Copyright 1999 Seattle Times Company

Local News : Sunday, November 15, 1998

Year passes with no arrest in Spokane serial murder case

by John K. Wiley
The Associated Press

SPOKANE - Their ordinary faces stare out from posters on the sides of buses that run the East Sprague Avenue route where many of them worked as prostitutes.

Not a Julia Roberts-like "Pretty Woman" among them.

Staring out from enlarged police mug shots, some faces showing scarring of acne associated with intravenous heroin use, their eyes reflect fear, nervousness or anger at having been arrested in the middle of the night.

They are the confirmed and suspected victims of a killer who has been the focus of a massive yearlong homicide investigation that on its surface appears no closer to resolution than when it began. "Help us find our killer," the Spokane Transit Authority posters implore.

The joint Spokane county-city homicide task force has doubled from four detectives to eight as the investigation has expanded to include several killings across the state in Tacoma, including one that has been linked to Spokane's serial killer.

There have been no arrests.

"We're making progress," says the task force co-commander, Spokane County Sheriff's Capt. Doug Silver. He admits being frustrated that many of the victims died after the task force was formed, "But I do believe we will catch this person."

Detectives have chased and cleared about half of the 3,000 tips they've received in the past year, and the rapport between investigators and prostitutes has improved, Silver said.

Nine known victims

The task force has confirmed nine victims of a killer or killers since last November here and in Tacoma, and is investigating the deaths of as many as 17 others for possible links, Silver said.

The confirmed victims shared similar lifestyles of prostitution and drug abuse. All had been shot, and most of their bodies were discovered in remote locations weeks or months after their disappearances.

There are other things that link the victims with their killer, but Silver declined to discuss them. Detectives have said little about their theories on the killer, fearing potential evidence could be tainted by public comments.

No suspect has been identified.

Silver said a lot of people are still in the "person of interest" category, meaning they could become suspects.

The task force also has been criticized because it has not publicly released a profile of the killer's criminal psyche.

Capt. Steve Braun, Silver's counterpart with the Spokane Police Department, defended the decision to keep the investigation as far-reaching as possible. Producing a psychological profile can make the list of potential suspects too narrow.

"We don't want to rule anybody out," he said.

"It's one of many tools . . . not the total answer," Silver said, noting Seattle's Green River serial-killings investigation "had three or four profiles, all different. It tends to eliminate people you don't want to eliminate."

Changes ahead for task force

Sheriff-elect Mark Sterk, who will become responsible for the task force when he takes over the Sheriff's Department in January, called immediately after his election for changes in the way the task force is run.

"One thing I have heard is it has been kind of a shotgun approach," Sterk said recently. "We're going to narrow it down a bit."

Sterk said he wants detectives to concentrate on finding potential links between the victims and their killer, whose name likely is in police arrest records.

"I'm not sure if he's from Spokane, but I am convinced we have had contact with him," Sterk said. "Either the Sheriff's Office, Washington State Patrol or Spokane police have had contact with this guy, and he is in our database."

Sterk said he wants to replace Silver with Lt. John Simmons, who heads the department's major-crimes unit.

"Not only for the task force, but detectives as a whole, it's time for a little different perspective," Sterk said.

`Trusting relationship'

Not everyone is disenchanted with the job the task force has done.

Lynn Everson, an AIDS outreach worker for the Spokane Regional Health District, known by prostitutes as "The Condom Lady," said the task force moved quickly to establish a rapport with street women who are the killer's likely targets.

Two homicide detectives frequently walk East Sprague to talk with prostitutes to glean information and have developed a "real trusting relationship" that has benefited the investigation, she said.

The task-force detectives also find supporters within the families of the serial killer's victims.

"I admire the members of the task force and feel they have a horrendous job to do," said Kathy Lloyd, the sister of Shawn McClenahan, one of the earliest confirmed victims whose body was found Dec. 26, 1997. "They've always taken the time to speak with me. And I feel that communication is crucial in this situation."

But there is frustration among potential victims.

"They ain't doing such a great job, are they?" asked a young prostitute working a street just off Sprague Avenue. "They've talked to all of us."

In the end, it may be a combination of luck and legwork to catch the killer, Silver said.

"I feel so . . . very definitely," Silver said. "I do believe we will catch this person."