Chapter One: The Tumbledown Shack
After writing more than a thousand articles about homicide cases, I suppose it's natural that some of them blur slightly in my memory. However, there are those that I recall vividly, and I even remember my own life at the time I first researched their tragic details. The story that follows brings back gloomy recollections of four days when I was trapped by a blizzard in Wenatchee, Washington. The sheriff of adjoining Okanogan County had given me a ride from Seattle over the Cascade Mountains on November 16, 1978, and I planned to take the bus back after I'd talked to Chelan County homicide detectives. But a huge snowstorm clogged the mountain passes and no car, bus, train, or plane could get through. That meant I couldn't get home until the road thawed.
All the sidewalks in Wenatchee were covered with four or five inches of ice that weekend and many stores had closed. Stuck in a little motel, all I had to read was the police file of this horrifying case. I found no diversion from horror when I turned on the television set. The news had just broken that Reverend Jim Jones, the cult leader of the Peoples' Temple from San Francisco, had forced his hapless congregation to drink poisoned Kool-Aid at "Jonestown," in Guyana. Of his 1,100 followers, 973 were dead, and so were California state representative Leo J. Ryan and most of the staff and film crew who had gone with him to Guyana to investigate Jones. There was nothing for me to watch beyond blanket coverage of that story on every channel and a screen filled with a sea of bodies.
I spent those days completely alone in the dead of winter only thirty-five miles from where the case I was studying had happened in the blazing summer heat. By the time the ice thawed, I knew this story of two vulnerable young women by heart and it stays in my mind to this day.
Like those who died in Jonestown, the Chelan County victims had been lulled into the false belief that they were safe, and they too trusted enough that they failed to see the evil behind a pleasant facade.
It would seem that a double homicide that happened almost thirty years ago would have been solved by now. It has certainly not been forgotten. I still meet people who were closely connected to the victims, people for whom time has no meaning. Technically, it is an open case. Yet, over and over again, one man confessed to the murders of two beautiful young women. Was he telling the truth, or was he only throwing up a smokescreen that clouded the investigation so that the real killer was never caught?
You be the judge.
Chelan County, Washington, is only a two-and-a-half-hour drive from Seattle, but it lies on the other side of the mountains in eastern Washington, in a climate where the landscape is completely different. The weather, the vegetation, and the topography of Chelan County might as well be three or four states away. Chelan County is fruit-growing country, particularly Delicious apples, and vacation country, a place far away from the congestion of the increasingly industrial west sides of Oregon and Washington, where Portland and Seattle traffic rivals that of L.A. and New York City, and where new housing developments cover fertile valleys with cement streets and perfectly landscaped yards.
The town of Chelan is forty miles north of Wenatchee, and it exists mostly because of expansive Lake Chelan, the second largest inland lake in America. Tourists flock to Lake Chelan, where deep blue water cuts through dry hills for a hundred miles or more, ending at the isolated hamlet of Stehekin, accessible only by boat or seaplane. Visitors board the Lady of the Lake in Chelan for a four-hour leisurely cruise to another world. Vacationers and those attending conferences fill the myriad resorts curving along Lake Chelan.
The road between Wenatchee and Chelan winds through quite beautiful country. To the east, poplar trees stand like sentries and as windbreaks for the apple orchards close to the mighty Columbia River. Close to the town of Entiat, roadside stands sell fresh produce, honey, candy, pickles, and flowers. The water thundering from Rocky Reach Dam is awe inspiring, and its grounds thrill little kids; every thatch of spreading junipers provides shelter for rabbits and other little creatures, the descendants of Easter bunnies and abandoned pets released there decades before. Park rangers feed and watch over them.
It all feels very safe and benign.
But farther north, the land becomes much more rugged. In high summer and early autumn, rolling hills burn brown, and tumbleweeds, wild daisies, and sagebrush are the only plants that grow. Too often, forest fires erupt and the land burns black as the wind carries flames from tree to tree and across roads. Animals -- and humans too -- can be trapped with no way out. Many come to Chelan County for reasons other than vacationing. When harvest time comes, migrant workers and young people with the stamina to work hard for several weeks head up U.S. Highway 97 to find jobs bringing in the crops.
In the mid-seventies, nobody gave a second glance to the strangers and teenagers who stood beside the roads with their thumbs out. They were such a familiar sight that they became part of the environment. It was past the time of peace, love, and hippie beads, but many young people still clung to those beliefs, and they continued to hitchhike.
At various spots, the road north to Chelan suddenly disappears into black tunnels cut into the rock cliffs, only to emerge into blinding sunlight. There are well-maintained homes along the road to Chelan, but there are also gray pioneer shacks, long deserted and leaning toward the ground. In September and October, the fruit pickers arrive, followed in late fall by hunters stalking deer and elk.
Chelan County deputies expect extra work in autumn because so many transients swell the population. Sometimes the officers are called out for homicides, but the vast majority of calls are the result of drunken fights, over a bottle of "Mad Dog" or "Night Train" wine, among the nameless drifters who follow the crops.
It was 2:35 on Tuesday afternoon, September 30, 1975, when Deputy D. B. Mayo received a call from the radio operator at the Chelan Police Department. Someone had gone to the farm-labor office in town wanting to report a "possible rape." The attack had apparently occurred somewhere out in the county.
Mayo contacted Bill Myer, who was staying in a pickers' cabin at the Hesperian Orchards. Myer appeared agitated as he tried to explain what he'd seen.
"Me and my friend Hal Oxley were out hiking in the hills behind the orchards when we found a couple of chicks in a shed....I think they've been raped," he said hurriedly.
Myer said he had been spooked by what he'd seen and didn't stay around long enough to check to see if the victims were alive or dead. If they were dead, Myer and his friend would become the first suspects, but Mayo didn't mention that. He simply studied the excited young man.
"But I'm afraid they might be dead," Myer said. "I can lead you back there where I saw them if you want."
Deputy Mayo urged the young picker to hop into his patrol car. They picked up Oxley, and the deputy sped to the area the witnesses pointed out. They directed him to Old Downey Road, which leads off U.S. 97, and headed up that road for a little over a mile, passing some weathered ranch buildings. The man who owned the ranch verified that there was, indeed, an old shed about two miles further on.
Since Oxley and Myer said they had stumbled upon the shack while they were walking in the rugged hills, they were a little disoriented and had trouble figuring out how to get back to the spot where they'd seen the girls.
Mayo drove along the increasingly rutted dirt road and was just about to turn back, when they suddenly spotted an old A-frame shed that weather must have battered for half a century. It was about to collapse.
"That's it," Myer said. "That's where I saw them."
The deputy eased out of his patrol car and started to walk toward the pile of weathered boards when suddenly a large gray dog -- or wolf -- bared its teeth at him and barked ferociously. He paused, and saw that it was a dog, probably a husky-German shepherd mix, that was barring the way.
"I'm pretty good with animals," Myer called out from the car. "Let me try."
For a fleeting moment, Mayo wondered if he might have walked into a trap. He was far from backup with two scruffy-looking strangers, and now Myer seemed able to get closer to the dog than he had. Maybe the dog already knew Myer. The deputy wondered if there really were two girls inside the shack.
But Myer seemed sincere as he talked calmly to the dog, and grudgingly the animal finally let him approach and allowed himself to be tied to a post.
Mayo peered into the old shed through some gaping one-by-eights, his eyes slowly adjusting to the darkness inside. The girls were there, all right. At this point, he had no idea if they had been raped, but they were most certainly dead. And they probably had been dead for days.
Even in death, the two girls -- one flaxen-haired, the other with brown hair -- showed signs of their former beauty. Their bodies were tanned and slender.
Mayo backed away from the terrible sight and ran to his patrol car to radio for help from the sheriff's headquarters in Wenatchee. There was no possibility that the girls had perished accidentally. From the mote-filled beams of sunlight that filtered into the shack, Mayo saw bruises and dried blood on their bodies. Either they had been attacked here in the shed or someone had carried their bodies here to hide them.
While the three men waited for help, they filled a battered metal dish with water from their canteens for the dog, which had stationed himself loyally next to his owners' bodies, possibly waiting there for days.
Right after receiving Deputy Mayo's call, Chief of Detectives Bill Patterson and detectives Jerry Monroe and Tillman Wells had left their offices in Wenatchee and headed north along the Columbia River.
Careful not to step on physical evidence that might have been left behind at the murder site, the Chelan County investigators squinted into the dilapidated structure. The brunette lay closer to the entrance than her companion. She was partially clothed, wearing hiking clothes and boots. And dried blood covered what they could see of her body. Someone had apparently tossed her backpack on top of her, perhaps in a hurried attempt to hide her body, perhaps as a gesture of remorse for what he had done to her. Most of her wounds appeared to be in the upper portion of her body.
The second girl's body was nearby. She was nude, and her jeans, thick-soled hiking boots, and backpack were beside her. The blond girl had fought her killer: her hands had wounds from a sharp object.
Who were they? The dead young women looked so much like the hundreds of girls who moved through the Chelan County area in picking season. They were obviously experienced campers and their gear had been well used. How they had come to be in this lonely shed so far off the main road was a puzzle. It would seem that they would have to have been familiar with the region to even know the ramshackle structure was here. Either that or they had been led here by someone who knew about it.
Not knowing the victims' names, the three detectives temporarily dubbed them "Victim Number One" and "Victim Number Two."
They lifted the blond girl's backpack carefully from the shed. Maybe Victim Number Two's belongings would help identify her. The bag contained the usual: clothes, makeup, camping gear. But they also found two prescription pill bottles from a pharmacy in Lincoln City, Oregon. The name "Pat Weidner" was on one bottle; the other prescription was for "Brad King."
They found a purse in the shack, and it contained $59.08. The detectives also fished a tin can from one of the packs, and it had two $10 bills in it -- emergency money perhaps. Robbery was an unlikely motive for double murder.
The purse held a Social Security card and an Oregon driver's license, both in the name of "Beverly Mae Johnson." Her birth date was listed as May 14, 1952, and her description was 5 feet 3 inches and 110 pounds. The address was also in Lincoln City, a resort town along the Oregon coast. She'd been very young, only twenty-three.
Tentatively, Patterson figured that the petite blond girl was Johnson, and the taller brunette was almost surely Weidner. That was much easier to deduce than whatever reasons had brought the victims hundreds of miles from home to a rundown shack in the wilderness.
Dr. Robert Bonafaci, the Chelan County Medical Examiner, arrived at the scene with Detective Don Danner. Bonafaci said that it appeared that both women had died from having their throats cut. Patty Weidner, who had been taller and huskier than her friend, had probably had no warning of danger. Either she had been asleep or she hadn't expected to be attacked because she apparently had put up no fight at all. But Beverly Johnson, who looked to weigh no more than a hundred pounds, had fought valiantly. She had the deep cuts in her hands -- defensive wounds. Whether rape had been the motivation for such violence would have to be determined at the autopsy.
Dr. Bonafaci gave his OK for the bodies to be transported to Wenatchee to await postmortem examinations. Now the Chelan County detectives could move in to work the crime scene.
Patterson felt both girls had been killed in or near the shed. Blood droplets marked the sandy soil and led them to a spot about six feet from its entrance. Here, there had been a large puddle of blood, long dried now into a dark brown segmented splotch. They found even more blood fifty-six feet away, and in several areas where the dog had dug frantically into the soft soil. These too bore traces of his mistresses' blood.
Had the victims screamed for help? It would have done little good. They were miles away from anyone who could have rescued them. No one on the ranch two miles down the road could have heard their screams.
Patterson and his crew of detectives wondered if the dog might prove to be their best -- albeit silent -- witness. He had been very protective of the victims' bodies, and he must have tried to defend the girls when they were attacked. If he had managed to bite the killer or killers, his bite marks in their flesh could be compared to his teeth with a scanning electron microscope.
Now that the bodies he'd guarded were gone, the dog paced nervously.
The investigators searched the second backpack. There was nothing in it that would help identify its owner. They did find a pocketknife with the initials "G.B." scratched on the handle. That didn't match either victim's initials.
By 7:00 P.M., the shadows of the hills encroaching upon the crime scene cast it in odd purplish light. But the Chelan County probers had managed to bag and label the last of the evidence before sundown. The detectives had sketched the scene and photographed it, and even made moulage castings of tire tracks in the area. Still, they feared the moulages would be of little use; the earth was baked so hard and dry that little dust devils whirled.
Now Detective Chief Patterson and his men would have to seek positive identification for the two young victims, and somehow backtrack on their journey to Chelan. It was a long way from the Oregon coast to these isolated hills.
Their trail was relatively cold; Dr. Bonafaci felt the girls had been dead for more than thirty-six hours. He believed they had probably been killed on Sunday, September 28, but the exact time could vary by a few hours either way, depending on the temperature outside. Rigor mortis had come and gone, making time-of-death estimates a little difficult.
Bonafaci performed the autopsies. He found that the blond victim, now confirmed to be Beverly Johnson, had died as a result of exsanguination (bleeding to death) from her neck wounds. He detected no significant trauma to her brain, chest, or abdomen. Oddly, there were no positive signs of rape beyond her nakedness -- no bruising on the inside of her thighs or tearing of her vagina or rectum. The second girl (who was still called "Jane Doe") had also succumbed to exsanguination, although she did have two scalp bruises, suggesting she had been struck on the head. There were, however, no signs of underlying brain damage. Apparently, this victim hadn't been sexually assaulted either.
Still, Beverly Johnson's nudity and the fact that "Jane Doe's" clothing was in disarray certainly suggested that rape had been attempted.
It was sick and ugly. They hadn't been robbed, they might not have been raped, yet someone had coldly slit their throats. Were the detectives looking for someone who got his thrills merely from the act of killing? They hoped not, because that was the most dangerous breed of killer of all.
The only living witness to what must have been terrifying violence was the now-crestfallen dog. He was housed in the county jail, wolfing down dog food and water as if he were starved. Even if he recognized the killer, he wouldn't be able to tell anyone. If he did snarl or the hackles raised on his neck when confronted with a suspect, it was doubtful that any judge would allow that as testimony.
As soon as news of the double murder hit the media, Bill Patterson and his men were deluged with tips from citizens. One migrant worker reported that three or four men he had never seen before had offered him a ride from a tavern in Chelan. "They drove me up to Knapp's Coulee and said if I didn't give them everything I had, they'd kill me on the spot," he said. "I gave them my wallet with all my I.D. and thirty-five dollars. They dumped me and left me out there. They left driving down towards Entiat."
He described the thieves as "hippie types" with full beards, and said they were driving either a two-door Chevy or a Pontiac. Knapp's Coulee was quite close to where the bodies had been found, but the incident had happened days before the victims' probable time of death.
An elderly couple reported that they'd driven past Old Downey Road on September 25. They had noticed a plume of dust as if a vehicle had just gone up the road, but they saw no one. When they came back some time later, they had seen a 1969 or 1970 light green or blue Ford pickup with a canopy turning from Old Downey Road. There wasn't a lot of traffic there, so they remembered it. They had heard a dog barking somewhere too, but hadn't thought anything of it at the time.
The dog couldn't have been the dead girls' gray dog; he was miles away, at the crime scene, and Patterson couldn't make a case out of a dust trail and a pickup truck. More important, the witnesses had seen the truck five days before the bodies were discovered. The victims would still have been alive on the 25th, although it was possible they might have been camping back down Old Downey Road at the time.
Another lead seemed to have no connection -- at first. A bank teller who commuted down Highway 97 called to say that she had seen a reddish brown dog that looked to be an Irish setter mix north of Knapp's Tunnel three or four times during the week. "I saw him first on Sunday -- the 28th -- and then on Monday and Tuesday. He was pacing up and down beside the road as if he was lost. He had a red bandanna tied around his neck."
The dog found with the victims couldn't possible be described as "reddish brown" in color, but it too had been wearing a red bandanna around his neck. Was it possible that the girls had been traveling with two dogs?
That question was answered when Lieutenant Harvey Coles from the Lincoln City, Oregon, Police Department called with information on the dead girls. As their I.D.s indicated, they had both lived in the "Miracle Mile" resort area along the Oregon coast. Coles said that Patricia Weidner had a boyfriend there, who might have known of her plans, although he hadn't yet been able to locate the man.
As it turned out, both young women had friends and family in Lincoln City who had begun to worry about them. His voice trembling, Pat Weidner's father told the detectives that she had a scar on her forehead and a surgical scar on her left knee.
And so did the unidentified victim. There was no question that Pat Weidner and Beverly Johnson had been found. Their friends said they had planned to hitchhike to the Wenatchee area to find jobs for the apple harvest.
Early on the morning of October 2, friends of the dead girls arrived to identify their bodies and offer whatever help they could to the sheriff's investigators.
"They had their dogs with them," one young woman said. "Charlie is a husky mix, and Silas is a kind of retriever-setter mix. Those dogs wouldn't let anyone near Beverly or Patty. They felt safe because of the dogs. Patty's dog would tear anyone apart who tried to hurt her!"
Well, Charlie had stayed with them, but the investigators hadn't seen anything of Silas. There was the red dog the bank teller had seen close to the road, but he was gone now.
The victims' friends from Oregon identified Beverly Johnson's purse and said, "Both of them had knives with them -- to use in camping out."
They recognized the one knife in evidence, but the other knife was missing. Beverly and Pat were experienced at camping. In fact, Patty had been living with her boyfriend in a tepee near Lincoln City. According to her friends, Patty Weidner always traveled with her backpack, sleeping bag, spices to cook with, pots and pans, and extra clothes. Beverly had had her backpack and she carried a four-man tent. They had planned to come back to Lincoln City after apple-picking season.
They were described as independent young women who made their own way. Patty had been working as a waitress in Oregon, while Beverly clerked at a health food store. But they'd reportedly become bored, and thought the trip to Washington sounded like fun and a chance to make quite a bit of money in a short time.
The detectives learned that a friend had driven the women about ten miles out of Lincoln City on Wednesday, September 24, leaving them at a good spot to catch a ride hitchhiking. Their destination in Chelan County, Washington, was more than three hundred miles away.
The investigation took an odd turn when Patty's boyfriend was located -- not in Lincoln City -- but in jail in Chelan, arrested on October 3 for being drunk and disorderly. That put him in the top spot as a suspect.
Detective Tillman Wells interviewed Brad King and found him very upset, though no longer drunk. "I saw Patty and Bev on September 24," King said in the interview. "It was a week ago Wednesday, and they asked me to come with them -- but I wasn't ready yet. So I told them maybe I'd see them up here. I did come up, but I didn't get to Wenatchee until Tuesday the twenty-ninth. I couldn't find them, so I went ahead and got a job up at the Lucky Badger orchard and I worked there through the week. I didn't even know what had happened to them because I was out in the orchards working until Saturday night."
He sighed and stared at his hands. "I went into this tavern and I heard some guys talking about what happened to Bev and Patty. I just lost my head and went nuts. It's my fault -- if I'd gone with them when they asked me, they'd be alive now."
No matter how much Patty's boyfriend appeared to be grieving, Wells didn't take his story at face value. He checked with the Lucky Badger orchard and with the victims' friends in Lincoln City. He was able to verify Brad King's alibi absolutely. It would have been impossible for him to be in both Chelan and Lincoln City on the Sunday that detectives believed the young women died. They'd already been dead for at least a day when Patty's boyfriend left Oregon for Wenatchee.
After the Wenatchee Daily World ran a story about the double homicide asking for help from the public, more leads began trickling in. One witness was sure she had seen the two young women on Thursday. The woman worked as a waitress at the Mineral Wells lodge restaurant near the summit of Blewett Pass. Most people driving to Wenatchee from Seattle take I-90 east, crossing Snoqualmie Pass and then veering north to cross Blewett Pass, which comes out about 18 miles from Wenatchee. The rustic Mineral Wells restaurant is the only place to eat near the summit.
"It was Thursday when I saw them," the waitress told Bill Patterson. He showed her several photos of young women, and she picked out Beverly Johnson easily. "That's her -- the blonde," she said. "She and another girl spent the night of September twenty-fifth in the campgrounds here. They ate dinner here on Thursday night and then had an early breakfast on Friday morning."
"Were they alone?"
"They were for dinner. But they were with two men for breakfast -- "
"Can you describe the men?"
She shrugged, searching her memory. "All I can say is they were white, maybe in their early twenties -- both about five feet ten with dark hair. One of the men paid for breakfast. The girls' two dogs waited outside."
"So the women left with these two men?"
"No. I think the men drove off toward Seattle, and the girls waited outside for at least an hour, trying to catch a ride. I never saw the men again," she said. "I got busy and I didn't see the girls get picked up. They were just gone the next time I looked outside."
Who were the two men, and was it possible that they had come back to pick up Beverly and Patty? Patterson had a stroke of luck this time -- or so it seemed -- when he got a call from Deputy Tony Fitzhugh of Okanogan County, Washington. Fitzhugh had received a call from a man named Jeff Hunt.
"He's willing to talk with you," Fitzhugh said. "He was evidently with the girls for a while."
Jeff Hunt turned out to be a hitchhiker himself, and said he'd met the women out on the road. "I was hitching out of The Dalles, Oregon," he said, mentioning a town on the north side of the Columbia River, where it divides Washington from Oregon. "I met these two girls on Thursday at the intersection of the road that goes to Vancouver, Washington. They were headed to central Washington too, and they had two dogs with them. We all caught a ride with a fellow from Vancouver and he took us to Mineral Springs. We got in the campgrounds there around seven that night and decided to camp."
Patterson nodded, but he wasn't sure about this guy. Beverly and Patty were sure taking the long way around if they were going to Wenatchee. They could have caught a ride north on 97 to Wenatchee. Vancouver meant backtracking -- but then, hitchhikers can't be choosers.
"So," Patterson continued, "did the girls talk to you much?"
"Not really. They were quiet -- almost antisocial -- until I said I knew about apple picking, and then they had a lot of questions. But they told us what their names were: Bev Johnson and Patty Weidner."
Maybe the man from Vancouver -- whose name Hunt didn't know -- had been a nice guy and driven them more than 200 miles from his home to be kind, or maybe he had expected "repayment" for his trouble. If the latter were true, he had been disappointed. Hunt said they all slept in their own sleeping bags, and the girls' dogs growled at anyone who came close to them.
There were no hard feelings apparently. "I bought breakfast for all of us Friday morning," Hunt said. "The guy who gave us a ride headed back to Vancouver. I think he said he worked in some kind of factory there. The girls said they wanted the spot in front of the restaurant, so I walked about a mile up the road. I had to wait an hour, but I got a ride into Cashmere. I never did see the girls come by, so I don't know who they got a ride with."
"Do you think it's possible the guy from Vancouver changed his mind and came back?" Patterson asked.
"I don't think so. He was pretty mellow, and he seemed anxious to get to work. They were going about 70 miles north and he wouldn't have wanted to take them that much farther. And those dogs wouldn't have let him get near Patty or Bev."
In the end, the friendly driver's whereabouts didn't really matter. Someone else had seen the girls later on Friday.
Detective Tillman Wells talked with a long-haul truck driver who felt sure he'd seen Patty and Beverly on Friday, September 26.
"It was right about a quarter to one in the afternoon," the witness told Wells. "I was on Maple Street in the north end of Wenatchee and I saw these two pretty girls with backpacks, and their dogs were with them."
"Could you describe them?" Wells asked.
"One girl was blond and the other had kind of brownish hair. See, I read about them being killed, and I saw that picture of their dog in the paper. It was the gray dog. But when I saw them, they had a kind of reddish dog with them too. Both dogs had red bandannas around their necks. I saw them all close up because the girls crossed the street right in front of me."
He gave Wells information that hadn't been in the paper. It placed Patty, Beverly, Charlie, and Silas in Wenatchee on Friday afternoon.
After that, there was only silence. The calls of actual sightings dried up. If anyone had seen the girls between Friday afternoon and Tuesday, no one came forward to talk about it. The Chelan detectives got calls all right, but they were all about weirdos who either lived in the
Wenatchee-Chelan area, or who were rumored to have traveled through. None of the calls had even tenuous links to Patty Weidner and Beverly Johnson.
Who picked them up near Highway 97 and gave them a ride 35 miles up the road? And how did they end up miles off that road? It was true that camping spots thinned out as the highway wound its way north, but the girls should have gotten a ride all the way into Chelan. They still had six or seven hours of daylight after the trucker saw them, plenty of time to travel only 40 miles.
Patty and Beverly had probably believed in their own invincibility because they'd never gotten into trouble before and counted on their ability to judge character and their dogs' fierce loyalty. But no one can really discern who is "normal" by looking at outward appearance. Between Wenatchee and the Old Downey Road, the girls had met someone who looked safe, which, of course, is the terrible danger in hitchhiking. Some of the most sadistic creatures on earth look normal, drive new cars, and troll for hitchhikers.
A few days later, the final lab reports came in. One of the victims had had a single dead sperm cell in her vagina, but that could have come from consensual intercourse back in Lincoln City. It might or might not mean that she'd been raped. As far as comparing it to a suspect's blood type, it was 1975 and DNA matches were unheard of -- still something out of science fiction.
But just when the case appeared to have reached a brick wall, information came from an unexpected source. On October 7, Detective Jerry Monroe took a phone call from Constable Keith Johnson of Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Johnson said his department had a man in custody who had been talking about murdering two girls near Wenatchee.
"You have anything like that down there?"
"Yeah," Monroe said. "We sure do. What's he saying?"
"The guy first said his name was Maneto Minelli -- but he's actually Jack Stolle. We have him on forgery and possession of stolen property charges. He says he and a friend from Albany, Oregon, killed two girls by cutting their throats...."
Monroe signaled to Bill Patterson to pick up a phone.
"We've got him up here," Johnson said, "because he tried to open up a bank account with checks stolen from a man in Vancouver, Washington. Then he started talking about killing some girls near Chelan. He gave us four different names and he claims to be the son of some family living in Chelan."
"Don't let him loose," Patterson said. "We're going to have men on the road up there in about five minutes."
"Don't worry. We'll keep him right here for you."
Detectives Tillman Wells and Jerry Monroe drove to Calgary the next day, and they were led to an interview room where Jack Lee Stolle, 34, waited. Stolle had a long "rap sheet" for arrests in Washington, Oregon, and California, but he didn't look like a hardened criminal. He was a slight blond man with rather feminine features and a "cookie duster" moustache.
Stolle's recollection of meeting Beverly Johnson and Patty Weidner warred with what the Chelan investigators already knew.
"Me and this guy I know -- Rudy Snell -- met these gals near Portland and we drove them west to Hood River, Oregon. The four of us spent the night together, but when Rudy and me woke up, they were gone and so was fifteen hundred dollars in cash that belonged to us."
It was possible, Wells and Monroe knew, that there was some truth in Stolle's story. The victims had been in The Dalles, which was 15 miles east of Hood River. But that was where they got a ride with the Vancouver man who drove them all the way to Blewett Pass. Wells and Monroe didn't say anything, but let Stolle keep talking.
"We decided to go and look for them and get our money back. We crossed the Columbia at Biggs Junction and drove into Washington. And we saw them again at a rest stop, where they were trying to hitch a ride. It was somewhere between Yakima and Ellensburg. We picked them up again."
"What day was this?" Wells asked.
"Lemme see. That was the twenty-eighth. We all smoked pot, drank beer and wine. We were in Wenatchee and then we went to this tavern in Entiat."
Stolle had wound his story around so that he was only about 30 miles from the homicide scene, even though the first part of his statement seemed to be a patent lie. The victims had found a ride in The Dalles, but not with him -- or Snell.
"What were their names -- these girls you met?"
"Maude and Frannie."
The wrong names. Wells and Monroe exchanged glances, but they didn't comment. The girls from Lincoln City might have deliberately given strangers made-up names. "So, what did you do when the tavern closed?"
"It was Rudy who thought of it. He whispered to me that we should 'off' the girls because they stole all that money from us. Me, I thought he was only kidding."
Jack Stolle said they had driven north on 97 and found a spot near Chelan where they decided to camp out. They had all spread out their sleeping bags as Rudy got angrier and angrier about being ripped off. "He was really mad at Maude and Frannie," Stolle remembered.
"Me, I was so stoned on weed and booze that he was already slashing them before I knew what happened. One girl was dead already, and he made me help him kill Frannie."
It was a weird confession, but Stolle had just enough of the details and times right to be believable. Still, Wells and Monroe wondered if there really was a Rudy Snell, or if Stolle was making him up to take the blame off himself.
Patty and Beverly had been in Wenatchee on September 25, so why would they have retraced their steps 300 miles back to Hood River, Oregon? They'd almost reached Chelan on Friday, but Stolle was telling the detectives that he had met them way back in Oregon on the 27th. It just didn't make sense.
They were sure, however, that he had been at the crime scene in the tumbledown shack. He knew too much not to have been there. His work boots closely matched a blurred print they had found in the sand outside the shack and cast into a moulage, but the edges weren't sharp enough to make it a positive match.
The investigators suspected that Stolle was probably "confabulating" -- taking things that were true and mixing them up with some other time in his life or in his imagination. At any rate, they needed to get him back into the U.S. and to Chelan County to figure out what part he really had played in the death of the two young women. Extradition proceedings began.
Bill Patterson's team of detectives found that Jack Stolle was, indeed, familiar with the area where the girls had been found. He had worked for a family named Minelli who owned a farm near Chelan. They had a son named Maneto, but he was accounted for. Stolle had simply taken his name as an alias.
The Minellis said that Stolle and his uncle had come to work for them four years earlier. He had been a good worker, and they hired him again the next summer. "He worked until late August," Nick Minelli said, "and he said he had to go into town to see to some legal papers. And he was gone for a whole month! The next time we heard from him, he was calling from Idaho. He needed eighteen dollars for bus fare to get back to Chelan. We sent it to him."
"Where did he say he'd been?" Tillman Wells asked.
"He didn't talk much about that. Later, we found out he'd spent twenty-eight days in jail in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. He never did say what for."
The Minellis were a very forgiving family and they hired Stolle again. He'd then worked until November 1972.
"So the next time we heard from him was in February 1973, and he was calling from Boise, Idaho. He said he'd been sentenced to twenty years in prison for forgery. He wrote to us from prison because he wanted to apologize to us for stealing one of our radios."
"You ever hear from him again?"
"Three years later -- in July, this year. He wanted to come back and work for us, but we'd had enough. We turned him down -- and that's the last we heard from him."
So Stolle had known the area between Wenatchee and Chelan very well, and he'd been there as recently as late July. One sad discovery indicated that he may have been very close around the time Beverly Johnson and Patty Weidner were murdered. Silas, the missing red setter mix, was finally found dead. Maybe Stolle had taken the dog with him when he left the dead girls, or maybe the frightened animal had followed the only human alive out from the desolate hills. Railroad workers found the remains of the dog on the railroad tracks near Stayman Flats, very close to the Minelli farm. Although, weeks later, there was little left of the dog's body, the detectives were able to identify it by its hair and scraps of the red bandanna, which had the same print as the one Charlie wore.
Detective Chief Bill Patterson called the Hood River, Oregon, Police Department to see if there might really be a man named Rudy Snell. To Patterson's surprise, Snell turned out to be an actual person. A Hood River investigator located him and reported back that Snell knew Jack Stolle and had worked in the orchards in Hood River -- not in Chelan -- with Jack Stolle.
When Patterson checked the Hood River orchard, he learned that Stolle and Snell had been hired as temporary pickers, and that they'd worked on September 26 and 27. They had, however, failed to show up on Sunday the 28th.
"They came in on the 29th," the orchard foreman said, "but they only picked up their checks and left. We haven't seen them since."
Rudy Snell told the orchard foreman that he lived in Albany, Oregon, and that his wife was sick, so he'd had to go home. Oregon State Police verified that Snell did live in Albany. Armed with a search warrant, they brought in criminalists from the Oregon State Police Crime Lab to process his vehicle. Snell didn't protest. Actually, he couldn't; he was in jail in Albany on drug charges.
While Jack Stolle was short and slight, Rudy Snell was a huge man who weighed more than 250 pounds.
Detective Don Danner flew to Oregon to interview Snell, who was very cooperative. He said he'd met Jack Stolle for the first time in early September, and they'd picked fruit together in Hood River off and on during the month. They had picked on the 26th and 27th, getting off about 3 P.M. on that Saturday.
"We never left the Hood River area Saturday or Sunday," he said.
That seemed to shoot down the Chelan County investigators' firm belief that they had found the killer or killers of Beverly Johnson and Patty Weidner. But they weren't ready to give up.
They weren't sure Rudy Snell was telling the truth, or even if he had his mental timetable right. He did remember that he and Jack Stolle had met two girls, but his description of them didn't sound at all like the two murder victims. "We drove over to Biggs Junction and spent the night, but we were back in Hood River before noon on Sunday. I worked on my car on Sunday afternoon, and we started picking again on Monday morning."
The orchard foreman, however, had said the men had come in on Monday only to get their paychecks. And he wasn't sure of the time.
Rudy Snell hadn't actually seen Jack Stolle, according to his story, at least, from before noon on Sunday, September 28 until sometime Monday. "Jack quit the orchard on Monday -- he said his stomach hurt. He told me he might go to California or Wenatchee. I left him at the bus stop about eight Monday night, and I went home to Albany."
The results of the processing of Snell's car were startling. The state police criminalists found many dog hairs as they examined the contents of their vacuum cleaner bags. The hairs were gray or white. Snell explained that away easily enough; he owned a Samoyed, and the hairs were from his own dog. Hair comparisons rarely yield absolute results, even under a scanning electron microscope. They can only be deemed microscopically alike in class and characteristics.
Rudy Snell acknowledged that he had once picked apples in the Wenatchee area. "But that was seven years ago," he said, "and I haven't been back there since."
He willingly took a polygraph test and Oregon State Police experts said the results indicated he was telling the truth about not being in Washington State for years. Nor did his blood pressure, breathing rate, pulse, or galvanic skin response suggest that he had killed Beverly Johnson or Patty Weidner, and he clearly didn't know who had. He showed no deception at all during any questioning about the Chelan County murders.
That left Jack Stolle as the lone suspect. Even so, Stolle would have to have adhered to a very tight schedule if he had killed the young women. It was about 170 miles from Hood River to the murder site. If Snell was remembering accurately, Stolle had been out of his sight from sometime Sunday morning until sometime Monday. Sunday was the 28th of September, the date Dr. Bonafaci believed the women had died. Stolle would have had to have caught a good hitch that took him all the way to Chelan. It was possible that he knew about the shack and had gone there to sleep Sunday night, hoping to go to the Minelli farm in the morning to ask for one more chance to work for them. But he would have found Beverly and Patty asleep in his secret camp....
The detectives found the motel in Biggs Junction where Stolle had stayed Wednesday and Thursday nights, September 24 and 25, paying for his stay with stolen checks. He checked out the morning of the 26th but he'd picked apples nearby that day and the next.
One thought kept coming back to the Chelan County investigators. It had to be more than mere coincidence that Jack Stolle had been within 15 miles of where Beverly and Patty caught their ride north on September 24. It was quite possible that he had spotted them and stopped to talk as they waited for a ride. Nobody knew how long they had stood there before they met Jeff Hunt and the man who gave them a ride to Mineral Springs.
Hunt had told the detectives that the women weren't friendly until he brought up the subject of finding orchard jobs. Jack Stolle was also an old hand at apple picking, and he might well have told Beverly and Patty about the Minelli farm and the shack.
The thought of two pretty girls alone out there so far from civilization could well have festered and churned in Stolle's mind over the next three days, enough to draw him back to his old stomping grounds.
Stolle's stories to the detectives were a strange interweaving of sexual fantasy and fact, and it was difficult to tell where one stopped and the other began. And, unlike Rudy Snell, Jack Stolle "blew ink all over the walls" when he took a lie detector test. His responses were so emotional and chaotic that it was difficult to interpret the tracings on the polygraph. That, combined with his knowledge about details of the girls' murder and the shack where it happened, was enough for the Chelan County Prosecutor to charge him with murder. He was scheduled to go on trial in March 1976.
Given Stolle's ramblings, the public defender who represented him was inclined to offer a plea of innocent by reason of insanity. However, he first decided to ask for another lie detector test. Washington State's legendary polygraph expert, Dewey Gillespie, of the Seattle Police Department, agreed to administer it. Both the prosecution and defense stipulated that the results could be used in Stolle's trial.
The results of the second test hit like a bombshell. Stolle passed. Where only a few months before he had seemed to have extensive guilty knowledge of the victims' deaths, Jack Stolle now barely reacted to Gillespie's questions.
Lie detector tests aren't foolproof. Some subjects learn to control even their autonomic body responses, keeping their blood pressure and pulse steady. Other subjects cannot perceive right from wrong, and questions evoke neither fear nor remorse. And some subjects are simply insane, impervious to the mysterious machine with its moving stylus.
Jack Stolle seemed psychotic, a man bent on self-destruction. His history was appalling. Born in California, Stolle was one of nine children. His first trouble with the law came when he was fourteen. He was incarcerated and then paroled on four different occasions by youth authorities. Early on he was deeply involved in drugs and had been diagnosed in California as suffering from schizophrenia. His rap sheet eventually listed burglary, forgery, assault, vagrancy, parole violation, grand theft, possession of marijuana, and auto theft.
He married when he was twenty-five and fathered two children, but soon left his responsibilities behind him.
Jack Stolle had been overtly suicidal for most of his adult life. Two years before the double murder of the young women from Oregon, he tried to commit suicide with a razor blade he'd hidden under his tongue while in jail. When taken to a doctor, he attempted to hide a scalpel in his bandages. At other times he had swallowed hypodermic needles and had to be operated on to remove them.
In jail in Chelan County, Stolle slashed his wrists with another razor blade he'd managed to secrete on his person. Sent to Eastern State Hospital to determine if he was fit to stand trial for Patty's and Beverly's murders, he had complained of abdominal pain, and admitted that he'd swallowed glass and metal. Five days later, he hung himself with a leather strap, but he was found quickly and jailers were able to get him breathing again.
Two days after that, Stolle broke the toilet in his cell and threatened to slash his wrists with the sharp porcelain edge if anyone came close to him. He had to be coaxed out by jailers. He hadn't cut his wrists, but he'd severed a tendon in his hand and had to be operated on and wear a cast on his wrist and hand. A day later, he managed to pry the cast off and reopen the incision. As he was rushed back to the hospital, he attempted to jump out of the car.
He was either insane or trying very hard to make authorities believe he was. In the end, the threat of a murder trial was moot. Because he had passed the second lie detector test, the Chelan County Prosecuting Attorney decided not to pursue the murder charges against Stolle. He had enough existing forgery charges hanging over him to send him to prison as it was, and they could always bring murder charges later.
It was a decision that Stolle would not accept. He kept up a lively correspondence with Chelan County detectives, court officials, and even the media. He wanted to confess to the murders of Beverly Johnson and Patty Weidner. He insisted that he was guilty and that he should pay for his crimes.
Detective Jerry Monroe made several trips to the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla to talk to Stolle. He concluded that Stolle had either studied the case so meticulously that he knew as much about it as the investigators did, or he had been there on that night in September 1975. Indeed, he knew details that had never been published in any media coverage about the young women's deaths.
The problem, however, was that Stolle always veered away when Monroe began to bore in, getting too close for the suspect's comfort. It may well be that Jack Stolle knew so much about the horrifying scene at the forlorn shelter off Old Downey Road because he had been there and had committed the senseless murders. It may be that he knew the real killer and had gotten the details from him.
After a while, Stolle "cried wolf" too many times. The detectives backed away to give him time to think about it, hoping he would finally tell them the whole truth. Maybe that was what he wanted, after all.
But no one will ever be able to question him now. Jack Stolle died in prison at Walla Walla on October 2, 2001, apparently of natural causes. He was sixty years old.
Mike Harum is the current sheriff of Chelan County, and some twenty-eight years after Beverly Johnson and Patty Weidner were murdered, there may still be a definitive resolution to the mystery of their deaths. In conjunction with several other law enforcement departments, Harum has put together a cold-case squad to study victims who have been lost in the mists of time, who have never had justice done in their cases. With the tremendous advances in forensic science, cold-case investigations now have tools like DNA, AFIS (Automated Fingerprint Identification System), and advanced hair and fiber identification, all of which are successfully helping close decades-old unsolved cases once and for all.
Sometimes, when I am signing books or lecturing, I meet women who knew Bev and Patty on the Oregon coast. They still ask me about their lost friends, but today these women are not in their early twenties. They are in their fifties -- just as Bev and Patty would be, had they not made a fatal misjudgment: trusting the wrong man.
Copyright © 2003 by Ann Rule