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Unsolved

Photo by Roger Werth

Cowlitz County Sheriff's Capt. Mark Nelson looks over evidence last week from the 1982 murder of 8-year-old Chila Silvernails of Kalama, which remains unsolved, in the Hall of Justice evidence storage room.

A second-grader. A young mother and her children. A grandmother. A one-legged man. A 4-year-old boy.

They all lived in the Lower Columbia area until someone killed them.

Their killers have never been found — but the holiday season could bring in leads investigators have been waiting for on these and other long-unsolved cases.

"This time of year typically prompts some phone calls … from family members," said Captain Mark Nelson of the Cowlitz County Sheriff's Office. "It's normal for us to think about family that's gone, and much more if they're murdered or missing."

The victims' loved ones aren't the only ones who remember them, Nelson said. The killers do, too.

"I have no doubt in my mind that there are people out there who have committed these murders and who, this time of year … think about it," Nelson said. "There comes a time when people need to do a little heart-cleansing and call us, talk to us, bring some closure to the whole thing for them and for the families."

There are at least 17 homicides in Cowlitz, Wahkiakum and Columbia counties that have remained a mystery for more than 18 months, according to Daily News research. The number of missing people is much greater, but authorities have identified 10 people who disappeared under suspicious circumstances and are considered endangered or possibly dead.

There are also three unidentified dead people who are not homicide victims.

'We do not like to see people die'

The public calls unsolved crimes "cold cases." Investigators say they aren't forgotten.

Nevertheless, to the victims' families, it can seem that way.

"I just think it's unfair the way my sister's case has been handled," said Marjorie Atiyeh regarding Michelle Loran, murdered in Kalama in 1990. "I get so frustrated."

Atiyeh said she thinks Cowlitz County sheriff's deputies regard misdemeanors as more important than her sister's murder.

Chief Criminal Deputy Charlie Rosenzweig said violent crimes against people are always higher priority than property crimes. However, cases with the greatest chance of clearance might receive more immediate attention.

Rosenzweig said detectives follow up every lead, which takes "hundreds and hundreds of hours." Most of the tips are no good, he said.

"What people don't know is the amount of time and effort we spend tracking down leads that end up being empty," Rosenzweig said. "We get calls all night, 24/7, about hot info and we jump on that."

He said the number of deputies and detectives is the same as in 1996, but calls for service go up every year. He estimates the sheriff's office will log 1,000 more calls this year than it did last year.

To a victim's family, only one case matters.

"I don't think law enforcement realizes how important it is when somebody is missing to have a little encouragement out of them," said Delores Cook of Kelso, who founded Survivors of Murdered and Homicide Victims after Michael Andes killed her granddaughter, Krystle Cook, on Feb. 2, 2000. "Our loved one is in their hands. They're the ones we depend upon for justice, and most co-victims (family members of crime victims) have never been through that before."

"I know people believe we sometimes don't care, or don't appear to care, but we do not like to see people die in our community through suspicious causes and let whoever did it get away with it," said Detective Sgt. Dan Jacobs of the Longview Police. "It's very satisfying when we clear it up and get the right perpetrator accountable for their actions."

Cases are reviewed when new leads come in, when fresh evidence is discovered, when new technology is developed, or as time allows.

"They're not on a desk where you look at them daily," Jacobs said. "You can't. It'll tear you apart."

'Waiting for the one tip'

In 1997, the Cowlitz County Sheriff's Office re-examined evidence in the 1982 murder of Chila Silvernails, 8, of Kalama, to see if 15 years of scientific progress could solve the case. Though science didn't lead to an arrest then, investigators keep informed of technological advances that might solve old crimes.

Nelson said, "We always get encouraged by stories around the country where somebody submitted a piece of evidence and solved a 20-year-old homicide or a 15-year-old rape, and DNA plays a huge part in that."

Calls still come in on some old cases.

Jacobs said he got a tip about six months ago on 1989 strangulation victim Sun Cha Keerins of Longview. Columbia County Undersheriff Gerry Simmons said his office got one or two leads this year on the 1992 murders of Sharri Presswood and her children in Rainier. But in older homicides, such as that of an anonymous man shot in 1968 and dumped near Clatskanie, the tips dried up long ago.

"We never give up on them. We're always waiting for the one tip to send us on the right path," said Detective Lt. Calvin Curths of the Oregon State Police Northwest Region Headquarters in Wilsonville. "Almost always there's someone out there who has some knowledge, some information, some piece of evidence, some lead."

A common tip: Someone has boasted of killing.

"Often, it's nothing more than a person bragging about a murder that they didn't do," Rosenzweig said. "Or, people brag that 'I know who did it' or 'I know where the body is.' … We have to get to the bottom of the rumors, which … has a huge impact on our manpower."

Sometimes those tips are golden. In February 2001, a year after Krystle Cook disappeared, George Andes led detectives to her grave in the woods near Rainier and helped convict his son, Michael Andes, of murder.

In 1995, Lewis County deputies arrested Jonathan Kirkpatrick of Port Angeles for the Feb. 26, 1993, murder of Winlock convenience store owner Joyce Robertson. Deputies had received a tip leading them to two men who had been in Kirkpatrick's car that night and heard him brag about shooting Robertson because she wouldn't sell him beer.

The tip came in more than a year after the crime and took deputies another year to thoroughly investigate before they made the arrest. Kirkpatrick was sentenced to life in prison.

'With a whodunit, you keep them forever'

"There are cases out there where the likelihood of them ever being solved is pretty slim," Nelson said. "That doesn't make us ignore them. … I remember a year or so ago we were looking at a murder case from 1973, just trying to keep track of the witnesses."

In that case, a masked gunman killed a ship's captain, wounded another officer and stole the payroll on a ship docked at the Port of Longview.

"With a whodunit, those cases, you keep them forever," Nelson said. "You do that just in the event that you get some kind of information. Maybe this guy dies and somewhere in his will or his property is a written confession or a diary and some family member finds it years later. Then you say, 'Now we know who did it, we know what happened.' It's just not cleared by an arrest."

He said if all the suspects and witnesses die, a case might never be closed.

Such as in a 1975 case where Caroletta Spencer, 18, of Portland, was shot five times in the head on the Columbia County portion of Sauvie Island. The Columbia County Sheriff's Office assisted Multnomah County.

"That was a very frustrating case," retired Columbia County Sheriff Bruce Oester recalled. "We knew who the guy was who killed her, but there was nothing we could do about it" because of insufficient evidence. He said Spencer, a prostitute, tried to change pimps and was killed as a warning to other prostitutes. Her murder officially remains unsolved.

"In later years, the suspects in that case were all killed. They were all murdered themselves," Oester said. "What goes around, comes around."

UNSOLVED HOMICIDES

Laurene Agnes McGilvra, 73, St. Helens.

Missing since May 22, 2002, from her home.

Originally a missing-person investigation, reclassified as murder in October 2003. Her neighbor, Barry Richard Dent, is a "person of interest." The family has offered a $15,000 reward. A search for McGilvra is scheduled for mid-January.

McGilvra tip line, (503) 366-4607, through Columbia County Sheriff's Office.

Vicki Chamberlain Garcia, 26, Kelso.

Last seen Oct. 3, 1999, in downtown Kelso.

Her bones were found in August 2003 in a densely wooded area in rural Kelso.

Kelso Police, 423-1270; Cowlitz County Sheriff's Office, 577-3092.

Frank Zrinsky, 57, Longview.

Beaten to death Aug. 17, 1998, at Fisher Island RV Park on Willow Grove Road.

An unspecified piece of valuable property belonging to Zrinsky was found a few days later in West Kelso, leading investigators to theorize the motive was robbery.

Cowlitz County Sheriff's Office, 577-3092.

Sharri Presswood, 26, Longview, seven months pregnant, and her two children, Heather Wixon, 4, and Jeffery Wixon, 2.

Last talked to her family Aug. 21, 1992. Found Sept. 9 and 10, 1992, in the woods six miles south of Rainier.

Investigators had two "persons of interest" but did not find evidence to support criminal charges.

Columbia County Sheriff's Office, (503) 366-4611; Longview Police, 577-3157.

Michelle Loran, 19, Kalama.

Last seen about 2 a.m. Oct. 28, 1990, at the Interstate 5 underpass a few blocks from her home.

Marty Ogden, who gave her a ride home after a get-together in South Kelso, was one of several "persons of interest" but was not arrested. Loran's bones were found April 16, 1996, in the woods east of I-5 near Kalama.

Cowlitz County Sheriff's Office, 577-3092; Kalama Police, 673-2165.

Sun Cha Keerins, 39, Longview.

Strangled in her apartment, June 11, 1989.

Four "persons of interest" were on a Korean ship which left port; investigators were unable to detain them because they had no hard evidence.

Longview Police, 577-3157.

Unidentified toddler girl, 18 to 24 months old.

Found in Cowlitz River near Kelso Sept. 24, 1987. Killed by a blow to her head.

Possibly Hispanic or Native American. Investigators believe the baby and a woman later found in the Lewis River could be related but were unable to confirm.

Kelso Police, 423-1270.

Unidentified woman, age 19 to 25.

Her body, missing the head and legs, was found in the north fork of the Lewis River near Woodland Sept. 11, 1987. She had been dead about a week.

Possibly Hispanic or Native American. Two months pregnant, she had given birth at least once before. A few days later, her legs were found in the Willamette River in Portland. Investigators believe the woman and the baby found in the Cowlitz could be related but were unable to confirm.

Cowlitz County Sheriff's Office, 577-3092.

Russell Lyle Haines, 53, Longview.

Strangled in his bed at the Oregon Way Hotel, March 1986.

Friends of Haines said that the disabled man must have known his killer because he was cautious about who he let in his room.

Longview Police, 577-3157.

Alex Laursen, 4, Longview.

Stabbed in his bed around 3 a.m., Aug. 6, 1984.

Alex was sleeping beside his 6-year-old half-sister, who was not injured. His parents fought for custody after their divorce earlier that year.

Longview Police, 577-3157.

Chila Silvernails, 8, Kalama.

Stabbed and asphyxiated April 20, 1982.

In 1999, investigators said they regarded Joseph Kondro as a "person of interest" in Chila's murder after he confessed to killing two other little girls, Rima Traxler in 1985 and Kara Rudd in 1996. Authorities have not developed sufficient evidence to charge Kondro, who is serving a life sentence for the other murders.

Cowlitz County Sheriff's Office, 577-3092.

Wendy Karen Bigbee, 25, Tacoma area.

Shot in the left side and dumped alongside the road on Barnes Drive, Castle Rock, July 11, 1981.

Two weeks earlier, investigators found a blood-soaked T-shirt with a bullet hole in the left side along I-5 near Olympia.

Cowlitz County Sheriff's Office, 577-3092

Steve Michael Wilber, 31, Goble.

Shot three times in the back at his home Jan. 22, 1980.

Wilber was the 17th murder victim in Columbia County since 1956, according to a Daily News story by Richard Spiro.

Oregon State Police, (503) 731-3027 or 1-800-452-7888, or Columbia County Sheriff's Office, (503) 466-4611.

Luk Po Chan, 55, ship's captain.

Shot and robbed Dec. 23, 1973, as his ship was docked at Port of Longview.

The murderer also wounded the chief officer in the stomach as the two were disbursing the payroll. The officer described his assailant as a young white man who wore a ski mask.

Cowlitz County Sheriff's Office, 577-3092.

Unidentified Caucasian man, age 20 to 40.

Shot in head and spine. Found Aug. 11, 1968, near Clatskanie.

Investigators believe he was killed two or three months earlier and hauled to the site in a large trunk which was then dumped about eight miles away. The murder weapon was a .25-caliber firearm, possibly a Beretta.

Columbia County Sheriff's Office, (503) 466-4611.

MISSING PERSONS

Mike Richards, 29, Woodland.

Last seen around 7 a.m. Feb. 6, 2003, leaving a party on Englert Road east of Woodland.

Despite rumors that Richards was killed by drug dealers, police have been unable to develop proof that he is dead.

Woodland Police, 225-6965; Cowlitz County Sheriff's Office, 577-3092.

Guadalupe Castro, 23, and her daughter, Aqueda "Elizabeth" Arias, 2, Longview.

Last seen Nov. 26, 2001, leaving for a drive with Guadalupe's estranged husband, Gregario Arias Ibal.

Guadalupe was nearly eight months pregnant. The vehicle was later located abandoned in California. Postcards with photos and descriptions of the two were mailed to homes around the nation in March 2002.

Longview Police, 577-3157; National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, 1-800-843-5678.

Rex Richard Ocain, 49, Castle Rock.

Last seen Nov. 11, 2001, getting a cup of coffee at C&C Mini Mart in Castle Rock.

His family describes him as a naive, trusting, mentally challenged man who may have accepted a ride in a dark-colored vehicle.

Castle Rock Police, 274-4711; Cowlitz County Sheriff's Office, 577-3092.

Susan Ault, 39, Rosburg.

Last seen June 24, 2001, at home, arguing with her boyfriend, Michael Braae.

Braae, a suspect in several murders, was arrested July 20, 2001, near the Oregon-Idaho border. Ault's pickup was recovered with Braae. Her purse and credit cards were found later that month near Castle Rock.

Wahkiakum County Sheriff's Office, 795-3242; Cowlitz County Sheriff's Office, 577-3092.

Teresa Davidson-Murphy, 34, Rainier.

Last seen Oct. 7, 1999, at home.

A Colt handgun went missing at the same time. In November 2000, her mother put up a $1,000 reward for information. In August 2001, investigators said that all indications are that she is dead.

Oregon State Police, Det. Jeff Hershman, (503) 731-3020, ext. 264.

Lyle Walthrop, 71, Longview.

Drove off from home, unobserved, the morning of May 9, 1998.

His car was found May 15, 1998, stuck on a remote logging road near Ryderwood. Family members believe Walthrop, who suffered from short-term memory loss, became disoriented.

Cowlitz County Sheriff's Office, 577-3092.

Phylis Lewellen, 36, Kelso (Lexington).

Last seen Dec. 27, 1996, at home when she left for a drive in her 1981 Peugeot, taking her rottweiler.

Investigators say it's unusual to have a person, car and dog missing where none of the three turns up. Lewellen has not used her credit cards or withdrawn money from her bank account.

Cowlitz County Sheriff's Office, 577-3092.

Misty D. Thompson, 14, Cowlitz County area.

Disappeared from a foster home Aug. 11, 1993.

Her foster mother said that in 1997, someone purporting to be from the Mexican consulate called to say Thompson died in Mexico. Deputies called the consulate but were unable to confirm the story.

Cowlitz County Sheriff's Office, 577-3092.

Kelly Diane Sims, 27, Kelso.

Last seen Oct. 16, 1990, in downtown Kelso.

In 1995, police said that she is probably deceased.

Kelso Police, 423-1270.

UNIDENTIFIED DEAD

(not murder victims)

Laurene Agnes McGilvra, 73, St. Helens.

Missing since May 22, 2002, from her home.

Originally a missing-person investigation, reclassified as murder in October 2003. Her neighbor, Barry Richard Dent, is a "person of interest." The family has offered a $15,000 reward. A search for McGilvra is scheduled for mid-January.

McGilvra tip line, (503) 366-4607, through Columbia County Sheriff's Office.

Vicki Chamberlain Garcia, 26, Kelso.

Last seen Oct. 3, 1999, in downtown Kelso.

Her bones were found in August 2003 in a densely wooded area in rural Kelso.

Kelso Police, 423-1270; Cowlitz County Sheriff's Office, 577-3092.

Frank Zrinsky, 57, Longview.

Beaten to death Aug. 17, 1998, at Fisher Island RV Park on Willow Grove Road.

An unspecified piece of valuable property belonging to Zrinsky was found a few days later in West Kelso, leading investigators to theorize the motive was robbery.

Cowlitz County Sheriff's Office, 577-3092.

How officials determine who is 'missing'

Though only 10 local missing people are listed in today's newspaper, the actual number of missing people is much greater because people frequently disappear for short periods and return, said Chief Criminal Deputy Charlie Rosenzweig of the Cowlitz County Sheriff's Office.

As soon as police receive a report of a missing or runaway person, the name is registered with the Washington State Patrol, Rosenzweig said. Upon that person's return, the state patrol removes the name from the database.

The state patrol issues a memo if a person is missing more than 30 days.

"Then we obtain dental records and anything that might be able to contain DNA for us, such as a hairbrush with roots of hair, sometimes a toothbrush, or any other items that may have DNA just to keep and preserve in event that it may be needed in the future," Rosenzweig said. That information is kept in the state patrol's identification section.

A similar system is in place in Oregon, said Detective Lt. Calvin Curths of the Oregon State Police.

Leslie Slape is the crime reporter for The Daily News. She can be reached at 577-2523 or leslie@tdn.com

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