May 16, 2011 in City, News
Cold case gets a fresh look
A former co-worker of a Deer Park woman who disappeared in 1987 is hoping to bring fresh attention to one of the region’s most publicized cold cases.
John Polos met Julie Weflen when she attended training for U.S. Bonneville Power Administration in the Vancouver, Wash., area, where Polos worked as an engineer.
Polos, a former reserve deputy, is a volunteer search-and-rescue technician for the Clark County Sheriff’s Office, and he has experience investigating cold cases. He’s hopeful his training will help rekindle an investigation he feels is in need of a fresh look.
“I knew I wasn’t going to come up here and trip over a body and solve the case in one day,” Polos said Monday. “What we need to somehow do is get the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office to put this case back on the front burner.” Polos is working the case on his own time.
Spokane County sheriff’s Lt. Steve Barbieri said the case is assigned to a detective who reviews it regularly with other homicide investigators.
New leads trickle in, but, Barbieri said, “They’re not really taking us anywhere yet.”
Polos requested the FBI’s file about the case, talked to the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office and arranged to visit the Mead substation where Welfen worked as an electrician and the Spring Hill substation from which she disappeared during a check-in.
Polos said he and partner Jake Hockett stayed at the Spring Hill substation overnight Saturday to observe traffic patterns and “get a feel” for the area, which is remote but still somewhat frequented by motorists.
They canvassed the area around the substation, located at the intersection of Coulee Hite Road and Four Mound Road, which turns into Seven Mile Road, with fliers and interviewed neighbors. They also discovered a possible clue on a hill overlooking the substation — a bone that Polos said “looked really strange.” A forensics examiner in Vancouver will determine if it’s human, Polos said
Weflen’s disappearance on Sept. 16, 1987, gripped the Spokane region as investigators canvassed the area with fliers, and billboards with Weflen’s face were installed across the Northwest. FBI agents joined the case, and national television shows featured Weflen’s story.
But detectives recovered no clues that led to a suspect, and Weflen’s disappearance has become one of Spokane County’s most famous cold cases.
Her husband, Mike Weflen, was in Ritzville for his house-painting job. He led the unsuccessful search for her.
One man living near the substation has long been rumored to be a suspect. Polos said a neighbor mentioned the man this weekend, but Barbieri said sheriff’s detectives have never declared him a suspect.
Investigators suspect Weflen was abducted from the substation and murdered, but Barbieri said even that can’t be confirmed. Her work truck’s driver-side door was left open, along with the back hatch, and Weflen’s hard hat, toolbox, water bottle and pair of sunglasses were on the ground next to the vehicle. She was 28.
“The biggest issue with Julie Weflen was her body was never found,” Barbieri said. “There’s signs of a struggle, but there’s just nothing that points us to what might have happened.”
The visit wasn’t part of Weflen’s regular schedule, so Polos wonders if Weflen was kidnapped during a crime of opportunity by someone who lives in the area or frequently drove through.
Barbieri, who said he’s thankful for Polos’ help, said an attacker could have followed Weflen after spotting her in another area. “A lot of coincidences” would have had to occur for Weflen to have been abducted within seconds of being spotted.
“Those usually aren’t spontaneous decisions,” Barbieri said.