Sunday 3 March 2024

Cold Cases Solved Volume 9


18 Baffling True Crime Cold Cases, including;

Black Summer: Two little girls are dead, and the authorities in Tacoma, Washington are deeply concerned. Does the city have a serial child killer?

Bad Obsession: A bizarre murder on the campus of Drexel University has police baffled. The motive will leave them stunned.

The Gambler: As a skilled poker player, Marcus knew how to judge the odds. His latest gamble is his most daring yet. Can he get away with murder?

Death Comes Calling: Beauty queen Tana has attracted the unwanted attention of a dangerous admirer. He lives across the hall. He’s also a psychopath.

Fourteen, Going on Psycho: He was a spoiled, rich kid who always got what he wanted. Just 14, he was already a serial rapist… and a killer.

Here Comes Trouble: Tommy thought he’d hit the jackpot with his attractive, young lover. But Clara’s not just a pretty face. She’s dangerously unstable.

When Hope Dies: The body of a little girl is found dumped beside a turnpike in New York City. How she got there is both heartbreaking and deeply unsettling.

The Accidental Detective: The case was cold, the killer apparently beyond the reach of the law. Then up stepped a rather unusual homicide investigator.


Click the "Read More" link below to read the first chapter of

 Cold Cases: Solved! Volume  9

Black Summer


 March 26, 1986, was a beautiful sunny day in Tacoma, Washington, the kind of day when kids are loath to be indoors. Sisters Michella, Angela, and Nichole Welch had their piano lessons scheduled for that afternoon but that gave them plenty of time to head to Puget Park, about two miles from their home. The girls nagged their mom, Barbara, to let them go and Barbara eventually acceded. Why wouldn’t she? They lived in a safe neighborhood and the park would be teeming with visitors on such a gorgeous day. Besides, her oldest, Michella, was mature beyond her 12 years and could be trusted to watch over her younger siblings.


And so, the Welch sisters set off for Puget Park, a one-acre beauty spot bordering Commencement Bay. They arrived just after 11:30 and it was then that they realized they’d forgotten to bring the paper bag containing their packed lunch. “I’ll ride back and fetch it,” Michella told her sisters. “You guys stay here.” She then departed, leaving them with a stern warning not to wander off. Angela and Nichole promised that they’d stay put.


However, about a half-hour after their big sister left, Angela and Nichole felt the call of nature. Since there was no public restroom in the park, they decided to cross the road and ask if they could use the facilities at one of the businesses there. They were confident that they’d be back before Michella, but they were wrong. When they returned, they found her Schwinn leaning up against a picnic table, the bag containing their lunch sitting on the table beside it. Of Michella, though, there was no sign.


At first, this did not particularly alarm the girls. They assumed that Michella had gone looking for them and would soon return. When she did, they could expect one of her ‘big sister lectures.’ But as the minutes ticked by and Michella did not appear, they began to worry. Eventually, they started looking for their sister, calling her name. When that failed to get a response, they went back to the hair salon where they’d earlier used the bathroom and asked if they could call their mom at work. Barbara Leonard listened with increasing alarm as Angela explained what had happened. She told her and Nichole to stay where they were until she got there. Then she hung up the phone and called the police.


By 3 p.m., a search of Puget Park and its surrounding area was underway by a small contingent of police. By six, search and rescue were called in, along with a K-9 team. It was just after 11:30 when one of the dogs found Michella Welch. The little girl was discovered in a ravine in a densely wooded part of the park. She had been throttled and badly beaten and her throat was slashed. The autopsy would reveal that she had been sexually assaulted.


In the aftermath of this terrible murder, a report surfaced of a man seen lurking in the shadows, watching the girls. That generated an identikit and a slew of leads. One of the most promising came from a man named Robert Washburn who said that he’d been jogging in nearby Point Defiance Park when he spotted a man who fit the description of the suspect. According to Washburn, the man was “acting suspiciously.” This lead, unfortunately, led nowhere.


The community was up in arms. A little girl was dead, a child killer loose on the streets. What was the Tacoma Police Department going to do about it? In truth, Tacoma PD could not be faulted for its diligence. Detectives worked the case hard, drawing blanks at every turn. The best line of inquiry was the semen retrieved from the victim’s body, but DNA profiling was still in its infancy back then, and CODIS was still three years in the future. The case was slipping away. Then, on August 4, 1986, another child was missing.


At 13, Jennifer Bastian was only slightly older than Michella Welch. A keen cyclist, Jenni was a member of a biking club and was looking forward to competing in an upcoming tour. That afternoon, she called her dad at work and asked if she could do a five-mile training loop of Point Defiance Park on her new bike. He told her that was fine, but that she should be home by 6:30.


Only Jenni wasn’t home by 6:30, or by 7:30, or 8:30. The police were called and started a search of the park, bringing in the bloodhounds at 11:00 p.m. The dogs had helped find Michella Welch, but they were unsuccessful in this case. Jenni Bastian would be missing for three weeks before her body was discovered by a pair of joggers, buried under vegetation deep in the park. She had been sexually assaulted and strangled to death.


The method of murder was different, but the ages of the victims and the proximity of the crime scenes suggested a link. Investigators were convinced that a single perpetrator was responsible for both deaths. That made him a serial child killer, a terrifying prospect in a community with so many young families. As word of this latest atrocity spread, a siege mentality descended on the city of Tacoma. Home security was beefed up, children were kept off the streets, sales of firearms and ammunition spiked.


Meanwhile, the police identified a convicted child killer named David Fisher as their prime suspect and launched a concerted effort to track him down. Fisher, though, wasn’t making it easy for them. He would remain at large for three years. When he was eventually arrested, DNA cleared him. That was in 1989. By then, the investigation was already in deep trouble. Soon, it would stall completely.


Step forward in time two decades to 2011, and we find the Tacoma Police Department establishing a Cold Case unit, under the leadership of Detective Gene Miller. Miller had been a patrol officer at the time of the Welch and Bastian murders. One of his investigators, Det. Lindsey Wade, had been just 11 years old back then, similar in age to the victims. She could well remember the pall of fear she’d lived under at the time. In part, it was what had inspired her to sign up for the police academy straight out of high school. Now, Wade would get a crack at the case that had haunted her for over two decades.


During that time, the prevailing theory was that a single perpetrator was responsible for the deaths of Michella Welch and Jenni Bastian. However, it had never been possible to test the hypothesis since no biological material had been retrieved from the Bastian crime scene. Now, as Det. Wade looked over the evidence again, she realized that the bathing suit Jenni had been wearing had never been tested. This was now submitted to the lab and a semen stain was detected, producing a viable DNA profile.


It was here that the case took an unexpected turn. The profile was different from the one found in the Welch case. The police had always believed that a monster had snuffed out two young lives in the summer of ’86 in Tacoma. Turns out they were wrong. There was not one monster, but two.  


Had either of these profiles found a match in CODIS at that time, then the police would at least have had something to show for their efforts. Frustratingly, there was no hit from the national database. Unperturbed, Det. Wade started working through the nearly 200 suspects that had been identified over the course of the two investigations. This was a mammoth task. Wade had to track down the men, ask them to submit to a test, and then send the samples to the lab for comparison and elimination. It was time-consuming and expensive. It is a testament to the resilience of the detective that she managed to process 160 of the 200 suspects before her retirement in 2018.     


Lindsey Wade left the force believing that she’d failed. She was wrong. Just weeks into her retirement, she got a call from the detective who had taken over her cases. They had a match from the last batch of samples she’d submitted. The killer of Jenni Bastian had been identified. His name was Robert Washburn, the same Robert Washburn whose name had appeared as a witness in the Welch inquiry. He was the jogger who’d called the police to report that he’d seen a man matching the description of Michella’s killer. Washburn ultimately entered a guilty plea to murder and received a 27-year prison term. It remains a mystery why he sought to insert himself into the Welch inquiry just months before he committed an atrocity of his own. 


One of the two killers was in custody. The other, as yet, had not been caught, having evaded justice for over three decades. But the Tacoma police were not giving up. Encouraged by the Washburn result, cold case detectives gave approval for Parabon NanoLabs to upload DNA data from Michella Welch’s killer to GEDmatch. This is a public, genetic genealogy database whose users voluntarily upload their DNA profiles, usually in the hope of tracing long-lost relatives. It has already been used by law enforcement to close several high-profile cold cases, most notably that of the Golden State Killer.


In this case, the results highlighted two brothers as potential suspects. The siblings were placed under police surveillance, with officers tracking them to retrieve any discarded object that might contain biological material – a soda can, a cigarette butt, a drinking straw. Here, it was a paper napkin, left behind at a fast-food restaurant, that would provide the breakthrough. The item was rushed to the lab where a profile was extracted. The comparison returned a match. Just like that, a decades-old mystery was resolved.


The suspect’s name was Gary Charles Hartman, he was 66 years old and until recently had worked at Western State Hospital as a psychiatric nurse. Hartman had a clean criminal record. His neighbors described him as a “nice guy, kind, always smiling.” He was married. He enjoyed restoring vintage cars. A Tacoma native, Hartman had lived his entire life in the city. He’d been living within a mile of Puget Park back in 1986, when 12-year-old Michella Welch was murdered. Aside from that atrocious crime, Gary Hartman had never gotten so much as a parking ticket in his life.


But now, Hartman stood accused of the ultimate evil. Arrested and brought before the courts in 2021, he initially entered a not guilty plea to murder. Later, after being convicted and sentenced to 26 years and six months in prison, he broke down and admitted his guilt. “I’m so sorry," he wept. “God knows I’m so sorry. That doesn’t help. I’m just sorry.” He will have plenty of time to contemplate his evil deed behind bars. More than likely, he will die there.  


During the summer of 1986, two promising young lives were cut short in Tacoma, Washington. Michella Welch was 12 years old with blonde hair. She wore a pair of wire-framed glasses perched on her nose. Michella was a talented musician who excelled at the piano and violin. She was devoted to her younger sisters. Jennifer Bastian wore her blonde hair boyishly short and had strikingly blue eyes. She was an athletic 13-year-old who loved racing her bike and had already competed in several cycling tours. Who knows where that might have led, but for the intervention of a monster. Two innocent girls, two heartless killers, one black summer.


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