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Pattie and Theresa Bastian, mother and sister, respectively, of murder victim Jennifer Bastian, speak at a press conference this week where it was announced that Jennifer's accused killer was tracked down through a "voluntary" DNA swab. Jennifer Bastian, 13, was murdered in 1986. (Credit: Courtesy of the Tacoma Police Department)

Jennifer Bastian, 13, was riding her bike in a local park one evening in the summer of 1986 when she went missing. Her body was found three weeks later in a wooded area off a trail. She had been sexually assaulted and strangled, and her Schwinn 18-speed was thrown nearby.

Now, as a result of a “voluntary” DNA swab, the accused killer has been tracked down in Illinois, 32 years later.

Robert D. Washburn, now 60, is charged with first-degree murder in Bastian’s death, likely on Aug. 5, 1986, and likely right in the Point Defiance Park in the city, according to authorities. He has waived extradition and will be transported from Illinois to Tacoma, Washington, where he lived just blocks away from Bastian and her family in the 1980s.

Jennifer Bastian (Credit: Courtesy of the Tacoma Police Department)

Washburn first became a person of interest in a totally unrelated case: the slaying of Michella Welch, a 12-year-old girl whose brutal end came just five months earlier and in Puget Park, a nearby part of Tacoma. For years, police had believed the two were perpetrated by the same killer. That changed in 2013 when DNA results from the crime scenes indicated they were killed by different people, according to police.

However, Washburn had put himself in the police detectives’ notes in the Welch killing. Back in 1986, he said he had seen a person matching the description of the perpetrator in the area. Later that year, Washburn was pulled into an interview on the Welch killing, and he said he frequently jogged in the area of Point Defiance Park.

Washburn’s was one of 2,300 names of interest in those notes on the Bastian case. Starting in 2016, at the 30th anniversary of the killings, police began making attempts to collect every DNA sample from that group of men who was not already in a DNA database like CODIS.

Washburn was part of the final batch of 20 among 150 in this investigative initiative, according to police.

In March 2017, he had agreed to provide a “voluntary” sample, according to Eric Reese, an FBI special agent in Tacoma, who issued a brief statement at the press conference Monday afternoon.

“He was provided a voluntary form for collection for his DNA from the city of Tacoma and he voluntarily provided the swabs,” said Reese.

The FBI has confirmed through a spokeswoman that the DNA sample was obtained from a buccal swab.

The News-Tribune reported that Washburn had told police he was in Point Defiance Park when police cordoned it off to look for Bastian short after her disappearance. He had also said he noticed a foul smell off Five Mile Drive. Eventually police recounted that it was a jogger reporting an odor that had led to the location of Bastian’s remains—though no explicit tie has been made between Washburn and that jogger.

Mark Lindquist, the Pierce County prosecutor, said the case is currently a first-degree murder case—and thus not currently eligible for the death penalty. Aggravated murder is the charge needed to enable an execution.

“Every parent around here has been haunted by this case for decades,” said Lindquist. “At this point, we have charged the maximum the law and the evidence supports.”

Authorities have cited how the Bastian murder changed the way parents, and the police, operated in the years it went unsolved. The case was one of the main objectives in founding the Tacoma Police Department’s cold case unit in 2011, and the Child Abduction Response Team in 2016. State legislation has also been proposed based on the possibility of solving the Bastian and Welch cases.

Pattie Bastian, the victim's mother, and Theresa Bastian, the girl’s now-grown sister, spoke at the press conference. 

“I can’t even tell you what it’s like,” said Pattie Bastian. “I don’t know what to do with my emotions.”

Washburn’s DNA is still not in CODIS. Owing to Washington law, only those convicted of eligible crimes can be entered into the database.

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