DNA on napkin used to find suspect in 3-decade-old killing

TACOMA, Wash. — A man who police said was linked by DNA to the killing of a 12-year-old girl more than three decades ago was charged Friday with first-degree murder and first-degree rape. It is the second suspect that Tacoma, Washington, police have arrested in the past two months in cold cases involving young victims last seen riding bicycles in 1986.

Gary Hartman, 66, was arrested during a traffic stop this week and charged in the 1986 death of Michella Welch, the News Tribune reports. Hartman will be arraigned Monday.

The girl was playing in a Tacoma park with her two younger sisters when she rode her bicycle home to get sandwiches, according to prosecutors. Her sisters went to play in another part of the park and when they returned found the sandwiches but no sign of their older sister.

Searchers found her body later the same day in a gulch more than a quarter of a mile from the play area.

A medical examiner at the time determined that Welch died from blunt force trauma to the head and said there was evidence of sexual assault.

Detectives have continued to investigate and two years ago contacted a genealogist, who used a DNA sample from Welch’s body to build a family tree through public websites, then ran it through a database and received a significant match.

The genealogist identified two brothers who had the correct amount of shared DNA to match the DNA in evidence. One of those brothers was Hartman, prosecutors said.

Detectives then began surveillance of Hartman, following him to his job as a nurse at Washington state’s psychiatric hospital and then to a restaurant where he left behind napkins that were later taken by the detectives. A DNA sample from the napkins matched the DNA from the crime scene, prosecutors said.

Hartman, who has no criminal record, is being held on $5 million bail. It wasn’t known if Hartman, of Lakewood, Washington, had obtained an attorney.

This is the second Tacoma cold case arrest in as many months. In May, authorities arrested Robert Washburn at his Illinois home a week after they received results of a DNA test linking him to the death of 13-year-old Jennifer Bastian.

Bastian disappeared while riding her bike in a Tacoma park on a summer evening, and her body was found in a wooded area more than two weeks later in August 1986.

Washburn has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder in that case.

Tacoma police said Friday while they once believed the two cases could be linked they no longer believe that to be true.

Police Chief Don Ramsdell said making the arrests in the span of two months in crimes that were committed decades ago was “extraordinary.”

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