A woman found dead at a Spokane recycling plant earlier this month had been isolated for years, according to her family.
In the latter stages of her life, 79-year-old Stephanie Standen became secretive, said Katherine “Kitty” Pedersen, the wife of Standen’s first cousin. Exhibiting behavior consistent with mental illness – though never diagnosed – she was guarded, combative and a stranger to her family. She rarely kept contact with her two children. She was often homeless, living on social security or donations from others, and moved constantly.
Pedersen, her closest, and at times only, friend, who was also in charge of a trust fund in her name that ran dry three years ago, would go months without hearing from her. The last time they spoke was in mid-November, when Standen asked for a place to stay, as she’d done several times in the past.
“She’d want help, and then she wouldn’t accept it,” said Pedersen. “More than once in the last few years, people have tried to get her on medication, and find her a stable place to live. She wouldn’t take her meds, would get mad, and then take off again.”
On April 5, Standen was discovered by workers at the Spokane Materials and Recycling Technology Center on Geiger Road. She was naked and covered in injuries, and detectives immediately suspected foul play.
Their investigation led them to a home on the lower South Hill, directly behind Roosevelt Elementary School. There, they found evidence of homicide: bloodstains on the carpet, in the kitchen, on a shirt and on a recycling bin outside. A broken photo frame with glass missing. Cleaning supplies on the counter.
While a suspect has not been arrested or charged, detectives say Standen’s roommate – a man who neighbors said was from Missoula – may be connected to the death.
The man told police he and Standen weren’t close. And he said she went missing weeks ago, but thought he heard her in her bedroom three to four days before she was discovered dead. Neighbors said the man and Standen moved into the tiny brick home on West 14th Avenue around mid-November.
The news of her death hit Pedersen hard, she said. While it was normal to go long stretches of time without hearing from Standen, she never expected a phone call from the Spokane County Medical Examiner’s Office, asking if she knew anyone who could claim her remains.
“I guess I was the only contact number they could find,” she said.
Pedersen said the two weren’t close, but when it came to Standen, hers was the closest and longest-running relationship the woman had.
Standen was an only child, according to Pedersen and a background report. In 1961, while studying at the University of Montana, she married Richard Standen, from Calgary. The two stayed in Ronan, Montana – Richard working as a teacher, and Stephanie mostly staying at home.
The couple had two children, a son who lives in California, and a daughter who lives in the eastern United States.
In 1987, the two divorced. Richard Standen moved back to Canada. Stephanie Standen moved to Minneapolis.
It was at that time, Pedersen said, that Standen started taking a turn for the worse. Pedersen believes Standen had undiagnosed mental health issues, including possibly schizophrenia. She said she despised taking medication, and due to her condition was often combative, which took a toll on many of her relationships.
Pedersen, 78, said Standen became more and more distant until she was eventually estranged from her entire family.
In 1998, Standen’s mother died. She left her daughter a trust fund, which Pedersen administered. As a result she would hear from Standen more often than other family members, mostly whenever she needed money.
Three years ago, that money ran out, and Standen was evicted from her apartment in St. Paul.
“Then she started traveling around the country by bus,” Pedersen said.
She spent most of her time around Montana, but visited Spokane from time to time. Pedersen said she had been placed on a 24-hour hold at Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center and was committed to Eastern State Hospital.
In October, Pedersen said Standen was staying at a homeless shelter in Missoula, but got kicked out. Someone paid for her to stay in a motel room for a night, but the next day she was back on a bus to Kalispell. Then on Nov. 12, she was back in Missoula.
“I worried about her all winter,” Pedersen said. “It was so cold. I had no idea where she was. I just hoped she wasn’t out on the streets somewhere.”
When they talked in November, it was the last Pedersen heard from her. She said she was shocked to learn Standen was living with a roommate before her death.
“In all the times talking to her over the years, she never ever lived with anybody,” she said. “She was always alone.”
But she always had her dog, a blind poodle. And she had a fun side. A side nobody really knew, even those she was closest with.
“She liked to bowl,” Pedersen said, referencing an old bowling tournament Standen won decades ago. Pedersen learned of the victory only recently, while Googling Standen’s name.
“She didn’t talk much,” she said. “It’s very sad.”
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