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It was the DNA: Man charged with killing Jennifer Bastian voluntarily gave police his

Tacoma police talks about Jennifer Bastian’s killer

Robert D. Washburn has been identified through DNA as the killer of Jennifer Bastian.
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Robert D. Washburn has been identified through DNA as the killer of Jennifer Bastian.

The man accused of killing Jennifer Bastian became a suspect in 1986 when two young girls were abducted and killed in Tacoma parks.

On Friday, Pierce County prosecutors charged Robert Washburn with first-degree murder in Bastian's death, and he was being extradited to Tacoma from Illinois where he's lived for years.

Washburn, 60, first came under police suspicion in the death of 12-year-old Michella Welch.

Welch was abducted March 26, 1986, in Puget Park while looking after her two younger sisters. Her body was found in a gulch hours later. She’d been sexually assaulted and died from a cut to the neck.

In May 1986, Washburn called police to report seeing a man resembling Welch’s killer jogging in Point Defiance Park. He said he'd seen the composite sketch of the suspect and recognized him as a fellow jogger.

That put him on detectives’ radar.

Three months later, on Aug. 4, Bastian went missing. Officials shut down Point Defiance Park for several days while searching for the girl.

In December of that year, detectives interviewed Washburn at his Tacoma apartment. He reiterated he'd seen someone who resembled the suspect in the Welch case. During that interview, he also reported smelling a “foul odor” on Five Mile Drive and said he was in the park when it was cordoned off during the search for Bastian, according to charging papers.

Bastian disappeared while on a bike ride to train for an upcoming tour in the San Juan Islands. Her parents reported her missing that night.

It wasn’t until Aug. 26, 1986, that searchers found her body in a wooded area between Five Mile Drive and the cliffs overlooking Commencement Bay. Police said at the time a jogger reported an odd smell, prompting investigators to look there.

Bastian had been sexually assaulted, strangled and hidden beneath brush near a trail. Her new Schwinn bicycle was nearby.

“The area where her body was located appeared to have been prepared in advance of her body being placed there,” records show.

Bloodhounds were able to track Bastian’s scent from her home to the park and around Five Mile Drive. That indicates she made at least one lap around Five Mile Drive before she was kidnapped, records show.

At least five people recalled seeing Bastian riding her bike in the park. Two people possibly spoke with her as late as 5 p.m. at the Dalco Passage viewpoint off Five Mile Drive.

Detectives long believed Welch and Bastian were killed by the same man due to similarities in the cases. But in 2016, DNA showed otherwise.

Evidence from the scene of Bastian’s death was saved, and in recent years a detective sent for testing DNA collected from the bathing suit she was wearing when she died.

Police said they ran it through a state and federal database, but there were no hits.

In 2016, cold-case detectives working the murders made a list of suspects whose DNA they needed. Washburn’s name was on the list, and he agreed to provide his DNA to the FBI.

By then, Washburn had moved to Eureka, Illinois.

In May, DNA results came back linking Washburn to Bastian’s death, charging papers show. He lived less than five miles from Point Defiance Park and nine blocks from Bastian’s house when she disappeared.

Tacoma police, assisted by Illinois State Police, arrested him at his home in Eureka on Thursday morning.

Officials expect him to arrive in Tacoma by Monday.

Welch's death remains unsolved.

DNA evidence led to the arrest of the Golden State Killer. Learn more about this powerful crime-fighting tool for finding and convicting perpetrators.

Stacia Glenn; 253-597-8653