KHQ continues to dig deeper into the possibility of a serial killer in the making in the Inland Northwest. According to police records, detectives believe one man is involved in the disappearance of one woman, the dismemberment of another and the strangulation of a third. We now know, a decade old crime, may also be linked.
Police records detail the first violent assault allegedly committed by the suspect in Spokane. This is the fourth victim detectives believe are linked to the same man. Because he has not been charged with any attack in Spokane County, we are not naming him at this time.
The suspect appears to have a type: vulnerable women he meets through mutual friends.
Documents written by a Spokane Police detective show his alleged violence against women began 10 years ago when an acquaintance of his said he "pushed her down onto a mattress" and "chocked her from behind." Records show she said he then "tore off her underwear and raped her."
She survived, and called police, but the document shows she ultimately declined to pursue charges. The same man would go on to be tied to three more cases, according to detectives.
Spokane woman Heather Higgins vanishes, with witnesses saying they last saw her with that same suspect. Detectives wrote in police records that they found a witness who said the man told her he "did something bad" and disposed of Heather's body in sleeping bag, down a "very steep valley" near a ski resort. Heather's body has never been found.
The remains of another missing woman, Kala Williams, are recovered in a wooded area in Spokane by a passerby. Records show Kala's body had been cut into two pieces and placed inside bags. Detectives wrote in documents that the man's DNA was found on items recovered with Kala's remains.
A charging request by SPD went nowhere and the man remained free.
Several months later, the man was arrested for strangling a woman in North Idaho. Records state she was also sexually assaulted. She told police "her eyesight became blurry" during the attack. She said she was "scratching him" in the eyes and face. She survived. He is currently serving time for that attack, but has a parole hearing as early as 2018.
So why didn't Kala's case stick? Records show one of the reasons was likely the "undetermined" ruling by Spokane County Medical Examiner, John Howard. He has not classified Kala's case as a homicide.
Spokane Police sought their own expert to review Kala's case. He found there was "homicidal violence" and referred to it as a homicide. Even with that, the man has never been charged in Kala's case.
KHQ reached out to Dr. Howard for comment again on Tuesday. While he didn’t call us back, he did return a call made by a family member of Kala's. They were told while he has no immediate plans to change his ruling, the case is not closed and continues to be investigated.
Spokane County prosecutor's also said they continue to review the file.
This story has generated two main questions from many of you.
1. Why aren't we naming the suspect?
He has not been charged in the case of Kala Williams or Heather Higgins. Because of that, we are not identifying him. A family member of one of the victims has also asked us to refrain from naming him as the investigation continues. We are honoring her request.
2. Could this same man be tied to the disappearance of Deanne Hastings?
Detectives said no. The man was in custody when Deanne vanished in November of 2015. The search for answers in her case is also continuing.