breakthrough “I hope you rot in hell”
New technology was on side of washington state detective hines, but it was a race against time to force a known child killer to face justice
Washington cops were on borrowed time to catch young Linda Strait’s killer
The anguish that Donna Ragland experienced when she learned that her
15- year- old daughter had been murdered must have been exacerbated by the fact she was snatched just metres from the safety of her own home. Around noon on Sunday 26 September 1982, Linda Strait stepped out of her house in North Spokane and began to walk to the local grocery store.
An anxious 24 hours followed for her mother and stepfather after Linda failed to return. Her discovery by a local fisherman the next day, cold and lifeless in the water near the shore of the Spokane River, only furthered their misery. In the following years, Spokane police would speak to around 1,000 people in the local area, but the few persons of interest they had were cleared by alibis or polygraph tests.
They had little to go on apart from a semen- stained pillowcase that had been pushed under Linda’s sweatshirt by the killer. Police assumed this was a grim artefact the monster had used to wipe himself off after raping and strangling Linda. No DNA profile could have been extracted in 1982 but this piece of evidence was duly bagged, logged and placed into storage. Could detectives have imagined at the time that this would prove the crucial link they needed, decades later, between the murder and their suspect? Because they would later have a prime suspect and, at the cost of two more victims, he would soon buy Spokane investigators 21 years to solve this case. They would need every single day of it.
In May 1983, less than a year after the murder of Linda Strait, 39- year- old Arbie Dean Williams was cruising through Spokane Valley with dark intent. He pulled over after spotting two eight- year- old pupils from nearby Trent Elementary and got out of his car. As the girls approached, he made a show of searching for something, then asked them if they would help him look for his keys. They obliged and climbed into his car. Williams got into the car himself and forced them into the footwell, telling them to be quiet. In a sadly familiar story, a combination of fear and a child’s instinctive trust in an adult compelled these girls to obey the stranger, where kicking and screaming might have saved them right there.
Williams drove around until it became dark, then found a secluded area near some woods where he stopped, got out and told the two girls to strip. One began to remove her clothing but the other bolted and managed to escape. The remaining victim was fortunate enough to survive being raped and choked unconscious: thinking she was dead, Williams dumped the girl’s naked body in the woods. Not long after, she came- to and raised the alarm.
With the survivors’ descriptions of their would- be killer, it didn’t take long for the police to track Williams down and arrest him. He was convicted of first- degree kidnap and first- degree rape and given a life sentence. At the time, detectives didn’t connect the Linda Strait murder case with these kidnappings.
Six years after Linda’s murder, with
DNA profiling emerging as a significant
“Fear and a child’s instinctive trust in an adult
compelled these girls to obey the stranger, where
kicking and screaming might have saved them ”
new technology in the fight against crime, Spokane detectives submitted evidence from the crime scene for testing. But they were unable to determine any DNA profile from the sample.
It wasn’t until 1998 that the case turned a corner. Detective Tim Hines was given the unsolved Linda Strait case. He immediately realised that not only was there potential DNA on the evidence taken from the crime scene but, despite the failure to pull a profile nearly a decade before, advances in the technology might mean the lab would be successful this time.
The funding to process DNA from major unsolved cases finally came though in 2002 and Detective Hines was able to submit the Linda Strait crime scene evidence for DNA testing. This time, scientists got a partial profile from the sample – enough that it could be compared against a full profile. Washington state law required all convicted felons to supply DNA, so when Washington State Police forensic scientist William Culnane ran the partial profile through the data bank, he reported a hit: “A match between this profile and Williams, Arbie D., was found.”
The odds of this partial DNA profile matching two individuals were long, but to cast his case in iron, Hines had to visit McNeil Island Correctional Center to execute a search warrant. Here, he obtained a blood sample from Williams to provide DNA that would once again match the partial profile obtained from the Linda Strait crime scene evidence.
It was April 2003, nearly 21 years since Williams had been imprisoned for rape and kidnapping, and he was just days away from a parole hearing that could have freed him.
Nearly 24 years after her daughter was murdered, on 31 August 2006 Donna Ragland finally got to face Linda’s killer. At the hearing Williams admitted that he had killed Linda, embarking on a speech that, perhaps, he hoped would grant him leniency: “I don’t see how you could forgive a person like me… Sometimes we say we are sorry for things that we do. Most people are only sorry for when they got caught. I’m not begging you for mercy. I don’t deserve any mercy. I just didn’t want to put her family through a jury trial for three weeks.”
But he then tried to backtrack and withdraw his guilty plea after the deputy prosecutor began to detail his crime to the judge. When told that he could change his plea but his confession would remain on record, Williams reluctantly agreed to proceed with his guilty plea.
Donna Ragland’s words left no room for doubt, however. She talked about the terrible loss of her daughter, describing her as “the light of my life,” before turning to Williams and saying, “I think you are the scum of the earth and I hope you rot in hell.”
her Linda had been w alking fromWest Avon home to the Saf ewayto buy store a t F rancis and Monroe a g allon of milk and a hair perm kit, when she w as a bducted
Arbie Dean W illiams made a plea deal after his 1983 arrest tha t saw prosecutor s pur sue first- degree kidnap and r ape, but no a ttempted murder c harge Williams, lea ving court on 31 August 2006. He pleaded guilty to second- de gree murder and received a 20- y ear sentence . He will be 82 bef ore he can be considered f or parole