Tacoma police arrest suspect in 1986 child murder

Tacoma police said Thursday they arrested a suspect in the 1986 child murder case of Jennifer Bastian. 

TACOMA, Wash. — Police never closed the case, continuing to investigate new tips.

The suspect was detained out of state and will be taken to Washington for prosecution, police said. Officials with the Illinois State Police said they helped apprehend the suspect, identified as Robert Washburn.

The man was taken into custody in Eureka, Illinois, WMDB News in Illinois reports. 

A neighbor to Washburn told WMDB News she's shocked. She told WMBD her 11-year-old daughter would often go to Washburn's home and play with his daughter.

In August of 1986, Jennifer Bastian went missing, last seen alive in Tacoma's Point Defiance Park. Her body was later found in a wooded area.

Police say on Aug. 4, 1986, 13-year-old Bastian left her home riding an 18-speed Schwinn bicycle to Point Defiance Park to train for an upcoming bike tour in the San Juan Islands.

Her body was found on Aug. 28 of the same year.

When Bastian first disappeared, police, loved ones, trained dogs and volunteers searched the park for clues.

Friends and family members stopped park visitors, asking everyone if they had seen anything that could help detectives find Bastian. The young girl's image, printed on white paper in black-and-white, hung on storefront windows.

"Somebody knows something," a woman at the park said to KIRO 7's Nick Walker in 1986. "It's just a matter of jogging their memory."

Watch an archived KIRO 7 News report from when Bastian's body was first found, hosted below.

Bastian's mother Patty talked with KIRO 7 in 2014 about the case, saying she had faith Tacoma detectives would find her daughter's killer.

"I do have hope. I have more than hope, I have surety," said Bastian's mother. "I know they're going to solve it."

In 2016, using technology called DNA phenotyping, Tacoma police and the Virginia based company Parabon Nanolabs produced computer generated composites that could reveal the faces of two killers responsible for murders, using evidence found after the murders of 12-year-old Michella Welch and 13-year-old Jennifer Bastian.

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.

"These two 1986 child murders occurred at a time when the technology we know today did not exist," police spokeswoman Officer Loretta Cool said at a news conference.

The two murders broke hearts in the Tacoma community. A police officer at the time reflected on the potential for another violent crime to occur in a Tacoma park, saying if another should occur, it would be a very sad day.

"Tacoma has already had too many sad days," said KIRO 7 reporter Karen O'Leary, as she signed off that year on TV. 

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.

In 2016, Tacoma police released a DNA-generated sketch of Jennifer Bastian’s suspected killer.

The other image in the GIF below is suspect Robert Washburn's mugshot.

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 12-year-old Michella Welch.

Welch was murdered in Puget Park on March 26.

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 2016, a list was made of suspects police wanted DNA from. The next year, Robert Washburn was contacted at his home in Illinois. Ausserer says Washburn signed a voluntary consent form for collection of his DNA.

Years after Jennifer Bastian's murder, crime lab officials in 2013 examined the blue one-piece bathing suit she was found partially wearing. They recovered semen in the crotch area of her swim suit and developed a male DNA profile from the semen.

Using Washburn's collected DNA, officials matched the swim suit sperm profile with Robert Washburn. According to Ausserer, the estimated probability of selecting an unrelated person at random from the U.S. with a matching DNA profile is 1 in 57 trillion.

More news from KIRO 7