Donavin Stapert’s body was stuffed in a safe for a day before it was taken 60 miles from a small Whitman County town and buried on wooded state land in north Spokane County, officials say.
A Medical Lake man accused of helping two others hide Stapert’s body and sealing the safe with caulk pleaded not guilty Friday to two charges in Whitman County Superior Court. James Larry Ramson, 30, was arrested last Saturday and faces charges related to the cover-up of Stapert’s death.
On Wednesday, Spokane County and Whitman County sheriff’s officials working the case found a body buried about four feet underground on state land near Chattaroy. The Spokane County Medical Examiner’s Office confirmed on Friday that the body was Stapert, 17, who moved to Malden with his father last fall.
Investigators believe Stapert was at the home of Bobby Bilderback and Chastity Bilderback in Malden, about six miles west of Rosalia, when he died in the early hours of March 7.
The Bilderbacks face homicide and other charges alleging that they provided Stapert methamphetamine and hid his body. Chastity Bilderback, who legally changed her name from Barkhuff even though the couple did not marry, pleaded not guilty to multiple charges on Thursday. Bobby Bilderback was jailed Monday in Montana.
Stapert grew up mostly in Spokane and attended several schools, including North Central High School, said his father, Jason Stapert, adding that Donavin hadn’t been attending school when he died.
Court documents say an anonymous witness reported that Bobby Bilderback claimed he and Stapert were eating “large chunks of meth” in a hot tub when Stapert overdosed. Bobby Bilderback told the witness that he dragged Stapert to a bedroom where Stapert died, according to court records. The Bilderbacks placed Stapert in a large safe, the witness said. The safe wasn’t moved until March 9, when it was loaded into an SUV.
The witness said he ate dinner at the home with the Bilderbacks and Ramson the evening of March 8, before the body was moved. He told an investigator that “he could smell the odor of a dead body or flesh and stated, ‘you can’t forget it.’ ”
The witness said Bobby Bilderback is “heavily involved in the distribution of methamphetamine and cocaine from Las Vegas to Montana,” court records say. He said Ramson helps Bilderback distribute the drugs, those records say.
Bilderback met with investigators on March 17 and admitted to trafficking methamphetamine but told investigators he believed Stapert had run away and $53,000 was missing from his home.
Jason Stapert was also at the Bilderbacks’ home when his son died, court records say. The witness told investigators that Jason Stapert was “also believed to be under the influence of meth” and was passed out in an upstairs room.
Stapert, 39, said Friday that he and his son were working to set up a marijuana growing operation in an outbuilding at the Bilderbacks’ home. He said after they were done working for the day he had a couple shots of Jagermeister but no methamphetamine. He said his son was using the Internet when he went to bed about 2 a.m. When he woke up the next morning, he said, Bobby Bilderback accused his son of running off and stealing money.
Court records indicate Jason Stapert discouraged family members from calling police and even told an investigator on March 8 that his son had called him and told him he was on his way to Oregon, where his mother lives.
In an interview Friday, Stapert denied misleading investigators or discouraging family members from calling the police. He said he was unaware that Bilderback was distributing meth and never met Ramson.
“My son was my best friend,” he said.
He said he knew Chastity Bilderback since soon after moving to Malden last fall, but that Bobby Bilderback was not in town until about three weeks before his son’s death.
Whitman County Sheriff Brett Myers said earlier this week that investigators do not believe that Stapert was involved in his son’s death or the cover-up.
Stapert’s family members say Donavin Stapert smoked marijuana but was opposed to using harder drugs.
Bobby Bilderback and Ramson have a history of violent crime. Bilderback was released from prison in 2010 after serving 23 years on a first-degree murder sentence from Chelan County. When Ramson was 16, he was charged as an adult and sentenced to 80 months in prison for assaulting a man on the steps of the county courthouse in Corvallis, Ore.