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

Real Crime - - Contents - Words Ben Biggs

Wash­ing­ton cops were on bor­rowed time to catch young Linda Strait’s killer

Back­ground

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.

BREAK­THROUGH

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.

Af­ter­math

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

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