Local News : Monday, June 15, 1998

Spokane officials have few leads on serial killer

by Matthew Ebnet
Seattle Times staff reporter

With the discovery last week of another body that may be the work of a serial killer, authorities in Spokane, working from a near-useless FBI profile, still have no idea who the killer is.

Investigators trying to catch the person thought to have killed at least seven people since November - and possibly a dozen more - are whittling at a growing stack of anonymous tips. Few have yielded anything beyond questions that lead to more questions.

Even some seemingly obvious clues, such as a bloody blue shirt found a month ago near a clearing where the bodies of three dead women were discarded, have led nowhere.

"We haven't had any really (solid leads) since December. That concerns me," said Spokane Sheriff's Capt. Doug Silver, who is head of a city-county task force looking into the killings.

"I'm worried the killer has changed his habits, or his location. It's bad to have a serial killer. It's worse to have one that moves around."

One body was found in Tacoma. The killer attacks female prostitutes.

On Tuesday, a passer-by found another body, this time by a dirt road near Mount Spokane, 30 miles northeast of Spokane. The body had been there so long it had decomposed to the point that its gender wasn't obvious, even by its clothes, which authorities said could have been worn by a man or a woman. An autopsy last week revealed that the body is of a short woman who had light hair, but it is not clear how she died.

The body was found in an area where, in the 1990s, the bodies of three women were discovered in nearby woods. Authorities think they could have been slain by the killer now being sought.

Investigators haven't officially tied the body found last week to the serial killer.

And so, more questions. Already, police are bombarded with tips that are either outdated, "I saw a red car three weeks ago," or from crackpots, "My father is the killer because he reads dirty magazines." But now, with the discovery of the most recent body, investigators are missing even the basic clues.

Because of the decomposition, fingerprints are out of the question, and so are dental records, which are possible only if investigators have a general idea who the person might be. And without an identification, there can be no interviews with family or friends who might lead investigators to potential suspects.

Detectives also say their profile of the killer is of little help. The profile, which agents from FBI headquarters in Quantico, Va., crafted during a winter visit to Spokane, contains little detail.

"The first thing (the agents) told us after they gave us the profile is not to use it," Silver said. "You hope it gives you direction. It just doesn't."

Silver wouldn't discuss specifics, in part because it doesn't contain any. He said there was little more than an indication the killer probably was a white man, between 20 and 40 years old, who might be a loner. All of which are variables that describe most of the serial killers - not to mention thousands of other men around Spokane who are not serial killers. The FBI doesn't comment on continuing investigations.

In the meantime, another woman is missing. Investigators are looking for Melody Ann Murfin, 43, who has not been seen since mid-May, and is believed to have associated with some of the killer's victims. But despite that, prostitutes in Spokane are somehow feeling more comfortable, perhaps because in recent months the case had seemed to fizzle without any new victims or newsworthy breaks in the case.

Prostitutes are easing their way back onto street corners; they figure the killer may have left town, or was caught, said Lynn Everson, who counsels prostitutes at an HIV clinic in downtown Spokane.

Few of them sit shivering and scared in their apartments anymore, Everson said; the fear is instead a "constant general unease for women on the street." That bothers Everson, she said, because prostitutes are in the greatest danger in summer, when so many women are working the streets that it could go unnoticed if one - or seven - disappeared forever.

Matthew Ebnet's phone message number is 206-515-5698. His e-mail address is: mebn-new@seatimes.com

Copyright 1999 The Seattle Times Company