An excerpt from:
JUSTICE FOR RONDA (a work in progress)
By Barbara Thompson (Ronda Reynolds’ mother)
Copyright: Barbara Thompson, 2003
Standing on the
By the time I spotted David's truck it seemed like an eternity had passed during which I had told myself at least a million times, "I can do this. I must do this." But according to my watch, I had been standing there exactly three minutes. It was , December 17 and it was still about a two hour drive to the county sheriff's office in Chehalis.
David helped me
put my bags in his truck and we settled in for the trip south on Interstate
5. We knew that we had to talk about
what had happened, but neither knew how to start. David had been more of a son-in-law to me
over the years than either of the two men Ronda had married. A
told me about the time he had spent with Ronda two days earlier. How he helped her pack. How they drove around
and talked. He told me about the house
he had showed her that would be the perfect home for them someday. He said she had most of her belongings packed
and ready to take with her and planned to stay with a co-worker when she
Ronda had promised to give David a wakeup call so he could take her to the airport the following morning. When she didn't call, he went to her house anyway, calling her en route from his cell phone. Surprised when Ronda's husband answered the phone, David asked to speak to Ronda, only to be told nonchalantly that Ronda had committed suicide.
When David arrived at the Reynolds house a county deputy had met and questioned him. David was told that Ronda shot herself in the right side of her head using her left hand to fire the gun. She was found on the floor of the walk-in closet in the master bedroom, covered by an electric blanket that was turned on, with the gun in or near her left hand. Her husband had stated that he was sleeping not fifteen feet away when she shot herself, but he did not hear the gunshot. However, within the hour, he was wakened by his alarm clock. I was outraged! Red flags were going up all over the place!
David went over the events of their final time together. While packing her things in the bedroom she had shared with Ron Reynolds, Ronda had taken a revolver from a closet shelf and, handing it to David, said, "I want you to take care of this." When he learned that it belonged to Ron, David had declined, saying he couldn't take possession of another man’s gun. He unloaded the weapon, put it back in its holster, and placed it in a drawer under the waterbed, discarding the bullets on the bed or the floor, he couldn't remember which. They had then picked up Ronda’s bags and left the house together.
They drove around for a while, Ronda sitting close to David with her hand in his while she made calls to some friends and to her husband. David said the call to Ron was short and unemotional, centering upon specific details of their coming separation. Ronda told David she’d decided to stay one final night at her own house in order to confront her husband with what she was going to demand in the divorce. When David took her back to the house, Ron was already there. Ronda and David said their good-byes, and that was the last time he saw her, although he did talk to her later that evening to make arrangements to take her to the airport the next morning. David had known Ronda for more than ten years. He knew her well. He told me she did not sound distraught and definitely was not suicidal.
We arrived at the Lewis County Sheriff's office at and were met by Detective Dave Neiser, who told us he was originally the lead detective but, because he was going on vacation, had turned the case over to Detective Jerry Berry, reassuring us that Detective Berry was the best detective on the force. Neiser’s demeanor was detached and unconcerned, as if David and I were a bother and he didn't have time for us. It was all I could do to keep from bursting out, "Excuse me, but my daughter happens to be dead! Are you more concerned about your vacation than about a human life?" David's fingers were pinching my arm. Pinching hard! He knew what I was feeling, how close I was to losing control. He wasn't doing much better, but at least he had roped in his anger and was able to snap me back to reality. I had to remain calm and objective if we were to accomplish anything.
I sensed something was not right and knew that David did too. I had faith in our law enforcement and judicial systems, despite their flaws, but I was beginning to smell a rat and my instincts told me to beware and not to let my guard down. Lines were being drawn, and what David and I said and did from this point on must be very well thought out, and we must, above all, remain aware and cautious.
Detective Jerry Berry wasn't a big man but his presence was enormous. His steady brown eyes met mine directly. There was no smile on his face, but his eyes were kind. He had craggy masculine features, jet-black hair, and the beginning of a receding hairline. He was dressed in black slacks and cowboy boots, a white shirt, and a sport coat with no tie. He introduced himself as we shook hands, and for the first time since I had walked into the sheriff's office I felt comforted. His grip was firm, yet gentle. I knew instinctively that this was a man of compassion.
We talked for quite a while and he always kept eye contact. I felt God had given me a guardian angel for my daughter. I was glad he was the lead detective, because this man cared. Ronda was no longer just another body, but a human being with dignity, and I felt certain that Detective Berry would do everything in his power to uncover the truth, whatever that truth might end up being.
"Did the deputy secure the crime scene and question everyone? Did he impound her car with her belongings in it?" Questions were pouring out of my mouth.
three boys left without being questioned,”
"Without being questioned?" I repeated in astonishment. How could a law enforcement agency let witnesses leave the scene without even talking to them? Little did I know that this would be just the first of a long list of mistakes and cover-ups on the part of the Lewis County Sheriff's Office.
"The kids were already gone before I arrived at the scene,” Detective Berry told me. “We can always question them later."
"It's not the same,” I muttered under my breath. I could tell I had hit a nerve. Was he being defensive or did he feel the same way I did? I couldn't tell.
husband told us he found your daughter in the closet covered with an electric
"But Ronda was right handed," I objected. “It’s Ron who is left handed."
"My mother and I had breakfast with Ron and Ronda in May, and we talked about it then,” I said. “We joked about the fact that he and I are both lefties." I was getting more and more irritated as the conversation went on. "Don't you find it strange that Ronda’s husband asks for a divorce, Ronda makes plans to come visit me in Spokane, she tells Ron that she wants financial compensation and won't give him a divorce until after six months and a clear HIV test --- and bang, she ends up dead? Doesn't that raise red flags for you? Was there a suicide note?"
"That makes no sense,” I said. “I don't believe my daughter killed herself. I want an investigation."
plan on doing one, Ms. Thompson,"
Staring Detective Berry straight in the eyes, I asked him, "Do you think she killed herself? Does it make any sense to you?"
The detective chose his words carefully. "There seem to be some discrepancies here that are disturbing to me. I’m sorry, but I can't say more than that at this point. I assure you I am going to work hard on this case. It will be my priority at this time."
"Thank you.” My voice cracked. “Now I would like to see my daughter."
"I don't think that's a good idea,” Detective Berry told me. “You need to remember her as she was, not the way she is now."
"He's right, Barb, you don't want to see her," David broke in. "Trust me, you don't want to do that."
I felt myself gulping back tears so hard that everyone in the room could hear. They didn't understand! My daughter was lying somewhere in a morgue on a cold, hard piece of metal all alone. That vision was making me weak, and I had to swallow violently to keep from being sick. She needed to know I was there. I needed to tell her everything was all right! "Mamma's here, Mamma will take care of you!" Yet, I realized I had to stop myself from thinking that way. I forced myself to direct my thoughts in another direction. “Look hard, look deep. See her smile? She's smiling at you," I told myself. "She's warm. She's okay. You're okay. You can handle this. Settle down and focus on what you need to do."
"Then I want to go talk to her husband," I said firmly.
"I don't think you should. I wouldn't advise it,” Detective Berry warned me.
"I have to hear for myself what he has to say,” I insisted. “I know what you’re thinking and, yes, I believe Ron may have killed Ronda, but I have to talk to him anyway. I have to look him straight in the eye and listen to what he has to tell me. Right or wrong, I have to do that."
can't tell you not to go talk to him, I can only ask
you not to."
I turned to David. "Will you take me over there? I’ll understand if you don't want to. We can go get me a rental car and, if you will give me directions, I can go by myself. But I am going over there. I am going to talk to Ron Reynolds."
"I'll take you," David said with a heavy sigh. I knew he didn't want to. I knew he would give anything in the world to leave the sheriff's office and walk away. But he wouldn't desert me. He had loved Ronda and knew as well as I did that Ronda didn't kill herself. He knew I was going over to talk to Ron, with or without him. Ronda would never have walked away from a friend in need. If it had been David's body lying cold and alone at the Coroner's, she would not have stopped looking for answers and seeking justice, no matter how long it took and how hard and heart-breaking the process. David knew this and he knew no matter how badly he hurt, he would be there for me. He had to. We were in this together. For Ronda. For Justice.
We made the drive to the Reynolds house in silence. David's face was frozen and expressionless. It was obviously terribly difficult for him to take me there, as it would bring back the horror he had dealt with just the day before, but the need to address the unanswered questions that plagued us both drove him on.
We needed to talk, David and I. We both knew that, but we couldn’t bring ourselves to speak. There was no doubt in my mind that David had loved Ronda deeply. If there was such a thing as soul mates, Ronda and David had been just that. Soul mates.
Ronda had made me promise her years ago
when she was a State Trooper that if anything ever happened to her, I would get
in touch with David before anyone else.
She had fallen in love with him over ten years ago and had carried that
love with her all this time, locked in her heart. Even though their love had
been kept on hold because of David’s reluctance to leave a bad marriage and
risk losing his children, Ronda and David had remained close friends. Now that David’s marriage had finally ended
and he had custody of his boys, it was as if God had opened the door to a life
that Ronda had only thought possible in her dreams. Tragically, that was a life
she would never experience. When we
pulled into the driveway at
I started to respond, but caught the words back before I spoke them. I wanted to tell him how much I needed him to go with me. How sick I felt inside and how totally heartbroken. I wanted to tell him that I didn't think I could do this alone, that I needed him to lean on. But then I realized how selfish that would be. David could barely talk. His eyes were full of tears and his hands were shaking. This 20+-year veteran police sergeant was close to breaking down. How could I ask him to face the man we both feared had killed the one true love in his life? I could only imagine the anger he was experiencing and struggling so hard to control. Watching the pain I was enduring was only making things worse for him.
If he felt the need to stay outside, I could accept that.
We took count of the vehicles present. The pickup was Ron's, and the Suzuki SideKick was Ronda's. The Taurus belonged to Ron’s oldest son, Jonathan, 17, a disturbed young man who once had threatened to kill Ronda for reporting him to his father when he spied on her in the shower. The third vehicle was one I didn't recognize.
Ronda's Jack Russell Terrier was in a pen by himself, and her two Rottwielers were in another pen together. One Rottwieler was a full sister to my dog Daisy and the older one was a stray that had found her way to Ronda's doorstep after being injured, and Ronda, being Ronda, had taken her in, healed her wounds and won her heart. It was cold outside for that poor dog especially. She was old and crippled. But, then, she had always been forced to spend time outside because Ron didn't want dogs in the house. Ronda had told me that Ron was a very light sleeper and if one of the dogs lay down on the floor next to the bed and even lightly bumped the bed, it would wake him up and that made him very angry. Ronda had even had to change their feeding program and feed them at night, outside, so they wouldn’t get restless and make noise during the night.
As I stepped up to knock on the door, I cast one last fleeting glance back at David. My heart, now the size of a watermelon, was hanging in the middle of my throat. I was breathing, but my mind was gasping for air and reeling with my own screaming voice, cursing God, cursing life itself.
Every muscle in my body was taut. In my imagination I visualized myself springing upon Ron Reynolds, grabbing his throat and ripping the very life out of his arrogant body. I could see his little round pig eyes bulging with fear as the life drained out of him, thanks to me, the Mighty Avenger. Yes, I thought, he deserved to know how it felt to die at another's unmerciful hands as my daughter had probably done some 36 hours earlier. But, unlike my beautiful daughter, Ron would know the horror of dying without God.
I tried to reason with myself. I had to acknowledge that I had no positive proof that Ronda had been murdered. I mustn’t lose sight of the remote possibility that, in a moment of weakness, a short period of uncharacteristic despair, Ronda had taken her own life. I must try to remain objective and listen to what Ron had to say. Listen and attempt to understand what might possibly have gone wrong, what might have occurred that could have driven Ronda to an action that, throughout her entire life, had been unacceptable to her. I must look at and listen to every shred of evidence. If I refused to open my mind to every possibility, then I would become the guiltiest of everyone involved. If something in my daughter's life was so horrible, so unbearable that she, as tough and strong an individual as she was -- as true and devoted to God as she was -- could no longer live with the pain, then I could not judge her for taking her own life. If that were the case, even if it turned out that it was Ron who drove her to suicide, it would not be my place to punish him.
I knocked on the door with my fist and the sound echoing in my ears. It seemed an eternity before the door was flung open and I was standing face to face with my son-in-law. He was wearing a T-shirt and sweat pants, and it was obvious to me that I had dragged him out of a deep sleep.
"I need to talk with you, Ron,” I said without preamble.
"Uh, come in," Ron said, trying to hide his surprise and uneasiness with my sudden presence.
I stepped entered, stepping into a hallway that led to a living room. Just a few feet inside, another hallway went to the left, leading to the bedrooms. I instantly knew that the first door to the right was the door to the bedroom in which my daughter had died. Opposite the hall to the bedrooms there was a counter that divided the living room from the kitchen and dining area. In the living room, next to the wall, was one of Ronda's western saddles. All the furniture in the living room was Ronda's. Her couch, loveseat, entertainment center, end tables, lamps, television, -- everything. At first I was surprised, and then I remembered that Ron's ex-wife had gotten all of their furniture when she divorced him.
Ron was saying something. "Excuse me, I'll be right back." He turned and went down the hall and into the first door to the right. After a minute he came back out, buttoning up a shirt. I was aware that his three sons were in the house and it seemed their voices were coming from somewhere across the hall.
In the dining room, Ronda's huge, gorgeous china cabinet stood in the far corner, practically empty. I had noticed, as I had turned to close the front door, that there were empty places on the walls, place where pictures must have hung just days ago. Ronda must have packed them up to take with her.
"I'll make some coffee," Ron said as he stepped around the counter into the kitchen. "Would you like a cup?"
I ignored his question. "I need to know what happened, Ron. How could this terrible thing have come about?"
Ron never looked up. As if rehearsed, he began. "Ronda was a very troubled girl, you. She was not a nice person, and she had a lot of problems. She had no self-confidence. I had to counsel her constantly and build up her self esteem enough to even go apply for a job. She would always say, ‘I’m not good enough.’ And there was a dark side to Ronda. A dark, ugly side that no one ever saw. But it was there. She was bad. She was a cruel, mean, manipulating person. A chronic liar and a manic-depressive. She drove herself to this. She had no other way out”.
"How did you find her?" I asked, struggling to keep my voice steady. It wasn't what I wanted to say. I wanted to yell obscenities in his face while I was scratching his beady little eyes out and shoving his forked tongue down his throat.
"I kept her awake until about 5 a.m.,” Ron said. “I didn't want to leave her alone. I was worried she might do something to herself. Then I must have fallen asleep. The alarm woke me up at 6 a.m. and she wasn't in bed. I went looking for her. I thought she might be in the kitchen or feeding the dogs."
That statement was ridiculous, as I knew Ronda fed her dogs at night. And even if she didn’t, she wouldn't have been feeding her dogs at 6 a.m., just before a trip in an automobile to the airport. I remembered the detective had told me that Ron didn't call 9-1-1 until 6:20 a.m. How could he have spent 20 minutes looking for Ronda? Something was very wrong with his story.
Ron's words were carefully measured and his voice was expressionless. No feeling, no remorse, simply rehearsed lines. I had been boring holes in his face with a steady, searing cold stare. It was astonishing how calm I had suddenly become. Like a seasoned alley cat stalking its prey. Waiting for the victim to give that fleeting glance that enables the stalker to paralyze the startled morsel just long enough for the kill. I was surprised his eyes hadn't yet made even a flickering glance in my direction. My heart was pounding so hard and fast that he had to have heard it. The adrenaline was pumping through my veins at speeds I had never felt. He had to sense the danger he was in.
But he wouldn't look at me. His eyes, surprisingly small without his glasses, wouldn't rise to meet mine. They kept darting around to items below his eye level. The counter, the wall, the couch, even the floor, but never to my face. Never to my eyes.
My eyes were glued to his face, but I was still very much aware of the surroundings and especially aware of the body language Ron was exhibiting. His shoulders were more squared off than I would have expected of a man distraught over the tragedy that had occurred. And although he spoke in a monologue, this 6 ft. + man showed a demeanor that hinted of conquest. His few steps around the room were controlling steps, as he attempted to subdue what he believed to be a broken mother, taken aback by the shocking truth of the devil that had lived within her own child. But he wouldn't look into my eyes.
"Why would she do this?" I asked, surprised the words came out so easily. "Had you been arguing?"
"Um, we were talking about a separation. Uh, we, um, she had lied to me, had destroyed my trust. She had run up a huge number of charges on credit cards in my name. We had a discussion about it and I told her I couldn't trust
her. I confronted her and told her it was a felony and she could go to jail."
"Did she give any indication that she was going to kill herself?" I knew I could bait him a little. "Did you know she was going to do this?"
"Ronda was going to leave. We were going to separate for a while. I had been at a doctor appointment in Olympia, and she called me on my cell phone on my way home and talked for 45 minutes, telling me she was going to kill herself."
I knew that was a bald-faced lie, as David had been sitting next to her when she made that call.
"If she was threatening suicide, why didn't you call 9-1-1?" I asked him.
His reply was shocking
"I thought about calling 9-1-1. I guess I should have called 9-1-1, but I decided that if Ronda didn't kill herself then, she would only do it later. So I went and got a hamburger and went on to my school for the school play."
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. This man was standing here, telling me my daughter had threatened to commit suicide, and that he, a principal of an elementary school, trained in suicide prevention, disregarded the need to call 9-1-1? Chose not to summon any and all help available to prevent the loss of a life? That he, a protector of children, a counselor of grief and emotional needs, had turned his back on a blatant cry for help? He had consciously made the decision that a hamburger and attending a school play were more important than saving his wife’s life? That, without a second thought, he could turn his back on the woman he just, eleven short months before, had vowed to love, honor and cherish? And now he had the balls and stupidity to stand before his wife’s mother and admit this? This was a sick, psychotic individual! It was obvious that, in his own mind, Ronda had deserved to die. Her death was the way it had to be. The end that needed to be.
Watching Ron all this time, watching his body language, I no longer had the slightest doubt that he had murdered my daughter. It was apparent Ronda had chosen to ignore the rules that Ron had laid out to maintain control of her. She had stepped outside the boundaries and threatened his world of dominance. She had threatened him with embarrassment, loss of community respect and worse yet, financial devastation. He had lost close to $90,000 in his first divorce. He couldn't afford to let that happen again.
Was it God touching my shoulder softly whispering, "Vengeance is mine?" Was it God slowly steadying my trembling hands, quieting my raging tongue? The anger was still there, my heart was still breaking, but a sudden wave of comfort flooded my being, reminding me that He, the God I had cursed, forsaken and damned, had not forsaken me.
Ron was continuing with his story. "She was here when I got home. I followed her into the house and into the bathroom, and I saw the holster on the back of the stool. I asked her where the gun was and she said not to worry, she had given it to David."
No normal person, much less someone trained in suicide prevention, would have accepted that answer. Any person with an ounce of sense would, if that had happened, have called for help.
David had said that when Ronda handed him the gun he unloaded it, put it back in the holster, put both in the drawer under the waterbed, and then he and Ronda had left the house. There was no way she would have had any time to do anything beyond that with the gun or holster.
David also was very positive that Ron was already home when he and Ronda arrived at the house. So if the holster was on the back of the stool when Ron followed Ronda into the bathroom, she wouldn't have told him that David had the gun, She would have either demanded an explanation herself of where the gun was or left. It was obvious Ron was lying about the holster, but why?
Ron was still talking. "I stayed with her the rest of the night and kept her right next to me. I held her all night and told her we would talk about it in the morning. Then I fell asleep."
A woman wrapped in a terrycloth robe walked out of the first bedroom on the right, the bedroom that Ron had come out of, buttoning his shirt. The same room that he had slept in with Ronda just hours before. The same room that Ronda had lain dead in!
It was Ron's ex-wife, Katie, the mother of Ron’s sons.
I was dumbfounded! This woman had apparently just spent the night in my daughter's bed, with my daughter's husband, just a few feet away from where Ronda’s lifeless blood-soaked body had been found!
Katie came to me, putting her arm around my waist and giving me a slight hug, while handing me a crumpled piece of paper. She was just a wisp of a woman. Her face was pale and too thin. Her eyes were hollow looking and her body was more like a skeleton than a live human being. I should have felt pity for this woman, who apparently had never escaped the web Ron had caught her in, but I didn't. She had what I never would have -- her children were alive.
"I wrote a poem for Ronda that I want you to have. I loved her, you know," she whispered as she placed the paper in my hand.
Not only could I not believe my eyes, I couldn’t believe my ears! These people were beyond incredible. I was gritting my teeth so hard that my jaws were aching. "What about funeral arrangements?" I managed to ask. "Have you planned anything yet?"
"No," Ron replied, seemingly irritated by the very thought that he might have to be bothered with such a burden.
“I believe that Ronda would have wanted to be cremated," I told him. “However, if you decide not to do that, may I have her body shipped back home for the burial?"
"I don't care what you do with the body, as long as I don't have to pay for it," Ron said with a shrug.
I could still feel the comfort of God's presence, giving me the strength to endure the torture that was being inflicted upon me. I even felt myself growing stronger with mounting determination that I would find a way to bring this man to justice.
"What about her belongings? May I have those? Her dogs? Her jewelry?"
"Take her dogs. She would want you to have them. She had a lot of fine, expensive jewelry, you know, and I can't let you have that. I will have to sell it to cover expenses. I will box up her other things." Then, apparently without thinking about what he was saying, he
added, "I found where she had not paid her life insurance premium for December, so I had to make sure I got that paid and in the mail before the mailman picked the mail up at 3:30 yesterday. And she lied to me about that too. She had led me to believe that her life insurance was for three hundred thousand dollars and it was only for fifty thousand."
There was anger in his voice. That was the first time there was any sign of emotion at all from Ron, and it was anger because he would not be receiving as much money from his wife’s death as he had anticipated.
"May I have her car?" I asked, hoping he would say yes so I could get it out of there to search for possible evidence.
"No, I need to keep that. My name is on it," he quickly replied.
"I flew here. I don't have a car. I thought if I borrowed her car I could take the dogs." I was searching for an excuse to get at her car.
"Well, then, I guess you could. I will get the boys to unload it."
My plan hadn't worked. He wasn't going to let me leave with the car before cleaning it out. Hoping there was a possibility that we could get the sheriff to issue a search warrant, and not wanting anything removed from her car yet, I quickly replied, "Let's wait and see where I find to keep them." Then, deciding to see how greedy he was, I asked, "May I have her china cabinet?"
“No, I need to keep that. Ronda and I bought that new dining table to match it, so I have to keep that."
His answer didn't surprise me. He had already made it clear that his only concern was money.
“I will check on funeral arrangements and get back with you," I said quietly, still waiting for him to look me in the eyes. I knew he wouldn't. He couldn't. "I will be in town for a few more days and will be back in touch. When you decide what I can have, if you call my home number and leave a message, I will be checking my messages and will call you back."
I turned, giving a forced half smile to Katie, walked to the door, opened it and walked out without looking back.
As I settled myself in David's truck, I smoothed out the paper that Katie had placed in my hand and read her poem:
I met her soul one rainy eve
Stopped at my home
Yet a stranger was she.
She said "Help me Catherine"
Rather "Mrs. Reynolds" she said
"My dear sister Catherine,
I've been told she's dead!!"
"Can you comfort me with scripture?
Do you have time?"
I was late to a concert
But I didn't mind.
So started a bond
That lasted some years.
Now I mourn her tragic death
With many sad tears.
A troubled frantic girl
Yet filled with love and grace,
Her fine qualities
Would fill a large space.
To a piano song.....
Rest dear Ronda -- I will miss you.
I couldn't believe what I was reading. I couldn't believe what I had just listened to and watched inside that house. How could Katie have had the nerve to hand me that poem professing the depth of her love for Ronda after sleeping with Ronda's husband the night after her death? And not once had Ron ever indicated that he once had loved Ronda, that he wished this tragedy hadn't happened, that he was sorry.
As David pulled out of the driveway, I looked back, silently vowing to my daughter that I would find the answers. Somehow, some way, I would expose the truth.