TACOMA, WA - The Pierce County Prosecutor’s Office charged Robert Dwane Washburn, 60, with murder in the first degree for killing 13-year-old Jennifer Bastian. Jennifer disappeared August 4, 1986, from Point Defiance Park in Tacoma. The slaying sent shockwaves through Tacoma and the surrounding area.
“This case was one of the main reasons we formed a cold case team in 2011 with the Tacoma Police Department and the FBI,” said Prosecutor Mark Lindquist. “We are committed to closure for victims and the community. Justice may be delayed, but it won’t be denied.”
On August 4, 1986, Jennifer was reported missing by her parents. They told police their daughter was an avid cyclist and left home early that day to ride her bicycle around Five Mile Drive at Point Defiance Park. Tacoma Police closed off the park and did an extensive search, but found no sign of the girl.
On August 28, 1986, Jennifer’s body was found after officers received reports of a strong odor along Five Mile Drive. The Green River Task Force was called in to assist because of their experience processing outdoor crime scenes. According to investigators, the location where her body was found appeared to have been prepared before she was brought there.
An autopsy was conducted on August 29. The cause of death was determined to be asphyxia and there were signs of sexual assault.
In 2011, a cold case team was formed to include the Pierce County Prosecutor’s Office, the Tacoma Police Department, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. TPD Detective Gene Miller supervised the team. He retired in 2013 and joined the Prosecutor’s Office as an investigator.
“Gene never gave up on the Bastian case and neither did his former colleagues at the Tacoma Police Department,” said Prosecutor Mark Lindquist.
In November 2013, the Washington State Patrol Crime Lab examined the swimsuit Jennifer was wearing the day she disappeared. Semen was found in the crotch area of the swimsuit and a male DNA profile was developed. Searches of the state and national databases yielded no match.
In April 2016, a list of persons of interest was created and investigators set out to collect DNA from everyone on the list. On March 6, 2017, the FBI contacted Robert Washburn at his home in Illinois. Washburn voluntarily gave a DNA sample.
Washburn was on the list because following the disappearance of another young girl, Michella Welch, earlier in 1986, he called in a tip about a composite sketch in the Welch case. When interviewed in December 1986 regarding his original tip, he placed himself in the park the day Jennifer disappeared and admitted frequenting the trail where her body was found.
On May 3, 2018, the Washington State Patrol Crime Lab informed Tacoma Police a DNA match with Washburn was found from the semen in Jennifer’s swimsuit.
The estimated probability of a matching profile is 1 in 57 trillion.
Washburn has waived extradition and is expected to be brought back to Washington state to face murder charges in the next couple of weeks.
Charges are only allegations and a person is presumed innocent unless he or she is proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
For more information, please contact James Lynch at (253) 798-6265, [email protected].