It was hot in McCleary June 26, 2009. Lindsey Baum, just weeks shy of her 11th birthday, had spent part of the day beating the heat with a lot of neighborhood kids at a pool party blocks from her home.
Later that evening she, her then 12-year-old brother Josh and a friend left Lindsey’s home on Mommsen Street to see about a sleepover at the friend’s house. Josh peeled back toward his home after a few blocks and the two girls continued to the friend’s house. The sleepover didn’t work out and Lindsey, now on her own, started the 10-minute walk home around 9:15 p.m.
She never arrived.
What followed was an intensive search for the missing girl. Thousands of hours of searching and investigating by multiple agencies and hundreds of volunteers, a half-million pieces of information gathered, search helicopters above, scent dogs on the ground, search warrants executed, about 20 persons of interest developed, but no trace of Lindsey would be found for almost nine years.
Lindsey’s partial remains were found in a remote area of Kittitas County in the fall of 2017, giving investigators, a mother, a family and a community some answers. Lindsey had been abducted, and had been murdered. That added another investigative piece to the puzzle, but 10 years after that hot June day in McCleary there have been no arrests in the case.
Instead, dozens of community members attended the dedication of the Lindsey Baum remembrance garden at Beerbower Park in McCleary Wednesday, the 10-year mark of Lindsey’s disappearance.
A FRANTIC SEARCH
On June 26, 2009, Lindsey’s mom, Melissa Baum, noticed it was getting dark around 9:45 p.m. Lindsey did not like the dark. Melissa started calling and asking around, calling Lindsey’s cell phone several times. At first, she was a little annoyed.
“Lindsey, this is why I pay for your cell phone. Pick up.”
Turns out, Lindsey had left the phone at home. Nothing all that unusual, she had done it before when she wanted some time to herself. Melissa became more concerned and she and others checked the neighborhood.
Increasingly worried, Melissa Baum called McCleary Police around 10:50 p.m.
“Melissa looked and then called McCleary officers, who were familiar with the family, and started to look for her,” said Grays Harbor County Sheriff Rick Scott. The Sheriff’s Office monitored radio traffic from McCleary about the missing girl. “The degree of concern grew and about 3 a.m. the supervisor, Dave Pimentel, briefs us about a missing child and we deploy search and rescue at daylight Saturday morning,” Scott recalled.
Pimentel was Chief Criminal Deputy at the time. Scott was the Undersheriff.
“McCleary officers told us Lindsey hadn’t come home,” said Scott. “Melissa had called the normal people and friends looking for her and confirmed Lindsey had left around 9:30 for a 10-minute walk home.”
Scott left for McCleary early Saturday afternoon to oversee the operation. He was informed the 10-year-old had still not been found.
He remembers thinking: ’”That’s not right.’ She had no money, no means. It was hot for that time of year, but she was not going to sleep outside at night.”
By Sunday morning Scott was reaching out to other jurisdictions for assistance, and the FBI.
“Sunday by noon we had in excess of 80 deputies and FBI agents and had started the criminal investigation,” said Scott. “We kept at that for 12 to 14 hours a day for three or four weeks. We had a presence in McCleary well into the fall. We took over city hall and ended up renting more space. Throughout the summer we had in excess of 100 people working the case, and at least 20 support staff working out of a mobile office, a giant motor home with 12 to 15 support staff organizing and submitting data.”
All of that effort, plus community volunteers numbering the dozens, spent days combing the neighborhood. Law enforcement interviewed anyone and everyone. About 20 persons of interest were identified as the investigation continued. A lot of interviews, a lot of data to sort through.
Over the years there were many potential breaks in the case. Search warrants were served on a few people who made inconsistent statements to investigators, one in 2010, another in 2012, another in 2014. A human skull found in a crab pot off Ocean Shores in February 2014 led to speculation and tips from within the state and beyond, that it was Lindsey’s. DNA testing proved otherwise. Three Seattle brothers with property in Mason County were implicated in a child pornography case in 2017 and their property was searched.
None of these and many other leads resulted in an arrest. It would be almost nine years after her disappearance before any sign of Lindsey was found.
And when it was found, it was hundreds of miles away.
FOUND IN THE FOREST
In the fall of 2017, hunters in a remote, rugged area near Ellensburg in Kittitas County stumbled upon part of a human skull. Investigators were led to it and collected it, but without an immediate crime connected to its discovery, it sat in a queue waiting for DNA analysis by the FBI for months.
When testing was done and the results came back in the spring of 2018, the Lindsey Baum case officially became a homicide investigation.
Scott broke the news first to Melissa Baum, then at a May 10 press conference in McCleary.
“I am here today to share with you that we brought Lindsey home. Sadly, she was not recovered as we and her family had hoped and prayed these past nine years,” he said, to gasps from the community members assembled.
Today, Scott said the location of the skull fragment has added another element to the investigation.
“The biggest clue now is the Eastern Washington connection, trying to find some connection in the information we’ve gathered over the last 10 years,” he said. “There were so many things we didn’t know. Now we know she was taken and was the victim of a homicide. At least we have a specific investigative path.”
There are three agencies involved in the investigation, the Grays Harbor County Sheriff’s Office, Kittitas County Sheriff’s Office and the FBI. Scott said the cooperation level between the three agencies has been exemplary.
Ordinarily, when human remains are found, the homicide investigation stays in the jurisdiction where the remains were found. In this instance, Scott said the investigation is and will be led by his office.
When a search of the area where Lindsey’s remains were found was conducted in May 2018, the Kittitas County Sheriff’s Office spearheaded the massive effort. Over two weekends, nearly 200 volunteers and law enforcement officials, and 22 K9 teams, were involved in a search of about two square miles.
What, if anything, they found has not been made public. As with any active investigation, investigators want to keep what they find close to the vest as not to tip off potential suspects.
“Evidence goes to the appropriate locations to be evaluated, depending on the nature of the article,” said Scott.
There have been numerous investigative leads for the Sheriff’s Office over the decades. Det. Sgt. Darrin Wallace, a 13-year veteran with the Sheriff’s Office, inherited the case a few years ago.
The Sheriff’s Office has been compiling 10 years of information into a searchable database. Scott said that task is nearly complete.
PI JOINS THE CASE
Seattle-area private investigator Rose Winquist has followed the case for years. She came aboard within the last two years. She’s been a private investigator for 25 years and is working with Melissa Baum to find Lindsey’s killer, pro bono.
“This is every parent’s worst nightmare. I wouldn’t think to charge her,” said Winquist.
Winquist’s team includes her husband Tom, a former King County Sheriff’s Department homicide detective who at one time was attached to the Green River Killer case, their two sons, and Elizabeth Hudson. Winquist and Hudson have developed their own database of information related to the case.
“What we do is start with a bigger set of data than we think we need,” said Hudson. That’s a half million individual pieces of data input so far.
The database is designed such that “it gets smarter as it goes along,” said Hudson. It’s filled with information like who has committed crimes against children, who’s dealing to kids, who’s grooming kids for sex trafficking, registered sex offenders, and the location of such people within the town.
Winquist has compiled a list of about 20 persons of interest. Each has a profile of their own. As more information comes in, it is put in the database.
The discovery of Lindsey’s partial skull added a new element to the database: Finding connections between the people who lived in Lindsey’s path at the time of her disappearance and that remote area in Kittitas County.
Melissa has another powerful member of the team, Seattle attorney Anne Bremner, who is also a well-known victim’s advocate. When Winquist, Melissa Baum and investigators meet, Bremner is there. She, like Winquist, is doing the work free of charge to Melissa Baum.
PRIVATE INVESTIGATOR’S TAKE
Winquist believes Lindsey died in McCleary.
“I think this person was and still is a local. The person either knew Lindsey or was familiar with her in some way,” said Winquist. “This person was sort of profiling her.” She figures it to be a male in his 20s at the time.
“She was probably pretty easily coaxed into the car,” continued Winquist. She said she believes the little girl was sexually assaulted and quite likely told her attacker she was going to tell somebody.
“The only way to make her not tell was to kill her,” said Winquist, who also believes the killer acted alone.
Winquist believes this is “a solvable case” and thinks finding more of Lindsey’s remains could reveal evidence that would turn the investigation.
“I feel if we can find the rest of her we might be able to get some DNA,” said Winquist. She has a theory that those remains are lying uphill of where the skull fragment was found, and that the found piece was washed down to where it was found during a flood in 2011. Remaining articles of clothing, shoes, some trace of the killer could still be attached to something with the unfound remains.
Winquist holds hope that whoever did this to Lindsey has, or will develop a conscience and come forward with a valid confession or a scrap of information that will end the case, and a mother’s suffering.
She knows the odds of that are thin; Winquist said the kind of personality one is dealing with in the case of an individual who would not only do this to a child but keep it under wraps for so long may not have a conscience, couldn’t care less about a mother’s grief, a brother’s loss, a community’s lingering suspicions and fears.
The relationship between Winquist, Melissa Baum and the Sheriff’s Department and Winquist is a delicate one. Scott said he wants to keep Melissa Baum up to date as much as he can with the investigation, and expects the private investigator to share whatever she’s found. Winquist would prefer a more open exchange of information with the Sheriff’s Office, but Scott must consider the integrity of the investigation when the three discuss the case.
But both Scott and Winquist know that somebody knows something, somebody is holding something back and that somebody could break the case wide open.
There’s a $45,000 reward for the tip that leads to the arrest and conviction of Lindsey Baum’s killer. Call the confidential tip line at 360-964-1799 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.