Tacoma police think same killer murdered two young girls

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parellaSEATTLE — In 1986, two young girls were abducted, raped and murdered — and their killer has never been found. But now Tacoma police believe the same suspect is responsible for the murders.

On March 26, Michella Welch, 12, was watching her younger siblings at Puget Park.

“Michella and her two younger sisters decided to come to this area earlier in the day to play in the park,” Tacoma police detective Gene Miller said. “They got to the park about 10, 10:30 a.m. and remained for about an hour. Michella needed to go back home and get lunch for her and her sisters, so she left the park leaving her two sisters here.”

Police say that she rode her bike home to make sandwiches, but when she got back her sisters had left to use a nearby restroom.

“I believe that it was while she was looking around for her sisters that she was approached, abducted and taken down to the gulch area and sexually assaulted and murdered,” Miller said.

A search team found the young girl’s body that night, about a 1/4-mile in to the woods.

“There was DNA evidence left behind at the scene by the suspect and that evidence has been processed on multiple occasions due to updated technology,” Miller said.

The DNA never came up a match in the national database, but five month’s after Welch was killed, another young girl was murdered in another park 3 miles away.

“She was always in motion, she was active, she was about fun,” Jenny Bastian’s mother, Pattie, said.

Pattie’s daughter Jenny was 13-years-old and was riding her bike in Point Definance Park when she disappeared on Aug. 4, 1986. She had been training for a long bike ride at camp.

“Jennifer was petite — small for her age — and so she was concerned that she wouldn’t be able to keep up with the big kids, so she was practicing. And she was intent with this practicing. It was every day, coming down here with a friend and doing the 5-mile ride,” Pattie said.

But that day, Jenny’s friend couldn’t make and her dad told her it would be OK to ride by herself.

“She left the house right around 2 p.m. and was seen by multiple people making it to the park. In fact, making as many as two, three, maybe even four trips around the 5-mile drive prior to her disappearance,” Miller said.

When she didn’t come home, police, family and friends searched for Jenny for more than three weeks.

“It wasn’t until Aug, 28 that her remains were located by detectives who had been brought out to the scene by an odor along the 5-mile drive,” Miller said.

The young girl had been sexually assaulted and strangled. Miller believes that one man is responsible for the girls’ murder and he’s hoping that by connecting the crime, it will also help him find the killer.

Det gene miller

“Knowing that we have a suspect profile in CODIS from the Welch homicide and then being able to link them scientifically, using mitochondrial DNA, effectively gives us a suspect profile in the Bastian case,” Miller said. “Therefore, when we identify our suspect in one case we effectively identify our suspect in both cases.”

A new FBI profile indicates the killer was likely a transient who got around on foot or bicycle. He carried a knife and whether he was aware of it or not, he also had an intestinal parasite.

“You’re looking at somebody because of their transient behavior and probably with poor hygiene. Clothes, likely the same every day, somewhat disheveled, likely an odor,” Miller said.

Police are convinced that someone saw something or knows something that will crack the case.

“It will be solved by somebody taking the time to pick up the phone and call. Somebody in the past had a thought in their brain and they didn’t call. And what you’re doing today will hopefully motivate them to make that call,” Miller said.

“Don’t think about somebody that you might think did it. That’s what the police are for. Give them the name and let them find out,” Pattie Bastain said.

If you have any information that might identify the man who murdered Michelle Welch and Jenny Bastain, call Crime Stoppers of Tacoma Pierce County at 800-222-TIPS.

Here are some more details on the suspected killer: 

  •  Might have lived in Tacoma’s North End about 1986 or had family who lived there.
  • Would have been very familiar with North End parks, trails and wooded areas.
  • Might have been semi-transient in 1986 and stayed in the parks, causing a disheveled appearance.
  • Probably got around on foot or bicycle; possibly used the bus.
  • Routinely carried a knife.
  • Likely had mental health issues and could have been jailed or institutionalized since 1986.
  • Might have shown assaultive behavior toward family and might have become estranged from them.
  • Probably did not have stable employment and might have turned to petty thefts and foraging.
  • Had a disease called Strongyloides stercoralis, which eventually would have caused abdominal pain, heartburn, a dry cough, rashes and intermittent episodes of diarrhea and constipation.
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