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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Suspect in 1986 Tacoma murder case arrested in Illinois

Associated Press

TACOMA – A man arrested in the 1986 killing of a Tacoma girl came to the attention of police because before she even disappeared, he called them purportedly to give a tip about a different, similar slaying, investigators said in charging documents.

Authorities said they arrested Robert Washburn, 60, at his home in Eureka, Illinois, on Thursday, a week after they received results of a DNA test linking him to the death of 13-year-old Jennifer Bastian. He waived his right to contest extradition during a hearing Friday in Woodford County Circuit Court and was ordered detained pending his return to Washington, the Journal Star newspaper of Peoria reported.

He has been charged with first-degree murder. It was not known if he had obtained a lawyer in Washington.

Bastian disappeared while riding her bike in Tacoma’s Point Defiance Park on a summer evening, and her body was found in a wooded area off a trail more than two weeks later, on Aug. 28, 1986.

The death resembled the murder of a 12-year-old girl named Michella Welch, who was abducted in a south Seattle park in March of that year. In May, Washburn called police to say that while jogging in Point Defiance Park, he had seen a man who matched the description of the suspect in Welch’s case, Tacoma Police Detective Jared Ausserer wrote in a probable cause statement filed in Pierce County Superior Court this week.

The call made him a suspect in Bastian’s case, Ausserer wrote, and by the end of 1986, investigators had questioned him. He told them he often jogged at Point Defiance Park, sometimes twice a day, and he had been there when authorities cordoned it off amid a search for her.

But investigators apparently lacked evidence to make an arrest. Her slaying – and Welch’s – remained unsolved.

In the first year after Bastian was killed, a six-person task force put in at least 10,000 investigative hours, police said.

In 2013, the Washington State Patrol Crime Lab was able to develop a DNA profile of the suspect from semen discovered on the bathing suit Bastian had been wearing before she was killed. The profile was checked against a national database of felons, but failed to return a match.

In 2016, detectives came up with a list of suspects whose DNA they needed to compare against the profile the crime lab had developed. Among them, Ausserer wrote, was Washburn.

FBI agents went to his home in Illinois two months ago to collect the sample; Washburn voluntarily provided it, the detective wrote, and on May 3 the results came back with a hit.

Welch’s killing is still unsolved. While authorities initially believed the two cases might be linked, DNA analysis performed in 2016 showed otherwise, according to the News Tribune newspaper of Tacoma.