Woman offers $1,000 for info about son’s death a year ago in Orting

Staff writerJuly 16, 2013 

Even in death, Denny Thornburg hasn’t had the best of luck.

A year after his body was found in his burnt-out van on a remote road in Orting, Pierce County sheriff’s detectives haven’t figured out what happened to him or who killed him.

Desperate for answers, Thornburg’s mother has offered up $1,000 in reward money if it brings someone forward to help solve the case.

“It’s all I have,” said Vada Smith, who lives in Arkansas. “But I’d like to find who killed my son. Nobody had to kill him the way they did.”

Thornburg’s body was found July 16, 2012, in the 29700 block of Electron Reservoir Road East inside his burned tan Ford Econoline van. Investigators determined the fire had started hours before passers-by happened upon it.

The fire prevented medical examiners from figuring out his cause of death. Detectives continue working the case but haven’t made an arrest.

Thornburg, 52, had fallen on hard times in the years before his death.

Family members said he got out of an unhealthy, violent marriage and stayed at various homeless shelters before buying a small trailer in Tacoma.

Though he was a painter for much of his life and a former soldier, he couldn’t hold a job and lived off his Social Security disability payments. Smith said her son struggled with alcoholism but it didn’t keep him from being a good man, a family man.

He used to call her nearly every day. They last spoke four days before his body was found. Thornburg told her he was moving to Arkansas so he could be closer to her and one of his two sons, who lives next door. Thornburg also had six grandchildren.

“He called to say he was coming home to be with his family but he never made it,” Smith said.

Detectives are trying to piece together the days before Thornburg’s death.

Anyone with information is asked to call Tacoma-Pierce County Crime Stoppers at 253-591-5959. Callers may remain anonymous. Tipsters with information leading to an arrest and charges filed may receive up to $1,000.

Stacia Glenn: 253-597-8653

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