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Unsolved, part 4: Investigator narrows in on a key suspect

  • Patti Berry, right, vacations with her sister, Lisa Berry, in Hawaii in 1990. Patti was then about 21.

    Patti Berry, right, vacations with her sister, Lisa Berry, in Hawaii in 1990. Patti was then about 21.

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By Scott North
Herald Writer
First published on July 28, 1999 In south Everett, there is a small patch of woods that marks the boundary between two worlds. On one side is the Everett Mall, a place where you can buy a diamond ring, or a futon, or a fruit smoothie, or a tank full of tropical fish. On the other is a crime-plagued apartment complex that some people call The Jungle. Many law-abiding people live there. But it is a place where, if you know what doors to knock on, you can buy rocks of crack cocaine, or a small bag of methamphetamine, or marijuana, or a stolen stereo, or sex. Patti Berry's killer dumped her in the woods between the mall and The Jungle. For nearly nine days in the summer of 1995, the 26-year-old Arlington woman lay on her back beneath a canopy of spindly alder and hemlock trees. Berry had been stripped from the waist down and dropped in the brush about 30 feet off a muddy trail. Her right arm was stretched above her head. Her left hand pointed toward her knees, which were pulled up and twisted over as if she were preparing to jump a hurdle sideways. She died from multiple stab wounds to the neck. Her body was found by children.


The Patti Berry story (1999)
Part 1: Four years of grief and pain
Part 2: Family's fears grow when car found in field
Part 3: Detective uses field skills to track a killer
Part 4: Investigator narrows in on a key suspect
Part 5: Investigators hope the devil is in the details
Part 6: Slain mother's love manages to find daughter

Who could have done this to the pretty young mother of a 2-year-old girl? Detective John Padilla of the Snohomish County Sheriff's Office had his suspicions. There was a man from Arlington, a 38-year-old professional musician, who had already told the detective about spending time with Berry at Honey's nightclub in south Everett, where she worked as a nude dancer. Police believed she disappeared on her way home from work that night. The musician had given detectives a taped statement on Aug. 8, 1995, just hours before Berry's body was found. His alibi had him gambling at the Tulalip Casino in Marysville when Patti Berry left the nightclub, and he also insisted that he saw her there about 20 hours after most witnesses said she'd disappeared. Two days after his first statement, the man came back to the sheriff's office and told Padilla he wanted to give a second interview. He said he wanted to correct some errors he'd made the first time, errors he only realized after checking some notes he'd made about his daily activities. Notes about time spent in a strip club? The detective was all ears. The musician told a similar story as the first time out: that he was in the club for business, not pleasure; that he paid Berry $10 to bring him a cup of coffee; that she told him she was planning a trip to Texas. He also said that after leaving the club he went to a nearby diner to eat. On his way home, he saw a young woman with blond hair who was wearing a short skirt, and little else, getting gas at a convenience store not far from Honey's. The musician said he noticed a young man, wearing a ball cap and baggy clothes, walking in the area. He said he noticed the youth because he knew someone could come up to his car window and stab him, trying to rob him. The musician claimed he'd been robbed three times in the past. The detective thanked him for his time, and arranged another interview five days later. Padilla confronted the man with his suspicions during the third interview. There were inconsistencies in his two statements, and some stuff that simply didn't make sense, like the man's insistence Patti Berry was still working in the club nearly a day after she disappeared, the musician was told. That seemed too strange to be an honest mistake. Padilla asked the man to take a polygraph. The musician said he'd consider it, but not without first talking to an attorney. The detective and the musician were in the interview room. Padilla closed in, sitting directly across the table. The detective told the musician he didn't believe him, that he'd spoken to witnesses who said he was in the club the night Berry disappeared, and he was buying table dances, not cups of coffee. Investigators also had spoken to people who said the musician had called them, asking questions about what they may have told detectives, and describing himself as the prime suspect in Berry's disappearance and death. The man was visibly sweating, even though the room wasn't that warm. Padilla asked him what he thought had happened to Berry. The musician said he'd read in the newspaper that Berry's car had a flat tire. He suggested the detective spend time interviewing the people who had helped her repair her flat. The man said somebody likely killed Berry out of guilt. When Padilla pressed him about guilt, the musician said maybe someone didn't want his wife to know that he was at Honey's with someone. He also said the killing may have been a response to bribery demands. Padilla describes what happened next the way a hunter talks about a deer that got away. The suspect seemed to be torn between wanting to talk and wanting to leave. The man appeared ready to say something, but was suddenly spooked. He asked the detective for a glass of water. Hot water; not cold, he specified. He was sweating. Padilla brought the musician his drink and then told him straight up that he believed he'd killed Patti Berry. The only way to prove he wasn't lying, the detective said, was to submit to a polygraph. The man denied any involvement in Berry's death. He asked if he was free to leave. Sure, Padilla said. He wasn't under arrest. The musician walked out of the sheriff's office. A little over a month later, he called the detective and reminded him that he'd kept a diary around the time Patti Berry died. Don't bother coming to look for it, the musician told the detective. He'd burned it.

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