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FEATURE NEWS

Another Cold Case Arrest In A Washington Murder Committed Decades Ago
There's a pattern brewing

June 21, 2018




Michella Welch was murdered in March 1986 in Tacoma, Washington
By B. Tanner

(TACOMA, WA.) – The number of arrests in cold case murders of late are rather stunning. So many in such a short period of time. In late April came the first shocker. Police had made an arrest in the decades old Golden State Serial Murder-Rape case.

The man arrested, Joseph James DeAngelo, 72 is an ex-cop who police now believe killed a dozen people, committed 45 rapes and burglarized over 100 homes over a 12 year period in the 1970’s and 1980’s.

The next surprise arrest came in early May when police arrested an Illinois man man in the cold case rape and murder of a 13-year-old girl in Washington state more than 30 years ago. Jennifer Bastian, who was last seen riding her new bike at Point Defiance Park in Tacoma on Aug 4, 1986, had been strangled. Police found her body near a wooded trail in the same park 24 days later.

The suspect who was arrested, Robert Washburn, 60, of Eureka, Ill., is a former Tacoma resident who lived near the park at the time of the girl’s murder. The arrest of Washburn came two years after Tacoma Police released two composite sketches of the two different men believed to have sexually assaulted and killed two children -- Michella Welch, 12, and Jennifer Bastian, 13, in two North End Tacoma parks.

Detectives at one time believed the same man was responsible for both murders but in April of 2016 they acknowledged that they no longer believed one man was responsible for both murders.

The Parabon connection

The sketches police released to the public in the Welch and Bastian cases were created by Parabon NanoLabs Inc., a company in Virginia that specializes in DNA renderings of criminal suspects. Parabon analyzed DNA samples police had given the company and identified genetic markers such as eye and hair color and then employed a process called phenotyping to predict what the men might have looked like in a general sense, not a detailed portrait.

Then the next stunner came in late May in our state of Washington when a 55-year old truck driver from Seatac, William Talbott was arrested in the 31-year old brutal murders of a young Canadian couple, 20-year-old Jay Cook and 18-year-old Tanya Van Cuylenborg who had traveled to Washington from Canada to pick up a part for Jay’s father.

In that case, as well as the Golden State Killer case, investigators used a public genealogy website to match crime scene DNA. The analysis in the Washington state case was also performed by Parabon which utilizes crime scene DNA to create composite sketches of suspects in cases where there are no eyewitnesses as well as using a public genealogy website into which they upload a digital file containing DNA data derived from evidence at a crime scene and then locating promising matches of DNA at the public website.

In the case of the murdered Canadian couple, investigators said promising matches were found for two of the suspect’s relatives.

The latest cold case arrest

And now word of an arrest in yet another decades old Tacoma murder case. On Wednesday the Tacoma Police Department announced that, in consultation with the Pierce County Prosecutor’s Office, it has developed probable cause to arrest a suspect in the 1986 child murder case of Michella Welch.

"The suspect is in custody and awaiting arraignment,” said Loretta Cool, Public Information Officer for the Tacoma Police Department. The suspect was not named in the police statement issued Wednesday but the News Tribune in Tacoma reported that police had booked Gary Charles Hartman, 66, into the Pierce County Jail just after 3:15 pm on suspicion of first-degree murder and that prosecutors were expected to charge him today.

In the announcement of the arrest police offered no details about what led them to Hartman as a suspect in the case. A news conference is scheduled for today to answer some questions about this latest development.

The News Tribune report said Hartman is a registered nurse who worked at Western State Hospital in Lakewood, collects vintage cars and lives a quiet life with his wife on the shoreline of Lake Steilacoom.

The newspaper report quoted a retiree who lives in the area as saying the Hartmans are, “Very cordial and very sweet older people. The neighbors thought he was greater than sliced bread."

On March 26, 1986, at about 10 am, 12-year-old Michella Welch and her two younger sisters were visiting Puget Park at 3100 North Proctor Street in Tacoma, Wash. Michella left the park to get lunch for her sisters.

When she returned, she may have gone looking for her sisters who had gone to a nearby business to use a restroom. When Michella’s sisters returned to the park around 1 pm., they found Michella’s bike and lunch on the table, but could not find Michella. A search was conducted of an adjacent gulch where Michella’s body was discovered several hours later.

Police say a news conference will be held at a future date, to be announced, to answer questions regarding this case.

One thing appears self evident in all these recent DNA fueled cold case arrests. Anyone who committed a horrendous crime 20 or 30 years ago and thinks they got away with it because there’s never been a knock on their door, better think again.

That knock could come tomorrow or next week.





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