At a campsite less than a mile from the Port Angeles trailer park where a mother and her three young children are believed to have died early Saturday in an arson fire, detectives found wedding photos, extension cords, baby wipes and dog food along with a journal Matthew Wetherington had apparently been using to plan the deadly blaze, according to Port Angeles police.
“Day one … or is it day three? … Preparations are merely complete. Just need to last another eleven hours before it really begins,” reads one of the notebook’s entries, dated Friday at 3:28 p.m., according to a statement of probable cause outlining the police case against Wetherington, 34.
Exactly 11 hours after the time noted on that journal entry, at 2:28 a.m. Saturday, police and firefighters responded to a structure fire in the #45 space at the Welcome Inn Trailer Park, located at 1215 W. Highway 101, the statement says. The remains of an adult and three children were found inside the master bedroom of the trailer gutted by fire.
While the victims’ identities have not been confirmed officially, police believe the dead are Valerie Kambeitz, 34, and her children: Lilly Kambeitz, 9; Emma Kambeitz, 6; and Jayden Kambeitz, 5. On Sunday, Valerie Kambeitz’s sister Brenda told The Seattle Times Valerie and her three children lived in the trailer with Wetherington, Valerie’s husband of two months.
On Monday, a Clallam County Superior Court judge found probable cause to hold Wetherington on investigation of four counts of first-degree murder and one count of first-degree arson, according to the prosecutor’s office and jail records. Wetherington, who was booked into the Clallam County Jail on Saturday night, remains in custody in lieu of $5 million bail.
The Clallam County Coroner has not confirmed the victims’ identities and will be working with the King County Medical Examiner’s Office to scientifically identify their remains and determine cause and manner of death, a Clallam County death investigator said Monday.
In the probable cause statement, the children are identified by their initials and their mother is identified as Valerie Wetherington.
According to the statement:
Police say three residents of the trailer park spotted a man running from the family’s trailer after hearing a loud “boom” and seeing flames race through the residence. Two of them identified the man as “Matt,” while the third referred to him as the “RSO,” which stands for registered sex offender. The statement notes police officers had recently distributed flyers to notify park residents that Wetherington, a convicted sex offender, was living in the area.
That night, police located Wetherington — with a sleeping bag, tent and other camping gear — in a wooded area of Port Angeles’ Lincoln Park, which is less than a mile north of the trailer park.
Police say Wetherington spoke in the past and present tense when discussing the children’s apparent deaths and said he was doing so because he presumed they were dead. Later in the interview, police say Wetherington told investigators: “I don’t know. I love my wife very much. I loved my kids. I don’t understand how I could do something like this. I deserve to be locked up,” according to the statement.
Detectives photographed Wetherington’s singed hair, eyelashes and arms along with fresh cuts on his hands, possibly caused by a knife. He had a fleece jacket that smelled of smoke and had burn holes in the back and shoulders, the statement says.
Later, a fire investigator with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) smelled gasoline in the trailer’s bedroom and found the presumptive presence of hydrocarbons, which are the byproducts of burned liquid petrochemicals.
Detectives learned Wetherington had purchased $800 worth of gear, food and other items from the Port Angeles Walmart just before 1 p.m. on Friday, roughly 13 hours before the fire. At Wetherington’s camp, they found clothing, camping gear, large knives, wedding photos of Wetherington and his wife, bags of dry dog food, maps of Washington state and a dog wearing a harness. They also located Wetherington’s journal.
Only two paragraphs were written in the journal, the statement says. The first, referencing the 11-hour countdown, was followed by a paragraph that read, in part: “I asked myself more than once why I am keeping a journal now that I am on the run. The answer? Perhaps, one day, when I get captured, doctors of the mental health variety will read this journal, and perhaps help me figure out why I committed such tragedies three days ago.”
The journal entry seems to indicate Valerie Wetherington may have questioned her husband before her death: “All my mind keeps asking is ‘why?’ ‘Why’ One of the things that keep replaying in my minds eye is the first thing my wife said ‘What am I doing’ … What am I doing. Indeed, why did I do it? Why, indeed …,” the entry says.
Court records show Wetherington was a juvenile when he was convicted of first-degree child molestation in 1998. He was later charged as an adult and was convicted in 2001 of first-degree burglary with sexual motivation, second-degree assault with sexual motivation, first-degree robbery with criminal intent and unlawful imprisonment with sexual motivation.
Wetherington was sent to prison in June 2001 and was released in December 2008, said a spokeswoman for the state Department of Corrections. He is a Level III registered sex offender, a category of sex offenders deemed the most likely to reoffend, according to the Clallam County Sheriff’s Office.