Category Archives: Tacoma Homicides

About My Tacoma Homicide Posts

Originally, I started writing about homicides in Tacoma because of Tacoma’s reputation as a city of crime. Tacoma has a long and colorful history of crime and corruption. That history continues, but when it comes to homicides, Tacoma really isn’t as dangerous as it used to be. Crime rates have dropped significantly since the 1990s. My original purpose was to show that there really aren’t that many homicides in Tacoma. Usually about one a month.

Since most media reports tend to focus on the killer, I chose to focus instead on the victim. Personally, I don’t think killing someone should make you a household name. So whenever possible, I don’t mention the name of the killer. Another aspect of it is that the victim is usually forgotten and little if anything is written about who the person was. I wanted to write about these people who could no longer share their story, whatever their story was.

Soon after I started doing this, I found a new purpose in writing about these murders. I found that friends and relatives of the victim would often contact me. Some would be old friends who hadn’t seen the victim in years and only found out they had died through a Google search that found my site. Others would be mothers, wives, fathers and children of the victim. It became clear that what I was doing mattered to some people.

There was also the flipside of that coin. Particularly when gangs were involved, I’d get other messages. I’d get threatening emails. Once I got one with information only someone directly involved with the killing would have known. I forwarded that one on to the police. At the time, it occurred to me that while some liked what I was doing there were others who didn’t and some of those others were killers. And so I stopped for a few years.

During that time, I’d occasionally reread the emails from the friends and relatives of victims. I was contacted by one who asked me if I could find the name of the person who killed a woman a few years ago. It took a bit of research since I don’t mention killers, but the person who wrote me wanted to know who killed her mother. I sent her the information I had. I was reminded that what it comes down to is that the victims can no longer tell their story and someone should.

I started writing about Tacoma homicides again in 2011. I plan on continuing to do so for the foreseeable future. Because there have to be limits on something like this, I only write about homicides that occur in the city limits of Tacoma. I include police involved shootings because I am told that they are counted in official homicide statistics and because those victims have a story too. I don’t include vehicular homicides because they are much more difficult to write about. Often charges aren’t filed until much later, and writing about everyone who is killed in a car accident in Tacoma goes a bit outside of what this is for.

When writing about these crimes, I use whatever information is available to me at the time. I read newspaper articles, news sites and television news broadcasts. I also use whatever personal knowledge I might have of the victim, the area or any other information I might have. Whenever possible, I try to write it with a sympathetic ear towards the victim. This year, that’s been a bit difficult. There were two police involved shootings and two instances where a homeowner shot intruders in their house. While it’s debatable whether they were justifiable or not, there were no charges filed in these cases and in each of them, it’s understandable why events occurred the way they did.

I’m not a reporter. I’m not objective. I do have an opinion on each homicide I write about. I try not to let that influence me too much, but it’s impossible to keep my bias out of something I write. I’ll be the first to admit that occasionally I get it wrong. Often this is due to a lack of information on the case at the time that I’m writing about it. This is why I tend to wait until the name of the victim is released. Usually by that time, the story of what happened is out there and reasonably complete.

It’s my hope that telling these stories helps those who have lost someone and gives others a better picture of people Tacoma has lost.

- Jack Cameron

11th Tacoma Homicide of 2011 – Aaron Westby

Photo Courtesy of Pierce County Sheriff.

On the morning of Saturday, October 22, Aaron Westby was loading suitcases into a truck in the alley near South 19th and Yakima Street. Aaron was a known car thief. The bright red Ford truck had been stolen Friday with a gun inside it. Two uniformed Pierce County officers approached him. He was known well enough from his previous encounters with police that these two knew him by sight.

Aaron continued to load the suitcases as they approached. He knew he had a warrant out for his arrest. He also knew that this would be his third strike and he’d likely be facing life in prison if they arrested him. So he told them that they would not be arresting him. When they got to him, there was a bit of a struggle. Eventually he got free and got into the truck. One of the officers broke the window. They used a taser on him, but it didn’t seem to stop him. According to the officers, he reached into the glove box and told them he had a gun. One of the officers shot once, killing Aaron Westby.

This, it would turn out, would be the second of four police involved shootings in Western Washington this weekend. The first shooting happened in Grey’s Harbor County when an inmate receiving medical treatment attempted to escape, taking a hostage with the butter knife. Less than 24 hours after Aaron Westby’s death, officers in Lakewood shot an armed man at a party. Then on Sunday, in Seattle’s Belltown, a homicide suspect was shot on Cedar Street.

Aaron Westby was facing life in prison as a result of an extensive criminal record. He had a history of running from the police. The stolen truck he was using was reported to have a gun in it. While, it will be months before any investigation into this will be concluded, it’s safe to say that any charges against the officers are unlikely.

Since 2009, when six officers local officers were killed in the space of a few months, four of them in an ambush in Lakewood at a coffee shop, local police have been much more willing to use lethal force. This isn’t news to anyone around here. From the information on hand about Aaron Westby’s death, it would appear he preferred to run and risk death rather than face life in prison. This was an unfortunate loss of life, but one that could have been easily prevented by Westby simply complying with the officers.

I’ve talked with a lot of cops. Some of them are personal friends. Not one of them wakes up wanting to shoot someone. That said, most of them are more than willing to if it means saving lives or saving their own life. For some the action haunts them forever. For others, it’s just part of the job.

A search of the truck found that there was no gun inside. Aaron Westby’s last threat was a hallow one. Did he say it knowing the officers would shoot? The more cynical might even ask if he said it at all? Aaron Westby made it clear he wasn’t going back to prison and he was right.

If you knew Aaron, please feel free to comment below with memories of him. All the media is going to report is that he was a car thief. If you have more to say than will fit in a comment, feel free to email me at jackcameronis@gmail.com

 

10th Tacoma Homicide of 2011 – Devondre D. Davis

Devondre D. Davis

At some point on Wednesday, September 7th, 16-year-old Devondre D. Davis went to the apartment of 20-year-old Anthony Clark on Tacoma’s East Side. Clark has given various accounts of why Devondre was there and what happened what he got there. What is known is that sometime after Devondre arrived he was  shot in the back of the head likely while near the bedroom closet.

Devondre’s body was found in a garbage bin in the 500 block of East 36th Street. Neighbors say Clark asked him if he could dispose of a body in the garbage bin. They then alerted members of the Tacoma Police Department’s Anti-Gang task force who were nearby on an unrelated call.

This tenth Tacoma homicide of 2011 is such a senseless waste of life that I actually have trouble writing about it. This is the second teenager murdered in Tacoma in the last two weeks. Here’s hoping this streak stops now.

Tacoma’s East Side has had its share of violence. Like the rest of Tacoma, it has improved over the years. Much like Tacoma’s Hilltop neighborhood, the East Side is held together by proud citizens who do not accept that this sort of violence has to be a part of their neighborhood.

We may never know the reason Devondre was shot and killed. In many ways, it doesn’t matter why. There isn’t a reason that is justifiable for what happened to him. It is a crime and a tragedy.

Devondre may be gone, but he is remembered. A Facebook Page has been posted in his memory. You can find it here: http://on.fb.me/nLJlg7.

You can also post comments below if you like. My thoughts go out to Devondre’s friends and family.

- Jack Cameron

Ninth Homicide of 2011 – Billy Shirley III

On the second floor of a building just off of Center Street, the After Party was getting intense in the early hours of Saturday morning. This wasn’t just a guy inviting people back to his place for a few drinks. This place had bouncers. There were even guys with flashlights to tell you where to park when it got busy. The Friday night after party was far from the first one to happen here.

Seventeen year old Billy Shirley arrived there just before 5:00am. He wasn’t there to party. He was there to check on someone. Unconfirmed reports say he was there to pick up his mother. Billy wasn’t the late night after party type. Last April he was profiled in The News Tribune as part of a volunteer group called ‘Peace Out’. What happened next is still under investigation. There was an argument between Billy and someone else. Some witnesses say there Billy became involved in a brawl. What’s clear is that as Billy was leaving he was shot at least twice in the back. When the paramedics arrived, they were unable to revive him. As the sun rose on the City of Tacoma, Billy Shirley III became its ninth homicide victim for 2011.

Tacoma had managed to go most of the summer without a homicide. Our last one was in June. There was a recent shooting near Tacoma General Hospital almost a week ago, but the victim was uncooperative and his wounds were not life threatening.

Billy was about to begin his senior year at Curtis High School. From his involvement in Peace Out and various comments online, it sounds like he was a good kid who was interested in giving back to the community. It’s an unfortunate tragedy in the City of Destiny. He will not be forgotten.

After Parties are nothing new in Tacoma. Neither are illegal night clubs. One could argue that since this place had been having parties for months without a major incident that it wasn’t a big deal. However, one could just as easily argue that something like this was bound to happen in a place like that. That area of Center Street is mostly an industrial area. They likely didn’t get too many noise complaints regardless of how loud they were.

With the death of Billy Shirley, it’s safe to say that the After Party is over. At least in that location. The Tacoma Police Department continue to investigate and would like to talk to anyone who left the party before the police arrived.

-          Jack Cameron

Related Links:

Peace Out: http://www.mypeaceout.org/

TNT’s Profile of Billy Shirley: http://bit.ly/nU6UCr

5 Question Friday With Tacoma Cold Case Detective Gene Miller

Many years ago I worked in police records at the Law Enforcement Support Agency. I spent my day transcribing police records and deciphering handwriting on police reports usually written on clipboards in a squad car. At the office, there were aisles of folders from all sorts of cases. However, at the end of the aisles, on a bookshelf, there were a group of accordion files bigger than most of the other ones. Many of them were red. I asked what they were. Someone told me that those were the unsolved homicide cases. Thinking how each one of those represented a human life that had been taken by someone who was still out there haunted me. It’s one of the reasons that when I started my first website about Tacoma, I started writing about every homicide that happened in Tacoma.

Detective Gene Miller is in charge of the Tacoma Police Department’s Cold Case Unit. Many cities don’t even have a Cold Case Unit. Tacoma just started this unit last April. Detective Miller keeps these cases from just being folders on a shelf and he took time out of his day to join me for 5 Question Friday.

1. How did you get started in the Tacoma Police Department?

I was born and raised in Tacoma.  I became interested in law enforcement while at WSU and was hired by the Enumclaw Police Department after college.  When the opportunity presented itself in 1985, I transferred here to Tacoma which is where I ultimately wanted to be.

2. You now head up the Cold Case Unit of the Tacoma Police Department. What interests you in Cold Cases in particular?

I firmly believe that someone needs to continue to speak for the victims of these cases and for the families left behind to deal with the loss.  The citizens of Tacoma need to know these cases are not forgotten and the killers yet to be caught need to know that as well.

3. What tools are now available that give you advantages in solving Cold Cases?

The keys to solving cold case homicides are technology and time.  The scientists at the Washington State Patrol Crime Lab are my best friends.  What they bring to the table is HUGE in the resolution of many of these cases.  Time is a big thing as well because I have the benefit of seeing who people are today.  Bad guys may have been able to hide under a rock back then but, more often than not, they will have raised their heads and gotten caught being who they are.  That historical perspective is effective in rooting out the suspect in many investigations.

4. What is one of the biggest misconceptions that the public has about homicide investigations?

The biggest misconception is that we live in a CSI (television) world.  The reality is just because someone touches something doesn’t mean they are going to leave a useable print.  Suspects do not always leave DNA and even if they do, it can take months before we get any lab results.  Also, some of the technology people see on TV only exists in some writers mind.  A good percentage of the other technology only exists at the state level where it is shared by several agencies, all of which are competing for its time.

5. What Cold Cases are you currently working on?

The unit has 192 cases that date back to 1961. All of these cases are open for investigation and varying levels of work occur on each case throughout the year to include the submittal of evidence etc. The unit also actively pursues certain investigations more vigorously based on a variety of factors. Due to the sensitive nature of law enforcement investigations I am not in a position to give you any particular details. Ultimately, you’ll know the answer to this question shortly after the person responsible for the murder finds out.

Thanks to the Tacoma Police Department and Detective Gene Miller for participating in 5 Question Friday.

As always if you or someone you know is interested in doing a 5 Question Friday interview, contact me at jackcameronis@gmail.com

Visions of Tony

Tony McDougald

Tony McDougald

I think it’s important to remember people. TacomaStories.com is about the people of Tacoma and how our stories create the city we live in. When it comes to my writing about the homicides in Tacoma, I’m writing about stories that were cut short. They can no longer tell their story so someone has to do it for them.

Earlier this year, Tony McDougald was shot in the back while breaking into the garage of a house near South 38th Street. I personally knew Tony, but had not seen him since Middle School in 1988. Recently, I was approached by someone who was close to him once. She asked that she remain anonymous and wrote about her story of Tony.

I’ve chosen to post this because regardless of anything else, Tony deserves to be remembered. I do not vouch for the authenticity of what she has written. These are her words and memories, not mine but I will say that everything she says sounds like the Tony I remember.

If you have memories of Tony that you’d like to share, feel free to do so in the comments. Or if you have something longer to share or if you have anything to write about anyone in or from Tacoma, you can email me at jackcameronis@gmail.com .

Thanks for reading.

-          Jack Cameron

When I first heard that Tony was dead, I was shocked and like many, I had and still have many questions. I first met Tony when we were just kids. Back then his brother was dating my friend and she introduced us. To be honest, I liked him for his attitude at first. I thought he was charming, sweet and funny. All that aside, I really hadn’t seen what his face looked like for the first 2 weeks I knew him. So I can say I honestly liked him for his personality. As timed progressed, I learned he was a renegade of his own kind. A true individual. A guy with a kind heart that would mumble “I love you” with a cigarette hanging from his mouth and then scream the F. word at someone driving past and flip them off. Oh, and did I mention what a sight he was? Yes, many people said “Bon Jovi”. Well if you call ratty, torn, bleached jeans, band t’s and well the “hair”. I suppose he was. Thinking back about how he was just really makes me laugh. He had wanted long hair and his mom wanted him to keep it short. They made a deal. He had to perm his hair or cut it off. Well, of course he opted for the perm. His mom’s plan backfired on her. His perm made him look more like a sheep dog, than a kid. Luckily for me, he wasn’t too bad under that mop of hair. Like many girls before and after me, he was my first love.

I had the chance to really get to know Tony before we started dating. And then during the 8 months or so of our relationship, Tony shared many things with me. He made me laugh, and he made me cry for him and his pain. One of the first secrets he shared with me was that when he was younger, he was a victim of abuse. That was very traumatic for him, as  am sure you can imagine. He also shared with me that his mom wanted a little girl so badly that she named him Anthony Lynn. Not “Len” like all the media has been calling him. God, that had to suck to know he could never be what she truly wanted. But that never stopped him from trying. The day after he had his tonsil’s removed, his mom’s dog, “Willie” got out and was headed for 56th Street. That dog was so stupid it would have ran right into the traffic. Despite the fact that Tony’s throat felt like it was on fire, he ran after that dog. Holy hell, that kid could run. He stopped that dog about three feet from the road. His mom was so happy she cried. It was heart wrenching to see that she was more concerned about her dog than her own son. My heart broke for him.

As you can tell his family was very dysfunctional, his dad was on the road driving most of the time trying to support a family of five. Which left his mom home alone to take care of three boys. She had her hands full with trying to work full time at Sears and taking care of the boys. Tony and I really ended up bonding over having a bad home life. He saved me on more than one occasion. My father would get drunk, and he would become verbally and physically abusive. I had no one to help me. My mom was working and I tried calling the cops. They just told me it was my problem and to call a crisis number to get counseling and “deal with it”. Tony was there to help time and again. Once, Tony banged on the front door to distract my dad so I could sneak out to the garage to hide. My dad always had a gun on him, and Tony knew this but he still chose to take the risk anyway. Yet another time my dad came home plastered and had been in a bar fight. He was angry and was going to take his rifle and go back to the bar with it. Tony stayed on the phone with me for three hours while I hid from him. I was terrified of what he was going to do, but Tony did his best to keep me calm. I could go on and on with examples but I won’t. This is about his tragic life not mine.

Towards the end of our relationship Tony lived with me for about a month. He had a friend over one night and the friend found my dad’s revolver. I freaked out on him and said it was loaded. He then aimed it at Tony and me and we both yelled at him. He pointed it up at the wall, about two feet away from Tony’s head. He pulled the first trigger and nothing happened. He said “Oh it’s fine. The safety is on!” Well if you know anything about a revolver, they have a double pull action trigger before it fires or you cock the hammer then pull the trigger once. There is no safety. As he was proclaiming the safety was on, he shot off a .44 hollow point bullet through the walls of my house and continued through my window. Only God knows where the rest of the bullet went. Because of this incidence, this was the final straw, Tony wanted nothing to do with guns. From what I have heard from others he still felt the same way all these years later. That window never has been fixed. Up until seven years ago I was blamed for it until I finally told my parents the truth about that night.
We had a less than stellar falling out. I found out through others that he had eyes for another girl. I confronted him and it started with him admitting to me he had kissed the girl. I was insulted and hurt.  I lost my temper and punched him in the face. I know it was childish. I am still ashamed of my behavior. So he hit me back and we scrapped for a few seconds in his kitchen. I actually remember thinking, ‘Crap we’re breaking the rules, fist fighting is supposed to be done in the back yard.’ Well then his dad jumped in. UH-OH! I thought I was in trouble! He actually popped Tony in the mouth and screamed at him, “You never hit a girl no matter the reason”. Hell, I felt I deserved it, I started it after all. So I walked out of his life. For forever, or so I thought.

After we parted our ways, I saw him here and there. As the years went by I had heard rumors that he was strung out on drugs. I wanted absolutely no part of that and still felt that way. So when a mutual friend would say that he had asked about me. My reply would always be no,no,no. Don’t you give my number to him. I want no part of that. I would make it very clear that they were not to give him any information out about me. A few years passed and one day he shows up at my work. Great, just fan-fricken-tastic! He ended up being the latest new hire. Well I guess sometimes you have to face your past whether you want to or not. I was married. He had his girl and they had just had a baby. So I made it very clear there would be no round two, now or ever. He was fine with that and we made a mutual agreement that we were there for work and nothing more.

It was during this time that we started talking again, just like the old times. I finally mustered up the balls to ask him why he was strung out and what the hell was he thinking. He basically told me about some hardship he had gone through, how he became so angry he didn’t even know who he was. And some other things. He confessed to me that he was responsible for killing a kid at Jack-In-The-Box. My reaction of course was something like “What in the hell are you talking about?!” He then further explained that he was working at Jack-In-The-Box as the guy who cooked the E-coli burgers. He said, “I was working that day, I killed that kid!” I said “Holy F. you have got to be kidding me.” He just looked up at me with tears in his eyes and shook his head. He sat and cried for a few minutes. He then went on to tell me that he had tried to go to the family to apologize. They told him that he was a murderer and it was his fault, that they hated him and he deserved the same thing. This totally devastated him. At first he tried to tell himself he was just doing his job. But that soon faded. It started with drinking and evolved from there to the hardcore drugs. He said he couldn’t handle having that on his conscience. He got to the point where he didn’t care if he lived or died. After his daughter was born that was the only thing that kept him alive. Whether this is true or not, I don’t know. He never lied to me before. I can’t prove one way or another, but I choose to believe him. He truly had a sad life.

Later, I called Tony on the phone when I found out that he had been clean and sober for quite some time and that his band had a cult following. I called to tell him how I was so proud of him and I had missed him (not the drug addict Tony). He bragged about how he was getting married and we laughed. His mom had always wanted us to get married. We laughed about the old times. I’m so glad I got to talk to him that one last time. Apparently this was just a couple of weeks before he found his mom dead, his woman left him, and his band had a falling out. The band was the majority of his support of staying clean. (I am NOT blaming anyone)! The only thing he had left was his daughter and I’m not really sure he got to see her. So again, his whole world came down around him and he did what most people in his situation do. They go back to their old bad habits, because it helps to dull the pain. No one could have stopped him, his path had already been written. My only regret in all of this, is that I never got to see him play a show. He made it. He was a real rock star! He lived by his own rules. He was like so many before him. They made it, then fell.
In closing I just want to say, Tony was a wonderful person with some very bad habits.

R.I.P. Toeknee, I Will Always Love You.

Eighth Tacoma Homicide of 2011 – Baby Girl McMillen

Last week 20-year-old Melissa Cathryn McMillen gave birth to a baby girl in her bathroom in a house in the 5300 block of North 39th Street. She left the baby in the toilet for 90 minutes and took a shower. According to the medical examiner the baby was alive when she was born. After she had showered, she wrapped the body of the baby and put it in a book bag.

Tuesday night Melissa’s boyfriend arrived home after being gone for a few days. He’d found the baby in the bag and called 911. He said that his girlfriend had given birth to a stillborn a few days ago.

Melissa McMillen has been charged with 2nd Degree Murder.

When I write about homicides that happen in Tacoma, I do my best to write about what happened and if possible, what sort of person the victim was. I try not to let my personal opinion influence things too much. In this case, I’m finding it difficult.

At this point it’s unknown what exactly was wrong with Melissa McMillen. She is either mentally ill, very stupid, or absolutely evil. Possibly all of the above. I don’t know. I don’t care. It’s this sort of senseless crime that made me take a break from writing up Tacoma homicides.

Still, I feel it’s important to give a voice to those who’ve been killed in Tacoma and I’ll continue to do so. Baby Girl McMillen died without even having a name. But she will not be forgotten.

- Jack Cameron