The man who police allege kidnapped and killed 13-year-old Jennifer Bastian in Tacoma’s Point Defiance Park more than three decades ago was arrested Thursday.
The 60-year-old was identified as Robert D. Washburn of Eureka, Illinois, according to multiple media outlets.
Bastian disappeared on a bike ride Aug. 4, 1986. Her body was found weeks later in a wooded area off Five Mile Drive.
Her killing, once believed linked to the death of 12-year-old Michella Welch around the same time, is one of the most heart-wrenching in the city’s history.
“I think everybody who has been involved with this over the years is extremely happy that it’s been solved,” Tacoma police spokeswoman Loretta Cool said.
Police declined to talk about the suspect, other than to say he lived out of state and was taken into custody Thursday morning.
Illinois State Police told a Peoria television station, 25 News, that they helped with the arrest at an apartment complex in nearby Eureka, in north-central Illinois.
Washburn is being brought to Pierce County to face charges and isn’t expected to arrive before Monday. Tacoma police said they will discuss the case in more detail then.
It was unclear Thursday whether Washburn is a name detectives heard before recently.
He lived less than five miles from Point Defiance Park when Bastian went missing and nine blocks from the Bastian home, property records show.
Bastian’s family could not be reached for comment Thursday.
In 2013, her mother, Pattie Bastian, told The News Tribune, “Not a day goes by that we don’t think of her. She’s our little girl.”
News of an arrest overwhelmed those who knew the younger Bastian.
James Peterson went to school with the girl and lived in the same neighborhood. He recalled her being dedicated to training bike rides and asking if he and his friends wanted to join around the time she disappeared.
“I never saw her again,” Peterson said Thursday.
Hearing about the arrest brought up a lot of emotions and memories.
“After all this time, I was just floored,” he said. “This was something I never thought I’d see the day it would happen.”
Bastian was a tomboy who loved to smile and was thinking about becoming a veterinarian when she grew up.
On Aug. 4, 1986, eager to train for an upcoming bike tour in the San Juan Islands, she asked her father for permission to take her new 18-speed Schwinn bicycle for a ride through Point Defiance Park.
He agreed, making her promise to call when she arrived home.
When she didn’t return by 8:30 p.m., her parents called police.
Scores of officers, search parties and bloodhounds scoured the park but found no sign of her.
Three boys who went to school with Bastian remembered seeing her riding her bike about 4:10 p.m. A man was seen riding near her but the boys didn’t think she seemed concerned or in danger.
Two people spoke with a girl fitting Bastian's description between 3 and 5 p.m. at the Dalco Passage viewpoint off Five Mile Drive in the park. The girl dropped her helmet on the ground, drank water and talked about an upcoming ride she was training for.
Point Defiance closed for two days while searchers looked for Bastian, aided by the Green River Killer Task Force.
Her remains were recovered Aug. 26, 1986, after a jogger noticed an odd smell in a section of the park between Five Mile Drive and the cliffs overlooking Commencement Bay.
Bastian’s body was hidden beneath brush. Her bike was nearby.
She’d been strangled.
For years – until DNA proved otherwise in 2016 - police believed the same man who killed Bastian also killed Welch, who was abducted March 26, 1986, in Puget Park near North 31st and Proctor streets.
She disappeared after she went to look for one of her siblings who’d gone to use the restroom at a nearby business. A tracking dog found her body late that night in a makeshift fire pit area in a gulch near the park.
She died of a cut to the neck.
There were several similarities in the cases.
Both girls were blond and petite. Both were kidnapped in broad daylight from North End parks and taken to isolated areas of those parks. The crime scenes were similar and both girls’ clothes had been mussed in the same way.
Welch’s case remains unsolved.
The disappearances of Bastian and Welch were always a top priority for the department, especially after a cold case unit was created in 2009.
Pattie Bastian was one of the biggest supporters, lobbying for the unit so other families could have support and let hope for justice live on.
In the first year after Jennifer Bastian was killed, police said a six-person task force put in at least 10,000 investigative hours. Six DNA tests were run on evidence since the first test was done in 1988.
Police developed a behavioral profile of Bastian’s killer in 2013. The killer’s DNA was run through a national database of felons, but didn’t match the 11 million or so DNA profiles in the database.
The case also was dissected by a panel of experts at the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.
In 2016, the FBI paid $7,000 to develop composite images of Bastian and Welch’s killers in hopes of bringing in more tips from the public. Tacoma police activated its Child Abduction Response Team to rework the case as if Bastian were just kidnapped, which generated more than 100 new tips.
“My personal opinion is he’s going to get caught,” Gene Miller, the police department’s one-time cold case detective, said in 2013. “It's just a matter of whether we get to put the bracelets on him. We have the DNA, all we need is the name.”
Kelly Rosati lived across the street from the Bastians and remembers the fear and heartbreak after the child went missing.
“Everybody remembers this. It was huge,” she said Thursday through tears.
Rosati said the neighborhood kids all looked up to Bastian. Her death rocked the neighborhood and instilled a sense of fear that still bubbles up when Rosati sees the Bastians' home.
She said she’s relieved someone was arrested in the girl's death and hopes it brings closure to her family.
“I think of everybody worrying if the person is still out there, hurting anyone else, and not having an answer,” Rosati said. “I’m glad there’s justice for Jennifer and her family.”
Stacia Glenn; 253-597-8653