Lingering unsolved murders haunt families
Suspect arrested in one death but police say other strangulations aren’t related
The arrest of a 58-year-old man in the strangling of Rochelle English nine years ago might put to rest one mystery, but it awakens others.
English, 22, was one of at least six women allegedly strangled over 20 months in 1986 and 1987. The killings raised eyebrows, but at the time police couldn’t say whether one person was responsible for the slayings.
Last week, police ruled out that possibility.
“There is nothing that would connect them,” Sgt. Jim Lundgren said.
Police obtained a first-degree murder arrest warrant March 12 for Robert Daniel Clark of Escondido, Calif., for killing English, a convicted prostitute.
Four of the women’s murders remain unsolved. The other death has been listed as natural.
Three of the victims, including English, were either convicted or known prostitutes. One was a former topless dancer. The other two - older women who lived alone near downtown - were found near Browne’s Addition, supposedly strangled.
Three of the women’s bodies were found outside. The other three were found lying the floor in apartments near downtown Spokane. Clothing, a cord and hands were used in the strangulations, according to police.
“It’s really sad,” said Linda Iwanow, whose mother, Dorothy Burdette, was among the victims. “We just don’t get any answers. They just talked like it’s one in a million, like they’ll never catch the guy.”
Except for Clark, nobody’s been arrested in any of the deaths.
Ruby J. Doss, 27, a suspected prostitute, was the first victim. She was found Jan. 30, 1986, in a field near Fiske and Ferry. A Spokane County assistant public defender who committed suicide in 1989 was a prime suspect in the murder.
Mary Ann Turner, 30, a convicted prostitute, was found strangled Nov. 4, 1986, next to a garage.
Dorothy Burdette, 62, was found strangled in High Bridge Park on Christmas 1986. Burdette lived next to the Mayfair Restaurant and Cocktail Lounge. She left the Mayfair on Christmas Eve with a man, who told Burdette she reminded him of his dead mother.
Iwanow last talked to police about her mother’s death in 1988. She said she understands that police have other cases, but questions still gnaw at her.
“She lived downtown,” Iwanow said. “They probably just considered her a transient, and that was it. Maybe if she had had a home on the North Side or the South Hill, and family coming by (police headquarters) every day, that would have been a different story.”
English was the next victim.
She left her home in the 1300 block of West Boone on April 21, 1987, about 11:30 a.m. She said she needed to get money to go out to dinner with her boyfriend. She told several people downtown she was going to meet someone at the Sunburst Tavern for “a trick,” according to court documents.
Between 2 and 3 p.m., English went to the apartment building at 1221 N. Monroe, where she was helping friends move. She asked a tenant for a key to her friends’ apartment. When he refused, she asked for and received a screwdriver to get into the apartment.
She later returned the screwdriver and asked the tenant to walk her a few doors down to The Sundowner tavern, where she bought a six-pack of Budweiser. He then went to work. She went back to her friends’ apartment.
One of her friends returned about 5:30 p.m. and found English on the floor. Her purse and wallet sat on the couch; cosmetics, a broken hairbrush and other items from her purse were scattered on the floor. There was no money. Two open beer cans were also in the room.
English was dead - strangled, with a non-fatal stab wound in her chest. Three full beer cans and one empty can were stuffed in a storage drawer in the kitchen stove.
A fingerprint on one of these cans was run through a computer Jan. 10 - nine years later. It matched Clark’s fingerprint, police said.
Arrested a short time later, Clark was extradited from Southern California to Grant County on a probation violation from a forgery conviction dating back to 1988. On March 11, Spokane police interviewed him in jail and advised him of his constitutional rights, which he waived.
Clark “gave a statement indicating he had strangled the victim after she had attacked him because he would not pay her $200 for sex,” according to an affidavit of probable cause filed in Spokane County District Court.
The next victim was Kathleen Dehart, 37, found in an apartment basement on July 5, 1987. She was a former topless dancer.
Then came the death of Nadine G. Johnson, 52, on Aug. 5, 1987. She had been swimming earlier at her daughter’s home and grabbed a vanilla milkshake on the way home. The family believed she was murdered. At the time, at least one police officer said the death wasn’t natural.
An autopsy revealed evidence of throat trauma and severe bruises on Johnson’s shoulders and hips.
The death certificate, signed by her doctor, says Johnson’s death was natural - cardio-respiratory arrest caused by coronary artery disease.
At the time, family members and police were convinced Johnson’s death was anything but natural.
“I am totally convinced she was murdered,” her daughter, Debbi Johnson, told The Spokesman-Review. “And I think the guy who did it was in the basement that night.”