• Tacoma police arrest suspect in 1986 child murder case of Michella Welch

    By: Maggie Wilson

    Updated:

    TACOMA, Wash. - A suspect was arrested Wednesday in the 1986 child murder case of Michella Welch.

    Gary Charles Hartman, 66, was booked into the Pierce County Jail. His bail was set at $5 million Thursday. Prosecutors argued for a high bond, saying he could be a flight risk because of his assets.

    Welch was 12 years old when she disappeared after she and her younger sisters visited Tacoma’s Puget Park on March 26, 1986. 

    Her body was found in a gulch after police conducted a search. 

    In 2016, using technology called DNA phenotyping, Tacoma police and the Virginia based company Parabon Nanolabs produced computer-generated composites using evidence found after the murders of Welch and 13-year-old Jennifer Bastian.

    Welch was found in Tacoma's Puget Park in March 1986, Bastian five months later in Point Defiance Park. Both had been raped and murdered. 

    At first, police thought both murders were the work of the same man, until 2013, when a re-examination of evidence proved there were actually two different killers. 

    Earlier this year, Jennifer Bastian's suspected killer was also arrested.

    That suspect was detained out of state taken to Washington for prosecution. Officials with the Illinois State Police said they helped apprehend the suspect in Bastian's killing, identified as Robert Washburn.

    In court documents, Pierce County prosecuting attorney Jared Ausserer said Washburn first became a suspect when he called police in May of 1986 about a composite sketch released of a suspect in the murder of Welch.

    Washburn called police after the suspect sketch was released, saying he saw a similar-looking man while jogging in Point Defiance Park. 

    He told police he jogged in the park as often as twice a day, Ausserer said. 

    In 1986, a special task force was formed to investigate the murders of Welch and Bastian.

    "There are remarkable similarities (in the murders of Welch and Bastian)," KIRO 7 reporter Karen O'Leary said on-air that year. "She and Jennifer were about the same age. Both were riding bikes when they disappeared. Both were found in north Tacoma parks."

     

     


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    The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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