On March 26, 1986, Michella Welch, a small 12-year-old girl with long blond hair and glasses, went missing. She was photographed in broad daylight while riding her bike at Puget Park, a tiny park on Tacoma’s north end. Michella was discovered that night by search dogs. She’d been sexually raped and killed.
Jennifer Bastian, 13, was riding her bike at Point Defiance Park, just a few miles away, five months later. Her relatives alerted the authorities when she failed to return home. Hundreds of people looked for it. Instead, they discovered her dead three weeks later, concealed in the underbrush with her bicycle nearby.
It would be an understatement to say that things in Tacoma were positively free-flowing back in the mid-1980s, but regrettably, everything changed with the tragic deaths of two young girls in a short period of time.
After all, Michella Welch and Jennifer Bastian were killed five months apart in the most heinous ways imaginable, as shown on NBC News ‘Dateline: Evil Was Watching.’ So, if you’re interested in learning more about the same, including the circumstances of their heinous deaths, the lengthy investigations, and their (shockingly) disparate assailants, we’ve got you covered.
Michella Welch and Jennifer Bastian: How Did They Killed?
On March 26, 1986, at 10 a.m., Michella Welch decided to accompany her two younger sisters to Puget Park, completely unconscious to the idea that the trip would end in disaster. At 11 a.m., the petite 12-year-old went home to get lunch for the trio, and when she returned, she left the food on a table and secured her bike next to her sisters’ before going to locate them, never to be seen or heard from again.
Her siblings later sought assistance from a babysitter, who quickly informed their parents and the authorities, but only Michella’s death was discovered at 11:30 p.m. that night.
Michella was discovered in a ditch near a makeshift fire pit a quarter-mile from the play area— she’d been raped, but her death was caused by blunt force trauma to the head and a deep cut to the neck.
Furthermore, five months later, on August 4, 1986, 13-year-old Jennifer Bastian went missing while riding her bicycle at Point Defiance Park, just a few miles away. She was last seen alive at 6 p.m., but her remains were discovered three weeks later in a wooded location off Five Mile Drive— she’d also been sexually assaulted before being strangled to death.
Who Killed Michella Welch and Jennifer Bastian and Why?
The authorities came to the (logical) conclusion that a single person was guilty because of the proximity and similarities between the two brutal yet clear-cut homicides. They did have a teen eyewitness in Michella’s case who claimed to have seen a weird man under Proctor Bridge on that foreboding day who kept staring at the little girls, but he couldn’t be identified at the time.
Despite the fact that DNA was collected from her crime scene/body, due to the technology available at the time, nothing substantial ever came to light. Only decades later, when Jennifer’s garments were analysed, did they reveal comparable proof.
However, because the detectives were more concerned with getting justice for the two young girls than with anything else, they moved on as soon as DNA testing in 2013 invalidated their idea of a link.
They’d collected every unique sample from the crime scenes and compared them to one another (as well as the national database), but no matches were found. In brief, it became clear that not only were there two different perpetrators, but also that neither had any past criminal history, prompting authorities to turn to advanced technologies.
They used every resource available, from forensic genealogy to in-depth DNA analysis to family genetic procedures, until they identified Gary Hartman and Robert Dwane Washburn as the two suspects. When questioned by the FBI in March 2017 in connection with Jennifer’s killing, she willingly provided a DNA sample, which was later found to be a match in May 2018.
The detectives, on the other hand, took Gary’s sample from a brown paper napkin after meticulous surveillance (of him and his brother), and that, too, was an excellent match in June 2018.
As a result, the first (and final) arrests in connection with Michella Welch and Jennifer Bastian’s case were made after more than three decades. Following a bench trial in early 2022, a judge convicted Gary Hartman of Michella’s first-degree murder, while Robert Washburn pleaded guilty to Jennifer’s murder in January 2019. They both expressed regret for their acts during their individual court cases, but the sad reality is that nothing they say or do now will reverse the past or improve the situation.