority is saving a life. But if deceased, with no hope of resuscitation, the scene is “frozen” — no one comes and goes without police permission and a log is kept of those who do — and crime scene tape secures its perimeter, Crane said.

Detectives arrive and are briefed by patrol officers. Two crime scene investigators begin from the perimeter of the scene and moving inward, documenting with video and camera and looking for anything out of the ordinary. Yellow markers are placed at any point — shell casings, clothing, blood spatter, for instance — they see as suspicious. Every piece of evidence is eventually sealed and and placed in evidence at the police department. The name and date of each person who examines it is kept in a log.

Investigating the body won’t begin until the scene is “processed” by the crime scene investigators. At that point, detectives, who manage the crime, bring in the Kitsap County coroner’s office, which manage the body. They investigate it together, Crane said.

The wound or wounds are examined, photographed and measured. Investigators look for “defensive” wounds that would indicate a struggle.

A critical task is identifying the deceased. Seemingly simple, it’s not always apparent and may require investigating in its own right. Perhaps they’re not carrying ID, or more gruesomely, they can’t be identified because of a fire.

Meanwhile, at least two detectives is busy with interviews, talking with those who may have witnessed the crime or the area around it.

They’ll also set out to canvass the neighborhood, attempting to find anyone who heard or saw anything.

While technology has rapidly advanced in homicide investigations, there’s one way they haven’t changed.

“It’s people,” Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office Chief of Detectives Dave White said. “We’re still talking to people.”

Detectives will ask if the witnesses knew the deceased, and begin to establish a so-called “victimology.” Detectives will seek to paint a picture of the victim working backwards from their moment of death. Where did they go? Why were they there? And of course, who were they with?

“These can be very long, tedious investigations,” Crane said.

At various points during the investigation, detectives stop and exchange information. Crane then compiles a new task list.

From there, it’s a matter of chasing down leads. All day and all night they work, stopping sometimes for a few hours’ sleep in those first critical three days.

Investigating a homicide is really no different than any other crime, only “they’re more tedious and you leave no stone unturned,” Crane said.

Unsolved Homicide Tidbits

As part of our Sunday special report on unsolved homicides, Scripps Howard News Service provided us a number of fascinating facts and figures about such cases. Among them:

*A survey of 1,001 adults interviewed by telephone from Feb. 3 to March 9 by Scripps Howard News Service and Ohio University found that at least one adult in nine personally knew the victim of an unsolved homicide. Adults who do not personally know murder victims are much more likely to praise police than those who do, especially those who knew victims of unsolved crimes. The telephone survey was sponsored through a grant by the Scripps Howard Foundation. It has a 4 percent margin of error.

* Every year in America, 6,000 killers get away with murder. The percentage of homicides that go unsolved in the United States has risen alarmingly even as the homicide rate has fallen to levels last seen in the 1960s. National clearance rates for murder and manslaughter have fallen from about 90 percent in the 1960s to below 65 percent in recent years.

* Experts say that homicides are tougher to solve now because crimes of passion, where assailants are easier to identify, have been replaced by drug- and gang-related killings. Many police chiefs — especially in areas with rising numbers of unsolved crimes — blame a lack of witness cooperation.

*The deliberate killings of men, members of racial and ethnic minorities and young adults are much less likely to be solved than other kinds of homicides, according to a Scripps Howard News Service analysis of detailed FBI computer files of more than half a million homicides committed from 1980 to 2008.

*The study found that, for much the same reasons, police identify the killer 90 percent of the time in the homicides of children and infants under the age of 5. These killings often involve family members or close friends. The lowest identification rate of killers (68 percent) is among the homicides of young adults between 20 and 24 years of age. The killer is identified by police about 67 percent of the time when the victim is black or Hispanic, and only 64 percent for black victims between 20 and 24 years old. But when the victim is a non-Hispanic white person of any age, a suspect is identified 78 percent of the time.

*According to the FBI’s Supplementary Homicide Report — in which police are asked if they can identify the killer rather than if they’ve made an arrest – 98 percent of all homicides involving a lover’s triangle or other lover’s quarrels are solved. About 95 percent of all homicides that erupted from an emotional argument over money are also solved. Also easily identified are the killers who take human life during an alcohol- or drug-influenced “brawl” — the term FBI statisticians used for a fatal fight regardless of the kind of weapons used. Police identify the offender in about 90 percent of these homicides. But solution rates quickly drop when human passion is not the cause.

Some techniques that helped departments improve their clearance rates:

* Make sure there is sufficient manpower at the crime scene, especially during the first minutes after the discovery of a killing. The latest Justice Department recommendations suggest that a minimum of two, two-person teams be sent to the scene as quickly as possible. Large police departments that regularly send eight or 10 experienced investigators to the scene have produced above-average clearance results.

* Make sure investigators get the time needed to solve murders. Don’t be stingy with overtime, especially when investigators are in hot pursuit of evidence. Departments that allow senior detectives to approve their own overtime have a 9 percent higher clearance rate, according to FBI data.

*Be generous with training. Make sure investigators know the current best practices through so-called “in-service” training rather than assuming they learned everything at the police academy.

*Utilize new evidence technology. DNA matching of blood or almost any other physical evidence from an assailant’s body is a powerful tool. But so are less prominent techniques such as voice-stress analysis and statement analysis, blood-stain-pattern analysis and criminal investigative analysis also known as profiling.

Kitsap’s Unsolved Homicides: Will Justice Ever Come?

From 1960 to 2010 there have been at least 29 people murdered in Kitsap County whose killers were never brought to justice.

Behind the scenes, some of us at the Kitsap Sun have been hard at work compiling a database of these unsolved crimes. We’ve done so, if nothing else, for posterity’s sake. But we also harbor a hope that perhaps someday, these crimes could be solved, the culprits brought to justice, and the families of the victims given a degree of solace in that apprehension.

We’ve listed the phone numbers of the law enforcement agencies handling these so-called “cold cases,” just in case someone out there knows something. Please browse the names and faces. You never know — it could help solve a homicide.

Click here for the database. And on Sunday, look for a special report on the unsolved homicides of Kitsap County.

More on Man Caught in Bremerton for Attempted Murder

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It’s safe to say this occurrence is rare: man calls officer with complaint about a bowling alley. Officer responds, asks man for his name. Officer finds man is wanted for attempted murder.

Yet that’s exactly what happened in Bremerton Friday night. Shawn Patrick O’Brien, upset that he’d been kicked out of Bremerton Lanes for smoking a cigarette, called police to complain.

The 24-year-old, who was living in Tacoma, left before the cops could get there. Perhaps he knew he might be in trouble if he reported it.

In any case a Bremerton officer found him, and found the warrant for his arrest. The big mystery in our newsroom: just what were the circumstances behind such a warrant?
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Family Asks for SK Community’s Help in Bringing Killer to Justice

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It has been one year since Linda Malcom was found murdered in her Sidney Avenue home. Port Orchard Police Chief Al Townsend has confirmed that investigators have a “person of interest” in the case, but an arrest has yet to be made.

I’ve been talking to many of family members of Malcom (pictured at left), who would like to see justice happen in the case as soon as possible. Linda’s parents, both 80, fear they may pass away before there is resolution.

Townsend vowed not to give up.

“I can assure you that as long as I’m here we will continue to keep the case active and to work toward an arrest,” he told me.

Linda’s family wanted me to publish a letter from them to the community. Here are their words:

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More on the Man Who Called the Highway Woods Home

Last week, I felt privileged to be able to give our readers a look inside the life of Chris Christensen, a Vietnam Vet who lived in a wooded patch of land just off Highway 3 in Poulsbo.

This week, I’d like you to meet three more: Lori, Lisa and Lynn.

They are Chris’ sisters, who grew up with their 54-year-old oldest brother in a housing project in Schenectady, N.Y.

Each one sent me notes which will forever go to that little corner of my email inbox that never get deleted. I was taken aback that while dealing with their brother’s death, they wrote to say thanks for telling his story.

It is through the miracles of our modern times — the Internet, Google, et al — that our story found its way from that grove of cedars he called home to the corners of the country his sisters call theirs.

Chris hadn’t kept touch with his sisters, and they had no idea where he’d ended up. And while we told the final piece of this intriguing man’s life, they wrote me and spoke of all the times that led to it.

The four siblings grew up in a troubled home, Lori said. Their parents divorced. Their mother suffered from mental illness.

Chris was an altar boy. But at some point, his behavior began to change. His grades slipped and he started using alcohol and drugs. Also, “He began to challenge authority,” she wrote, “a habit he would keep throughout his lifetime.”

But they always cared for their brother.

“Ah, but he was so intelligent and when sober he was so, so funny,” she wrote.

He went off to Vietnam in 1972, Lori said. He came back with his addictions, and at some point, got into a bad motorcycle wreck that caused a skull fracture. It was reportedly not properly treated, Lori said.

It was then he began the life of a nomad — off everyone’s radar.

“He began to wander the country soon after with nothing but a backpack and his thumb,” Lori wrote.

He’d come to visit sometimes, Lori said. But his addictions and traumatic life experiences made him difficult to deal with. His independent streak would eventually lead him away.

“I can’t explain why Chris was angry with us yet loved us at the same time,” Lori said.

They’d heard he lived in Oklahoma, then went to Oregon. He’d hop in with truckers seeking company on long trips. They’d found out his attempts to find religion as a born-again Christian, only to leave the faith because “he’d feel they were trying to control his life,” Lori said.

When Chris moved to Washington sometime around a decade ago, Lisa, who’d tried desperately to keep up with him, lost track. Prior to that, when he was in Oregon, she could keep tabs from afar on him, thanks to a woman at a veteran’s affairs office in Oregon.

“She would’ve called me when money was needed to keep Chris in the hotel,” Lisa said. “She would’ve called when he got sick. He never had to know where the money was coming from.”

Chris’ mother passed away in 1997. She “suffered daily at the thought of him being out there ‘somewhere,’” Lynn told me. She added that Chris “always had a reason” not to come home.

In many ways, Chris’ way of life will always remain a mystery. But I’m thankful we got a snapshot of it. And proud I could tell the piece I knew to the ones who loved him.

“I couldn’t have asked for a greater gift than that glimpse you gave us into his world and for the peace we have knowing what the outcome was for my brother,” Lori wrote me.

I’ll never forget that.

DNA ‘Hits’ Bring Rapid Rise in Convictions

Most of the time, CBS’ Crime Scene Investigators paints a high tech (if not-entirely-accurate) picture of the criminal justice system.

But here’s one technique law enforcement in Washington has been successful in implementing, a la CSI — a growing database of felons’ DNA that is putting more of them in prison.

There were 39 “hits” — DNA that was found at a crime scene that matched a felon in their database — in February, according to the Washington State Patrol, which operates the state’s crime lab.

The state averaged just nine “hits” per month in 2007.

State law requires those convicted of felonies and some gross misdemeanors to provide a DNA sample to the crime lab. And seeing as felons usually earn more than one trip to the gray bar hotel, having the sample on file can “bring a speedy closure to those later, more serious cases,” said WSP Chief John Batiste.

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