Investigators remain optimistic they can solve a year-old homicide case of a Woodland man who was found dead inside his burning house in November last year, saying Thursday that “some people are close on our radar.”
Cowlitz County Chief Criminal Deputy Charlie Rosenzweig held a press conference about developments in the case early Thursday afternoon, where he expressed confidence in detectives’ abilities to find the attacker or attackers.
“We are very, very optimistic about this case,” he said. “We feel like we’re close to solving it. We’ve got a lot of good leads.”
Between 4 and 5 a.m. on Nov. 22, 2016, firefighters were called to the 2100 block of Dahlia Street in Woodland to put out a fire. After the fire was out, they found the body of Donald “Donny” Howard, who was 63 at the time of death. The coroner’s office determined shortly afterward that Howard’s death was a homicide and that he died from blunt force trauma.
“It was obvious to anybody in that room that this was a violent murder,” Rosenzweig said Thursday.
Rosenzweig said investigators believe there are likely multiple suspects, but he’s still open to the idea of one person attacking Howard. He added that detectives are willing to follow any leads. Asked if Howard was killed in the course of a burglary, Rosenzweig said his office is open to all possibilities.
“We have some people that we’re very interested in, there’s some people that are close on (our) radar,” he said. “That’s encouraging to us. It doesn’t mean we’re close-minded about any new leads that may come in. We will go and they will go where the evidence suggests we go.”
Detectives from Woodland police and the sheriff’s office noticed that much of Howard’s stolen property was eagle-themed memorabilia. These items include a golden eagle earring and a golden eagle necklace pendant on a gold chain. There were also multiple knives, watches, and many other items taken. (A photo gallery of items resembling Howard’s stolen memorabilia will accompany the online version of this story on TDN.com.)
Although none of the stolen items have resurfaced, according to Rosenzweig, detectives are still checking pawn shops and talking with jewelers to track down the missing memorabilia.
“(Finding those items) could be the key for this case,” he said. “That could be what breaks this case open. Some of these items are pretty unique, and if anybody sees this eagle memorabilia, call us. Please call us.”
Rosenzweig said the Washington State Crime Lab’s mobile team visited the scene for a couple days during the investigation and have tested more than 170 different items for DNA, fingerprints and other forensic evidence. There’s still 40 items left to be tested, according to Rosenzweig.
Howard’s family, which includes a son and an estranged wife who live in Southwest Washington, declined to attend the press conference. Still, Rosenzweig said the family has cooperated and is confused by what the motive of the killing may have been.
“They’re as much perplexed by this as anybody is,” he said. “Nobody has any belief that Donny Howard had any enemies. That’s not the case at all.”
Rosenzweig described Howard as an avid angler who took time to pick up cans near his fishing hole and was generally liked in the community.
“People got along with him well,” Rosenzweig said of Howard. “He’s had some minor skirmishes in the past, but honestly nothing significant. Nothing that we believe would justify this or even be an indication as to why this would have happened.”
Howard also suffered from an on-the-job injury about 20 years age that left him with some disabilities,according to Rosenzweig.
What Rosenzweig stressed in the press conference more than anything else is that detectives really need the public’s assistance in solving the crimes.
“We know there’s people out there who know about this case,” he said. “There are people there that might see this story and have valuable information, and they just haven’t, for whatever reason, been willing to talk. That’s the people we want to talk to.”
The Woodland Police Department is offering a $3,000 reward to anyone who can provide information about Howard’s killing, but Rosenzweig said it has the right to decide how that money would be divided if multiple people provide information.
Rosenzweig encouraged anyone with information to call the Sheriff’s Office at (360) 577-3092, or leave an anonymous tip by sending a text to 847411 (the text has to begin with CCSOTIP) or using the TIP411 app.