June 9, 2021

Michella Welch

Michella Welch

Jennifer and Michella, often side by side in the media 

 

          

Mom Barbara and Sisters Angela and Nicole at court

 

          

Jenni Bastian and Mom Patti at the signing of Jennifer and Michella's Law

          

POS Robert Washburn and Crime Map between the two cases

          

POS Gary Hartman

 

Sources:

Dateline: Evil was Watching S27E27 

08 Aug 1996, 14 - Longview Daily News at Newspapers.com 

Facebook Live | Facebook - police press conference

23 Jun 2018, A1 - The News Tribune at Newspapers.com 

26 Jun 2018, A1 - The News Tribune at Newspapers.com 

05 Aug 2018, B5 - The News Tribune at Newspapers.com 

Murder of Michella Welch -- Parabon Snapshot Case Summary (parabon-nanolabs.com) 

Murder victim's sister speaks out after novel DNA approach helps crack 1986 cold case - ABC News (go.com)

Picture of Michella Welch's suspected killer starts to emerge | Tacoma News Tribune (thenewstribune.com)

Tacoma girls murdered in 1986 killed by different people, police say | Tacoma News Tribune (thenewstribune.com)

DNA in a genealogy database and a used napkin link suspect to Michella Welch murder | Tacoma News Tribune (thenewstribune.com) 

1986 cold case: Police use DNA to find suspect in Michella Welch’s death - The Washington Post

‘Finally ... a bit of closure’: Mom, sisters of slain Michella Welch in court to see suspect in 1986 murder (q13fox.com)

Trial in sept:

https://linxonline.co.pierce.wa.us/linxweb/Case/CriminalCase.cfm?cause_num=18-1-02411-2 

Unsolved:

Who Killed Karen Bodine? The vicious murder of the mother of three in 2007 still remains unsolved (q13fox.com)

 

We are in Tacoma, Washington. Population was about 160k in 1980, we’ll be spending our time in 1986. Back in the days of jelly shoes, GI Joe, and Atari.  Tacoma is a suburb of Seattle, 30 miles south of the Grunge music capital. If you're familiar with the shape of Washington, you know all the little islands and peninsulas up in the northwest part of the state? Tacoma is in the most southern part of one of those divots, so it touches one of the bays in that area, this one being Puget Sound.  Tacoma was the birthplace of Bing Crosby, nice! And Jerry Cantrell, the founding member and lead singer of Alice in Chains. He will be 20yo, living in Tacoma, and trying to find a good band gig when this story takes place.

And it’s 1986 and we are zeroing in on Barbara Leonard. She is a single mom of three girls: Nicole is 9, Angela 11, and Michella is 12. We never hear anything about dad, but Barbara and her girls did come from out of town and then settle in Tacoma at some point before 1986.  

Michella was outgoing, confident, not easily intimidated and took her big sister role seriously. 

Sister Nicole tells us, “She was just a beautiful child. She loved music, was an amazing artist. She played the piano, she played the violin, and loved to read. She was definitely the bossy older sister.” 

Mom Barbara is a piano player and she is going to raise her daughters on the piano too. And it’s on Wednesday March 26, 1986  that they have one of their regular lessons. The lesson is in the early afternoon, but it's a nice day out and the girls want to go a few hours early, because there is a park within walking distance of the studio. They figure they can get to the park and spend the beginning of the day there, eat a nice lunch, go to the lesson, then bike home afterward. Mom says ok, just be safe. 

So the park they are going to is Puget Park, and it’s about 2mi north and a bit east from home. It’s not just a public playground type park…. It's got woods and a nice biking, jogging path. Puget Park is about 1 acre in square footage, but really in the shape of a banana. The north tip runs right up to Commencement Bay, which is really the same body of water as Puget Sound. This is a review found for it, left within the last year or two: “This is the path to serenity. Just 300 feet into the gulch and you feel like you're a hundred miles from civilization. This is a rejuvenation area. They have planted hundreds of indigenous plants native to the Northwest here. …  At the bottom there is a creek where fish spawn. It's also popular for joggers because of the slop which gives them a good workout. At the end is the waterfront with many restaurants.” 

Once Michella, Angela, and Nicole get to the park on their bikes, they realize they forgot the lunches. But they're going to be there for a while, so Michella decides she will be the one who rides back home to get them, and the younger girls can just stay at the park and play. This happened at about 11-11:30 a.m. Now, some time after Michellla had left, maybe around 12:30pm, nature was calling for Nicole and Angela. They need a bathroom. But there is no public restroom in the park, so they have to leave to go to some business and ask to use their bathroom.

When the girls got back they figured Michella would be there, but she wasn’t. Now it’s after 1pm, but she isn't where they were all hanging out earlier. So they start walking on the bike path, part looking out for her, part just lollygagging… they’re just being kids. Because remember, these girls are 9 and 11. They aren’t thinking - ooh our sister must be missing, something bad happened to her - just yet. Maybe she was just held up at home. Maybe she’s hanging out with a classmate she crossed paths with on her way back.  No one’s texting anyone in this situation, because it’s the 80s, right? When we thought someone was late back then, we are all just thinking they got caught up, they can take care of themselves. People run late all the time, it always works out, it doesn’t mean anything bad is happening, or the person is in grave danger. Plus, it’s noon on a Wednesday in a city park…. I wouldn’t expect these girls’ to worry just yet. So, they’re hanging out for a while and then they are like, “Listen, she really should have been back by now, piano lessons are soon.” And they come up to a picnic table and actually see Michella’s bike AND a paper bag lunch just sitting there on the table. This is when their spidey senses start up. They leave the park and poke their head into a local beauty salon for help. The lady at the salon lets them call Mom at work, AND the police.

Mom’s flies out of work, and by 3pm the police start searching the area. No sign of Michella. By dinner time, police are calling their search and rescue team. Which, for me, is exactly how it should be done. Patrol officers don’t find a missing child in 2-3 hours on foot or in their cruisers? You’re calling in bigger guns at that point. Let’s go, time’s wasting. I can see 2-3 hrs is already too long, but comparatively speaking, to other missing persons cases, it’s actually pretty quick for police to bring in other units to help with the search. A few weeks ago, with Pamela Maurer? She was 16, and the police pretty much told her family to call back in the morning, after breakfast. So good on Tacoma, for this, I think.

But their work won’t be done until 11:30 that night. Michaella was found, in the park, in a dense part of the woods. She had been sexually assaulted, hit in the head, and her throat was cut.

During the initial investigation, it was discovered that Michella had passed by a classmate that day on her way out of the park. This classmate told police that they saw a man watching the girls that day, and gave them a description. Then a man came forward, and said he saw 1 girl, he thought it might be her, talking to a guy, around the time she was back from getting lunch, and the guy was gesturing towards the woods. So the police made a sketch and hoped someone found something in it to point to a suspect. IN the meantime, they completed a DNA testing kit and submitted it to CODIS, whatever was back then. Nothing came back. 

Weeks went by, and then months. The girls are traumatized, likely scared it could happen to them too. Barbara, Mom, got a gun. She had to protect her two other girls, right? She remembers it like she was living in a fog. Was it the guy 10ft from me at the grocery store check out? Was is the in his car next to mine as we wait at the red light? I couldn’t imagine. How do you tell your younger daughters … how do you talk to them about what happened to their big sister? 

Jennifer Bastian, 5 mo later.

Jenni was 13yo, a tomboy, and planning a long bike tour in a few weeks with a biking club she belonged to. She’s recently gotten a new bike, and on August 4, ‘86, she asked her dad if she could go out to do a  5mi loop around Point Defiance Park for a training ride. He told her that was fine, and she left a note on the kitchen counter saying she’d be home around 6:30. 6:30 comes and goes, and finally dad calls mom because Jenni is still not home. Police start searching, and by 11pm, they bring in the bloodhounds. Point Defiance Park would be closed for three whole days. Volunteers come in to help, there are 100s of people searching the park, ask around for some tips, but Jenni is nowhere to be found, and they come up with nothing. 

Barbara called Patti to offer her sympathies, but Patti, even though she thought it was nice - she didn't want to hear it. She tells us she didn't want to believe her daughter's fate would be the same as Barbara’s.

Three weeks later, Jenni’s body was found by two joggers in a dense part of the woods in the park. They had smelled something rotten, and left the trail to investigate. Jenni had been covered up by leaves, and her bike, also covered up, was about 100 yards away. She had also been sexually assaulted, 

How many of us did these things as a kid? Visiting my father, step mother, sister and brother in the 80s - we were in Spokane county, which is in western Washington - my sister and I would often go bike riding. We had swimming lessons every summer. We’d ride our bikes to get there, it was, I don't know,  maybe a mile? No one in my memory ever approached us, but …. Yeesh. 

Looking back, now that I'm all grown up, I tell my dad, so you know how many serial killers were lurking around the Pacific Northwest back then? How many pedophiles? We were lucky! And it's not just there… anywhere in the US. Evil, as we know, can move in anywhere, right next door to us. And we won’t even know it. 

So everyone…. The police, the whole town, everyone is thinking. Ok, Both are girls, one is 12, one is 13… both are blond, blue eyed…. They were riding bikes… They were in parks. The bodies were tucked back in the woods, and positioned in similar ways. They have to be related. This is a pedophile and a serial killer we have to be looking for…. 

Police 9-10 books of tips, Changed the town. Parents are keeping close eyes on their kids, or not even letting their girls go out without them. 

One particular girl in Tacoma, Lindsey Wade; she was 11 that summer. Lindsey Wade didn’t know the girls. Knew about them though… and the news of both girls scared her. Of course it would, right? She was just one of hundreds, or, thousands of girls in the Tacoma area in late 80s who either weren’t even allowed out of the house, OR who were constantly reminded to stay in groups when they were out playing with their friends. And the mystery of who killed them stuck with her as she grew up. She was fascinated, learning about how people could do such heinous things as kidnap, rape, murder…. She even read a book about Ted Bundy when she was in high school. And with that, Lindsey eventually decided she wanted to be a police officer. She wanted to be part of the team that helps keep her town safe. That tracks down monsters and bad guys, and gets them off the street. And that is exactly what she did. She graduated high school, graduated from the academy, and worked her way up to detective in the Tacoma Police dept. 

In 2011 Detective Gene Miller, who had been a patrol officer in 1986 when the girls were killed, decided Tacoma needed a Cold Case unit. There hasn't been one up to this point. For all the old cases, they are just assigned to detectives that are working current cases. They work the murder from last week, and then try to carve out some time in the schedule to look into the murder 15 years ago. So Miller thinks, well, there’s got to be a better way, we need detectives who only work these cases. They need to stay in that old timey head space, right? To really be able to visualize and research a particular crime from back in the day… So we need to get a cold case unit together, that only works old cases, so they can keep focused on what the world was like when the crime in question happened. 

By 2013, Miller is hooked up with Wade in the Cold Case division and they have about 150 cases, but two of the oldest are the young girls back in the 80s, and they are particularly dedicated to bringing their killer to justice. Going through the files, they see they have 2300 names to go through. And they also discover that in Jenni’s case, the bathing suit she was wearing at the time of her murder hadn't been scrutinized - there was a semen stain that hadn’t been scraped and profiled! So that is the first thing they do… to compare the DNA samples of both perpetrators and verify they are looking for the same guy. Turns out - they didn’t match. It’s not the same killer!! All this time, everyone thought the man that killed Michella had struck again 5mo later and gotten to Jenni. Turns out it wasn't true - there were two monsters in Tacoma that summer. Wow, that’s a crazy revelation. So now they have to separate the files. They have to investigate them separately. Now they run the suspect’s from Jenni’s bathing suit into CODIS, hoping they can at least solve her case, but there's no hits. Seriously? Two men doing the same thing that year? And still neither of them have been arrested… charged… for anything? Neither of them are in CODIS after all this time? It’s got to be so disheartening. 

2014 Miller retires, but Lindsey plugs on. She contacts Colleen Fitzpatrick, a genealogist. Can you help us with these suspect profiles? Colleen does give her some family names, including the last name Washburn, but they don’t have enough about any of the last names to really get anywhere.  Somehow, Collen was able to come up with some last names, but the genetic reports she was working with were much blurrier than they are now. I'm thinking this is because the more recent DNA analyses that they are doing in these cases was not as fine tuned as it is now back in 2014. Which is really only 6yrs ago. It still amazes me how quickly science and technology is advancing these days. I always think about computers for this, right? Back in the 60s they were the size of a whole room… Then in the 70s, 80s, they were making baby steps. Then all of a sudden, there’s  these giant leaps from 2000 to 2010 to 2015, and now we can hold a gazillion megabytes of memory literally in the palm of our hands. It’s amazing. And its the same thing we see her in forensics. In the 80s - if we remember the problems with the Christine Jessops case - they were like, “well, Guy Morin’s DNA is kind of like the DNA found on her…” “ok, let’s convict him then”. But then just 7rs later they ran the DNA analysis again and were like, “oops. This is nowhere near what Guy’s DNA looks like. Sorry!”  Anywho… 

So in 2016, Lindsey sends Parabon phenotype for both girls’ killers. The police hold a press conference and tell the public, its two guys were looking for, do either of this composites look like someone you know? Tips come in, but nothing solid. 

At the same time, Lindsey decides she is going to try to test and eliminate the 200 men on the top of the possible suspect list. Her dept reaches out to these men, and gets 160 dna samples… these are for both girls' cases. She sends them to the lab in batches… batch comes back, no hits for either girl, sends another batch, and so on and so forth.  2018 Wade retired. Sent the last batch before she left. The new detective on Jenni’s case calls her and tells her they found him... Robert Washburn. 

At some point since his DNA was left on Jenni, he packed up and moved to Illinois. But Tacoma found him, and asked him for a DNA sample. “Sure no problem,” he tells them. Turns out, he was in the last batch of samples that Lindsey sent off to Washington State lab before she retired. What are the odds? Never give up! You never know… once you start sorting through a pile of possible hits, you can't stop until you check them all. So yeah, Washburn provided his sample in 2017, went about his business, and then got arrested in May of 2018. 

Washburn lived on the 3100 block of North Huson Street, three miles from the park he attacked and killed Jenni.

So it turns out, this POS had tipped police about Michella in March of ‘86 when she was killed. He was not genetically linked to her though… but he was on the match list for Jenni when Colleen Fitzpatrick was looking at it! WTF? So he was there? But she got snatched by someone else? What was he doing there that day? He had told police he was there jogging but… is that true? Was Washburn thinking about snatching Michella that day but another monster got to her first? *UGH* or… was he fantasizing about this stuff, but after MIchella was killed, and no one was getting arrested for it, maybe he figured he might be able to get away with it too? Or, just like everyone thought, everyone would think whoever killed Jenni was the same guy that killed Michella.  Oof, omg so creepy. I guess we’ll never know. Jenni’s mom, for one, does want to know. On Dateline, she told Keith she wants him interviewed about what he was thinking that day. Did he wake up and plan to find a girl or was it a spur of the moment thing? She says it's not really for her piece of mind, because she can never get that back, but for future investigations… criminal profiling studies. I agree with her, but I also think he should just sit in his cell.

Washburn initially pleaded not guilty, but by January of ‘19 he gave it up and pleaded guilty. He was 61 at the time, and sentenced to 27 yr. So he’ll be 86 when he gets out… Hopefully the prison meatloaf does him in before that.

But its still may of 2018 and we still have no name to pin on Michella’s murder. In the end, her sample never matched any of the 160 Lindsey sent to the lab in all those batches. So this guy really has laid low for the last 32 years. Now we have Detective Steve Reopelle  (re-o-pell?) assigned to her file. He and the Cold Case Unit decide to try the genealogy route. Maybe that lady, CeCe Moore, can help with the family map? She had just helped solve the Golden State Killer case last month in April, and they might not know it at this time, but CeCe is also about to solve the Tanya  van Cuylenborg  and Jay Cook murders that happened just north of Tacoma back in 1987. So maybe she can help. They’ve already done the phenotype, right? 

CeCe Moore agrees, and her team begins to work the family tree.and within another month, by June, Parabon calls Tacoma. “Ok, we’ve got a pair of brothers here you should look at. They are both the right age, and both lived in Tacoma when Michella was killed. Awesome! So Tacoma hunts down both of them and start surveillance on both of them. They need DNA to test. They end with DNA for both, send them off to the lab, and within two weeks they get a call telling them which brother it was… 

And on 6/22/2018, the Tacoma Police Department announces the arrest of Gary Charles Hartman for the 1986 rape and murder of 12 Michella Welch. 

Who is Gary Hartman? Who is this POS? Born in 1952, as far as we can tell, he lived in Tacoma or nearby at least since 1986, possibly earlier. And he’s stayed in the area since then. He was 34 in 1986 when he came upon Michella. After that, around 1998, he became a registered nurse, and got a job working for the Dept of Social Services. At some point he moved about 20 minutes aways form tacoma, still close though, and he changed jobs. Up until his arrest, he was working at a Psychiatric hospital in Lakewood, and nearby, somewhere near Steilacoom Lake. Seems he acted in a social worker or outreach type position, as he was “helping discharged patients reintegrate into society”

Looking back, we see that this POS was living in the 4600 block of Huson Street, less than two miles from Puget Park on the other side of the park from where the sisters came from. Now check this out… remember - POS Washburn lived in 3100 block of Huson Street… They lived on the same freaking' street!! I was like, no way… how far apart?? So I checked out the map. Now, each block is given address numbers by 100. Like in a hotel, all rooms on the second floor start with a two, and all rooms on the third floor start with a three, etc. These assholes lived 15 blocks from each other. And apparently, obth like to hang out in town and county parks. So creepy. I feel for those people living on the street, could you imagine?? 

Turns out, Gary Hartman was not part of the initial suspect pool. He didn't even have a run in with the law - like ever - from what I could find. So was this a one and done murder, I wonder? We thought that about Christine Jessop’s killer, also Betty Jones and Kathryn Crigler’s killer…  They all were able to keep clear of CODIS for decades before they were caught.

What about any other way to find him? Do we also think Hartman could have ever gotten on the police radar without forensic genealogy? Mmmmmm, I’m gonna give that a hard no. There was nothing else at that crime scene that would have pointed LE toward him, so short of him just walking in the police dept and confessing, I don't think he ever would have been found out. This guy is in his mid-60s. If there were any other crimes that he was going to commit, they are probably in the past at this point. And he was just as slippery as he was with Michella’s murder. 

As of late, his neighbors told the press that he was a nice guy… polite, kind, smiling face… married, liked to show off his vintage cars on sunny days.

So how did they take him down? Well, on June 5, Detective Steve Reopelle is watching him. Hartman goes to work in the morning, then leaves with a  coworker to go for breakfast at a nearby restaurant. Hartman and his friend are eating breakfast, Reopelle is watching at a table nearby. Hartman is a neat eater, so he’s using his napkin throughout the meal, and when breakfast is over, he puts it in a paper bag, then leaves it behind after they pay the check. Reopelle gets the attention of the staff before they clean the table and asks for the bag. How nice of that of Hartman, right? He actually puts his used napkin nice and neat right in a bag, so it’s nice and protected on it’s way to the lab…. Ahh haha love it. 

Now, if you were wondering about the oher brother, police had followed him around too. He had dinner in a restaurant, and left behind a straw, which, of course, the police snatched. 

Both samples were sent to Washington State Patrol-Lab, and on 6/19/2018 - Reopelle got the call - “we got a match, it’s Robert.” They got the warrant and arrested him the next day! They just pulled him over as he was driving down the road, haha, I love that. He didn’t even know he was on their radar! At least with Washburn, he did give up his DNA, so he had some inkling it was coming sooner or later. But this guy? No one in the PD reached out to him until they picked him up, haha. Of course, they had to get his direct cheek swab once they got him back to the station, and run it, because the napkin won’t hold up in court. 

This is a quote from the press conference on June 22 ‘19. I love it; it’s from Police chief Don Ramsdell. He says “If you think you can run, you’re wrong. If you think you can hide, you’re wrong. If you think the Tacoma police department is going to give up, you’re wrong”

Mr POS Hartman is being held on $5million bond for charges of Murder 1st degree, rape 1st degree. County prosecutor Mark Linquist “If you’re a criminal, and you’ve left your DNA at the scene,  you might as well turn yourself in now...we will catch you.

The next month, in August of 2018, Tacoma held a memorial for both the girls, and both mom’s Barbara, Michella’s mom, and Patti, Jenni’s mom were there. They have been friends since 1986. They comforted each other, leaned on each other, and remembered their daughters together. When asked what it was like to get news of their daughters’ suspects being arrested, patti tells the media, “I didn’t want to tell Barbara. Because they hadn’t found Michella’s killer. And it made me feel like I was in a different place. It felt unfair.” Well, luckily for them, it only took another month of searching to make an arrest in Michella's case. Barbara replied, “It was. It’s not fair for the people who don’t have resolution, whether it happened yesterday, or 40 yrs ago.”

Hartman has pleaded not guilty… His trial is set for September of this year, 2021. We will see what happens, I guess?.  *sigh* ok I have a question…. Since DNA testing and comparing has been fine tuned… is there a case out there where the accused is still found innocent? Well, ok there are some yes. For the cases, like say, a husband is killed… and they try the wife because the DNA was there… well, yeah, of course her DNA would be on or around the husband - she's the wife! So they have to find other evidence if it really is the wife they think did it…. But maybe she didn't do it…. And the DA uses the DNA but she is still found innocent. I’m not talking about those cases.

I’m asking about stranger on  stranger crimes, like we mostly have here at the Ties that Find. Have there been any wrongful convictions or acquittals where DNA was used to prosecute and it was found that the guy (or lady!) didn't do it? Without a shadow of a doubt, that person was innocent? I’m not an expert, but I’m eager to know. In the meantime, we will see what happens with POS Hartman. He may be pending trial, and he may be innocent unless proven -or plead- guilty, but if he didn’t rape kill Michella, then somehow his semen got on her body the same day she died. And that means he did something fishy ...aaaand that means he’s a POS.

Michella Welch and Jennifer Bastian’s cases have been the force of change in Washington State LE investigation laws. 

In 2019, Washington state passed "Jennifer and Michella's law.”  It will help expand the state and National databases for sex offenders. 1. Get DNA form deceased sex offenders - i really don’t understand the details of that, 2. Require perverts convicted of indecent exposure to submit their DNA too. Which I think is outstanding. Anyone who is exposing themselves to random ladies  - or men - in public… well, for me, they are eventually going to get tired of it and will have to escalate to actually coming in contact with a victim. Making someone uncomfortable will only get them off for so long before they need a more dangerous kind of rush.  So this is going to hopefully, deter a number would-be sex offenders out there too. Congratulations and thank you to Patti Bastain and Retired Detective Lindsey Wade for their work in getting this bill passed. I’m sure it’s already started having an effect. 

Closing tributes:

Michella’s baby sister, Nicole: "You always hope they catch the guy. But in the back of my mind, I figured he's probably dead...maybe he found the Lord and is a great guy. It's really sad to think that he's been out there living a free life when he cut my sister's life short.

Mom, Barbara Leonard: “For me, it was very emotional. Finally I feel I have a little bit of closure. You never expect the face of somebody that’s done something this terrible to look normal, somebody that’s maybe your neighbor friend. It’s hard to know what justice is because it’s never going to bring her back… Know who your children are playing with, know where they go… I was an innocent mother; I didn’t think things like this could happen.”