Published: Thursday, May 19, 2011, 3:10 p.m.
First published July 27, 1999
Detective John Padilla of the Snohomish County Sheriff's Office knew he'd landed a tough case when he heard about the blood that had been found in Patti Berry's car.
But by the next morning, Aug. 2, 1995, the hunt for the missing dancer had taken an even uglier turn.
The 26-year-old Arlington woman had left her job at Honey's nude nightclub in south Everett early July 31, 1995. Her blood-spattered car was found about 40 hours later, hidden behind a nearby car wash.
Padilla was assigned as lead investigator on the case. The next morning, deputies summoned him and other detectives to a wooded area near where the dancer's car had been found. Berry's bikinis and other skimpy dance costumes had been found there. Along with the costumes were the blue jeans she had been wearing when she left the club. They were deeply stained with blood.
There was no sign of the dancer. Detectives investigated the case as a possible homicide.
Padilla, who is now 40, grew up in north Everett, the eldest of four sons. In his youth, there was a gun shop on Hewitt Avenue where people could get expert advice on hunting deer and elk and grouse in the nearby mountains. Sporting goods sections in area discount stores resembled small armories whenever hunting season rolled around. When Padilla got old enough, he picked up a rifle and joined the other hunters headed into the hills. To this day, hunting remains one of his passions.
Padilla knew he wanted to become a lawman from an early age, and after college, he landed a job as a sheriff's deputy.
He loved cruising around in his patrol car, answering 911 calls, watching for the weaving of drunken drivers, sitting hidden with a radar gun waiting for speeders.
"This is very, very cool," Padilla thought. "This is like hunting year around."
In time, he became a detective, investigating burglaries and robberies before being tapped to join the unit and that handled rapes and murders.
Padillas hunting skills served him well. There was the time he went to help recover the skeletonized remains of an unidentified murder victim and followed faint game trails left by animals to a place where the victim's purse and identification lay waiting to be discovered.
But it was in the interview room where the detective did some of his best work. That's where he pitted his wits against his quarry - people suspected of stabbing their best friend, beating somebody into a coma or gunning down a stranger in a drug deal.
The detective would sit down in the windowless interview room at sheriff' office headquarters, lock the suspect with pale blue eyes, and begin stalking the truth. Along the way, he had to avoid spooking the suspect.
Among his catches were people who confessed to double murders, who cried and hugged the detective while they talked themselves into a prison cell.
From his days in a patrol car, Padilla recognized the place where Berry's car and clothing had been found as a lovers lane. Berry lived in Arlington, and she had no known connection to the spot.
The detective talked to Berry's family. He and others fanned out in search of leads. They started in the logical place and in a logical order.
Who knew Patti Berry best? Who was near her the night she disappeared? Who saw her last?
As often happens in an investigation, sometimes the most promising leads turn out to be nothing more than quick routes to disappointment.
Detectives learned that Honey's had a security camera system designed to keep track of the goings-on inside and outside the club.
The club's owners refused to turn over the original tapes, but agreed to make copies for detectives. Investigators waited several days and made multiple phone calls before they got tired of waiting, and got a judge's permission to seize the tapes with a search warrant. It was all for naught. The cameras had apparently malfunctioned the night Patti Berry disappeared. The tapes were blank.
Investigators had equally bad luck at area convenience stores and service stations where Berry may have gone to fully inflate her car's leaking tire. Security tapes there had been recycled.
The dancer's disappearance was reported in the newspapers and on television, and a plea for tips produced some phone calls.
Detectives were trying to determine who had been at the club the night Berry dropped from sight. They interviewed managers and dancers. Some mentioned a young man who had seemed awfully interested in Berry. She spent a lot of time at his table. For a dancer who made her money through tips, time equals money.
On Aug. 4, the sheriff's office got a call from a 38-year-old Arlington man who said he'd heard about Berry's disappearance and thought he might have an idea where she could be.
Padilla and the other members of the sheriff's major crimes unit were working their way through other tips and serving search warrants at Berry's home and on her car. He didn't return the Arlington man's call until Aug. 8 at about 11 a.m.
It turned out that the caller was the person witnesses said had been talking with Berry the night she disappeared. The man, a musician in local bands, said the dancer had told him she had just returned from a couple of weeks in Texas, and was planning to go back there soon.
Padilla asked the musician to come in and give a statement. He arrived at 2:30 p.m.
By 3 p.m. the music man was on tape, providing a detailed account of time he spent at Honey's with Patti Berry.
The musician, a sharp-featured man who wore his blond hair long and under a tight-fitting baseball cap, told the detective he was at the strip club because he was discussing business with a friend. He also said that he didn't go there for the nude entertainment, nor did he buy table dances from the women.
Instead, he said, he gave Patti Berry about $10 to bring him a cup of coffee. There weren't many patrons in the club that night, and few were buying dances, so she sat and talked with him for free, the man said.
The man said he left the club about 11 p.m., and headed to the Tulalip Casino to gamble. He also said that he believed all that happened the evening of July 31, nearly 20 hours after Berry reportedly disappeared.
The taped interview lasted about 30 minutes. As the musician left, he agreed to make himself available if the detective had more questions.
Count on it, Padilla thought to himself.
The phone rang in the sheriff's office major crimes unit about 5 p.m.
A young woman's body had been found in south Everett.