Special Reports

Suspect labeled pedophile

“I disgraced myself and my mother deserves a better son than me.”

Terapon Adhahn said those words 17 years ago, during treatment for a sex offense he admitted committing.

He might find a reason to repeat them in the days to come. Thursday, information from Adhahn, 42, led investigators to the body of 12-year-old Zina Linnik, missing since July 4.

Friday, police labeled Adhahn the prime suspect in the Tacoma girl’s abduction and death, and hinted at the dark possibility of ties between Adhahn and other cases of missing or slain children.

Pierce County prosecutors expect to file charges against Adhahn next week. A local criminal case would end his stay in federal custody, and take precedence over the still-unspecified immigration violations that led to his initial detention.

He is an immigrant, born in Thailand in 1964, the fourth of five children. His parents divorced when he was 3 or 4, and his mother married an American airman. He is a legal permanent resident who has lived in the United States for 30 years. He is a military veteran who twice enlisted in the U.S. Air Force, and trained as an airborne Army Ranger. He is divorced, and the father of two children. He is a sex offender, convicted of incest in 1990.

Multiple records from Pierce County Superior Court and other public sources provide a portrait of Adhahn. He came to America in 1977 with his mother and his stepfather, and moved to various military bases here and abroad. In high school, he reportedly excelled in art and math, but had more trouble with English and social studies.

As a teen living on a military base in Germany, he worked as a cook and a grocery bagger at the commissary. He enlisted in the Air Force in 1983, and got married in 1986. The precise date of his arrival in Pierce County is not clear from records. The earliest reference suggests 1989.

In interviews conducted during his 1990 criminal case, Adhahn said his father was an angry, abusive man. After his parents divorced, Adhahn said he went to live with his grandmother for a time. She was poor, and lived in a rural section of Thailand. An older brother sexually molested him for roughly two years when Adhahn was a child, he claimed. A counselor said the childhood experience “probably contributed to his current personality and behavioral disorders.”

In the years since that conviction, Adhahn has worked as a sort of all-around mechanic and roving handyman, driving a tow truck and remodeling homes, according to court records and those who know him. In conversation, he goes by his middle name, Dang, according to Tacoma resident Leonard Stempkowski.

“Mild-mannered like you can’t believe,” Stempkowski said Friday. “Never, ever did I hear him raise his voice about any issue. Never ever shows anger. Never.”

Stempkowski, 63, said he and his son have known Adhahn for about two years, partly through ties to the South Sound military community.

At the time of his 1990 conviction for incest, Adhahn was 25. The victim was a 16-year-old relative. The circumstances: a drunken attack on the young woman, according to court records.

Adhahn was married at the time. He and his wife had one child, then 13 months old.

Adhahn pleaded guilty. He received a 60-day jail sentence and a 60-month regimen of sex offender treatment. Court records note that his mother supported her son, and not the 16-year-old.

“His mother tried to talk the victim out of pursuing prosecution and blamed her for her victimization,” records state. Records also note that Adhahn’s wife said she had no intention of divorcing him.

During the course of the criminal case, Adhahn was diagnosed as a pedophile. A counselor, Michael Comte, assessed him as “a devious, manipulative, aggressive and over-controlling personality with clear-cut power needs,” and added that he was “a disturbed individual who has constant difficulty acknowledging his problems.”

Another counselor, Daniel DeWaelsche, described Adhahn in positive terms seven years later, at the conclusion of his sex offender treatment.

“He continues to demonstrate that he is using the skills and techniques, gleaned in treatment, to avoid high risk situations which could lead to recidivism,” DeWaelsche wrote.

Adhahn completed the required treatment by 1997, and was classified as Level 1 – the category deemed least likely to reoffend. Counselors praised his efforts at rehabilitation, according to court records.

“It has been a pleasure working with Terapon,” DeWaelsche wrote.

In 1998, according to court records, Adhahn and his wife, now parents of two children, divorced.