Feb. 25, 2019, Renton
She sat in a parked sport-utility vehicle outside Renton City Hall, while her sister paid a water bill. As she waited, her eyes fixed on an entrance marked by a familiar sign: POLICE.
Since that day nearly a quarter-century ago, Vianne Falcon had visited the city’s Police Department at least a dozen times, trying to glean any new information she could about the old case, trying to find the answers that had eluded her for years.
Most visits, she’d break down crying in her car before she could even set foot in the parking lot.
But today, she felt strong. As soon as her sister returned, the words spilled from Vianne’s mouth: Will you go inside with me?
Minutes later, the 71-year-old former waitress was filling out a form, seeking “all information pertaining to” the investigation. A receptionist told her someone would be in touch in a few days.
But just like every other time, Vianne’s request came up empty. Nothing new could be shared, a police records specialist later told her.
But there was something she didn’t know. Something investigators had learned 16 years earlier, but never bothered to tell her. Something that, after she had been left in the dark so long, would have answered many of her questions, sparing her countless nightmares, bouts with anxiety, the torment of “not knowing.”
Something that once had been urgently pursued, then later fell through cracks.
A final birthday
Oct. 23, 1994, South Bend, Pacific County
The sound was barely audible, “a little knock,” as Vianne remembers it, just loud enough to perk her ears and coax a check of the front door. The 47-year-old cafe manager wasn’t expecting company that afternoon when she found the unannounced guest on her doorstep: 3-year-old Jacob John Dewey.
Gammy, the boy announced. Mommy says I got ’tude!
The surprised grandmother knew not to question the undeniable: Her grandson didn’t lack attitude.
’Tude is a good thing, Vianne replied, sweeping up the boy in her arms as his accomplices revealed themselves.
Vianne’s daughter, Stacy Falcon-Dewey, and her boyfriend, Rich Musga, had parked Stacy’s brown Buick up the block, hiding while the toddler knocked on his grandma’s door.
Their surprise visit that day was reason enough to celebrate: The two-hour drive from her Renton apartment to southwest Washington was unusual for Stacy, a single mom working as a cocktail waitress.
But the date also marked a special occasion: It was Stacy’s 23rd birthday.
For the next few hours, Vianne celebrated her daughter, both as the fatherless child she’d raised on a shoestring, and as the responsible adult Stacy was now becoming.
Stacy was in a good place in life, her mother thought. It hadn’t been easy getting here.
Vianne took the couple to a local dive bar for a round of drinks and a few games of pool, while little Jake visited with his great aunt, Frankie. Vianne intentionally missed some shots that night, leaving pool balls on the table for Stacy.
Let the birthday girl win, Vianne thought.
Later, as the surprise guests climbed back into the Buick for the long drive home, little Jake fixed his gaze on his Gammy.
His eyes told her he wanted to stay.
A traumatic scene
Oct. 28, 1994, Renton
A newspaper carrier discovered the bodies. A young woman and a toddler boy, each shot in the head and discarded on a dead-end road shrouded by trees.
They were lying there, fully clothed, almost as if huddled together in the dark.
A brown, four-door Buick was parked next to their bodies. Their shoes, three white buttons, a brown glove and coiled up strips of packing tape lay among dozens of items scattered around the car.
Dispatchers radioed the call to South 55th Street west of Talbot Road South just after 3:30 a.m. One of the patrol officers who arrived first snapped photos while he waited for the detectives. When rain started falling, he and another officer pulled a tarp over the bodies and part of the car.
Greg Wilson showed up at 5:15 a.m., the first detective on scene. At 33, he was a relatively young investigator whose experience was mainly in narcotics, not homicide.
But when something big happened, it was all hands on deck. The Renton department of about 85 officers didn’t have a full-time homicide squad, so on the rare occasion when a body turned up — their city averaged about three homicides a year — each of the dozen detectives was called in.
Wilson thought of his own small children when he saw the bodies. “It was a traumatic scene,” he said later. “Something you don’t forget.”
Detective Bob Leyerle arrived a short time later. At 59, the former Marine and truck driver already had put in 26 years on the job, mostly as a patrol cop. But he’d spent the past six years as a “crimes against persons” detective, handling mostly robberies and assaults.
Nearly 10 months through 1994, Renton hadn’t had a single homicide. Today, it had two. Leyerle was tapped as lead detective.
“There were better detectives,” Leyerle said, “but I guess someone wanted me to have it.”
As detectives scoured the crime scene, neighbors in a nearby house told officers they woke up to gunshots and a woman’s scream around 2:11 a.m. but went back to sleep, thinking it was teenage partyers who frequented the secluded road.
For the next few hours, gloved detectives meticulously documented and bagged dozens of items of evidence. They found shell casings inside and outside the car. The car keys had slipped into the slot between the driver’s seat and door.
Detectives also noticed something else about the shoeless victims: The boys’ socks were clean; the woman’s were caked with mud and leaves. She also had a nasty gash on her head, and bruises around her neck and arm. A grassy patch next to the car’s passenger side appeared trampled.
Wilson surmised that at some point, the killer had bound the woman with the packing tape found discarded outside the car. She likely wriggled free, tried to run and struggled with her attacker on the grassy patch, he thought.
The killer probably grabbed her and struck her, but she managed to get back into the driver’s seat. She may have been holding the boy when he was shot from the car’s passenger side. Then, the killer came around to the driver’s side and shot the woman. The killer moved their bodies to the road to search the car for keys, Wilson thought, but couldn’t find them and fled on foot.
But why kill them? What could be the motive?
The woman was clothed with no obvious signs of sexual assault. Her jewelry and purse were left behind.
At least the driver’s license found inside a wallet solved part of the mystery: The woman’s name was Stacy Falcon-Dewey, with a home address just a few minutes away.
Suspects and alibis
Oct. 28, 1994, Kent
The 7-minute drive to the East Hill apartment took Detective Bob Leyerle southeast along a strip of fast-food joints, gas stations and low-rent apartments where the working-class suburb of Renton morphs into Kent.
Stacy’s place at the Benson Village Apartments was empty, and nothing seemed unusual. But soon, Leyerle had pieced together more details about her: She had a 3-year-old son, Jacob, and worked as a cocktail waitress at H.D. Hotspurs, a Kent restaurant and nightclub. She’d split from her husband, John Dewey, about two years earlier. More recently, Stacy and her son had lived off and on with her latest boyfriend, Rich Musga.
“Anytime a young woman is murdered,” Leyerle said later, “the first thing you look at is her husband or boyfriend.”
Detectives tracked down Dewey through his roofing job and Musga at his home. Both men, each in his early 20s, agreed to talk and take lie-detector tests. The results came back inconclusive, but both had alibis that detectives found believable.
Dewey told detectives he’d been out the night before drinking with a friend, then came home to shoot pool with his roommate before passing out. The detectives seemed skeptical and pressed him.
When they asked who might want to hurt Stacy, Dewey threw out the name of a troublemaker and local pot-dealer he knew, “just kind of thinking out loud, grabbing at straws.”
“They just kept working on me,” he said later. “I was telling them all I could tell them. I was devastated.”
Musga separately informed detectives Stacy had gone out with friends on her night off from work while he hung out at a local tavern near her apartment. Musga went to Stacy’s place and crashed there, he said, planning to meet her when she returned home that night. But she and Jake never showed, he said. A phone call from his roommate woke Musga later that morning.
“He told me they’d gotten killed,” Musga recalled. “The first thing that went through my mind was a car accident. I bee-lined back to my house.”
Detectives also were keying on another possible suspect. Shortly before the bodies were found, a young man wearing a bloodstained shirt showed up high on angel dust and out of control in the emergency room at Valley Medical Center, just 12 blocks from the crime scene. Police requested the hospital to keep the man’s clothes. They later wrote up a warrant and, after he left the hospital, followed him to a grocery store and arrested him.
But after the man’s explanation that he’d been in a fight with a girlfriend checked out, that lead, too, proved to be a dead end.
Oct. 28, 1994, Renton
Jeff Baird, a meticulous senior King County deputy prosecutor renowned for Sherlock Holmes-like analytical skills, was known for handling some of the most high-profile homicides. He would later take center stage as the lead prosecutor in the Green River killer case that had haunted the region for years.
Investigators quickly apprised Baird of the crime-scene evidence and a timeline of Stacy’s and her son’s final hours, pieced together through interviews of friends, her babysitter and other witnesses. Detectives learned Stacy had dropped off Jake at the babysitter’s apartment, then arrived at H.D. Hotspurs at 9:30 p.m. and stayed with friends for an hour. She then went to two more clubs in Auburn, leaving the last one about 1 a.m. to pick up Jake.
On the way to the babysitter’s, Stacy stopped to buy beef jerky at a 7-Eleven, where surveillance video captured her with an unidentified white male at about 1:20 a.m.
Fifteen minutes later, Stacy arrived at the Kenton Ridge Apartments, where she picked up Jake from babysitter Jannell Engquist.
Stacy once had lived in the same apartment complex. But after hearing gunfire one night, Musga encouraged her to move in with him until she and Jake found a safer place. But even after she moved out, Stacy kept relying on Engquist to babysit Jake.
That night, Stacy picked up her son at the usual time for a night out, Engquist told detectives. Stacy wasn’t acting strangely and nothing seemed unusual. She generally seemed happy with her life and relationship with Musga, Engquist added. Jake was the center of her world, and Stacy never would intentionally put him in danger, she said.
At 1:45 a.m., Stacy and Jake left the babysitter’s apartment — their last-known whereabouts before their bodies were found.
Back at the crime scene, detectives had finished processing the evidence. Among the items, they discovered a paper bag with beef jerky and Stacy’s cellphone.
Phone records showed Stacy had received an incoming call just a few hours before she was killed. It came from a number that traced back to a Des Moines man.
His name was Scott Holm.
Oct. 28, 1994, South Bend
Vianne Falcon took orders and refilled cups at Donna’s Espresso & Café as a big crowd gathered for breakfast that Friday morning.
Already, a crew of regulars, a couple of cops and members of the local coffee club had filled the place when South Bend’s police chief walked in.
I need to speak with you alone, he told Vianne.
What’s this all about, she wondered. The two stepped into a hallway.
Your daughter and your grandson were murdered last night.
They’re both dead.
Everything seemed thrown into slow motion that moment, and somewhere, lost in it all, Vianne heard herself screaming. She realized she hated the chief for the blunt way he’d informed her.
She ran for the door, and once through it, kept running.
One block went by, then two. Her legs carried her along the main road through town as cars and trucks buzzed by her. Vianne wondered if she should throw herself into traffic.
Six blocks away, at a boarded up shop, she stopped. On a deck behind the building, where no one could see her, she screamed before she slumped down, sobbing.
Oct. 30-Nov. 9, Renton
Once detectives had ruled out John Dewey and Rich Musga, Detective Bob Leyerle recalled, “We really didn’t seem to have much to go on.”
But what about Scott Holm, the man who’d called Stacy a few hours before she’d been killed?
Holm, 27, volunteered to talk with detectives. He told them he was home with his wife in the neighboring town of Des Moines, during the time frame Stacy and Jake were killed.
Holm admitted he’d cheated on his wife, casually dating Stacy after meeting her several months earlier when she waited his table.
But Holm had been taking early-morning classes at Green River Community College, carpooling to school with a friend. His alibi seemed solid, Leyerle thought. Wilson wasn’t as sure.
Detectives had heard rumors that Holm had left Stacy a $100 tip when she served him and later showered her with gifts. They wondered how Holm, who worked at a grocery store and did car detailing on the side with his brother, could afford to drop big money on a girlfriend. Police suspected Holm was dealing marijuana.
Stacy, who’d come from a humble background, liked Holm’s attention. Her father, who worked as a horse trainer’s assistant at Longacres, the local thoroughbred racing track, abandoned Stacy’s family when she was just 6 months old. Stacy’s mom had raised her and her older half-brother, Byron, by moonlighting between waitressing and bartending gigs. The work put food on the table and covered rent, but afforded little else.
With his seemingly expendable income and outgoing personality, Holm offered something different. After he and Stacy dated in mid-1994, he took her boating and gave her expensive gifts.
What Holm didn’t give Stacy was any sign he was married, Vianne said. When Stacy found out, she stopped seeing him. Still, Holm and Stacy kept on friendly terms, even as her relationship with Musga grew more serious.
When detectives followed up on Holm’s alibi, it seemed to check out. But a few days later, Leyerle and Wilson started having second thoughts.
The doubts emerged after another body turned up, this time in Tacoma. The victim had been choked and repeatedly stabbed, then wrapped in blankets and left in the back of an abandoned pickup truck.
The dead man was Scott Holm.
Nov. 2, 1994, Skyway
Mourners packed the Skyway Baptist Church that day, with people spilling into the foyer.
“It was people upon people upon people,” Vianne’s sister Lily would later say.
Vianne and her family sat in the front row during the memorial service. They were in mourning, but also on alert.
Detectives had cautioned Vianne and her relatives that the killer might just show up.
“Sometimes these sick fellows who do something like this, they like to go to the funerals,” Vianne remembers the detectives warning her. “They want to see what they’ve done to the family.”
Detectives planned to attend the service, too — in plain clothes, just in case. For hours, they sat outside the church in an unmarked van parked nearby, snapping photographs of each person coming and going. They also cautioned Vianne to watch out for strangers or anyone giving off bad vibes.
A few days earlier at the Renton Police Department, detectives had asked Vianne if she knew whether Stacy had any enemies. Vianne couldn’t think of any, but she mentioned her daughter once had an older friend who’d gotten in trouble for drugs. Stacy had visited him once at the state prison in Monroe.
Vianne also wondered whether the killer might have mistaken Stacy for someone else. She told detectives that Stacy had a cousin who also was a petite brunette about the same age. The cousin had a drug problem, ran with a rough crowd and sometimes borrowed Stacy’s Buick, Vianne added.
Investigators took some notes, but didn’t seem to respond much to Vianne’s idea.
After the memorial service, Vianne and her family members formed a greeting line to thank those who came. Vianne forced herself to make eye contact with every person who approached her.
She didn’t recognize one young man. The look of him made her nervous. When his turn finally came to shake her hand, the hair stood up on Vianne’s arms. She felt a chill run down her spine.
Is that him?
“That’s how my mind was thinking,” she recalled later. “I suspected everyone.”
Confession or lie?
November 1994-June 1995, King County
Figuring out who killed Scott Holm didn’t take long.
Shortly after finding his body, detectives showed up at the home of his fraternal twin, Mark.
When did you last see Scott, they asked him.
A day earlier, Mark Holm told them, shortly before Scott headed to see a weightlifting buddy named Vince to collect on a $1,000 debt.
The brothers recently had launched a car-detailing business, and Scott had installed four subwoofers in Vince’s Jeep. Mark only knew Vince by his first name and physical description: about 6 foot 2 with a boxer’s build. Three days had passed, and Vince still hadn’t paid for the expensive speakers. Mark worried Scott’s “friend” was taking advantage of them.
“Dude, go get our money or get our subwoofers back,” Mark recalled telling Scott before he left in his truck to meet Vince.
When detectives went to the gym where Holm worked out, employees there offered them Vince’s last name: Fields. Investigators also learned from phone records that Holm had called Fields three times on the day he was last seen alive.
Detectives soon discovered Holm’s Visa card had racked up more than $2,000 in charges at a furniture store and other retailers shortly after his body turned up. Store employees identified Fields from a photo montage as the man who’d made the purchases.
On Nov. 17, 1994, police arrested Fields at his apartment in Federal Way. He later denied killing Holm, claiming Holm never showed up for their planned meeting.
While Fields was in custody, detectives separately interviewed his girlfriend at the couple’s apartment. She told them she wasn’t home most of the day on Nov. 8, but when she returned, she found blood stains on the carpet. Fields explained that he “got into a tussle” with Holm, she said. The next day, the couple rented a moving truck to get rid of their bloodstained furniture, which Fields replaced with new furnishings bought with Holm’s credit card.
Police found blood inside the apartment. They also found baggies of cocaine, methamphetamine and other drug paraphernalia. Prosecutors soon charged Fields with first-degree murder, theft and two felony drug counts.
Detective Wilson soon paid a visit to the King County Jail, where Fields was held while awaiting trial. The detective wanted to know what he knew about Holm’s relationship with Stacy.
In mid-June 1995, less than two months before Fields was set to stand trial, he and his court-appointed lawyers raised a new defense strategy: Fields admitted he killed Holm, but argued he did so in self-defense.
Fields claimed he and Holm had been in business together, with Holm supplying him large amounts of marijuana to sell.
On the day he killed Holm, Fields claimed Holm called to tell him detectives had questioned him about a woman’s death in Renton. Holm had described the woman as someone with whom he’d been having an affair, Fields said. She’d threatened that if Holm didn’t leave his wife, she would tell her about their affair, as well as inform police about Holm’s marijuana trafficking, Fields said.
“Holm told Mr. Fields that he viewed the woman as a threat, and that ‘he did what he had to do’ to protect himself,” Fields lawyers argued. “Holm also told Mr. Fields that he ‘cleaned (the woman’s) clock.’”
Fields claimed Holm’s purported murder confession made him fear for his life. When Holm showed up at his apartment, Fields claimed Holm demanded his cut of the drug money and pulled a gun. Fields said he struggled with Holm, the gun fell onto his kitchen table and fired a round. Fields said he then grabbed a kitchen knife and repeatedly stabbed Holm.
Fields’ new defense claims suddenly breathed new life into Renton’s double-homicide investigation, but Wilson wasn’t sure he believed the story.
For one, Fields’ credibility was dubious. He was a drug dealer with federal narcotics convictions. He also had ties to Crips gang members from his hometown of Compton, California.
Fields could’ve concocted the story to lessen the consequences he faced for Holm’s murder, Wilson thought. Or, he could be telling the truth.
Whichever, the claims were now the hottest lead Renton detectives had in trying to figure out who killed Stacy and Jacob.
Questions that haunt
1995, South Bend
The case consumed Vianne Falcon.
The ashes of her daughter and grandson had been lain to rest in Renton months earlier. Now, back in South Bend, she couldn’t keep Stacy and Jake out of her mind.
She called the Renton detectives, every week or so, asking for updates.
“There wasn’t much I could tell her,” Detective Bob Leyerle said. “I felt sorry for her.”
During the day, Vianne tried to occupy herself with work, running the cafe and managing the building that housed it — anything to keep her mind from meandering back to Stacy and Jake.
At night, Vianne lay in bed wide-awake, the gears turning in her mind.
Did Stacy’s friends know more than they were saying? Did her family?
The dearth of information was maddening. Vianne turned to Ken Boyes, a police sergeant in the neighboring town of Raymond who once dated her sister Frankie.
Can you find out something, anything about what’s going on?
She mentioned a rumor to Boyes that detectives had asked her about shortly after the killings: that Stacy’s friend who’d wound up in prison held a grudge against her for telling police about his illegal drug activity.
Was any of that true? she asked.
Boyes reached out to a Renton detective to ask about the rumor. That’s news to us, the detective replied, though investigators indeed had been checking various tips tied to the area’s drug scene.
“I asked pointed questions. I don’t really feel they were stonewalling me,” Boyes recalled. “They just acted like they didn’t have anything.”
Vianne remembers Boyes visited her apartment to relay what little he’d learned about the case. They were sitting on a bench outside when Boyes told her: Stacy probably was holding Jake at the time he was shot.
A bullet passed through the boy and penetrated his mother’s shoulder. Vianne fixated on the detail. Of course, she thought. Stacy was trying to protect Jake until the very end.
The case colonized her mind. Vianne turned to therapy for help. A counselor diagnosed Vianne with post-traumatic stress and prescribed her anti-anxiety medication and sleep aids.
Vianne felt emotionally and physically drained. What little sleep she could get was shallow and haunted by dreams.
In the good ones, she reunited with Stacy and Jake in a complete state of joy. But invariably, she’d awake to the grim truth and end up sobbing in her bed.
In the nightmares, Vianne saw faces of friends and relatives heckling her, intimating they knew more than they were letting on. She’d see Stacy trying desperately to phone her as a faceless attacker approached. Vianne could never answer her phone in time. Stacy and Jake seemed to die a different death every night.
Months passed. Her phone talks with detectives slowed, then stopped. As the first anniversary of the killings approached, a reporter called and asked Vianne about the toll taken on her family.
“It’s almost like it happened yesterday,” she said. “I get theories through my head all the time.
“The questions every day that haunt — who and why — you have to know that. I don’t think a person can even start to heal until they have those questions answered.”
A case turns cold
August-November 1995, King County
Vincent Fields stuck with his self-defense story through the rest of his murder trial — and it paid off.
On Aug. 9, 1995, a jury opted against a first-degree conviction for killing Scott Holm, instead finding Fields guilty of the lesser crime of murder in the second degree. The verdict spared Fields a possible life sentence or worse.
Fields’ claims also spurred Detective Greg Wilson to reexamine Holm as a suspect in the slayings of Stacy and Jake. When the detective had interviewed Holm a few days after the double-homicide, Holm seemed to have a solid alibi: He’d been with his wife, who backed up his story.
But Wilson thought Holm also seemed nervous.
After Fields’ conviction, Wilson interviewed the killer again. But unlike the testimony Fields gave at trial, Wilson noticed his latest account didn’t include that Holm had pulled a gun before Fields killed him.
The detective again wondered whether Fields simply made up the story. Wilson asked Fields to take a polygraph. The convicted murderer agreed — and he passed.
Wilson then doubled back, trying to dig deeper into Holm’s relationship with Stacy.
A friend of Stacy’s told the detective that when Holm and Stacy dated, Holm seemed to like having Stacy around as his “show piece.” Still, even though they’d broken up, Stacy paged Holm “out of curiosity” on the night before she was killed. Holm called Stacy back a few hours later, the friend said, but Stacy gave no sign that she planned to see him.
Was Holm the man captured with Stacy on the convenience store’s surveillance video? Detectives couldn’t tell from the grainy footage, and forensic exams on the beef jerky purchased from the store and found near Stacy’s and Jake’s bodies could only be linked with certainty to Stacy.
Wilson called Holm’s twin brother, Mark, asking what he knew. He told the detective he was just as much in the dark about the relationship. He and his brother had met Stacy at the same time, in the spring of 1994, when she waited on them at a Kent restaurant, he said.
But Mark said his married brother, Scott, never told him he’d started dating Stacy. He learned that only after Stacy’s death. Mark Holm also denied that Scott trafficked marijuana. He claimed Fields, a hardened criminal, probably killed Stacy and made up a story to pin it on Scott.
As the one-year anniversary of Stacy’s and Jacob’s slayings approached, Wilson still didn’t have the answers when a reporter caught wind of Fields’ claims.
“Year-old slayings could be resolved,” read the headline in The Seattle Times.
The Oct. 19, 1995, story described how Renton police detectives were now “considering the possibility” that Holm had killed Stacy and Jake based on Fields’ testimony that Holm had bragged he’d “cleaned her clock” to keep Stacy quiet.
“If Holm did kill Falcon-Dewey, he may have done so for any number of reasons, and the young woman may never have threatened him at all, Wilson said,” the article added. The story ended with Wilson’s phone number for anyone who had tips about the case.
But Wilson wouldn’t get much more time to keep running down leads on the case. Sixteen days after the news story ran, another double-homicide case taxed Renton police. Wilson was among the dozen detectives tapped to investigate the hammer bludgeoning of a 39-year-old mother and her toddler daughter in a Renton Highlands apartment.
The killings were among eight homicides handled in 1995 by the detectives’ squad. That was more than twice what Renton’s annual murder rate had averaged for the first half of the decade. Stacy’s and Jake’s case was pushed to the back burner as detectives worked the more recent cases with fresher leads.
Then, in a little more than a year, any flame that still burned on the case flickered out when the two detectives leading the Falcon-Dewey investigation left the Renton department for good.
A slap in the face
Years passed without answers. No new updates, no word of breakthroughs. No further questions from cops or reporters.
But Vianne’s thoughts still took her back to 1994 and that dark, dead-end road.
Sleep continued to elude her. She’d spend hours each night watching TV crime dramas or scouring the internet for stories about unsolved murders. She wondered if DNA science could unmask the nameless killer who still stalked her dreams.
From time to time, a memory, a feeling, a song, a poem that reminded her of Stacy would trigger Vianne to get in the car or pick up the phone. She wanted to see the case records, to know firsthand what steps detectives took when trying to solve the case.
She drove to the Renton Police Department probably a dozen times.
“Most the time, I’d just cry in my car in the parking lot,” she said. “Then, I’d just turn around and go home.”
Her calls usually ended in similar frustration. During one phone call in the mid-2000s, someone at the department informed Vianne all of the case records had been sent to the King County prosecutor’s office in Seattle. When Vianne called there, she remembers someone telling her the case was with the cold-case unit.
“They wouldn’t give me any information because it was an active investigation,” Vianne said.
Sometime around 2010, she can’t recall exactly when, Vianne called the prosecutor’s office again. A woman who answered told her the cold case unit had lost funding and disbanded.
So what happened with the case? Vianne asked.
The woman implied it was closed, suggesting Vianne go online and search Stacy’s name for an old article about a suspect in the case.
Vianne quickly found the article — somehow, she’d missed it before. It was the 1995 Seattle Times’ story about how detectives were considering Scott Holm as the killer.
“Nobody ever called me to say it was Scott Holm,” she said. “Not a single one of them. That was a slap in the face.”
She also doubted the information. Shortly after the killings, she recalled, detectives told her Holm had a solid alibi. Blaming the killings on a dead man would be an easy way to dump a case they couldn’t solve, she thought.
Vianne dialed up the prosecutor’s office again, and this time got transferred to a man.
“I argued about it,” she said. “But he told me that the guy who’d murdered Scott had told them Scott had confessed to him. I didn’t believe it. And even though he was telling me this, I could tell by his voice that he didn’t believe it, either.”
Her gut feeling proved to be correct.
In fact, investigators had shifted their focus away from Scott Holm years earlier. They’d based this change of heart on cold, hard science.
The big break
July 18, 2001-Sept. 25 2002, Renton
The tip came in mid-July 2001 from a meth addict in jail. The man, facing multiple felony charges, offered to tell authorities what he’d heard about a double-homicide in Renton seven years earlier.
By then, Stacy and Jake’s case had been shelved for years, after the detectives who’d led the investigation had left the department. Greg Wilson had taken a job with the Federal Way Police Department five years earlier. Bob Leyerle retired a few months after Wilson left.
Rick Cross, a longtime Renton patrol officer turned detective, was assigned to check out the inmate’s tip. Cross contacted Wilson and Jeff Baird, the deputy prosecutor initially assigned to the case, to familiarize himself with its details. Wilson and Baird agreed to join Cross at the jail when he interviewed the informant.
On July 18, 2001, the informant told the detective that a few years earlier, a meth dealer named Charles “Casey” Sharp had joked to him about the last time someone had snitched him off. Casey had claimed he’d shot and dumped that person on a road, the informant claimed. Casey hadn’t named the person, but he mentioned that he also shot her kid.
The informant also claimed he’d worked at a restaurant where Stacy and others had been dealing drugs. The rumor was Stacy had tipped off police about Casey, leading to his arrest and a jail sentence, he said.
Cross checked court records, finding Casey Sharp had pleaded guilty to felony drug possession in 1994 and served time.
The detective then reviewed the evidence log for Stacy and Jake’s killings, looking for items that might hold genetic material.
The day after his interview with the informant, Cross submitted a glove and coiled strips of packing tape recovered from the crime scene, and medical swabs taken during Stacy’s autopsy, to the state crime lab for DNA analysis.
DNA science had advanced significantly in the seven years since Stacy’s and Jake’s homicides. During the 29-year police career of Bob Leyerle, the detective assigned to lead the investigation, he’d used DNA evidence just once, but it required months of manual analysis at a private laboratory in California at a cost of about $10,000.
“It was almost unheard of back then,” Leyerle later recalled.
But by the late 1990s, advances in genetic sequencing helped to streamline DNA analysis by focusing on just 13 loci — highly variable spots on human genes — that could differentiate individuals with exacting precision.
At the same time, a technique called polymerase chain reaction, or PCR, was being more widely used to amplify small DNA samples into multiple copies, and the FBI had rolled out its new automated CODIS system to connect crime labs nationwide. The faster, more powerful DNA methods enabled crime labs to help solve cases like never before.
Four months before Cross submitted the evidence for his case, the State Patrol Crime Lab had started the DNA evidence analysis that eventually would help to crack another case overseen by Baird: the Green River serial killings.
That and the glut of other requests for DNA work created a backlog that meant Cross would have to wait more than a year for news of any results.
Finally, on Sept. 25, 2002, he got the call. State forensic scientist Jodi Sass told the detective she’d recovered semen from Stacy’s oral swab and used it to create a DNA profile for the unknown suspect. The lab ran that through a database of DNA profiles for felons in Washington.
There was a match — but it wasn’t to Casey Sharp.
A history of violence
November 2002, Renton
Jerome Jones had a long rap sheet steeped in drugs and violence. He grew up near Compton, California, and ran with the Crips street gang during the crack-cocaine explosion of the 1980s.
In 1986 at the age of 16, “Roam Dog,” as he was known on the street, already had earned his first felony conviction — for attempted robbery. By 18, he was serving time in a California prison for carjacking and shooting a man. Three years later, after being paroled, Jones robbed a produce truck at gunpoint and was sent back to prison for another year.
His first arrest in Washington came four months after his release from a California prison in 1993. Seattle police chased down Jones after he bolted from a traffic stop one August night in the Central District. As he fled, Jones tossed away a blue bandanna and baggie with 12 grams of crack cocaine. Jones completed his two-month sentence in the King County Jail for the resulting felony drug conviction just after Christmas 1993.
Ten months later, when detectives started investigating the double-homicide of a mother and her son in Renton, Jones’ name wasn’t even a blip on their radar screens. The name couldn’t be found on a single scrap of paper among the reams stuffed in case files containing lists of potential and disparate suspects — from Stacy’s ex-husband to an ex-con who lived in the apartments where she’d last been seen.
Suddenly, eight years later, a cold DNA hit blew up months of shoe-leather detective work and theorizing.
Investigators were stunned.
They’d chased down so many tips, gone down one rabbit hole after the next, finally to emerge in pursuit of what seemed like a credible theory and viable suspect: Scott Holm.
“Everybody thought it was (Holm),” Cross said. “When the information came back from the lab on the DNA hit, that just changed everything. It was out of left field. This guy, Jerome, wasn’t even mentioned in anything.”
The bits and pieces of evidence meticulously collected and logged back in 1994, when DNA science wasn’t nearly as advanced, suddenly took on new meaning. The DNA match didn’t mean Jones was guilty of murdering Stacy and Jake, but it was a startling new lead.
“You just grab everything hoping, ‘Maybe one day.’ And lucky for us, the one day arrived,” Cross said. “And so now I’m like, ‘OK, since we don’t have any link at all to Jerome — I mean, obviously the science is there — but you’ve got to find, how did this guy meet her?”
The detective backgrounded Jones and checked in with state corrections officials about his convictions. Cross also went back to the evidence inventory again, submitting more items to the lab for testing.
Within a week of the DNA hit tying Jones to Stacy, Cross learned Jones was in prison in California. Three years earlier, he and an accomplice had been convicted of the 1995 killing of Gregory Hebdon, an Irvine, California, businessman and father of two young children.
Cross reviewed police records showing the California murder occurred between Jones’ brushes with the law in Washington — including one incident less than three weeks after Stacy’s and Jake’s killings.
Jones had served nearly four years of his 56-year murder sentence when the cold DNA hit in late 2002 linked him to Stacy’s body.
What explanation could the convicted killer have for that?
In November 2002, Rick Cross boarded a flight for California to find out.
‘I don’t know her’
Nov. 18, 2002, Salinas Valley State Prison, California
Rick Cross sat a few feet away from Jerome Jones, asking the murder convict for assistance.
“Hey, can you help me out? Yeah, I’ve got this situation,” he recalled telling Jones about an unsolved case two states away.
Before the interview at the Salinas Valley State Prison, Cross and Renton Police detective Sgt. Kent Curry strategized with Jeff Baird, the veteran prosecutor who’d also traveled to California.
Keep the questions innocuous, Cross remembers Baird telling him. Just get Jones talking. See if he throws you a bone.
The officers agreed not to reveal information about the DNA hit, or even to let Jones know he was a suspect in the double-homicide. Baird opted to stay out of the interview.
The officers met Jones in a prison interview room, and he agreed to talk.
Yes, he’d lived in the Kent area during the 1994-95 time frame, he said. And yes, he remembered a club called H.D. Hotspurs.
Jones mentioned that his girlfriend, the mother of his child, also lived in Seattle and he’d kept in touch with her.
Cross started showing Jones some photos, pushing an image of Vincent Fields across a table.
Do you know him, the detective asked of the man who’d murdered Scott Holm, the one-time suspect in Stacy’s and Jake’s killings.
Jones showed no reaction. No, I don’t know him, Jones told him, according to notes the detective took later.
How about her, Cross asked, pushing a photo of Stacy in front of Jones.
Jones sat back in his chair, his mouth open. He stared at Stacy’s photo for five, six, seven, eight seconds, not saying a word. Finally, he looked up.
“I don’t know her,” he told Cross.
Are you sure, the detective pressed. It might help to know she had a small child, about 2½ years old.
Jones moved in his chair, sat back, paused. Then, he sat upright.
No, I don’t remember them, he finally said, according to Cross’ notes of the conversation.
Are you positive? You don’t know her? You never met her?
No, no, no, Jones responded.
Then, Cross recalled, Jones told him emphatically: “I don’t do white b—-es.”
Jones didn’t want to talk anymore. He called for a guard to take him back to his cell.
After the interview, Cross celebrated with Baird.
“Oh man, it was party time for me,” the detective recalled. “Jeff was pleased, too.”
They knew Jones’ adamant denials had just strengthened their case, Cross said. Again and again, Jones had claimed he didn’t know Stacy, had never even met her. Science proved otherwise.
“Unless aliens duplicated your body (and) you’re a replicant, you’re in deep kimchi,” Cross recalled thinking of Jones. “Because you’re going to have a hard time explaining, ‘Then, how come she has … your DNA’” in her mouth?
Nov. 26, 2002-April 13, 2004, King County
Once back in Renton, Cross turned his attention to tying up the loose ends in a long-cold case that was now scorching hot.
One by one, Cross sought to eliminate other potential suspects, through DNA, polygraph tests or both.
The detective showed up unannounced at the home of John Dewey, Stacy’s estranged husband, who by then was remarried with children.
“He just told me, ‘We’ve got this DNA thing now and it’s solving a lot of cases. We just need to eliminate you,'” Dewey remembers Cross telling him. “My wife took the kids to her mom’s, while I let him swab my cheeks.”
Rich Musga also gave a DNA sample, but he’d acknowledged to detectives that he’d been intimate with Stacy shortly before her death. “I mean, I was her boyfriend at the time,” Musga said later. Witnesses had supported his alibi, and he had passed a second lie-detector test.
Shortly before Christmas 2002, Cross joined Baird, the prosecutor, and Wilson, the former Renton detective, to travel to the Stafford Creek Corrections Center near Aberdeen. There, they interviewed Vincent Fields, the man convicted of killing Scott Holm.
By then, Fields’ self-defense trial claims that Holm had confessed to him that he’d killed Stacy had grown more dubious. Fields had won an appeal for a new trial three years earlier, and during the retrial, a fellow prisoner offered to testify that Fields had told him he killed Holm while robbing him, not out of fear that Holm was a killer. Fields was convicted of Holm’s murder again, and sent back to prison.
Cross also had scientists run tests on Holm’s DNA against crime-scene evidence, yielding no matches.
During his interview with Cross and the others, Fields said he grew up in Compton and knew Crips gang members, but he didn’t pick Jones out of photos as someone he recognized. “It appeared to me that Vincent Fields did not know … Jerome Jones,” Cross wrote in his case notes.
Cross also learned about another homicide case in which King County detectives suspected Jones’ one-time girlfriend. The shooting involved the same caliber handgun as the one used in Stacy’s and Jake’s killings. Could the same gun have been used for both homicides?
Cross requested a comparison of shell casings from both cases and submitted more evidence from the Renton crime scene for DNA analysis. Most of the tests yielded nothing useful. But fingernail clippings from Stacy’s right hand found more DNA linked to Jones.
That hit and the previous one from Stacy’s oral swab appeared rock solid. In both tests, Jones’ genetic profile matched the DNA left with Stacy’s body with a statistical certainty.
Cross spent the next several months tracking down managers and current or former residents of the Kenton Ridge Apartments, several of whom identified Jones from photos as a resident who had been living with an older woman and two children in the complex in 1994, when Stacy and Jake were killed.
Jones liked to shoot pool in the community room, several of the witnesses said. One former resident recollected that he’d seen Stacy hanging out once with Jones and his acquaintances. Another resident who helped with security knew Jones to keep a gun in his waistband.
And a manager recalled that Jones hung around with a man named Clyde, whose apartment had a clear view of the area where Stacy parked when she picked up Jacob from the babysitter.
Cross now had the suspect’s DNA at the crime scene, along with Jones’ denials of ever meeting Stacy.
He had witnesses placing Jones in the very apartment complex where Stacy and Jake were seen shortly before their deaths.
And, he had Jones’ committing a murder a few months later with key similarities: a victim who was bound at the wrist, and then shot.
By April 2004, Cross was ready to submit the case to prosecutors.
“Everything had been done,” Cross said. “It was pretty much gift-wrapped.”
There was just one more thing: Baird, the prosecutor, wanted state forensic scientists to complete another task.
As it turned out, the request would delay the case for years.
2004, King County
King County prosecutors had charged cases based on less evidence than what Renton Police Detective Rick Cross had now gathered on Jerome Jones.
In fact, shortly before Cross had wrapped up work on the Falcon-Dewey case, prosecutors were celebrating their latest in a string of convictions in some of King County’s most notorious unsolved murders.
Senior Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Jeff Baird led the team prosecuting the Green River killer case. In November 2003, two years after his arrest on a cold DNA hit, Gary Ridgway took a plea deal that spared him his life in exchange for confessing to the murders of 48 women.
Four months later, in March 2004, prosecutors won another conviction in the 1993 murder of Mia Zapata, lead singer of the punk-rock band, The Gits.
The big break in that decade-old mystery had occurred about a year earlier. Seattle police previously had submitted evidence to the state crime lab, which ran the unknown suspect’s genetic profile — based on saliva from a bite wound left on Zapata’s body — through the federal DNA database. It found no matches.
But a few months later when a new entry for a Florida man named Jesus Mezquia was added to that state’s felon database, it matched the Zapata suspect. After his arrest, Mezquia told detectives he’d never met Zapata. Prosecutors later relied on the DNA evidence and Mezquia’s denial to prove their case.
But in July 2004, Baird didn’t rush to bring charges against Jerome Jones. The prosecutor first wanted forensic scientists to reconstruct the crime scene of the Falcon-Dewey killings.
“This was a complicated case,” Baird said later. “I thought there was still some work that needed to be done.”
In 1994, investigators meticulously had documented the sprawl of evidence at the crime scene, taking all necessary measurements by hand. A forensic scientist was tasked to draw upon that evidence to reconstruct the crime scene and lay out the likely sequence of events during the killings. But for whatever reason, that work wasn’t performed, and prosecutors weren’t called to the crime scene to personally take in the array of evidence, as they would be in later cases under Baird’s direction.
A decade later, as investigators regularly used specialized software to reconstruct crime scenes in vivid detail, Baird wanted an up-to-date sequencing to help demonstrate how the killings unfolded.
In a July 2004 email, Baird noted to forensic scientist Kim Duddy that the crime lab already had helped identify a suspect through a DNA match.
“This suspect is in custody and is not presently a danger to the public,” Baird wrote. “I would prefer to determine the appropriate charges in this case after you have had an opportunity to interpret the entire crime scene.”
Baird further explained he wanted the reconstruction to focus upon this question: Did the same person whose DNA was found in Stacy’s body also kill her and her child?”
“Because the semen was recovered from Stacy’s mouth, where it would not remain long in a living person,” Baird noted, “the answer to the question may depend in part upon the length of time that the killer spent with his victims.”
Cross didn’t think a reconstruction was necessary. But he respected Baird’s intellect and experience and didn’t object.
“They had done trial after trial,” Cross said, “and Jeff Baird had a solid name and I admired him. When he said, ‘Hey we need this,’ (it was) OK, we need this.”
The lab likely could knock out the task in a few weeks, Cross thought, then prosecutors would make their charging decision.
But months passed. The crime-scene reconstruction never came. Cross heard that the forensic scientist assigned to the case had gone on vacation, and then retired abruptly upon her return. Certainly, another scientist would pick up the task, he thought.
More time passed. Cross moved on to other cases. When his wife confronted him that he hadn’t attended any of his son’s Little League games for weeks, Cross said he decided to “reprioritize some things.”
“I was living and breathing that case for a year,” he said. “Then, it was like, ‘Maybe spending all my time looking through dumpsters and digging up records isn’t what I need to be doing right now.’”
Cross transferred from the detective’s division to patrol sometime around late 2004, taking a job with regular hours. The crime-scene reconstruction still hadn’t been completed. The case was shelved again.
Through the cracks
Jan. 3, 2007-Jan. 5, 2009, King County
The email’s subject line read “A Long Overdue Question.”
“I am checking on a case that we met about over a year plus plus ago where you were interested in a reconstruction,” state forensic scientist Kim Duddy wrote to King County Senior Deputy Prosecutor Jeff Baird.
It was early January 2007. By then, nearly 2½ years had passed since the prosecutor had requested the state’s crime lab to conduct a crime-scene reconstruction of an old double-homicide case.
“Since I haven’t heard from you or the detective, I am thinking that it is really cold again or has been adjudicated without further work,” Duddy’s email said.
“I truly do apologize for not having be able to get to this request yet (embarrassingly I just can’t seem to dig myself out from so many requests) and am wanting to know if the work still needs to be done. I expect that it does. The victims were Stacy Falcon-Dewey and Jacob Dewey.”
A few minutes later, Baird replied the case had been reassigned to another prosecutor, James Konat. Baird wrote that he would forward Duddy’s inquiries to him.
But it took Duddy another year and a half, in July 2008, before she finally could get another prosecutor, Donna Wise, to discuss the case.
In email exchanges with Wise, Duddy suggested doing additional forensic work on case evidence, noting “a visit back to the car likely will be necessary to collect blood samples that can now be analyzed that back in 1994 could not be.”
But by then, Stacy’s Buick had been returned to her family, and her uncle had asked an employee to get rid of the car, with its bloodstained seats, years earlier.
In August 2008, when Duddy finally met with Wise and Baird in person, Renton detectives who had been invited to the meeting didn’t show up for reasons not explained in the emails. Another month passed before Duddy and Wise finally connected with Rick Cross, the former detective who by then was 4 years removed from the case.
Still, Cross, then working in patrol, agreed to catch them up on the case details and supplied Wise with various records. Another Renton detective also agreed to create an updated diagram of the crime scene based on original case notes and measurements.
But within a few months, the case would go dark again. In January 2009, when Duddy sent a long list of questions and suggestions, Wise responded: “I am sorry to report that most of the cold-case unit here has fallen to the budget ax. I have been reassigned to another unit.”
Wise added Baird had “graciously reclaimed the Falcon-Dewey investigation … He is the best source of information at this point, I think.”
Almost five years had passed since Baird first had asked for the crime-scene reconstruction. The case had been shelved, reopened, twice reassigned and ultimately, returned to him. And it had gone nowhere.
Lapse of time
Her stepfather died first, in 2006. Her mother followed him two years later. Neither of Vianne Falcon’s parents got to see the killer of their granddaughter and great-grandson brought to justice.
Years had passed since DNA had linked Jerome Jones to Stacy’s body — a breakthrough that Vianne hadn’t been told about. In fact, she hadn’t heard from Renton detectives in years.
In 2010, Rick Cross — the detective who’d greatly advanced the case — retired after a 31-year career.
Around the same time, Vianne had asked about the case’s status again. Police told her the case had been sent to the prosecutor’s office. A woman in that office informed Vianne the cold-case squad had lost its funding, so the case had been shelved.
Vianne was convinced authorities were satisfied to pin the killings on a dead man: Scott Holm.
“They just assumed we’d all accept that he did it,” she said. “We didn’t.”
Instead, Vianne and her younger sister, Frankie, kept digging.
Outside of her mom and brother, Stacy was closest to her Aunt Frankie. In the months before her death, when Stacy visited her mother in South Bend, she’d always stop first at her aunt’s home. They shot pool together and shared details of their lives.
“They were just like magnets,” Vianne said.
The killings traumatized Frankie and her preteen daughter, Crystal, who adored Jake. The girl spent months in counseling after her younger cousin’s death.
Years later, Frankie seemed as equally obsessed with finding the killer as Vianne.
“Whenever I got an idea, I’d run it by Frankie, and she would research it, come up with something more and run it by me,” Vianne said. “It was like a big jigsaw puzzle we were constantly working on together, but at the same time, a real open wound for the both of us.”
When Frankie died of heart failure in 2017, Vianne lost not only her baby sister, but her strongest ally in her quest for answers. She also lost nearly all hope of ever knowing what really happened.
Two years later, at a property in Covington, where she lives with her older brother, Ken Schwab, and older sister, Lily Bradley, on a sprawling, tree-shrouded lot, Vianne sometimes would disappear for weeks into a fifth-wheel trailer parked near the family’s tidy home.
She was a “basket case,” Bradley would later say.
One day in early March 2019, Vianne’s brother passed along a phone message. A Seattle Times reporter had called, asking about Stacy and Jake. When she returned the call, Vianne told the reporter her family mostly had avoided the media after the killings.
“My hopes of solving this dwindled many years ago,” she said. “But I need to find out what answers I can before I leave this world.”
She agreed to meet the reporter for an interview.
Learning his name
March 8, 2019, Covington
She was shy and not the best student, her mother recalled, but she blossomed into a “bubbly” teen who made friends easily at Renton Alternative High, and never seemed to lack attention from boys.
All the while, Stacy tried to fill a nagging void in her life, spending spare time in her late teens searching for her estranged father in hopes of a reckoning one day.
She found love briefly with John Dewey, her older brother’s friend who’d spent his senior year in high school living with the Falcon family. Together, they had a son. Jake was born in California, where the newlyweds lived while John worked his first stint as a Boeing structures mechanic on the B-2 stealth bomber project. The couple returned to Washington, but after John was laid off, the relationship fell apart, and the young single mom looked for a new life.
But ever since Stacy and Jake were shot at close range and left dead on that road in 1994, it was her mother, Vianne Falcon, who had been searching.
“The thing I’m worried about most,” Vianne said, “is that whoever did this is still out there.”
As she told a reporter her daughter’s story, Vianne’s words brought meaning to a collection of old photos, aging keepsakes and yellowed newspaper clippings on the coffee table in front of her.
A portrait of a young, smiling couple with their infant son. A pair of baby shoes, bearing Stacy’s and Jake’s names and the words “My Angels” in fading marker. A news article describing the latest police theory in an unsolved case.
Nearly 25 years later, Vianne said, “I’ve learned absolutely nothing.”
Had she ever heard the name Charles Sharp, the reporter asked her. He went by the nickname, Casey.
“Doesn’t sound familiar,” she said.
What about Jerome Jones?
Vianne paused. She squinted her eyes and cocked her head to one side, then shook it.
“No, I’m afraid I haven’t.”
Ten months earlier, the reporter had started investigating cold cases. He had requested records from the Washington State Patrol’s Crime Lab detailing homicide cases with lab-assisted DNA matches to suspects. The lab took months to start turning over the records, but ultimately the agency started trickling them out in piecemeal late last year.
Most of the records divulged to date involved once-cold homicide cases solved by DNA hits that resulted in criminal charges or convictions. Then, there was Stacy and Jake’s case — with a DNA hit 16 years earlier that identified a suspect who had never been charged in the case.
The reporter wondered, Did the victims’ family know?
He followed up with a request to the Renton Police Department, seeking corresponding case records. The agency eventually provided a cursory incident report and a few old news releases, but withheld additional records, citing “an active criminal investigation” for which “the release of the records would impede the investigation.”
By then, the case hadn’t seen significant police activity since 2011, the reporter would later learn.
When the reporter couldn’t find a good phone number for the dead woman’s mother, he tracked down an uncle.
“No, we never did find out who did it,” Ken Schwab told the reporter in a phone call last October.
Like a protective big brother, Schwab declined to give out his sister Vianne’s number. “After all these years, she’s still very emotional,” he said. “She won’t even talk to us about it. It’s real sad.”
A few months later, when the reporter called back to explain he’d dug deeper into the case, Schwab agreed to give Vianne his phone number.
She called immediately, setting up a meeting at the family home in Covington.
When told for the first time about a man named Jerome Jones and the DNA that tied him to her daughter’s body, Vianne’s mouth fell open. She closed her eyes, bowed her head and rested it on a balled fist. A beat passed. Then another, and another. Finally, she exhaled a long, deep breath. Her head lifted and her eyes flashed open.
“And, they’ve known for how long?” she asked. “Why in the hell was nobody in my family contacted?”
Vianne’s sister Lily cut in: “We should’ve been the first call they made.”
For the next several minutes, the sisters sat quietly in their living room as the reporter cited information about Jones gleaned from case documents and court records. Astonishment crept across Vianne’s face as she absorbed the details.
She rose quietly and walked to a desk, pulled open a drawer and fumbled in it before returning and handing the reporter a scrap of paper and a pen.
“Could you write down his name for me,” she asked. “Please?”
‘I should have’
March-June 2019, King County
Back when he learned about the DNA hit, Rick Cross recalled, he was juggling multiple cases.
Twenty-five to 30 wouldn’t be unusual, he said, ranging from run-of-the mill burglaries to long cold homicides.
Cold cases, such as the Falcon-Dewey investigation, required time and attention to get results, but they couldn’t be worked exclusively. Cases were divvied up and doled out on a daily basis, with expectations to clear them as quickly as possible.
“We’re a smaller agency, and the bad guys don’t say, ‘OK we’ll give you a break for five days,’” Cross said.
When a solid break cropped up on a cold case amid the routine churn, Cross said, he typically would refocus his work.
“You start maybe spending a little bit more time with it,” he said. “And then, you’re just trying to nurse everything else along, just to keep them on the books.”
The Falcon-Dewey double-homicide wasn’t his only cold case then. After skull fragments of a long-missing teenager from Marysville emerged in a swamp alongside Highway 167, Cross caught that case, picked away at it and narrowed in on a suspect while simultaneously working to solve Stacy’s and Jake’s killings.
The retired cop recalled speaking to the mother of the murdered teen frequently. But his memory of speaking to Vianne is fuzzy.
“I don’t even remember if I told — was she aware of Jerome [Jones] and the DNA?” Cross asked a reporter during an interview.
When told no, that Vianne only had learned about Jones two weeks earlier from the reporter, Cross shook his head.
“Gosh, that’s unfortunate,” he said. “Because I normally would’ve done that, you know? As a course of just, ‘Hey, we got a guy, and we’ve just gotta put the pieces together.’”
Cross couldn’t say exactly why he didn’t follow up with Stacy’s family.
“I don’t know,” he said. “Like I say, normally I would tell them because of closure. But I don’t know — she wasn’t aware, huh?”
Contacted three months later, Jeff Baird, the veteran prosecutor who worked the case closely with Cross, said prosecutors typically don’t inform victims’ loved ones about the suspects investigators are keying on.
Baird doesn’t recall ever speaking with Vianne. But even if he had, he said, he doubts he would have told her about Jerome Jones. Generally speaking, letting such information out too early could impede a prosecution should it get back to the suspect, he said.
“It sounds like she has suffered greatly, and that’s really unfortunate,” Baird added about Vianne. “If I’m responsible for some of that suffering, I’m deeply sorry. I don’t know what else I can say, but we did the best we could with the time we had to work with it.”
But after all the time that’s passed, and with the DNA hit, doesn’t Vianne deserve to know at least that much?
Baird paused before answering.
“That’s a tough one,” he finally said. “I am not going to suggest that we shouldn’t have told her at some point. We can argue about whether or not she should have been informed. But as a general principle, I don’t agree that people, a victims’ family, should be told that we’re looking at a particular suspect while a case is active.”
That wasn’t Cross’ practice, however.
Maybe he didn’t tell Vianne, he offered, because he was waiting for a charging decision that never came. Or, maybe the task got lost in his workload.
“Sometimes you can get so caught up in working all the different stuff, and if I did that, I am remorseful because I should have,” he said.
“I definitely was never told not to. I mean, pretty much DNA — Mom’s going to say, ‘Thank God.’ I mean, I know I would’ve told her, We have a suspect and it’s just a matter of putting the rest of it, tying it up.”
“If I didn’t do that, I feel poorly for it. I should have.”
2019, King County
All three detectives who worked the case the longest said separately that they don’t understand why prosecutors have not charged Jerome Jones.
“There’s enough evidence to charge this individual with double-homicide,” said Greg Wilson, who retired last year as the Mountlake Terrace police chief.
So, why hasn’t that happened?
“I don’t know why,” Cross said. “I never was privy to the discussions. That was well above my pay grade. I don’t think they felt any urgency for it. Either the prosecutor’s office, our department, the crime lab, everybody. I didn’t ever sense the urgency.”
One reason may be that Jones is already serving a life sentence in another state, Cross surmised.
“It always comes down to money,” he said. “Like I say, prosecutors, they don’t have to extradite him right now. It’s going to cost them some time and effort and resources, so (it was) ‘Let’s just wait to see what happens.’”
After Jeff Baird announced his retirement in May 2018, a newspaper story about the “guru of homicide prosecutors” and his renowned career referenced an open case that outlasted him.
“A cardboard box sat in one corner, containing files from the 1994 unsolved homicides of a young cocktail waitress and her 3-year-old son, who were both fatally shot on a Renton roadway,” the story said. “‘I’m passing this one on to a colleague and hoping she can put the case together,’ Baird said, adding that his unsolved cases are sometimes more disturbing than those he’s successfully prosecuted.”
Baird, who has since left the office, said he hadn’t actively worked the case for 15 years and couldn’t specifically recall all of its details. But its various twists and turns — a long, initial list of potential suspects; the mystery man caught on the 7-Eleven surveillance footage; the purported confessions and rumors; the boyfriend’s additional DNA link to one of the victims — created complexities.
“I think there’s probably a lot of cases where prosecutors are pretty sure someone has killed someone else, and it’s easy for anyone on the outside to say, Hey, you could’ve charged this person a long time ago,” Baird said. “I’m not suggesting that this guy in prison should not be charged. But there’s a whole variety of complications in this case that factor into that decision. I don’t want to make excuses, but this was a complicated case.”
The case has stirred with signs of recent activity.
Earlier this year, prosecutors partly relied on a DNA hit to charge Jones’ one-time girlfriend and another man with the 1995 murder of a known drug dealer in White Center. The woman refused to answer a reporter’s questions during a recent visit in the King County Jail.
In April, Renton police asked the crime lab to submit analysis and images of the .380 shell casings left at the Falcon-Dewey crime scene to a national ballistics database that tracks and compares firearms used in crimes. But that action turned up no hits.
Other cases show charges have been made based on less evidence than what now exists with the Falcon-Dewey case.
About nine months before he retired, Baird charged a suspect in a similar cold case. A DNA match in 2004 had linked John Ray Stearns, a violent multiple felon serving a 40-year prison term, to the 1998 slaying of Crystal Williams, a 33-year-old woman found dead in the bathroom of a Central District park.
A year after the DNA hit, detectives interviewed Stearns in prison, showing him photos of Williams. He denied knowing her or having sex with her.
Baird filed the murder charge, which relied largely on the 2004 DNA hit and Stearns’ 2005 denials, at least 12 years after the key evidence was obtained.
But Stearns also had a history of violent crimes against women, Baird noted, that helped to tip the scales toward a charging decision. Each case is its own universe, requiring unique analysis, he added.
“The mere fact that DNA links a suspect to a victim doesn’t mean a case will be a slam dunk,” Baird said. “We’ve got to prove these things beyond a reasonable doubt, and we have to charge someone who did the crime. So, to make sure we’re doing that, we have to be very conservative.”
Jones, 49, currently is incarcerated at the Kern Valley State Prison in Delano, California. He did not respond to letters sent to him for this story. He is eligible for parole in 2030.
“At the very least, I think (prosecutors) should put a hold on this guy,” Cross said. “Just a Hey, can you at least give us a heads up if you’re going to parole this guy? Because all they would have to do here is say, ‘Hey thanks, you gave us 30-days’ heads up, now we’re dropping the hammer. Here’s the extradition papers, we’re filing it.”
A spokeswoman for the Washington Department of Corrections said the agency has not requested a hold on Jones. A 1999 bench warrant related to Jones’ assault of a King County corrections officer while he awaited extradition to California in 1995 remains active, however.
Even with DNA evidence, “you never wanted a case to drag on so long,” said Wilson, the former Renton detective. “The longer a case sits, the harder it becomes to solve. Memories fade, witnesses disappear, people die.”
People have died. Among them, Jake’s babysitter; two Renton detectives who worked parts of the case; and one of the witnesses who placed Jones at the Kenton Ridge Apartments.
All were alive when Cross completed his work on the case and prepared to submit it for charges in 2004.
And the last time Baird touched the case, “I still don’t think I ever saw a (crime scene) reconstruction,” Baird said.
“It deserves a close look,” he added. “I can’t say how swiftly it could be done, but someone absolutely should take another close look at it.”
A new light
March 18, 2019, Mt. Olivet Cemetery, Renton
Vianne Falcon adorned the headstone with a butterfly-shaped balloon tethered to a spring bouquet in a modest vase. Generous bunches of baby’s breath encircled the granite slab like a halo — a final touch to mark the occasion.
Jake would be 28 today, but he’s eternally 3 years old.
“Sometimes I wonder what he’d look like,” his grandmother said. “He was such a good-looking boy.”
She has visited this quiet corner of the hillside cemetery for nearly every one of Stacy’s and Jake’s birthdays for the past quarter-century.
She’s been here so many times, she can close her eyes and see the simple gray marker where their ashes are buried: a tree and rising sun etched in one corner; the words, “Together Forever,” engraved above their names.
But she’d never seen it on a day like this, in such light.
At least for now, the faces that long haunted Vianne’s sleep — faces of those she has suspected — have vanished from her dreams.
“Knowing his name is such a relief,” she said. “It gives me hope and takes away a lot of the stress, like a big weight was lifted.”
But where her hopelessness once lived, a new feeling is emerging.
“Anger is replacing it,” she said.
It generates, Vianne said, from a continued need for answers — but now, to different questions.
If it is him, why did he do it, and why hasn’t he been held accountable?
When can I look into his eyes?
“I deserve to know; my family deserves to know,” she said. “This entire community, we all deserve it.”
A few hundred feet from the gravesite, the view from Mt. Olivet under the day’s cloudless sky offered unlimited visibility. A few miles below, down in the valley, an unusually searing sun glinted off metallic green fuselages at Boeing, the longtime employer of the dead boy’s father, who has never heard a word from police since a detective swabbed his mouth more than 16 years ago.
Still farther out, the waters of Lake Washington glimmered and rolled in deep blue to the big city and its rising skyscrapers beyond.
Somewhere out there, in the county seat — inside a building, in an office, within boxes holding its files, a case still waits to be made.
News researcher Miyoko Wolf contributed to this report.
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