He kept mostly to himself, skulking in the shadows, watching from afar.
It could have been his disheveled appearance, his strong body odor or his general creepiness that made people give him a wide berth.• COLD CASE: Solving 1986 murders may be just a matter of time
“This is a guy who’s not going to be a smooth talker. He’s not going to be able to con or lure or create a ruse,” said Jennifer Eakin with the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. “He’s probably going to be much more combative from the beginning.”
Tacoma police believe this unidentified man forcefully snatched two little girls from their bicycles in 1986, killing them in two parks in the city’s North End. Michella Welch, 12, and Jennifer Bastian, 13, weren’t his first or last victims, though.
Two detectives recently spent two days at the national center’s Virginia headquarters, briefing a group of experts on the girls’ cases. The panel came up with this profile of the killer:
He would have started out smaller, maybe lurking in covered areas of North End parks or exposing himself. He almost certainly attempted kidnapping before successfully abducting and killing in 1986.
His victims weren’t necessarily just little girls. They could have been young boys or grown women, anybody who looked vulnerable. Some likely escaped him, though they might not have realized how dangerous the man was.
He carried a knife, pretending it was for his own protection, but he used it on others. He was mentally ill. He might have lashed out at family members. He walked or rode a bicycle because, as detectives rationalize, if he’d had a car, he would have left the parks with his victims.
Although the man lurked and watched others by day, he was most active at night. That’s when he would look for food and possibly burglarize cars or homes.
“He would not put himself in an environment he was not comfortable in, and he clearly did not feel comfortable in the world,” police detective Gene Miller said. “This was not somebody that’s comfortable interacting with people. This is not somebody you’d consider normal.”
It was somebody who felt comfortable in the North End, especially wooded areas and parks with cover such as Point Defiance, Puget Park and Titlow Park.
Eakin points out that after killing Michella in March 1986, the man didn’t leave the city or even move to another part of Tacoma. He went only about three miles to Point Defiance Park, where he killed Jenny five months later.
“It really begins to convince you that there’s some connection the offender has not only to Tacoma, but to this area of Tacoma,” she said. “He’s comfortable, he’s secure, he feels safe in these neighborhoods and parks. He knows the trails, he knows the terrain.”
Perhaps he grew up there, perhaps he learned his way while living on the streets. Police wish they knew.
He preys on their minds.