Her decomposed remains were wrapped in a bed sheet in a plastic bag, and hidden in thick brush in Spokane’s Peaceful Valley.
But it wasn’t a full body: Eva L. Barnhart’s arms, legs and head were missing.
The gruesome discovery was made May 2, 1976, by a 14-year-old boy looking for his neighbor’s lost cat.
Investigators, realizing the badly decomposed torso had been there for months, probed possible connections to another murder victim whose dismembered body was discovered months earlier.
But Spokane police soon concluded Barnhart’s death was an isolated murder. Detectives arrested her husband, Lavern Barnhart, 46, within two weeks. A home the couple once shared at 1635 W. Clark Ave. was just above the brushy hillside that served as Eva Barnhart’s tomb.
Barnhart’s father reported her missing on April 20, 1975. By May 13, 1976, Lavern Barnhart was jailed on a first-degree murder charge. He pleaded guilty a month later and said he’d shot his wife as she slept because she refused to divorce him.
“I was very angry and very upset due to anguish brought onto me by my wife,” Barnhart wrote in a letter to then-Spokane County Superior Court Judge George T. Shields.
When his wife disappeared, Barnhart told police she’d left for Seattle with $400 and a .22-caliber revolver.
But when the torso was discovered a year later, Eva Barnhart’s family identified the sheet as belonging to the family. They also said Barnhart “had threatened to kill his wife many times,” according to a June 25, 1976, Spokane Daily Chronicle article.
Barnhart later told police he’d shot his wife with the revolver, then left her body in the basement for a week before sawing off her head, arms and legs and throwing them in a trash bin.
Barnhart was sentenced to life in prison. His wife’s head and limbs were never found.