Real Name: Michella Welch
Location: Tacoma, Washington
Date: March 26, 1986
Case[edit | edit source]
Details: At 10AM on March 26, 1986, twelve-year-old Michella Welch took her two younger sisters to Puget Park in Tacoma. At 11AM, she went back home to make them lunch. When she returned to the park, she went looking for her sisters, who had went to a nearby business to use the restroom. When they returned, they could not find Michella. She was last seen at around 1:30PM, talking to an unidentified man.
Her sisters contacted police who began a search. At 11:30PM, a tracking dog found her body in a makeshift fire pit near the park. Her throat had been slit. Police suspected that her murder might be related to the unsolved murder of Jenny Bastian.
Suspects: A thirteen-year-old classmate later told detectives he saw a man in the park that day under the Proctor Bridge who kept looking at the girls. The man was never found. He was described as white, twenty-four to twenty-six (in 1986), 5'9" and skinny. He was wearing a blue jean jacket with holes in it, blue jeans and dirty, ripped white tennis shoes.
The unidentified man last seen with Michella was described as possibly Hispanic, twenty-five to thirty-five (in 1986), 5'8" with black hair, a possible mustache and light-colored clothing.
Police suspected that convicted child killer David Fisher was involved in Michella's murder. However, he could not be located.
Extra Notes: The case was featured as a part of a special alert in the December 6, 1989 episode, along with Carla Wright and Jenny Bastian. This case was also documented alongside Jenny's on an episode of Dateline after the cases were resolved. It was also referenced on an episode of On the Case with Paula Zahn, which mainly focused on Jenny's murder.
Results: Solved. Fisher was arrested as a result of the broadcast but was later ruled out in Michella's case. For years, police suspected that Jenny and Michella were killed by the same man. However, in 2016, DNA testing determined that they had been killed by different people. Composites were made of the killers based on their DNA profiles.
In May of 2018, Jenny's killer was identified through DNA testing as Robert Washburn. Incredibly, just a month later on June 20, sixty-six-year-old Gary Charles Hartman was arrested and charged with Michella's murder. Investigators used a forensic genealogy technique similar to what was used in the cases of Original Night Stalker and Jay Cook and Tanya Van Cuylenborg. They uploaded the killer's DNA to a genealogical website and created a "family tree" based on a match to the one of the killer's relatives. This led them to Hartman and his younger brother. Investigators the collected a discarded DNA sample from Hartman, which matched the DNA found at the crime scene.
Investigators discovered that Hartman had lived just two miles from Puget Park in 1986. He had no criminal record and was working as a nurse prior to his arrest. He has pleaded not guilty and is currently awaiting trial.
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