By Eric Stevick Herald Writer
MONROE — It was a year ago this morning when her body was discovered.
Jacqueline Rothenbuhler, 59, was found around 3:30 a.m. in the back yard along W. Maple Street in Monroe.
Her throat had been cut.
Dozens of pills of varying colors were strewn on the ground near her left hand.
There were too many to hold in two hands, but no pill container was found at the crime scene.
Police now wonder if the pills were a killer’s attempt at misdirection, a red herring aimed at making detectives believe the fatal attack was a drug deal gone awry.
A year later, investigators continue to pursue Rothenbuhler’s killer.
They have interviewed nearly 100 people. Roughly half of those interviews were tape recorded.
They have sent forensic evidence to the Washington State Crime Lab. More recently, they have forwarded some of the same evidence to another crime lab in Texas for a closer examination. They eagerly await the results.
Detective Barry Hatch said the investigation has turned up several people police are looking at, but he’s not ready to call anyone a suspect. All have been cooperative when asked for DNA samples, vehicle searches and polygraph tests.
“We believe more than one person knows who killed her,” Hatch said. “We strongly believe that other people know who did this and we really want to urge them to come forward.”
The veteran detective wants to find answers for Rothenbuhler’s three grown children as well as the neighborhood where she once lived.
“She raised those kids well. Her two daughters and her son are really good people and loved her a lot and they need to know who killed their mom,” Hatch said. “There are a lot of people who really want answers.”
Rothenbuhler once was a fitness instructor at a local gym, but had struggled with drug addiction in recent years. She was accepted into a drug treatment diversion program after she was arrested for investigation of burglary in 2009.
“She was a decent citizen in the community for a long time,” Hatch said. “When her lifestyle shifted, her friends did, too.”
Her daughters have many fond memories of their mother’s vibrance.
Rothenbuhler not only taught fitness and aerobics classes when they were younger, she also climbed Mount Rainier and Mount Baker. She once worked for a river-rafting company and as a bungee-jumping assistant. Every weekend, it seemed, the family would hike together. Wallace Falls State Park was a frequent destination and nature was a constant companion.
It seemed to her family that Rothenbuhler’s descent into the drug world accelerated about a year before her death. They had their suspicions, but no real evidence. Their mom tried to hide it from them and the rest of her family.
Her children’s pain has not eased over the past year. Her daughters said the hardest part for them was telling Rothenbuhler’s mother and grandchildren about her death.
In the last four years of her life, Rothenbuhler didn’t have a job or much money. Yet she always had a little something for her grandchildren, whether a set of keys or a pair of old earrings.
Despite her 2009 brush with the law, Hatch described Rothenbuhler as someone who tried to make sure people living in and around her home followed the rules.
That resolve could have played a role in her death, Hatch said.
“She policed her neighborhood better than anybody,” the detective said.
Rothenbuhler cooked corned beef and cabbage for a St. Patrick’s Day dinner shortly before she died. Detectives believe she had a telephone conversation around 8:30 that night. Others living in the home returned to the house and thought she had gone out, according to a search warrant.
It was a visitor letting a dog out in the back yard who discovered her body around 3:30 a.m.
Anyone with information is asked to contact the Monroe Police Department at 360-794-6300. Anonymous information may be left on the department’s tip line at 360-863-4600.
Eric Stevick: 425-339-3446; firstname.lastname@example.org.