Detective Jim Doyon, one year anniversary
POS Patrick Leon Nicholas
Laurie Yarborough (Det. Decker back left)
Today we are in Federal Way, recently incorporated as an official city in 1990, in King County, Washington. The best population I could find for Federal Way was the 2010 census putting the population at just under 90k. And that was about 20 years after murder we are going to talk about today. There are a handful of notable people listed for the city, but I don’t recognize any of them, so we’ll bypass it this week. I definitely do, however, think Sarah’s case should be added to the page, because as we are going to find out, it’s a big one. It’s a milestone case.
Sarah Louis Yarborough, was born to Tom and Laurie Yarborough on June 12, 1975. She was born in Portland Oregon, but somewhere along the way, the family moved to Washington state and settled in Federal Way. Sarah was the only girl in the family, having two brothers. Mom Laurie’s parents also lived in or nearby Federal Way, and they were very close to their grandkids.
For those of us listening who don’t know what she looks like and can't look her picture up, this young woman is stunning. The first time I saw her picture, I immediately thought of actress Alicia Witt, who I know from Two Weeks Notice. She was the character trying to win Hugh Grant out from under Sandra Bullock. I could be wrong, but that was my first impression of Sarah. She had fiery, curly red hair, a pale complexion, and a smile that the boys in her class teased out of her because it was so beautiful. We also know that Sarah was an honor student, and a member of the drill team in her sophomore year. She loved art, ballet, and socializing with her friends. She had also already been to New Zealand twice by the time she was 16, both were school trips for some kind of educational outreach involving younger school-aged children over there. How awesome is that? According to mom Laurie, “Sarah was a person who loved life. She loved people, she loved to travel. She was an excellent student, she loved reading, she always had a book in her hand... She was excited for college.” Sounds like Sarah could have - and would have - lived like a Boss had she not been taken from us. She was smart, talented, loved by everyone around her, and she no doubt would have left her mark in any industry she dedicated herself to, and on anyone that knew her as an adult. But, as it has to be here on the Ties That Find, her life was cut short by a monster.
Sarah and her drill team were meeting up at first thing in the morning at school on Saturday 12/14/1991 to get on a bus to perform at an event. That in itself is impressive. I had no ambition at 16, anyone who knew me then will tell you. On a Saturday morning, I was sleeping in… probably even past noon. Sarah thought bus time was 8-8:30, but in reality, bus time was 9-9:30. So when Sarah pulls into the HS’s back parking lot at about 8:15am, she’s 45 min early. There’s no one in that lot, but there were a lot of people at the high school for their own Saturday morning activities. Some were students and faculty on campus for weekend clubs. Some were there to utilize the sports fields and running trail around the school. There was even a guy who pulled in, just to eat a donut and drink his morning coffee.
One person comes forward to say they had seen Sarah pulling into that back lot, but they didn’t see her get out of the car. Another said they passed by her car while it was still hot, only noting it hadn’t been sitting there overnight. But no one came forward to say she was seen walking around the campus. Only after she had been dragging into the brush next to the tennis courts.
And this is rough. A jogger passing on the trail near the sports field noticed a man and woman off the trail in brush. He saw the man on top of the woman, her shirt was pulled up, and the man was feeling her up. But he noticed that the woman wasn’t really moving. Thinking they were looking for some privacy - that the encounter was consensual - the jogger looked away and continued on the trail. When he came back, he passed them again, but didn’t see anything this time that looked more suspicious, and neither of the two people in the tall grass were paying any attention to him, so he kept to his own business and jogged himself back to the parking lot.
A few minutes later - could have been 10, 20, 30, we don’t know - two 12yo boys were hanging out on the school grounds and approached the area where Sarah’s attacker had dragged her. Before they got too close and discovered her, they saw a man walking toward them out of the brush. He looked up, looked right at them, then suddenly turned away from them, but still away from where he had come. The boys thought the guy was acting weird, and kept on their walk. And then soon enough, they found Sarah’s lifeless body. Not knowing what else to do - they are only 12yo after all - they ran home to get their Dads for help. This would slow the investigation down a bit, because if they had gotten an adult they found on campus, maybe other adults could have rallied and tracked down this fucker before he got too far away. But again - these boys are 12 years old. And when you’re 12 and panicked and in trouble, who do you go to for help? Your parents. So we’re not going to fault them for thinking like people their age, are we? Nope.
One of the boy’s dads hops in his car to try to rack down the Chevy Nova the kids said they thought the killer drove away in, but before getting too far, he peels into a nearby store parking lot to alert someone to call police. Once he got back out to his car, he’d completely lost track of the Chevy.
It was estimated that police got to the scene about an hour after Sarah had been killed. She was found wearing only her drill team skirt and sweater, and a pair of sneakers, the rest of her clothes were placed neatly nearby: her blue jacket, her underwear, bra and socks. Based on the placement of the clothes she wasn’t wearing, police believed they were put there intentionally, not tossed there in the chaos of the attack.
Looking at her lifeless body, it was clear to investigators that Sarah had been strangled with her own stockings, a part of her uniform. Crime scene analysis would find semen on most of her clothes lying nearby: jacket, underwear, bra, gloves, skirt, and the nylons found wrapped around her neck.
But her autopsy findings determined she had not been raped. Interesting. But semen was found on the skin of her abdomen, under her sweater. She did suffer blunt force trauma to the face, but ultimately, her cause of death was officially deemed to be ligature strangulation.
It goes without saying that the Yarborough’s world was shattered. Her friends were devastated at her killing as well. School was in session the Monday after she was killed, and faculty and staff did their best to prepare for it. Some of her teachers thought it best to remove her desk and rearrange the seating, and others left it up to their classes to decide if they should keep it there, vacant, in her memory. Boys from the football and wrestling teams took to escorting their female friends to and from their cars before and after school and other campus events, now realizing full well that even a few minutes left alone could take away another Federal Way young lady. Many of them kept in touch with Sarah’s family in the years to come, but resolution and an arrest wouldn’t come for decades.
When word began to spread about what had happened, tips began to pour in. The jogger and the boys described the man they saw as about 20yo, about 6ft tall, white, with shoulder length blonde hair. He was wearing a dark trench coat and dark pants. Trench coat, ugh. These perverted murderous assholes ruined perfectly good white work vans for us, and now trench coats are ominous too. Yeah, my friend and I saw one walking home from high school one day, and not much was under it. Ugh. Fuckers.
One of the boys said that he thought the guy they had seen got into a Chevy Nova. When the car was tracked down, it ended up being that car with the donut guy in it. He was looked into, of course, but his DNA didn’t match.
Police would estimate there were upwards of 70 potential witnesses around the high school grounds that morning. The case was initially assigned to Det Susan Peters, then reassigned to Det Jim Doyon. On the first anniversary of her murder, Doyon tells us the working theory is that Sarah’s killer was there that day to find trouble. He didn’t know what kind of trouble he’d find, but he was looking to wreak havoc, and when he saw a pretty girl, alone outside her car in the parking lot, and no one else in eyesight, he saw his chance. Because Sarah’s arms, hands, and fingernails had no defensive wounds, Doyon thinks her attacker’s first blow was hard enough to knock her out. This would have caused the cuts and bruising to her face and head, and knocked her out, preventing her from fighting back. Once he had her unconscious, he dragged her into the brush to do his business with her.
In the first years after her murder, he told reporters he would spend up to 80% of each workday trying to find her killer. Another tip, about 17 identical ones, pointed to a specific man who matched the description and had a bad rep. Doyon interrogated him too, and collected his DNA, and he was ruled as well. And so it went… with thousands of tips to try to get through.
Once the initial shock wore off and time began to pass, with no suspects identified, police had a talk with Yarborough’s. Doyon told the family, “OK, look, we do have a lot of leads here, but unfortunately, it’s almost too many. We’re having a hard time organizing all of them, consolidating them, fleshing them out… and it’s slowing us down.” So Sarah’s grandpa, John Holmquist, a scientist at Weyerhaeuser Co., gets his job to loan the police dept this $150k computer to help them collect, organize, and analyze all the tips law enforcement has gotten - and continues to get - in order to better investigate the case. Love it.
Sarah would have graduated with her class in June of 1993. In preparation for their own graduation ceremony, and going through their own growing pains, growing into juniors and then completing their senior year, Sarah’s class raised $40k and commissioned local sculptor Larry Anderson to create a bench to dedicate to her. The bench was completed and installed in front of Federal Way HS just three days before her class graduated. The bench itself is granite, but on one end cast in bronze are the chosen momentos of Sarah’s life that her friends and family thought best represented what was lost that morning. A copy of her messenger bag school bag on the bottom, a few school books on top, a pair of ballet slippers on top of that, and next to the pile is her floppy purse. A replica of Sarah’s dog Libby, who looks like a shaggy terrier, stands on the ground, with his front paws up on the bench as if sniffing out his Sarah’s scent from her possessions.
The late Det Jim Doyon owrked Sarah’s case until 2004, when he died of Lou Gehrig’s disease. Throughout the years, he also worked with Dave Reichart, the detective who worked the Green River Killer murders. And check this out: Jim was actually one of the arresting officers who took Gary Ridgway into custody in 2001, and not surprisingly, he said it was “the highlight of his life.” Shortly before he passed in Sept 2004, Reichart asked Jim about any regrets or troubling cases he had worked on throughout his career. His answer? The murder of Sarah Yarbrough. It was the one case he had always wanted to solve, and his biggest disappointment was not being about to bring her killer to justice.
Case then handed it to Jim Allen after Doyon passed. And this is where we are gonna get a bit of a FGG lesson… In 2011, Detective James Allen was still managing Sarah’s case, and he reached out to Identifinders International, a genealogy research company run by Colleen Fitzpatrick. Fun fact, she also co-founded the DDP.
Det Allen asked them if they can perform a genealogy report on the suspect DNA. What??? In 2011? Yup. And they got somewhere… kind of. This investigation is claimed to be the first attempt at genetic genealogy to find a suspect wanted for a crime. When I read that, I was like, “what about the Bear Brook Murders?” What about POS Joseph D’Angelo? We always need to ask about him since he was the first case to tell the country about FGG, right? What cases came before that the media didn’t tell the public about? So I looked these ones up so you don’t have to. Genetic/Bones testing on the victims in Bear Brook didn’t begin until 2015. DeAngelo wasn’t zeroed in on - or announced - until his arrest in 2018.
So I want to get into this first attempt at FFG at least a little bit. We can’t just mention it and then not get into it, right? This is wild, we were going to get historical here for more than a few minutes….
Remember the Mayflower ship, from the early 1600s? Ok. So the people on the Mayflower were fleeing religious persecution in England, and they crossed the Atlantic to make a new life, and serve God the way they wanted to. There were about 130-150 people on the ship, depending on the source you are looking at, and they included passengers and crew. The passengers could be a single man, expecting to send for his wife and kids later on, or a complete family of five or more. Many of these families kept their family histories organized enough so that to this day - and some of their descendants know that they are descendants. It's estimated that there are over 25 million descendants of the passengers and crew of the Mayflower. In 2015 a Wiki-type page was born. It’s called The Mayflower DNA Project, and it’s wild. It’s got family pages for each family known to be on the ship, with names with green checks and red X’s and charts and links and links and all sorts of stuff that genealogists get excited looking at. I took a glance and realized once again: I’m still at the “what the hell am I looking at?” stage of the process.
Some links will bring you to FamilyTreeDNA’s group page for descendants of a specific family, and the group will invite users to contact the family page if the user thinks he or she might be genetically related. Then, the user can get started on the path to compare his or her DNA profile to the people in the group.
And this brings up a good question: if I offer my profile to… say, the Brewster Family Group, how do I really know that any of the present day DNA profiles in that group are actually descendants of William Brewster? We don’t have his DNA, clearly. His bones are long gone. So how do we know the people saying they are his descendants are actually his descendants? ...I guess we have to begin with faith. Faith in the written family histories that have been recorded for the last 400 hundred years. Of course, not every family kept the best records, but we can argue that enough of them did. So when internet sites like Ancestry popped up, people claiming to be a Mayflower Brewster across the USA - or even the world - they could now find each other online and compare family trees. The next step was for direct-to -consumer DNA testing came around, and then all the would-be Brewsters could compare their profiles to one another, and they were able to see if they share any of those itty bits of the same DNA after all. When they did, they assigned those itty bits the name of “Brewster,” part of the very sciency bloodline name of “Haplogroup i-M253.” So when it’s my turn, if my profile isn’t found to contain this Brewster identified DNA… I’m not part of the Brewster bloodline. And that’s good enough for me.
Moving on. Two adult brothers, Edward and Samuel Fuller, were also on the ship. They are known as the Mayflower Fullers. Eighteen years later, another Fuller from the same family (not one of their sons), this one was named Robert, came from England himself to America in 1638 at age 23. He married Sarah Bowen a few years later, and they had six kids over the next 14yrs, four of them being boys, two of them girls.
In 2011, Colleen Fitzpatrick was researching the familial ties to the suspect DNA, giving it the best she could. She was looking at the Y-STR results in the report; Y-STR chromosomes are found where, you ask? On the Y chromosome. So only men have “Y” STRs, and so this search Colleen is performing is to find MEN related to the suspect. But the DNA testing and the genetic databases that exist today did not exist a decade ago. We already know that a profile you put into CODIS is not as thorough as the profile you’re going to put into GEDmatch. And we know that genetic family member matches are not going to come back as hits CODIS when LE runs a profile. Two reasons: 1. The older profiles, the ones from the 80s and 90s, are not as concise as the ones entered in the 21st century, and maybe don’t even have those markers in their profiles. And 2. Different states have different laws for allowing searches for family members. Washington was one that did not allow it.
I hope you’re still with me. And Gedmatch was only about a year old, and Ancestry wasn’t even offering at home DNA kits yet. The DNA tests that Ancestry and 23andME and FamilyTree perform are called Autosomal SNP tests. IDK what databases or information systems Colleen was looking at… but based on the suspect profile, she was still able to come to the conclusion that Sarah’s killer was one of the descendants of Robert Fuller.
As incredible as it sounds to the lay person - I’m raising my hand! - it was really the best she was able to give King County in 2011 with the Y-STR analysis and then again later in 2014 with an autosomal DNA analysis. But the 2014 profile was still not yet what it has become today, what we get when ordering our DNA kits.
She tells Allen, “Here are some physical traits the guy might have and his “general ancestry” links him to the surname Fuller.” So Det Allen, what could he do? Look for Fuller’s in and around King County in 1991? Actually, that’s exactly what he did. What else was there to try, right? He looked into a few Fullers he found, and brought some pictures of them and others to the child witnesses from 20 years ago. And he asked them if they recognized any of the men. But the boys, who were over 30 by now, didn’t see anyone in the photos they saw that morning in 1991.
But Allen didn't give up. He interviewed a few of the Fuller men in the area anyway, and asked for their DNA samples, which they allowed Allen to take. These samples were sent to the state crime lab and compared to the suspect DNA. None of them matched, BUT it turns out one man actually was a distant relative to the suspect. They did share enough of their Y-STR DNA to be genetically linked on their fathers’ sides. So they were cousins in some way or another. The problem was, though… Colleen and the lab couldn’t tell how distant of a cousin this guy was. Second? Third? Fourth?
After that, because of the limits in the field at the time, Indentifinder’s involvement in the case ended. And can we blame them? Think about it - we would have to blame them for not saying this: “Oh sure, we’ve reached the limits of the DNA testing we can perform at the lab, but I can just go old school. I’ll just follow the family trees of Robert Fuller’s four sons from the 1600s, and then find their sons, and so on and so on… almost 400 years worth of lineage up to 1991. I know FamilyTreeDNA can’t get you the names of aaaall of the 1000s of male descendants we believe to have existed between 1680-1985, but I’m sure I can! It’s fine. It’s gonna be fine… I’ll get back to you in a few weeks. Here let me validate your parking.”
All this is to say that what Colleen was able to offer Det Allen was ultimately not enough to get them closer to finding a suspect. But! The practice in and of itself laid the groundwork for the future of FFG. So let’s give it to Colleen and her team for working on “the first case where genetic genealogy was used to develop forensic intelligence.” I think intelligence is the key word here: the idea that tracing bloodlines generations backward can help you identify an unknown person in the here and now. It was a breakthrough in thinking, problem solving and look where it’s brought us to today.
When he was set to retire in 2017, some of Det Allen’s cases went to Det Kathleen Decker, the murder of Sarah Yarborough was one of them. After reviewing the file, Decker called up Indentifinders and said, “hey, seven years ago you worked on this DNA profile for us… do you think you can work it again? Can you build us a family map now maybe?” And they accepted the case again.
Over 27 years police investigated over 4k tips and leads, and they swabbed 200-300 possible suspects, and every single time, there was no match. But now, on Friday 9/27/2019, Colleen called Detective Decker to give her names to look into as a possible owner of the DNA found on Sarah’s clothes almost 28 years ago.
They had zeroed in on two brothers, one born in 1958 and one born in 1964. The older brother had a known sex offender history, had served time, and was on the sex offender registry. And his DNA was in CODIS. But if he had been Sarah’s killer, CODIS would have hit on him years ago. Because CODIS hadn’t, this older brother was ruled out. So Detective Decker moved on to look into the younger brother. He too had a history of sex-related crimes, one in 1983 and another in 1994. He was known to have lived in and around King county 30 years ago, and he was 27yo when Sarah had been killed.
Within two days Det Decker had Det. Sergeant Calabrese and Det Smith surveilling this younger brother. They soon followed him to the laundromat, Lake Meridian Cleaners, near his home in Kent, WA. The suspect comes out of the store, smokes a cigarette, leaves his butt on the ground, and goes back inside. Calabrese puts on his gloves, collects the cigarette butt and drops it in a paper bag. He goes back to the stake out car and continues watching. Eventually, the suspect comes out for another smoke. Not only does he leave another cigarette butt on the ground when he’s done, but a paper napkin had fallen out of his pocket when he dug his hand in it, and he didn't bother to pick it up off the ground. Now, normally I am offended for Mother Earth, but in this particular case, we know Calabrese is more than happy to clean up this piece of litter. Our suspect goes back inside, Calabrese comes up to the store front again, all stealth of course, and picks up two more pieces of evidence to test. During this surveillance at the laundromat, Det. Smith, Calabrese’s partner, approached the suspect and asked him for directions, just to get an idea of how he behaves, if he knows the area… you know, to get a read on him. Smith learned that he goes by “Leon,” which is actually the suspect's middle name, not his first name.
The next day, Decker gets the paper bags from Calabrese and brings them to Washington State Patrol Crime Lab for testing. They need to test these smoke butts and the napkin against the DNA profile from Sarah’s clothes in 1991. The day after that, Jennifer Venditto from the crime lab calls Decker at the break of dawn - 740am! - and tells her the two profiles match. We got our guy. Decker writes up her arrest affidavit, gets it authorized by the judge, and arrests the younger brother Colleen Fitzpatrick had told her about just five days ago. Five fucking days! EEEEKKK AGGHHH
The next day, one October 3, 2019, the King County Sherriff's Dept announces the arrest of Patrick Leon Nicholas for the 1991 murder of 16yo HS student Sarah Yarborough.
Can we just pause for a second here? I am loving these timestamps, I can’t get enough of them.
Friday - call from Colleen and her team
Saturday - research the brothers, rule one of them out, find out where the other one is living right now
Sunday - following him to his laundromat and collect his cigarette butts
Monday - Butts to the lab
Wednesday - lab confirms a match in the morning, Decker gets a warrant in the afternoon, POS arrested that night, possibly after midnight
Thursday - press conference made
Now before we get into his POS, I want to share a FB comment and the mic drop the Sheriff’s Dept made afterward:
---Reading from FB comments---
After that the rep for the sheriff’s office stopped replying. Aw man, I do feel bad even bringing this exchange up, because this FB user’s comments tell us he knows only the bare minimum about solving violent crime. He was out of his league. He clearly had no business beginning his commentary about the case with “it took 28yrs to check his DNA?” But the replies from King County were so great, and I thought you Dear Listeners would get a kick out of them. They were short, educational, but they didn’t take no shit, lol. AAAH, At least no one else commented, because you know, if he posted that somewhere on FB on a national level today, some of us would have ripped him to shreds, the poor guy. For his sake, I hope he started watching a little more Dateline to at least get to the next level of his working TC knowledge.
So who is Patrick Leon Nicholas? He was born 3/10/1964. When he was finally found and arrested in 2019, he was living in Covington WA, just 12mi from Federal Way HS. And his name, not even his brother Edward, were found anywhere in the case file for all these years.
In 1983, this guy kidnapped a girl in her own car, took her out to a wooded area by a river. He forced her to undress, and when he tried to get her out of the car to sexually assault her, she was able to escape. In order to get away, she had to jump in the river and swim downstream. Holy cow that’s scary. And if this was at night? And the river was rocky and fast? OMG you’re going from one terrifying situation to the next. Luckily she survived, and she got the police involved. After his botched attempt, POS Nichaolas thought it was best he skip town. He bought himself a plane ticket and even flew out of state, but police caught him and he did serve time. He served about 3-4 years and got out in 1987.
Later, in 1994 - last conviction, plead guilty to a gross misdemeanor assault in the 4th degree of a minor. Even though Washington state had instituted a policy to collect DNA from its criminal offenders in 1990, he had somehow been able to avoid submitting his DNA to the system that would get him into CODIS. Why? Because the “gross misdemeanor” conviction was not a high enough charge that would require him to submit his DNA. Sonofabitch knew it was in his best interest to plead this case out, because it would prevent him from getting into CODIS.
Part of finding him that made it so hard was the fact that POS Nicholas’ biological grandfather had been adopted. If we say 25 years for each generation, and our POS’s older brother was born in 1958, that means his grandfather would have been born sometime in the first decade of the 1900s. But where this man would have been a Fuller, and had descendants going by the name of Fuller, now he was adopted into the Nicholas Family, all that Fuller family history disappeared. Which makes me wonder: if Patrick Nicholas’ dad is still around, did he know his own father was adopted? Having a second son arrested for sexual crimes, and this time a murder, AND learning your dad has a whole other biological family at the same time…. Yeesh that’s a lot. On the other hand, what went wrong when you were bringing up Edward and Patrick? How did you end up with two POS to answer for? Hmmmm, we’ll leave that at that.
Remember those two 12yo boys who actually found her after crossing passes with her killer? Local news outlet KIRO channel 7 got an interview with one of them on the condition of anonymity. And he tells us that he was scared Sarah’s killer would come for him over all these years. “Seeing evil face to face like that and knowing that it’s real and it’s there -- that’s a very scary thing to come to grips with… It broke me as a young man, having come to grips with that. It’s a very, very horrible thing.” He was constantly afraid of his own safety, even as police would contact him from time to time to show him photo line-ups of possible suspects. He never saw a photo that matched though. So when he heard an arrest had been made, he attended the arraignment to see for himself if the man that he saw 28 years ago might be the defendant. When the reporter asks him, “is that the guy you saw?” He tells us, “Absolutely. I have no doubt about it. It’s like we’ve been carrying around this big weight for all these years, and finally being able to set it down…. That’s how I felt when I left that courtroom and saw that man in custody.”
Up until his arrest, living on a big piece of property, no known family or friend ties, and the prosecution team lead by Daniel Satterberg felt he was a gigantic flight risk, and asked for $5m bond, which I believe he got. His trial has not taken place yet, so we will see how it goes down. I’m interested to know if he’s going to take a plea deal or if he’ll stay true to his nature and make us all sit through a full trial.
Could he have been caught without the genealogy investigation? I don’t think it’s likely. I think if we were to argue he would have, we would have to lay blame on the witnesses, and I’m not comfortable with that. The only other way I can see is if he was still an active offender and was caught for something more recent and got himself into CODIS.
Do we think he has other victims? I think so, for sure. His track record is 1983, then he’s accused of killing Sarah in 1991, and then the child molestation in 1994. He was 30 by then… still young enough to keep inflicting pain and damage to the female population. And as we know, that’s still pretty young - I don’t think he was retiring anytime soon.
Grandpa Holmquist was still alive and kicking when Nicholas was arrested. He was 95yo.
What is the sword of Damocles? Damocles - Wikipedia
Laurie Yarborough’s tribute: “Although we went on with our lives, it was always in the back of our minds as unfinished business. In a way it was Damocles’ sword hanging over us. We never knew when, or if, the news would come but we knew when and if it did, all the emotions would come roiling back and we’d be thrown into 1991 again. To live with that for 28 years is exhausting. If it had never been solved, it would have been a shadow over us the rest of our lives.”
Second, final tribute, from Identifinders International’s article titled: Case Study: Sword of Damocles.
“The cold case solves that appear in the headlines today may be exciting news, but they are the product of a slow and steady development of the forensic use of genetic genealogy. And it all started with a young woman named Sarah.”