A roster of possible suspects in the Misty Copsey case

Staff writerAugust 19, 2011 

At the time of Misty Copsey's disappearance, at least six killers and sexual predators roamed within 20 miles of the Puyallup Fairgrounds.

GARY RIDGWAY

Gary Ridgway In 1992, the Green River Killer lived in Des Moines, about a mile from Saltwater State Park, and about 19 miles from the Puyallup Fairgrounds. He was married, 43, settling into middle age.

Over the prior 10 years, he'd killed at least 48 young women.

He haunted garage sales, picked up prostitutes and traded in trinkets. He might have unloaded jewelry worn by his victims.

On Sept. 17, 1992, the day Misty disappeared, Ridgway worked a full day's shift at his truck-painting job in Tukwila, according to investigative records from the King County Sheriff's Office.

The year sits in a gap. The cold ledger of Ridgway's verified killings is empty between 1990 and 1998, the year of his alleged final slaying. He slowed down as he got older, he claimed.

Ridgway denied taking any victims from Pierce County or Puyallup. He had good reason to lie: admitting Pierce County victims would blow the deal he struck in King County, where his confessions took the death penalty off the table.

On the other hand, Pierce County wasn't his hunting ground; Ridgway took most of his victims from the Sea-Tac strip, where he'd grown up.

He also had a strange sense of decorum. He denied certain victims in King County though admission would cost him nothing.

"Why, if it isn't mine?" he told investigators. "Because I have pride in … what I do, I don't wanna take it from anybody else."

TERAPON ADHAHN

Terapon Adhahn The man who murdered 12-year-old Zina Linnik in 2007 moved to the South Sound in 1989, according to public records. He was convicted of rape and incest in 1990.

The Linnik murder revealed earlier crimes. Adhahn was convicted of an abduction rape of an 11-year-old girl in 2000, and the continuing sexual assault of a teenage acquaintance between 2000 and 2004.

In 1992, when Misty disappeared, Adhahn was under state community supervision in Pierce County, attending sex offender therapy. Records suggest he lived in Spanaway, not far from Misty's house.

In his 2009 interviews with FBI profilers, he did not admit any crimes other than those that led to charges against him.

TIMOTHY RAY BURKHART

Timothy Burkhart The Parkland resident killed two teen women in Parkland in 1986, when he was 20, and two more in 2001, when he was 35. The second two victims were older: a 72-year-old grandmother from Summit and a 48-year-old mother from South Tacoma.

Burkhart killed himself in 2001. Tacoma police detectives, relying on DNA and other evidence, established in 2010 that he was responsible for the four unsolved murders.

When Misty disappeared, Burkhart was 26 and free. He'd met his future wife in 1986 or 1987, and the couple had a son in 1993. By 2000, the marriage was crumbling.

Detectives guess the marriage and a relatively stable home life might explain the long gap between Burkhart's killings. His DNA is on file, but so far, he has not been tied to other slayings in the region.

ROBERT LESLIE HICKEY

Robert Hickey An abduction rapist, he snatched a 15-year-old girl near the Puyallup Fairgrounds in January 1993, less than four months after Misty's disappearance.

He drove the girl to a wooded area in southeastern Pierce County, sexually assaulted her and threw her into a 20-foot ravine. He was captured and convicted of first-degree rape.

After a prison sentence, he tried to snatch another woman in Lakewood in 2001. The woman escaped, and Hickey was convicted of second-degree attempted rape, a second strike that led to a sentence of life in prison without parole.

Hickey was free when Misty disappeared. Though he was briefly listed as a potential suspect in her case, Puyallup police did not question him at the time.

In 2010, Puyallup detectives interviewed him in prison. He denied any knowledge of Misty's disappearance.

THE HI-HO KILLER (identity unknown)

In 1988 and 1990, 15-year-old Kimberly Delange and 14-year-old Anna Chebetnoy disappeared from the Hi-Ho shopping center in downtown Puyallup.

Their remains showed up 25 miles away off state Route 410 near Enumclaw: Delange was discovered a month after her disappearance, Chebetnoy three years later.

The two recovery sites were 100 feet apart in the same hidden thicket, invisible from the highway, accessible only by foot. King County sheriff's detectives concluded the two cases were linked. They remain unsolved.

The linkage, combined with forensic evidence and Ridgway's denials, suggest he was not responsible, though he left other victims along state Route 410.

THE RED RIVER KILLER(S)

Historically, King County sheriff's detectives investigating the Green River case often raised the possibility that more than one serial killer was taking young women.

During the pre-trial run-up to Ridgway's confessions, his defense team coined the phrase "Red River" in reference to cases that might or not be tied to their client.

There were about 50 victims on that list, according to Ridgway's defense attorney, Mark Prothero. The names included Misty, DeLange, Chebetnoy and Sarah Yarborough, a 16-year-old Federal Way High School student, found slain on school grounds in December 1991.

Yarborough's remains, discovered within perhaps an hour of her death, also included DNA evidence. Her killer has never been identified; the DNA factor again theoretically eliminates Ridgway, Adhahn and Burkhart as suspects.

The News Tribune is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service