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State trooper’s death focus of Ann Rule book

Barb Thompson’s daughter, Ronda Reynolds, a former Washington State Patrol trooper, died of a gunshot wound to the head in 1998.  (Dan Pelle)
Barb Thompson’s daughter, Ronda Reynolds, a former Washington State Patrol trooper, died of a gunshot wound to the head in 1998. (Dan Pelle)

Ronda Reynolds graduated from Cheney High School in 1983 and enjoyed quick success as a State Patrol trooper in Western Washington. But by 1998, her marriage was ending and she eagerly planned a trip to Spokane for Christmas to visit her mother and grandmother.

She bought a plane ticket and arranged a ride, but Reynolds, 33, never arrived at the Spokane International Airport.

She was found dead in her Toledo, Wash., home of a gunshot wound to the head. The Lewis County coroner ruled her death a suicide, but Reynolds’ mother, Spokane resident Barb Thompson, didn’t believe it.

Thompson worked for years to get the case reopened, and in 2009, a Lewis County jury overturned the coroner’s decision.

Now one of the nation’s most prolific crime writers is telling the story.

Best-selling author Ann Rule’s newest book, “In the Still of the Night: The Strange Death of Ronda Reynolds and Her Mother’s Unceasing Quest for the Truth” looks at Reynolds’ death and what Rule calls a botched investigation by authorities too quick to believe an estranged husband’s claim of suicide.

Rule and Thompson will be at Auntie’s Bookstore at 2 p.m. Saturday for a talk and signing.

Rule, who lives in Seattle, said she’s followed Reynolds’ case since the beginning.

“Within about 20 seconds I thought … ‘This doesn’t sound good to me,’ ” Rule said in a phone interview Thursday.

Thompson said she contacted Rule at the urging of her supporters.

“I said, ‘Yeah right, this is the No. 1 true crime writer in America, like she’s going to get back to me,’ ” Thompson said. “But she did.”

Rule, who’s written 30 New York Times best-sellers, began working on the story early last year.

She said she hopes the book inspires anyone affected by an unsolved case to never lose hope.

“I want them to know that they shouldn’t just roll over and give up,” Rule said. “I want to show that we all have the right to speak up.”

Best known for the Ted Bundy book “The Stranger Beside Me,” Rule said she receives 4,000 story suggestions a year but has time to research and write just one or two books. She typically looks for cases that have been resolved, but she knew Reynolds’ case was different.

“I knew one day I would write it,” Rule said. “If a case really fascinates me and I want to know what happened, then I figure my readers will feel the same.”

Coroner Terry Wilson still has not changed Reynolds’ death certificate despite the jury’s ruling. Thompson said the case is headed to the Court of Appeals.

Reynolds graduated from Eastern Washington University before spending several years as a state trooper. She was considering transferring to a security position with a Spokane department store when she died.

For Reynolds, Rule said, “Spokane was home.”

“If she’d just gotten away that night, she was planning to fly to Spokane early in the morning, she would still be alive,” Rule said.

Thompson’s dedication to uncovering the truth impressed Rule. At her horse farm in west Spokane County, Thompson collected police reports, interview transcripts and other documents in a thick binder that helped provide Rule a blueprint of the case.

And the women tracked new information about Reynolds’ death as Rule worked on the book.

They’ve also gathered $30,000 as a reward for further information on Reynolds’ death.

Rule is confident the case will be solved.

“I just have a feeling that we’re going to know who the killer is within the next six months,” Rule said. “We just need a few pieces to make the puzzle absolutely complete.”