Investigators in Washington State have arrested a 66-year-old man in connection with the 1986 rape and murder of a 12-year-old girl.
Gary Hartman was booked into Pierce County Jail on Wednesday on suspicion of first-degree murder in the death of Michella Welch.
Tacoma police did not elaborate on the arrest, but scheduled a press conference for Friday.
“This is completely from left field for us, I mean like way left field,” a neighbor of Hartman’s told the News-Tribune. “I don’t know the gentleman real well. We waved to each other constantly. … He had four or five collectible cars that he and his wife would always drive around. Very cordial and very sweet older people. The neighbors thought he was greater than sliced bread.”
Welch was was taken from a park in Tacoma on March 26, 1986 and was found dead later the same day.
When 13-year-old Jennifer Bastian was found dead in another Tacoma park five months later, authorities initially believed they were killed by the same person, but DNA evidence eventually proved otherwise. A suspect, Robert Washburn, was arrested for the rape and murder of the teen last month.
Cops searched a home in Lakewood after arresting Hartman, according to KATU.
“It’s a relief but I’m shocked,” Michella’s childhood friend Melissa Cooper told the station. “I mean I’m still shocked that it’s so close, not even a mile from my home.”
“It is so unfair that he’s been out and living his life and doing whatever he wants to do and hers was cut short,” Jennifer Hansen told KATU. “It has always weighed on my heart.”