Police: Starbuck hid in home, posed ex-wife’s body
A Deer Park mother of five found strangled to death in her home was positioned in a way to humiliate her and make detectives believe she had been sexually assaulted, according to information released Tuesday.
Clay Duane Starbuck, 47, is accused of murdering his ex-wife, Chanin Denice Starbuck, 42, after luring her from her home with their children, then breaking in and hiding until she returned, detectives wrote in a warrant that was used to search the suspect’s home at 1625 E. 2nd St. Monday night. Investigators seized dozens of items, including cameras, documents, computers and a cell phone.
Starbuck, a former oil worker in Alaska with no criminal history, was arrested Monday morning during a traffic stop in Deer Park. He remains in jail on $1 million bond after appearing in Spokane County Superior Court this afternoon on charges of aggravated first-degree murder and first-degree burglary. He’s prohibited from contacting his children, who are witnesses in the case. Spokane County sheriff’s officials say the children are staying with a close family friend.
Starbuck is to be arraigned Feb. 21. Aggravated murder carries a penalty of life in prison or death, but prosecutors had not yet formally filed charges as of late Tuesday.
The Starbucks divorced in July but were involved in legal battles over money and contempt of court claims when Chanin’s body was found Dec. 3 at her rental home at 509 N. Reiper St. A journal describing her difficulties with her ex-husband was on a dresser next to the bed. Police also found sex toys in the room that appeared to be placed there “like they were on display,” according to the search warrant.
Starbuck, who detectives say emphasized his ex-wife’s sexual activities in interviews with them, was always a person of interest in her murder, documents show. Detectives obtained DNA samples from him, his sons and from a man she’d visited in the days before her death.
The state crime lab recently released results that showed either Clay Starbuck’s DNA or the DNA of one of his two sons was found in swabs from Chanin’s fingernails, neck and face. Detectives confirmed both sons were eiher working or in school when their mother was killed.
Detectives believe Starbuck pretended that his car was broken down Dec. 1 and asked Chanin to drive their children to school so he could break into her home and hide. They believe he attacked her at 9:17 a.m. - the same time 911 received a call from her cell phone. Starbuck then used his ex-wife’s phone to text message two men she’d met through online dating websites, posing as her.
One of those men told detectives he’d arranged to meet Chanin at her house for a “rendezvous” that morning at 10:30 a.m., according to court documents. He went to the home at that time but received no answer. He repeatedly tried to contact her before receiving a message from her phone that said “Did you come over???”
The man told police he didn’t believe the message was actually sent by Chanin because “she was not her kind, jovial and pleasant self as usual,” according to court documents. He went to her home later that night and again received no answer but noticed the heat was running as if someone was home. He told detectives “he should have known something was amiss,” documents say.
Another man told police he received a text message from Chanin about 12:10 p.m. on Dec. 1 asking if he could meet her for lunch. He told her he couldn’t, and she responded with a strange message asking him if he was on his way. The man said he thought it was odd she contacted him because they already agreed to meet on Dec. 5.
Employment time cards and other records were used to corroborate the men’s stories and eliminate them as suspects. DNA evidence on Chanin’s body also eliminated them as suspects.
The Starbucks have five children between the ages of 10 and 21, but Clay Starbuck told police he is not the biological father of one and that Chanin frequently slept with other men.
Detectives say Starbuck didn’t appear to be genuinely upset when they told him of ex-wife’s death. He told them he’d planned to pick up their children and take them to school, but his car stalled so he asked Chanin Starbuck to take them, then walked home and went back to bed. He said he got up about 11 a.m. and walked back to his stalled car. He said he received a text message from Chanin about 3:30 p.m. asking him to pick up the children.
Detectives believe it was all a lie to try to cover up his involvement in his ex-wife’s murder.
Family from out of town contacted police Dec. 2 to request a welfare check on Chanin Starbuck, but deputies responded to the home and found no signs of a forced entry or other suspicious circumstances. They left feeling they had no justification to enter the home without a warrant. They returned the next day after a friend said he hadn’t heard from Chanin Starbuck in several days and that it was “very out of character for her.”
Deputies found Starbuck dead on a bed in the master bedroom. Clay Starbuck contacted them at the home and asked about the crime scene tape. Detective Mark Renz said Starbuck “was very adamant” about showing him an 8-minue phone call he’d had with a deputy the day before in which he expressed concern for his ex-wife because he hadn’t heard from her.
“Detective Renz got the distinct impression that Clay was trying to probe him for information,” according to court documents.
Friends told police Chanin suspected Clay was entering the home and stealing jewelry and firearms. Detectives found four police reports filed by Chanin between June and November that described the theft of jewelry and nuisances like an unscrewed volleyball set in the backyard and a tipped over barbecue.
The couple, first married in 1990, had divorced in March 2000 in Benton County but reconciled within four months and remarried in Alaska in 2006, where Clay Starbuck worked on the oil pipelines. Chanin Starbuck had been a stay-at-home mom but completed a dental assistant program after filing for divorce in July 2010. She graduated from high school in Florida and was buried in Orlando in December, according to her obituary.