April 13, 2011 in City

Victim found in burned car likely a Cheney resident

Jesse Tinsley photo

A tow operator prepares to move the smoldering hulk of a car found Wednesday morning near Forker and Bigelow Gulch roads in Spokane Valley. The body of a man believed to be the registered owner was found in the trunk.
(Full-size photo)

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Investigators have no suspects in the death of a man whose charred body was found in the trunk of a car in Spokane Valley early today.

The man, who police say is in his 30s, was badly burned inside a 1987 Ford Thunderbird parked near Forker and Bigelow Gulch roads.

The car is registered in Colfax but the owner, who investigators believe may be the victim, lives in Cheney, said Spokane County sheriff’s Lt. Steve Barbieri.

“We don’t want to say it’s him, but that’s kind of where we are leaning,” Barbieri said.

Barbieri called the murder investigation, the first this year in the county and city of Spokane, “a whodunit.”

“The trick right now is that our guys are on their 15th hour and the longer these whudunits go, the smaller chance we have of solving it,” Barbieri said.

Investigators don’t yet know if he died before or after the fire was set.

“The body has marks on it, but they don’t necessarily have anything to do with the cause of death,” Barbieri said.

Detectives have talked to the man’s girlfriend, with whom he has an 11-month old child. She is not considered a suspect. The victim recently received custody of the child in what appears to be an out-of-court agreement, but the mother was with the child overnight, Barbieri said.

“It appears - we can’t find paperwork of an agreement - that they were doing their own thing,” Barbieri said. “It looks like he may have allowed her to have the baby.”

A fire investigator is assisting in the probe. Barbieri said the fire was set with “a flammable liquid” but details are unknown.

“Trunks just don’t ignite,” Barbieri said. “They are trying to find the origin and the cause of the fire.”

The trunk was slightly open and burning when police arrived.The fire department was notified about 12:24 a.m. when a motorist spotted the flaming car. Police were called about 12:35 a.m. after firefighters found the charred body.

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