Rima Traxler's parents always warned her not to get in anyone's car unless the person knew the secret password. This man, however, wasn't a stranger.
When Joseph Kondro pulled alongside the tiny, blond 8-year-old as she walked home from school along Beech Street, Rima willingly got into his truck. She liked him. He and her stepdad, Rusty Traxler, had been friends since their high school days at R.A. Long.
Kondro, 25, had been at her parents' house earlier that day. He and her stepdad were drinking beers on the porch and laughing at her mom, Danelle Kinne, while she mowed the lawn at their home in Longview's Highlands.
Kondro told Rima he'd been sent to pick her up and take her to a swimming hole, and her parents would join them later. It was May 15, 1985.
Her parents never saw her again.
For the next 14 years, until Kondro confessed in February 1999 to kidnapping and strangling Rima, Kinne lived with the hope her daughter might still be alive.
The revelation about what happened to Rima emerged two years after another little girl from Longview vanished.
The truth about Kondro also came out. He was more than the petty thief, thug and drug addict his criminal record showed him to be. He was an unrepentant cold-blooded killer and child molester.
On Jan. 4, 1997, a search team found 12-year-old Kara Rudd's body beneath an abandoned car in the woods on Mount Solo, six weeks after her mother reported her missing.
By the time Kara's partially nude body was discovered, Kondro was the prime suspect in her disappearance. He was already in jail, facing charges of witness tampering and first-degree child rape and molestation of three girls, ages 7, 9 and 10.
For two years, Kondro had refused to cooperate with investigators, even though his DNA linked him to Kara's body. Then, in a bombshell courtroom announcement, Kondro pled guilty to raping and strangling her — and confessed to killing Rima.
In answering to both crimes, Kondro dodged the death penalty. Today, he is serving a 55-year sentence with no chance of appeal at the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla. He has never expressed any remorse for his wicked deeds and has vowed to kill again, even behind prison walls.
"I surely didn't lose one minute of sleep over my actions," he wrote in a 1999 commentary that The Daily News declined to publish due to its distasteful content.
The magnitude of his depravity may never be known. He's hinted there have been other victims, but for now, he sees nothing to gain by confessing.
"We believe he is a serial killer to the worst extreme," said Longview police Detective Sgt. Steve Rehaume, who, along with Detective Sgt. Jim Duscha, was a lead investigator on Kara's case.
'Smooth con man'
Despite a strict, middle-class upbringing, "Joey," as Kondro was called, grew up to be a junkie, a deadbeat dad and a criminal, according to court records and interviews with friends and family. He was adopted as a baby by Castle Rock residents John and Eleanor Kondro, who both died in the 1990s.
His adoptive father, an aluminum worker for Reynolds Metals, bailed him out of jail and paid for two stints in drug rehabilitation. Over the years, Kondro racked up convictions for auto theft, domestic violence, driving under the influence, forgery and drug dealing. Although he sired between six and eight children, he never supported any of them.
In a 1999 interview with The Daily News, Kondro's uncle stressed that his miscreant nephew wasn't a blood relation.
"I hate to say it, but he was just no good," 83-year-old Bernard Kondro said. "He's a real smooth con man. Very, very smooth … very deceptive. He can fool you awful, awful easy by his smooth talk."
Although friends said Kondro, in his younger years, killed cats and other small animals for fun, his ex-wife saw his softer side (she later knew better). Clean and well-dressed, the 5-foot 10-inch, 260-pound man exuded charisma, said Julie West, who was married to him from 1986 to 1989.
"He was like a big teddy bear," she said in 1997. "He was so big, he could protect you. … He always bought me stuff and pampered me, but his drugs got the best of him. I think … if he hadn't done drugs, he would have been fine."
Violent, drug-enduced temper
Whatever the cause, Kondro was wired to kill. The adrenaline rush he experienced while killing children was better than any drug, he told a reporter while behind bars in 1999. Murderousness, he said, "is in my blood. … I mean … there's nothing to it. I have no remorse."
In a written confession, Kondro described in detail how he lured his victims to their deaths. News reports from the time fill in the gaps.
On Nov. 21, 1996, shortly after her mother's boyfriend dropped her off at Monticello Middle School, Kara Rudd told a friend she planned to skip class. Kara, a slender, blond 12-year-old, walked over to a familiar gold 1982 Pontiac Firebird in the school parking lot.
The car belonged to Kondro, whom she knew as "Uncle Joe." He and her mom, Janet Holden, had known each other since they were kids, and when Kondro had nowhere else to go, Holden and her longtime boyfriend allowed him to move into their garage at their Highlands-area home.
That arrangement worked for awhile, but Kondro liked to drink. When he drank, he turned mean. Sometimes he'd threaten Kara and her two siblings. Sometimes he'd black out. After eight months of dealing with his violent temper, Holden told him to leave.
But that was in October, a month earlier. And although Kondro blamed Kara for taking away his free meal ticket by complaining about him to her mother, he knew how to turn on the charm when he felt like it.
Today was one of those days.
Kara got into Kondro's car and asked him to take her to a pig farm she liked to visit. They agreed to meet at Lake Sacajawea in a few minutes, and she got out of the car.
Shortly thereafter, Kondro picked her up at the lake, but instead of the pig farm, he drove Kara to Willow Grove. Inside an abandoned house, he raped her. Then he choked her to death. He drove to Mount Solo, an area he knew well, and stuffed Kara's body beneath a stripped car, about one mile off Industrial Way and roughly 50 yards from a muddy dirt road serving Solo View Estates.
Were there more killings?
By his own admission, Kondro is a child serial killer. Police have said they don't believe he could go from 1985 to 1996 without killing, but attempts to connect him with other missing children cases have been fruitless for lack of physical evidence.
One such case is that of 8-year-old Chila Silvernails of Kalama, whose mother was friends with Kondro. In 1982, Silvernails disappeared on the way to catch the school bus. Her strangled, nude body was found the next day in a creek bed off Shirley Gordon Road. No arrests were ever made.
Perhaps one day Kondro will break his silence and allow other anguished parents to finally bury their dead. But for a man without a conscience, that seems unlikely.
"If you could hook up a meter to my emotions, they're flatline," Kondro told a Daily News reporter during a prison interview in 1999. "I don't know where my emotions are. … I couldn't give a damn what anybody thinks."