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Cold case murder suspect dies three days before being arrested

SPOKANE, Wash. - A Spokane County Sheriff's Office detective made a break in a 50-year-old cold case, but three days before an arrest could be made, the suspect died of natural causes.

Court documents obtained by KXLY Tuesday show the suspect, Duke Pierson, was a former detective sergeant for the Spokane County Sheriff's Office.

Deputies received an arrest warrant for the 85-year-old on Jan. 25 for first degree murder of then-31-year-old Dorothy Fielding, who was reported missing in August of 1967. They learned Monday Pierson died in his home in Covington County, Alabama on Jan. 22.

The documents break down Detective Keyser's investigation into the deaths of then-47-year-old Ruby Lampson, then-31-year-old Fielding and Pierson's then-wife Sandra Pierson, who was 20 weeks pregnant.

Larry Erickson, a former Spokane County Sheriff said "he and other Sheriff's employees openly voiced concerns about Duke Pierson harming himself or others" and that "based on his training and experience that Duke Pierson was capable of killing someone during the time frame of 1966-1967."

Pierson worked for the Spokane County Sheriff's Office from 1959 to 1966. Documents say he abruptly resigned from his position and went to work at Rosauer's, a local grocery store shortly after.

Lampson was reported missing in June of 1967. Court documents show her skeletal remains were found in a shallow grave in the woods off a small dirt road near the 7 Mile ORV Park. There were no causes of death discovered during her autopsy.

Documents say Lampson was known to live above the old Falls View Tavern in a small apartment. An acquaintance told police she was seen with a "much younger man" the night before she disappeared. A bartender told police Lampson and Fielding were friends, as Fielding was on the Falls View Tavern bowling team and regularly visited the bar.

Court documents show while Fielding worked at a local Rosauer's while she was married. Coworkers told police she was having an affair with 34-year-old Pierson, the store security manager, who was also married at the time. Pierson's cousin told police Pierson said he was "in a bind" because his girlfriend who worked at Rosauer's was pregnant and he was trying to reconcile with his wife, Sandra.

Documents show Pierson had a vasectomy after the birth of his second child with his wife Sandra, but that after learning of Fielding's pregnancy, he went to a doctor who "told him he was [still] likely capable of having kids."

Fielding was reported missing in August of 1967, just two months after Lampson's disappearance, when Fielding's husband said she did not return home after a swing shift at Rosauer's. Deputies say her car was discovered at a local grocery store days later, with cigarette butts in the ashtray. Fielding's friends told police she did not smoke. Deputies say Pierson was a smoker.

Fielding's body was discovered in April of 1967. Detective Keyser said her remains were found 1.8 miles away from Lampson's body at the ORV Park in a similar shallow grave with her work uniform and nametag. Documents show no causes of death were discovered at her autopsy.

Another coworker told police she knew Pierson and Fielding to be dating and that after speaking to police, she got calls from an unknown man at her house telling her to "keep her big mouth shut." Pierson was interviewed by Spokane County Sheriff's detectives and admitted to dating Fielding from February 1967 up until her disappearance.

Pierson's cousin's son said his father told him Pierson was involved in the death of a pregnant woman who worked at Rosauer's.

In September of 1967, Pierson's wife Sandra was found dead in an apparent suicide. Sandra Pierson was found dead inside a car in her garage, with a hose leading from the exhaust to a rear seat window where she was found. An autopsy showed she was 20 weeks pregnant at the time of her death. Court documents say Sandra and Duke Pierson's daughter, who was 15-years-old at the time of her mother's death, "believes Duke Pierson was involved in the death of Sandra Pierson."

Their daughter told police Sandra Pierson "could not open and/or close the garage door and needed assistance due to her physical size and the garage door being heavy and hard to use." She said Duke Pierson showed her mom's autopsy report to neighbors, which showed she was pregnant. Duke was said to have had a vasectomy, "indicating he was incapable of having children in what she saw as a way to justify Sandra's death/suicide."

Sandra's grandmother said she saw her 45 minutes before she was discovered dead and showed no signs of distress.

Court documents show Duke and Sandra were separated, but reconciled before Sandra's death. Their son told police after their reconciliation, "he saw and heard his mother and father in their bedroom arguing over what his mother or father had called a suicide kit" with a gun, pills and other items. Their sold told police "Sandra Pierson would not have the knowledge or will to harm herself in the manner in which she died."

Their son told police he was aware a hose was used in his mother's death and that he later read a letter Duke wrote to Sandra before their reconciliation that mentioned a hose. He said his father also "bragged to him" that he took a new police motorcycle into the 7 Mile area and got the motorcycle stuck on a backroad.

Another woman told police she dated Duke in 1964 while he was married to Sandra and that during their relationship, "he talked about a girl who was missing and would kind of laugh about it." She said the two broke up, but began dating again in 1967 and married within one to two months of Sandra's death. The woman told police after marrying Duke Pierson, she "suspected his involvement in the death of other women" and that, like Sandra, she was also unable to close the garage door. She said her husband choked her while they were having sex and said he raped her. The two divorced in 1972.

Police spoke with another woman who said she met Duke, then married him two months later. She said the two were married for six to nine months, then Duke was arrested for conspiracy to smuggle cocaine in 1973. After one and a half years in prison, he was released early.

Det. Keyser said he knows deputies have been trained to memorize areas across Spokane County and that it's likely Pierson knew the 7 Mile ORV Park, where Lampson and Fielding were found -- and where calls for service for patrol would be routine. Det. Keyser said he knows from training that strangulation and suffocation are likely causes of death in homocide cases where no cause of death can be determined, such as Lampson's and Fielding's.

Det. Keyser contacted Pierson in April 2018, when Pierson was 85 years old, living in Andalusia, Alabama with his wife. Pierson agreed to an interview and denied ever knowing Lampson or Fielding, saying he dated "thousands of women." Det. Keyser said Pierson told him his late wife Sandra was pregnant by another man at the time of her death. 

Documents show Pierson said he smoked cigarettes during the time of Lampson and Fielding's disappearances. Det. Keyser said he asked Pierson about flowers found in Fielding's car when she was reported missing and Pierson replied "without any doubt it was from me." 

"If I had killed somebody I would remember," Pierson told Det. Keyser. "I have never killed anyone, I have never even thought about killing anyone."

Det. Keyser said Pierson admitted to being sent to federal prison, but that it was "for a minor thing" and that he was only sentenced because he was a deputy sheriff.

"It appeared as though Duke Pierson was trying to convince Keyser that he could not recall details of the past," the documents read. "However Keyser noted that Pierson was able to give very specific details about dates, people, locations and events during the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s but that Duke Pierson claimed to not be able to remember issues that were only related to the investigation of the death of Ruby Lampson and Dorothy Fielding.


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