By Natalie Johnson / firstname.lastname@example.org
On Sept. 29, 1985, Roberta D. Strasbaugh, who went by Dee, was heading north on Harrison Avenue when her vehicle ran out of gas. Witnesses saw her carrying a gas can and walking north across the county line.
That was the last time Strasbaugh was seen alive, as far as detectives know, before her body was found Oct. 18, 1985, by a logger off Lincoln Creek Road.
Detectives compiled a detailed case, complete with 6,000 pages of reports. But they never found who killed Strasbaugh and dumped her body.
She hasn’t been forgotten.
This month, nearly 32 years later, seasoned detectives with Lewis County’s new cold case unit are reviewing the case, one of several unsolved homicides from the 1980s they hope to resolve.
As of Monday, Pat Beall, one of two special deputies assigned to work Strasbaugh’s case, said he is about 2,000 pages into a 6,000-page investigative file on the case. As he goes, he writes down questions. Some of those questions are answered as he reads through the case file. Others remain for he and the second special deputy, Tracy Wiese, to answer.
“You do it for the victims, see if you can come up with a solution for the family,” Beall said. “That’s what it’s all about.”
The cold-case unit, created last month, is a partnership between the Lewis County Sheriff’s and Prosecutor’s offices.
In the past, detectives in the Sheriff’s Office were each assigned one cold case to work when they had the time, which Snaza and Chief Deputy Bruce Kimsey said was not very often, given their daily caseloads.
Snaza said the idea to create a separate cold-case unit originated with Kimsey, whose work helped crack the December 1985 cold case murders of Ed and Minnie Maurin.
“Bruce has worked very hard to get where we are today,” Snaza said. “We feel confident we’re going to be able to bring some closure to these cases.”
The cold-case unit, founded in January, includes two special deputies — Beall and Wiese — retired law enforcement officers with years of investigative experience.
Beall, who was working on the case Monday afternoon, was a detective with the Centralia Police Department for 12 years investigating violent crimes. He was in the Army for 20 years, 10 of which he supervised investigations.
“Tracy Wiese and I have done cold cases before and we’ve arrested people on cold cases,” he said.
Snaza echoed Kimsey both said they trust Wiese and Beall to take on the cases.
“If there’s individuals that can help solve a cold case, these are the two individuals,” Snaza said.
The duo will be working one case at a time on a part-time basis, starting with the murder of Strasbaugh.
“We all agreed on which case we thought we could get the most traction on,” Prosecutor Jonathan Meyer said.
As they progress through the case, the special deputies will work with detectives, who can go out in the field and do follow-up interviews.
The deputies are working out of an office in the Prosecutor’s Office. Meyer said his office is providing monetary support for the unit as well as office space.
“I want to get closure for the victims,” Meyer said. “This is something Sheriff Snaza and I have been talking about for a while.”
Each of the cold cases have their own challenges. Most took place in the 1980s, meaning some witnesses have died or left the area. Some of the victims weren’t local residents, leading Kimsey to believe the bodies were dumped here, but the crime took place elsewhere.
One of the benefits of the cold-case unit, Kimsey said, is getting a fresh set of eyes on the case.
“I want these guys to think outside of the box, doing things that are different,” he said.
Strasbaugh’s murder is one of several cold cases from the 1980s and early 1990s on the cold case unit’s list.
On Aug. 12, 1984, Monica Anderson’s body was found near Centralia.
A few months later, on Oct. 14, Wendy Wilcox’s body was found near Packwood.
Another woman, Susan Krueger, was found dead near Winlock on May. 5, 1985.
On Feb. 18, 1986, Michael Reimer and Diane Robertson were murdered near Mineral, and on Aug. 5, 1991, Mignon Hensley’s body was found near Ethel on state Route 12.
“It is just amazing to me how hard Lewis County got hit in this time period,” Kimsey said.