It took a curious state employee six tries before he could find the long-rumored cabin deep in the woods. Once he did, the disturbing images he found inside touched off a monthslong FBI investigation that led to a Mill Creek man.

Share story

After hearing rumors for years about an illegally built cabin in a remote area of the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, an employee with the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) set out to find the place.

On five different occasions, the employee searched the forest on the western slope of the Cascade mountain range east of North Bend but failed to find any sign of the cabin that had long been talked about among hikers. Finally, on his sixth try, he came across the elaborate treehouse with a wraparound porch and glass windows in November 2016.

What he found inside — framed photos of naked young girls and an envelope stuffed with more sexually explicit images of children — set off a monthslong federal investigation that led to a Mill Creek man.

But it wasn’t until after investigators matched DNA found on items inside the cabin with a DNA sample from a discarded paper cup that charges were filed against Daniel Wood, 56. A search of Wood’s Mill Creek condo turned up thousands of additional images, mostly of girls ages 8 to 12, an FBI agent wrote in charging papers.

Wood, who doesn’t have a criminal record, was charged last week with two counts of possession of depictions of minors engaged in sexually explicit conduct. He was issued a summons to appear in King County Superior Court for arraignment on March 26, court records show.

Judge Mariane Spearman also ordered Wood not to have “any contact with minors without exception,” court records show.

Phone calls to a number listed under Wood’s name went unanswered.

It is unknown whether the cabin still stands or has since been dismantled.

Charging papers say there is no obvious indication who built the cabin, nor do they spell out why the cabin was deemed illegal. However, authorization to build in a national forest must be granted by the U.S. Forest Service, according to the agency’s website.

According to the charges:

As of late 2016, the existence of the cabin had been known to Forest Service officials for about seven years and had last been inspected by them in 2013 or 2014 — and at that time, “there were no images in the cabin,” charging papers say.

The state DNR employee “had heard rumors in the hiking community of this cabin, and decided to try and find it,” the charges say.

On Nov. 18, 2016, he found the cabin and confiscated a couple of the images mounted to the walls inside. The employee reported his find to the King County Sheriff’s Office and later guided a detective through the woods to the cabin’s remote location, miles up the Middle Fork of the Snoqualmie River, charging papers say.

The detective would later describe the cabin as “an elaborate tree house that resembled a fairy or gingerbread house.”

Built about 8 feet off the ground, the dark-brown cabin had a porch that went around the structure, a front door, windows and a pitched roof, and was accessed by a ladder. Inside, the detective noted there was a bed, bedding, clothing and basic supplies including food, dishes, candles and a variety of knickknacks.

“On all four walls were framed pictures of fairy-like figures or what appeared to be young girls,” with two in particular featuring “what appeared to be young girls, approximately 8-12 years old,” an FBI agent wrote in charging papers.

An envelope found on a bookcase contained more images: “Some of these appeared to be fictional, but there were several that contained images of young girls naked or scantily-clothed,” according to charging papers.

The detective confiscated the envelope and contacted the FBI in Seattle because the cabin was in national forest land under the jurisdiction of the Forest Service.

Last April, FBI agents searched the cabin and concluded many of the photos were sexually explicit images of children, the charges say. But there were no obvious clues as to who had built or used the cabin, so the agents seized numerous items that were then sent to the FBI laboratory in Quantico, Virginia, to be tested for fingerprints and DNA.

A couple of days later, agents spoke with a King County Search & Rescue volunteer with extensive knowledge of the forest. He said he’d been to the cabin on numerous occasions and had once seen an SUV parked at the trailhead that leads to the cabin, and provided the FBI with a license-plate number.

The number led the agents to Wood, and they set up surveillance at his condo, where a black BMW motorcycle was also parked. They took DNA samples from the motorcycle’s handlebars, say the charges. They also took a paper cup that Wood had drank from and left behind while under surveillance.

DNA from the handlebars and the paper cup matched DNA found on a coffee mug and drug paraphernalia taken from the cabin, according to the charges.

In February, the FBI searched Wood’s condo and seized several digital items, including a memory card that “contained thousands of images of child erotica and child pornography,” the charges say. Agents also reported finding several photos depicting the interior and exterior of the cabin and the path leading to it.