The discovery of 12-year-old Cassie Emerson’s body so far has provided few clues into the double homicide that claimed her and her mother.
Authorities feared the girl had been kidnapped when her trailer home five miles south of Colville was destroyed by arson on June 27 and only the remains of her mother, Marlene Emerson, 29, were found.
Stevens County sheriff’s investigators still don’t know the cause of death for either victim, but believe they were killed by the same person.
Cassie Emerson was the second 12-year-old girl to be killed in the Colville area since March 1996, but Undersheriff Gilbert Geer said Emerson’s death doesn’t appear to be connected to that of Julie Harris.
Harris’ body was found in April in a wooded area near Kettle Falls. Investigators have what they call a “person of interest” in the Harris case, but Geer said no one who rises to that level in Emerson case.
“We’ve got suspicions,” he said, declining to elaborate.
Geer said nothing has been ruled out, but the Emersons’ killer was probably someone who knew them.
“I don’t think the people who live up there need to worry,” he said. “It doesn’t appear to be a stranger-type situation.”
Cassie Emerson’s badly decomposed remains, widely scattered by animals, were found by horseback riders Sunday in a heavily wooded and brushy area about five miles by road from her home. The body was near one of numerous logging roads the crisscross the area, and had not been buried.
Officers scoured the area, but found no evidence other than the body.
Geer said there was no obvious cause of death. It probably will be impossible to determine whether the girl was sexually molested, he said.
An autopsy won’t be conducted until next week when Spokane forensic pathologist George Lindholm is available. Authorities want Lindholm to handle the autopsy because he also examined Marlene Emerson’s remains.
Lindholm was unable to find out what killed Marlene Emerson. Geer said the pathologist may have similar difficulty in Cassie Emerson’s case because both bodies were in such poor condition.
The investigation is complicated by Marlene Emerson’s lifestyle.
“She’d been in quite a lot of trouble over the years,” Geer said. “Marlene had a lot of people that didn’t get along with her.”
She served a jail sentence shortly before her death, stemming from a second-degree burglary in which she admitted breaking into a tattoo parlor with a man whose wife wanted equipment to go into the tattoo business.
Geer said officers are checking for any possible connection between the burglary and the homicides. Other possibilities include a drug deal gone bad or sour relations with a boyfriend, he acknowledged.
Marlene Emerson had a long history of drug abuse. She admitted that in a 1990 Superior Court case that transferred legal custody of her daughter to her sister, Connie Barnhill, with whom the girl had lived since August 1989.
In granting the order, Judge Larry Kristianson predicted Cassie Emerson would be at risk of “physical, mental or emotional harm” if returned to her mother. But the girl moved in with her grandmother in 1992 and returned to her mother’s home in March 1996 - two months before Emerson sought a restraining order against a live-in boyfriend.
Geer said the boyfriend is not a suspect, nor is Cassie Emerson’s long-absent natural father. He said Barnhill also is not a suspect, although she and Emerson had a bitter fight in 1991 and were ordered by a judge to keep apart.
Emerson and Barnhill had patched up their differences, and Barnhill was planning to take Cassie Emerson fishing on the day she disappeared and her mother died.
Authorities continue to offer a $5,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of Cassie Emerson’s killer.
Tipsters may call the Stevens County Sheriff’s Department at (800) 572-0947.
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