How we got this story

May 12, 2009 

"The Stolen Child" reflects reporting conducted between 2007 and 2009. The News Tribune interviewed more than 60 people; key sources were interviewed multiple times. Some were not quoted in the story, though they provided background detail.

Elements of dialogue and conversation in the story are drawn verbatim from public records, or private notes and personal recollections of individuals who were interviewed. Those elements were cross-referenced with public records for verification, and double-checked by interview with the parties involved.

Records gathered in the course of the investigation included thousands of printed and electronic pages, as well as video and audio. The key records come from the Puyallup Police Department's case file of the Misty Copsey investigation, obtained via public disclosure. Other records were obtained through public sources. Additional records came from individuals who provided private notes, journals and other records, which were reviewed and cross-referenced with public records for verification and detail.

Records came from the following agencies and individuals:

Puyallup Police Department
Pierce County Superior Court
King County Superior Court
Thurston County Superior Court
Pierce County District Court
Tacoma Municipal Court
Spokane Superior Court
Washington State Department of Corrections
Washington State Department of Licensing
Washington State Department of Transportation
Washington State Patrol Crime Laboratory
King County Assessor
Pierce County Assessor
Pierce County Auditor
King County Sheriff's Office (Green River investigation)
Pierce County Sheriff's office
KIRO-TV
KING-TV
News Tribune archives
"Defending Gary – Unravelling the Mind of a Serial Killer" (Mark Prothero, Carlton Smith, c. 2006)
Gregg Olsen
Diana Smith
Cory Bober

Primary source

The core public record examined by The News Tribune was the case file of the Copsey investigation compiled by Puyallup police. Thousands of pages fill multiple boxes and binders.

The News Tribune initially requested the case file in October 2007. The city of Puyallup denied the request at first, citing the active investigation of Copsey's case.

Discussions between the city and The News Tribune continued into spring 2008. The newspaper argued that some material in the files had been released by other agencies and individuals and publicly discussed in other venues.

Ultimately, city leaders agreed to allow access to the file. An April 28, 2008 letter to The News Tribune explained the reasoning.

"On review, we carefully considered unique elements of this case including, but not limited to, the length of the ongoing investigation, the actions of citizens who have maintained a matchless interest in the case that have resulted in the disclosure of some of the documents and information, the suspected possible link to other highly publicized cases of missing persons in Western Washington, and that the PPD (Puyallup Police Department) has learned that some of the documents have been produced and released by another agency."

(Excerpt)

The city allowed The News Tribune eight hours to fully review the entire file and select individual records for disclosure. Photos were not permitted.

The News Tribune selected 91 sets of records – roughly 1,000 pages – with an emphasis on the following materials:

– witness interviews and statements
– police reports
– tips
– investigator notes
– summaries of evidence
– forensic reports and analysis

The News Tribune's selection of records omitted the following materials:

– redundant records (multiple copies of the same items)
– procedural reports (example: time sheets and labor-related records)
– documents obtained through other sources (example: court records)

Pre-publication review

The News Tribune offered pre-publication readings of the story to key players in the Misty Copsey case.

This process, used for the newspaper's high-level investigations, offers sources a final face-to-face opportunity to correct factual errors and answer unresolved questions. Because stories are not in their final published form at this stage, copies remain in The News Tribune office – sources are not permitted to retain copies, nor are copies provided in electronic form.

The following individuals reviewed the story:

Diana Smith
Smith read the story and offered one correction regarding dates. The correction was made. No other changes were made to the story.

Puyallup Police
Police Chief Jim Collyer, Deputy Chief Bryan Jeter, Lt. Dave McDonald, Lt. Ryan Portmann and a police legal advisor reviewed the story on May 6. They spotted two errors: a misspelling of a police officer's last name, and an incorrect attribution of an e-mail. Both errors were corrected. No other details were disputed. No other changes to the story were made.

Pierce County Sheriff
Sheriff's spokesman Ed Troyer reviewed the story on May 8. He did not dispute any of the details. No changes were made to the story.

Tim Kobel
In 2008, Kobel, a Pierce County Sheriff's detective, reviewed portions of the story that recounted his actions in 1993. He said the account was accurate. No changes were made to the story.

Brian Coburn
In 2009, Coburn, a sheriff's deputy who worked on the Copsey case in 1992 and 1993, reviewed portions of the story that recounted his actions. He said the account was accurate, and provided additional detail that was incorporated into the story.

Cory Bober was also offered a chance to review the story before publication. He declined.

Refusals

The following people were not interviewed:

Rheuban Schmidt
The News Tribune spoke to Rheuban Schmidt on Thursday, May 7. He was offered an opportunity to read the story at The News Tribune office on May 8. He said he worked from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., and lived in Eatonville, making it difficult to come to the newspaper office. The News Tribune offered to let Schmidt come to the office after hours on May 8, as late as necessary, and give him as much time as he wished to review the story.

Schmidt asked for an e-mailed copy of the story. The News Tribune declined, and reiterated the offer of an in-person review. Schmidt said he would consider the offer and call back May 8, but said he would not make any promises.

Schmidt called Puyallup Police on May 7 and sought information about the story. According to police spokesman Dave McDonald, Schmidt was told that The News Tribune obtained files of the Misty Copsey investigation through public disclosure, which included accounts of police interaction with Schmidt. No other information was given to Schmidt, McDonald said.

The News Tribune called Schmidt twice on May 8 and left voice mail messages reiterating the offer to review the story later that day. Via voice mail, The News Tribune offered to let Schmidt review the story Saturday morning, if that was more convenient.

The News Tribune called Schmidt on Saturday, May 9, and reiterated the offer. Schmidt called back the same day, and said he didn't think he could make it. He was told that the story recounted the investigation and his role, that it was lengthy, and that it would be published over three days beginning Monday. Schmidt said he saw no reason to read the story. He said he had been "totally cleared" by Puyallup's investigation.

Trina Bevard
Trina Bevard was Misty's best friend and went to the Puyallup Fair with her on Sept. 17, 1992, the night of the disappearance. She is among the last known people to see Misty alive. She still lives in Washington. The News Tribune spoke to her several times in 2008 by phone and e-mail. Twice, she agreed to a formal interview, but later canceled. In one case, she agreed to meet with a reporter and set the time and place of the meeting. She didn't show up. Since then, she has not responded to messages.

Michael Rhyner
Michael Rhyner was Trina Bevard's boyfriend in 1992, and picked her up from the fair the night of Misty's disappearance. The News Tribune reached him in fall 2008, and asked for an interview. He agreed to it, and said he would call back, but did not. He did not respond to additional phone messages.

Randy Achziger
The News Tribune requested an interview with Randy Achziger, and offered him the chance to read this story before publication. One offer was a letter sent to Achziger while he was briefly incarcerated in the Pierce County Jail in early 2009. The News Tribune also spoke with a member of Achziger's family, and relayed the offer again. Achziger declined the request, the family member said. The family member was also allowed to review the story prior to publication. No changes were made to the story.

Tom Matison
Tom Matison, one of two Puyallup police officers who worked the Copsey case in 1993, has retired from the department. The News Tribune asked him for an interview in 2008. Matison said he would have to check with his former employers at the police department. He subsequently said he was given permission to speak freely, but still declined, citing personal principle and his ethical obligation not to discuss an open investigation.

Jill Winegar
Jill Winegar, a Spanaway Junior High School student in 1992, told Puyallup police she thought she had seen Misty at a Puyallup Fair concert several days after the disappearance. She still lives in Washington. The News Tribune located her in 2008, left messages with her and spoke to her family, requesting an interview. A family member said Winegar was aware of the request. Winegar never responded.

King County's role

From early 1993 to mid-1994, the King County Sheriff's Office investigated Misty Copsey's case side by side with Puyallup police. Detectives from both agencies traded phone calls and information. The agencies shared more work on the case over the years; reports and records from King County are scattered throughout the Copsey case file, and forensic evidence related to the case remains in King County custody.

The News Tribune sought comment from King County investigators for this report. In one case, that was impossible. Detective Jim Doyon, who worked the Copsey case at length, died in September 2004 at the age of 59. The cause was amyotrophic lateral sclerosis – Lou Gehrig's disease.

To illustrate Doyon's role in the case, The News Tribune relied on his investigative notes, which were included in Puyallup's case file. Past TNT stories that quoted Doyon were also cited, as well as records and recollections from people who spoke to him. Other King County investigators declined to be interviewed for this story. Sheriff's spokesman John Urquhart cited the agency's policy of not discussing open cases.

The News Tribune also asked Urquhart for clarification of the statements regarding Misty's case made by a King County detective in July 2006.

At that time, before reporting on this project began, former News Tribune reporter Eijiro Kawada was working on an update of the Copsey case.

According to his notes, Kawada spoke to King County Detective D.B. Gates.

Q: Was Misty's case ever considered to be connected with the unsolved murders of Kimberly DeLange and Anna Lee Chebetnoy?

A: "I don't think you'll find anything that says those were Misty Copsey's jeans. And, as far as I know, I don't think anybody ever said there's a connection between those cases."

(Excerpt from Kawada's notes)

The statements from Gates run counter to public records from King County's investigation, which reveal the following:

- Misty's best friend, Trina Bevard, identified the jeans in a 1993 interview with Doyon, the King County detective who handled the case.

- Diana Smith, Misty's mother, identified the jeans.

- A King County sheriff's spokesman (Rick Chubb) publicly stated the agency's position on the jeans in 1993: "The mother is convinced that they belong to her daughter, and we believe the mother."

- Jim Doyon, King County detective, believed the three Puyallup cases were linked and said so several times in published statements.

- Doyon's colleague, Detective Jim Corey, wrote about the potential link among the cases in his investigative notes.

- Puyallup police explored the Delange-Chebetnoy-Misty connection, shared their impressions with King County investigators, and discussed it in their notes.

- In 2006, when Kawada spoke to Gates, the state crime lab was testing possible links among the three Puyallup cases – at King County's direction.

Gates declined a request for an interview. Urquhart, the King County spokesman, declined comment on the discrepancies between King County records and the statements from Gates.

– Sean Robinson, The News Tribune

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