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Man charged in Wash. girl's 1986 death voluntarily gave police his DNA

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© Tribune News Service

From The News Tribune

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

Robert Washburn, 60, was first a suspect 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 of 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 killer and recognized him as a fellow jogger.

That put him on detectives’ radar.

He also reported smelling a “foul odor” on Five Mile Drive and said he was in the park when it was cordoned off, according to charging papers.

Officials shut down Point Defiance Park for several days after Bastian was reported missing Aug. 4, 1986.

She’d gone for a bike ride to train for an upcoming bike tour in the San Juan Islands but never came home. 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. A jogger reported an odd smell, prompting police 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 area. 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 collected from the scene of Bastian’s death was saved and in recent years, a detective sent DNA to be tested 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 Welch and Bastian’s cases 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.

He lived less than five miles from Point Defiance Park and nine blocks from Bastian’s house when she disappeared.

In May, DNA results came back linking Washburn to Bastian’s death.

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

Welch's death remains unsolved.

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U.S. - U.S. Daily News: Man charged in Wash. girl's 1986 death voluntarily gave police his DNA
Man charged in Wash. girl's 1986 death voluntarily gave police his DNA
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