Biologist discovers body in Summit-Waller area

Staff writerFebruary 28, 2014 

human remains near waller

A body bag is deployed on a steep, wooded bank near the 2700 block of East 64th Street in Tacoma on Friday. Responders from Pierce County Sheriff's Department, the Pierce County Medical Examiner's Office and Search & Rescue came after a biologist encountered human remains.

PETER HALEY — Staff photographer Buy Photo

It was a gruesome discovery: a man’s partially decomposed body lying halfway down a steep gully in the Summit-Waller area, shrouded by bushes.

A biologist who set out Friday morning to do some field work near Swan Creek at the base of the ravine found the remains and called 911.

Pierce County sheriff’s detectives responded to the 2700 block of 64th Street East, just a few hundred yards from Waller Road Elementary School, and set out to recover the body.

The slope was so steep that search and rescue members rigged ropes for forensic examiners and Medical Examiner personnel to haul themselves up and down.

Within hours, the body was carried out of the gully and investigators were scouring databases of missing people.

Tacoma police detectives visited the scene in case the body is that of 59-year-old Santiago Cortes, who went missing in October.

Margaret Effelberg, the woman charged in Cortes’ murder, told a friend “she was surprised that he has not been found yet and that he is close by,” according to charging papers in the case.

Effelberg’s home is less than two miles from the spot where the body was found Friday.

The Medical Examiner’s Office said it could be weeks before they release the man’s identity.

Sheriff’s spokesman Ed Troyer said detectives have considered whether the body is Cortes.

"That’s a strong possibility that it’s him,” Troyer said.

Police spokeswoman Loretta Cool said investigators were awaiting a report from the Medical Examiner’s Office.

"We hope for (the victim's) family that the ID will come soon," she said. "Hopefully it will bring them some answers."

Effelberg is charged with first-degree murder, second-degree trafficking in stolen property and second-degree possessing stolen property in Cortes’ death.

She became a suspect after detectives learned she was the last person to speak to Cortes on the phone. Effelberg reportedly helped Cortes manage his bills and other paperwork.

Prosecutors allege she killed Cortes because she was desperate for money due to a gambling addiction and faced eviction. Effelberg also is accused of gaining access to Cortes’ bank account, using stolen debit cards and selling his truck.

She remains in the Pierce County Jail. Her next court appearance is scheduled for April.

Stacia Glenn: 253-597-8653

Staff writer Rob Carson contributed to this report.

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