They're the names and cases most people forget. Murder victims and missing people whose cases have gone cold. But, the Spokane County Sheriff's Office is committed to solving their cold cases and, in the case of one little boy, a killer may finally be revealed.
Most people in Spokane probably don't remember his name or his smiling face in his school picture. But, in September 1970, David Willoughby's case was on everyone's mind.
"David was a normal, curious 8-year old boy," describes Spokane County Sheriff's Detective Kirk Keyser. "He was doing what a normal, curious 8-year old boy would be doing on a Saturday afternoon in the 1970."
On September 8, 1970, David walked away from his home on North Elm and into the dark history of Spokane County. He and a friend were making the long walk out to Geiger Field, hoping to get a parachute. David's friend got tired and turned back; David kept walking and never came home.
"This was 1970. This wasn't something that happened on a regular basis," said Keyser. "So as soon as they determined Davis wasn't hiding in his bedroom, hadn't been seen in several hours, it was a community event."
The search went on for 18 days. Dozens of leads came in, but nothing solid. On September 25, David's remains were found in Pend Oreille State Park, just north of Spokane County. He had been strangled and molested and was likely kept alive for days before his murder.
It was three days before his ninth birthday.
A store owner on the West Plains remembers seeing a little boy that day, about David's age. He came into the store to buy suckers with a white man in his 40's. The man was driving a green '57 Nash Rambler. A woman driving near Highway 2 and Mt. Spokane Park Road saw something suspicious that day, too, though she had no idea what she may have witnessed.
"She saw what she described as a green 1957 Nash rambler station wagon," Kesyer said. "She said there was a man standing outside of it, wrestling or tussling with something in the back seat. When she approached, he drove off rapidly northbound. When the car passed her, she saw a small boy that she described as 6-8, screaming, crying and pleading for help in the back seat."
She drove on, assuming it was a parent disciplining a child. There were no cell phones, after all -- it was 1970.
"It was only after his discovery that she approached law enforcement," Detective Keyser explained. "She had not yet seen a picture of David Willoughby and she described his clothing to a T."
Based on those accounts, all detectives had to go on was the description of a Nash Rambler - and, not much else. It was a car with no known driver; a road, with no end in sight. In 1979, someone came forward, suspecting a family member could be involved.
"The person of interest in this case was living in the immediate area where David was found," said Keyser, referring to the 700-page case file on his desk. "[That person] was driving a '57 Nash rambler station wagon, green in color. Had a history, according to family records that I've found, of child abuse and molestation."
That man is still the only person of interest in David's murder. He died the next year but detectives didn't give up. Several years ago, they sent a DNA sample to the Washington State Patrol Crime Lab. It came back as a profile belonging to a man, but no name or person with which to match it.
David's case, like so many others, went cold.
"It's intriguing. Each one is a different story," said Spokane County Major Crimes Detective Lyle Johnston, who is part of the cold case unit.
Detective Johnston rattles off names like Catherine Avis, whose body was found near Valleyford in 2004. Julie Weflen, the Bonneville Power employee, missing and presumed dead since September 1987. Brian Cole, who was a furniture store owner who was shot and killed in 1992 as he tried to protect his wife during a robbery.
The killer in the Brian Cole case left behind a fake beard and a baseball cap. 19 years after the murder, Detective Johnston got a hold of the case and sent DNA from the beard to the crime lab. What came back was a match and a name they'd never heard before.
"Since he wasn't known to this area and we had no record of him being in the area, he was a complete surprise," Johnston said of Patrick Gibson, who was found in Western Washington. Johnston was there when they arrested Gibson, nearly two decades later, his terrible secret finally revealed.
"He simply sat back in the seat and lowered his head," described Johsnton. "I wouldn't say relief, but it was like he knew it was coming."
Then, detectives got a DNA match on another set of cold cases. The murders of three women in Spokane in the 1990's, finally linked for sure just last week to Douglas Perry. His name had been in the original case files, but he was never a suspect. He lives now as a woman and is in federal prison on weapons charges. He'll likely be charged in Spokane very soon.
The Perry and Gibson DNA hits bring new hope to the cold cases that sit in boxes in the major crimes office. Hope, in the form of technology not available when the evidence was first collected. Two detectives and two volunteers now make up the cold case unit. In a stark, empty room in the bowels of the Spokane Public Safety building, those volunteers search through case files several days a week. But, don't let the term "volunteer" fool you.
"I spent 7 years working homicide," said volunteer Verne King. He served 30 years altogether in the Los Angeles Police Department. He's retired in Deer Park now, but giving his time to the cold case unit.
"I'm more or less starting from the beginning like a fresh detective and just going from the first day until they discovered the body until the current follow up," said King of his new duties. He's working on his second case now, handing over his notes to detectives. He knows firsthand that every case, every victim, deserves justice.