The following articles in the CHRONICLE demonstrate the on-going problems with Lewis County law enforcement.  In this case of a couple found dead in their home (determined by Lewis County Coroner Terry Wilson to be a double suicide), the bodies were held in the Coroner's office for nearly a week, and the Coroner's office lied to public inquiries about the possibility of those bodies being there.

 

Then, Coroner Wilson apparently DISCOVERED the bodies and made the statement that, even though he has determined it was double suicide, he is not sure about the weapons used. He stated that two guns -- he "believes" they were handguns -- were found with the couple. Amazing how a coroner can determine the cause of death to be suicide (double), but can't determine if the guns that were found with the couple were handguns!  He is SURE this was suicide, he just doesn't seem to know how they did it. Ring any bells to anyone?

 

The reporter, Sharon Decker states: "Most news organizations don't report on deaths from suicide." Wake up people!  That routine omission by the media gives your law enforcement agencies and your coroner free rein to cover up homicides! All they have to do is mention the word "suicide" to reporters, and the suspicious death is buried as if it never occurred. Nobody ever hears about it, because your news media feels duty-bound not to report it in order to "spare the family embarrassment." This also saves law enforcement the money it takes to conduct a homicide investigation. People all over the United States need to wake up and smell the homicides!!!!

 

Especially in Lewis County.  According to the Center for Disease Control, the nation as a whole has a 1.5 times greater suicide rate then homicide rate.  But, in Lewis County, it’s 14 times greater!   That’s a huge discrepancy.  Just think of all the murders, in addition to Ronda’s, that must have been misclassified as suicides by Lewis County law enforcement!

 

Barb Thompson, (Ronda Reynolds’s mother)

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Tuesday, May 13, 2003

 

SUICIDES SOLVE MISSING-COUPLE MYSTERY

By Sharyn L. Decker

sdecker@chronline.com

 

Authorities revealed today that a man and woman who cleaned houses regularly for several Chehalis families, including the mayor, were found dead in Mossyrock, each from a single gunshot to the head. The coroner and the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office said the case is a double-suicide.

 

The confirmation ends days of wondering and speculation by some of those who employed the pair and for residents of Mossyrock, where various rumors have been circulating, including that the deaths were a murder-suicide.

 

The married couple, a 61-year-old man and a 55-year-old woman, lived in Toledo, managing the Birchwood Court Apartments. By day, they had a house cleaning business serving families from Adna to south of Chehalis.

 

Lewis County Coroner Terry Wilson said today that two guns — he believed they were handguns — were found with the pair in a house they previously owned on Jarvis Road in Mossyrock. The Lewis County Sheriff’s Office conducted an investigation beginning a week ago when they were found, Wilson said.

 

Wilson, who has been the elected coroner for 20 years, said the county has a fairly high number of suicides, but double suicides are uncommon.  “We have a lot of suicides in East Lewis County,” he said. “Some of them are harsher.”  He gave an example of more than one time in which a suicidal person pulled his or her family outside of the home and forced it to watch.

 

Most news organizations, including The Chronicle, don’t routinely report on deaths from suicide. The sheriff’s and coroner’s offices avoid releasing information to the news media about suspicious deaths they believe are suicide.  A Mossyrock resident today said about four different scenarios are floating around the town, including that the deaths were the result of a murder-suicide.

 

“We know that something happened, and nobody knows what’s going on.” said Liz Gosman, an employee at DeGoede’s Bulb Farm. “Obviously we’re not in danger, or are we?”  Gosman said she has been wondering how the case might be similar to the murder-suicide of David Brame, Tacoma’s police chief, and his wife that has dominated regional news.  “With all the stuff that’s going on,” she said, “we were just dumbfounded this wasn’t reported the next day.”

 

Wilson said authorities are certain about their conclusion, in part because a note was left by the couple.  Wilson said the couple was found inside the home. He said he believed the sheriff’s office found the pair last Tuesday. His office was called to pick up the bodies on Wednesday about 5 p.m. Wilson doesn’t know when they died.  “We think sometime around the second (of May),” he said.  Autopsies were conducted on Thursday.

 

Lewis County Sheriff’s Office Chief Criminal Deputy Joe Doench said deputies investigated the deaths but the reports wouldn’t be finished for a week or two. He would not say if anyone had reported the couple missing, or many details.  “We’re not 100 percent complete on our investigation this minute,” Doench said Monday afternoon.

 

The report from authorities ends days of worrying and frustration for an Adna woman who hired the pair about six weeks ago.  Patti Prouty was puzzled when her house cleaners failed to show up or call about their regular weekly visit last Wednesday.

She, her across-the-street neighbor, and others who employed the Toledo couple began exchanging phone calls because the pair hadn’t gone to any of their house cleaning jobs for several days.

 

When Prouty’s many messages left on the couple’s voice-mail weren’t returned, she began to get very concerned because it wasn’t like them, she said.  By last Friday, Prouty had heard a second-hand report that one of the couple’s clients, Chehalis Mayor Bob Spahr, received a call telling him the couple was found dead in Morton. She was even more puzzled when she didn’t read or hear any news reports to verify that.

 

Determined to find out what happened, Prouty checked with Morton General Hospital. She tracked down the last check she wrote them and learned it had been cashed April 25. She said she contacted the Lewis County Coroner’s Office and was told it had no husband and wife there or any pair of dead bodies. Chief Deputy Coroner Carmen Brunton said she did not answer any calls such as described by Prouty.

 

“They have fallen off the face of the Earth,” Prouty said Monday morning before learning for sure they were dead. “Nobody knows where they are.”  On Monday afternoon, Chief Deputy Coroner Brunton confirmed the Toledo couple was dead and at the Lewis County Coroner’s Office. They’d been there since Wednesday, Brunton said.

 

“They were fabulous, she especially (was), putting everything back where it belonged,” Prouty said.  Not all of the victims’ family had been notified yet. Because of that, their names are being withheld.  Chehalis Mayor Spahr called the couple “nice people.” They had worked for the Spahrs for several months, he said.

 

Prouty said she was relieved to “have closure” with their deaths confirmed.  Rural Chehalis resident Jim Munier said the couple came to his house every other week. He got to be friends with them, even inviting them over for dinner with him and his wife.

“I hired him as a handy man,” the 74-year-old Munier said. “Every time I wanted something, they’d come over here.”  Munier called them “lovely people.” He said he helped them move from their home in Mossyrock down to Toledo.

 

The Saturday before last, Munier and his wife made coffee and cookies for the expected regular visit, but the couple didn’t show. He learned a few days ago they were dead, he said, but doesn’t know what happened.  “I can’t figure it out,” he said. “I’m up in a cloud here, you know what I mean?”

•••

Sharyn L. Decker covers law enforcement and the courts for The Chronicle. She may be reached by e-mail at sdecker@chronline.com, or by telephoning 807-8235.

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Wednesday, May 14, 2003

 

MANY QUESTIONS STILL UNANSWERED IN DOUBLE-SUICIDE

By Sharyn L. Decker

sdecker@chronline.com

 

Neighbors and acquaintances of the Toledo couple found dead in an apparent double-suicide last week expressed surprise and dismay Tuesday as they learned more about the couple’s demise.  “They had us over for dinner, all they could talk about was how great life was. Business was good,” said Lon Chaney of Mossyrock, recounting a visit earlier this year with the pair.

 

Michael L. and Wanda Sue (also known as Jordan) Riley had been missing — from the Toledo area apartments they managed and by the Chehalis area families whose homes they cleaned — for several days.  Authorities revealed Tuesday they each died from a single gunshot to the head and were found at the Mossyrock home they used to own. The county coroner believes they died May 2.

 

Chaney said the Rileys lived with Chaney and his wife near Riffe Lake for several months after the Rileys lost their Mossyrock home.  Michael, 61, was from Canada, and Jordan, 55, was from Texas, Chaney said. He described them as a warm, loving couple, who seemed devoted to each other.  “They were such well-liked people,” Chaney said. “They had past difficulties they seemed to overcome.”

 

A few months ago, the Rileys moved to Toledo to manage the Birchwood Court Apartments. On Tuesday, next-door neighbor Ardyth Brosey was watering the flower containers in front of the Rileys’ apartment.  “He had a plan to put in a garden,” she said.

She called Michael Riley obliging and easygoing as a handyman, and was stunned to learn the couple’s death was determined to be a double-suicide.  “That really makes me scratch my head,” she said.

 

Yellow tape from the sheriff’s office was draped across the front door. It was dated last Thursday. A notice dated May 1 was taped onto the front window, giving 48 hours notice the landlord would be entering the apartment. 

 

The couple cleaned houses regularly for several Chehalis area families, including Mayor Bob Spahr’s home.  One of their clients, Patti Prouty of Adna, said she got a message on April 28 the pair would be gone for a week, visiting the family of an out-of-town friend who had passed away.  When they failed to return and resume their regular house-cleaning duties, Prouty, her across-the-street neighbor and others began exchanging concerned phone calls. Prouty was so worried, after hearing rumors of the deaths, but seeing nothing in the news, she began calling the hospital and coroner herself.

 

On Monday, Prouty learned the couple was dead and had been at the Lewis County Coroner’s Office since last Wednesday. The Lewis County Sheriff’ Office has not released much information, saying they expect to finish their report in a week or two.

Authorities have not offered any indications of possible reasons for the Rileys’ actions. Lewis County Coroner Terry Wilson said a suicide note and two guns were found at the scene.

 

Wilson, who has been the elected coroner for 20 years, said double suicides are uncommon but the county has a fairly high number of suicides.  The most recent numbers from the state Department of Health indicate that 14 deaths in Lewis County during 2001 were attributed to suicide. Only one homicide was reported that year.

 

On Tuesday, three wilting bouquets of flowers hung on the chain-link fence surrounding the Mossyrock home on Jarvis Road. The small manufactured home, that appeared   empty, was surrounded by grass that hadn’t been mowed for quite awhile.

 

Hilda Mills, who lives in the Toledo apartments, also hired the Rileys to do her housekeeping.  “They came every Monday and cleaned for me,” said Mills. “I didn’t need it, but I knew they needed the money.”  Mills, 78, said it’s hard for her to get down on the floor on her knees anymore, so Jordan Riley rearranged her kitchen cupboards. She called Michael Riley a jolly handyman.  “But they must have had some problems we didn’t know,” she said.

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LEWIS NEWS

Thursday, May 15, 2003

 

I could scarcely believe my eyes when I read of two more strange suicides epic entered in the Toledo area. (The Chronicle, 0513.2003, page one).  I was equally surprised to see The Chronicle claiming that “most news organizations, including The Chronicle don’t routinely report on deaths from suicide.”

 

The case of Jerry Moore, which The Chronicle headlined, over and over, gives rise to the lie or at least to a huge change in policy on the part of The Chronicle.  The Moore case proves The Chronicle once gave appropriate coverage to these sorts of important local news stories.  And we need, I think, to complement Sharon Decker for bring this story to light, likely over the objections of her editors.

 

I was amazed to learn that “the sheriff's and coroner’s offices avoid releasing information to the news media about suspicious deaths they believe are suicides.”  There certainly is no statutory basis for this reticence.

 

In fact suicides are homicides. Planned suicides are murder in the first degree, it’s just that the shooter is also the victim.

 

What most shocked me was to again learn that the Sheriff, contrary to law, delayed the notification of the coroner by twenty-four hours, Wilson saying “he believed the sheriff’s office found the pair last Tuesday.  His office was called to pick up the bodies on Wednesday about 5 p.m.

 

This is another flagrant violation of RCW 68.50.020, which states “it shall be the duty of very person...to notify the coroner in the most expeditious manner possible.”  Not to do this makes one, the RCW states,  guilty of a misdemeanor.”

 

Nor was I surprised The Chronicle found no fault with the present Coroner in his handling, or rather mishandling, of this rather sensational case.

 

The story suggests that not only is the Coroner not in the least upset that the Sheriff’s office ha again failed to follow the notification law, apparently the Coroner or his office lied about having the victims’ bodies to friends and perhaps to the press and family members as well.

 

Why would the Coroner lie about this?  And why keep this grisly discovery a secret over a period of many days?

 

It is also quite curious the Coroner, who is required by law to determine ‘the cause and manner of death,” could have ruled this a double suicide without knowing precisely what sort of gun or guns were involved.

 

Suppose one was shot in the back of the head with a rifle?  It would certainly seem that the coroner cannot make a proper determination of either the cause or manner of death without knowing precisely which sort of weapon was used and used by whom.  It is certainly possible one was shot by the other or, worse yet, that both were staged as suicides.

 

Were there two suicide notes or only one?  Was it in one hand or both?  Do the authorities have samples of both hands?  Where was the note found?  The story doesn't tell us.  Nor does it tell us the names of the victims.

 

It is obvious that Terry Wilson still isn’t attending to business.

 

I remind readers one of the foremost homicide investigators in the world, Vernon Geberth, found that another Toledo resident, Ronda Reynolds’s murder had been staged to look like a suicide.

 

I don’t like the sound of this one.  When are the people of Lewis County going to wise up and demand that the Coroner does his job?

 

John Baker