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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Decade-old disappearance still a mystery

 (The Spokesman-Review)
Doug Clark The Spokesman-Review

Hearing a human leg bone had been found near Indian Canyon Golf Course last month stopped Michelle Melius like a punch in the gut.

The news stirred up a decade’s worth of barely suppressed heartache. The Spokane Valley woman couldn’t keep herself from wondering:

Would this bone help solve the mystery of her mother’s disappearance?

Michelle, 36, doesn’t harbor any illusions for a happy ending.

Kay Melius is dead.

Michelle knows it. All evidence points toward it.

But there’s no let-up on the desire to learn what happened.

On Tuesday, however, a Spokane police lieutenant revealed that Michelle’s wait must continue. Experts have determined the tibia belongs to an as-yet-unidentified male who was 6-foot-1.

Maybe an inch taller.

“I don’t get my hopes up,” she said as she digested the news.

“I don’t expect things. That’s too bad.”

Had Kay Melius been some South Hill socialite, you can bet your paycheck the cops would have turned the county upside down looking for her.

But Kay was a 48-year-old booze hound. She suffered from chronic poor health and a history of emotional problems. She didn’t belong to the Junior League. She was a member of society’s tattered fringe, a woman who frequented the seediest bars on West First and survived from one government check to the next.

And so when Michelle reported her mother missing in May of 1994 the response was, in a word, underwhelming.

There were other police matters going on at the time. The whereabouts of Kay Melius was hardly a high priority.

More than a week passed before the case was assigned to a sheriff’s detective, Michelle said. He eventually called her for a photograph of her mom. Michelle can’t remember if he ever even bothered to come and get it.

Soon the window of opportunity for finding out what happened had slammed shut.

Kay’s last residence had been a fleabag motel west of Spokane. There the 5-foot-2, 100-pound woman shared a room with Nick, the abusive boyfriend who once broke her arm.

Mother’s Day 1994. During a telephone call Kay told Michelle that Nick had blackened both her eyes.

Kay promised to move out. Just as soon as her next check arrived.

That was the last Michelle heard from her.

By the time cops started poking around, Nick was nowhere to be found.

You didn’t need Sherlock Holmes to tell you something was wrong. In the motel room, Kay had left her clothes, makeup, prescription drugs and other personal items.

Her disability check arrived and remained uncashed. She failed to show up for medical appointments.

Kay needed daily medication for asthma and emphysema. The woman couldn’t walk a block without pausing to catch her breath.

Then her missing 1978 Chevy Impala was found parked in downtown Spokane. Yet none of her friends and drinking pals had seen her.

“I hate the month of May,” said Michelle. Not only does the month bring Mother’s Day to remind her of that final conversation. But the birthdays of both Kay and Michelle are in May.

Now 10 years old, the vanishing of Kay Melius is one of those frustrating cold cases that may never be thawed.

When I first wrote about Kay 10 years ago, I was shocked by the sadness of her life. At 15, she watched her stepfather gun down her mother in her Southern California home. After testifying in court, she was packed off to live with relatives. She became a mother at age 16.

Three failed marriages.

A string of abusive relationships. Michelle learned a lot from her troubled mom: “My whole childhood opened my eyes on what not to do.”

Michelle said she was a senior at a Spokane high school when Kay’s lifestyle led to the loss of their home. Michelle was sent to Oregon to live with her father.

That move, she said, saved her from perhaps following mom’s shaky footsteps.

Michelle believes this Nick character holds all the answers. But she said she heard years ago that detectives had interviewed the man in another state.

Nick offered them nothing they could pursue, she said.

It would be nice to know more about this.

Unfortunately, my request to speak to a sheriff’s detective got me nowhere.

Apparently Kay Melius is still a low priority.

Michelle has long since given up being angry for what police did or didn’t do. She has three children of her own to occupy her time.

They keep her strong.

“I’ve got to the point where I don’t think there’ll ever be a closure,” she said, later adding: “Life is mysterious sometimes.”