Motel owner Ray Holmes remembers the latest victim of a Spokane serial killer as a troubled woman who was “too friendly for her own good.”
He said Sunny Oster’s murder “astonished” him in the sense of a cancer victim whose death is expected but still a shock. “All of a sudden you can’t talk to them anymore and it hits you: They’re really gone.”
Oster’s body was found Sunday near the intersection of Salnave and Graham roads in southern Spokane County, near Tyler. She is believed to be the sixth victim of a serial killer who shoots prostitutes to death and dumps their bodies in isolated areas.
“It’s pathetic that something like that would happen to somebody who never did anybody any harm,” Holmes said. “She was just too friendly for her own good. She always had a smile on her face, and she never cut anybody down.”
She was far too trusting of many of the people she encountered, he said.
Holmes said Oster was one of several prostitutes and drug users or dealers who were living at the Colonial Motel in Lakewood, Wash., when he repossessed it in April 1995 from his sister, who is serving a prison sentence for killing her husband in the lobby.
The motel is in a mile-long strip called Ponders Corner that Holmes said “has been known since the ‘40s for being hooker alley.” The area is south of Tacoma, about a half-mile west of McChord Air Force Base and four miles north of the Fort Lewis Army base.
He said he was determined to clean up the Colonial, “and it’s becoming a good family motel again” thanks to his refusal to allow prostitution or drug-dealing on the premises. “The girls would come here and I told them they could live here, but they couldn’t hook out of here,” Holmes said.
Oster was the only one of them he tried to help.
“She reminded me of my daughter,” Holmes said. “She was so small and petite - just a tiny thing, not a person who could go out there and take care of herself.”
Holmes, 57, said his own daughter, Linda, was raped and murdered in 1985 at the age of 23. She gave a man a ride home after dancing with him at a bowling alley about five miles from the motel and was found five days later with her throat cut, he said.
Holmes thought Oster was about 30 when he last saw her about a year ago, but she actually was 41 when she died. There was never any doubt she was a drug addict, he said.
“That’s probably the reason she was hooking,” he said. “Once they get hooked on the drugs, the girls have to have their money from somewhere, and that’s one of the easiest ways for them to get it.”
He liked her, anyway, and would allow her to stay at the motel free for a few days at a time when she was down on her luck. She had no money for rent, and told Holmes she sometimes slept under bridges or in any unlocked car she could find. She had no car of her own.
“I remember one time she came in here with a black eye and a busted lip,” Holmes recalled, “and I said, ‘Sunny, just go take a room and sleep for a couple of days.”’ He said he tried to convince her to enroll in a nearby vocational training program. She promised she would, but never did.
Oster came to the motel often enough that “all of the help knew her,” Holmes said. “She was a very likable person. Sunny had lots of friends, but she didn’t have one true friend.”
The closest may have been another prostitute, Holmes said. “There’s a real slim-line hooker, name of Nan. They were pretty good friends. They used to walk together.”
Oster never talked about her sons, now 23 and 17, or her parents, Holmes said. He didn’t know she had a family.
Oster’s father, Ed, said she went to Spokane in September to enroll in a drug treatment program recommended by a friend. She talked about completing the treatment program in a letter she sent her father in early October, shortly before she disappeared.
A representative of American Behavioral Health System, a Salvation Army drug treatment program, declined to comment Friday on Oster’s involvement in the program.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Photo
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