Informant’s tip leads to buried human bones

ARLINGTON — Byron Wright just disappeared.

In 2004, he was 53, and his marriage had soured. He’d worked at Boeing for 23 years.

He owned a house near Arlington, and a car collection that included a Corvette, a couple of Chevrolet Chevelles and a race car.

His family and friends were told he’d taken off, that he’d run off with a younger woman with red hair and a blue sports car.

His new lady reportedly was wealthy. That explained why he didn’t want money from the house and cars.

Police now believe those were all elaborate lies concocted by the man’s wife.

After all these years, an informant led police to Byron Wright’s likely resting place.

Detectives believe it was his body found Thursday, dismembered underneath a slab of concrete and more than two feet of ground. Police believe he was fatally stabbed in fall 2004.

Wright’s former wife, who obtained a divorce in the months after he disappeared, was booked into the Snohomish County Jail for investigation of second-degree murder.

During a brief hearing Friday afternoon, an Everett District Court judge set bail at $1 million for Michele L. Donohue, 48.

Officials planned to conduct an autopsy on the remains, including DNA testing.

Until recently, there had never been a missing persons report filed for Wright. If it weren’t for a chop-shop operating at his old house, police might never have found out about the killing, said Jim Scharf, a Snohomish County sheriff’s detective who worked the case.

The day after Christmas 2013, Scharf and his partner, detective Joe Dunn, were summoned to the county jail. An inmate there wanted to talk about a homicide. The detectives figured it’d be a case already on their radar.

“We find out it’s nothing we’ve ever heard of before, so now we needed to investigate and find out if there is an ex-husband and if he could be missing,” Scharf said Friday.

The informant said he learned about the killing because he was involved in criminal activity at the property. At some point, he noted tension between Donohue and her current husband. The man had a girlfriend living on the property as well.

The informant was worried Donohue would call police to the property out of spite. Another man living there said it wasn’t a concern. Donohue, he was told, wouldn’t call the cops because she’d killed her ex-husband and buried him. The body, he was told, had been covered up with a load of dirt and then moved a couple of years later to the spot underneath the concrete floor of a shop.

The body allegedly was moved because Donohue thought she would lose the house to foreclosure.

Her new husband went to Lowe’s and bought “the biggest plastic tote he could find,” according to the arrest report. Most of the body was found in the tote, his arms and legs buried nearby.

A couple of men reportedly helped with moving the body, according to the arrest report, but outside of that group, “Absolutely nobody in the world knew about it until the informant came forward,” Scharf said.

The detectives needed more. They got a judge’s permission to fit the informant with a wire.

They gave him a copy of The Herald dated Jan. 23. The front-page story was about an escaped convict who had lived and died secretly in Gold Bar. His body was found buried under a wood shed.

The detectives wanted the informant to take the paper up to the Donohue property.

“We saw that as an opportunity,” Scharf said. “The Dennis Lilly case made it a great opportunity to break the ice and start the conversation without being suspicious about it.”

The secret recording captured the informant and another man reading the article aloud. The other man said that police would not find anything in the shop because of the concrete floor.

The informant and the other man later picked up Donohue from work.

She can be heard on the recording saying she wished someone would get rid of the man’s she’s married to now, and she mentioned the word “murder,” according to the arrest report.

Meanwhile, the detectives were looking for the missing man, Byron Wright. His Washington driver’s license had expired in 2008, and he never got one in another state. He had filed no insurance claims. There was no record of anyone with his name, date of birth or Social Security number anywhere in the country, except for his house in the 8100 block of Wade Road, east of Marysville where he had lived until 2004.

Donohue filed for divorce that year. She told the court her husband had taken off, and he couldn’t be found to serve with papers. Her stories to various people about his departure didn’t match. In one story, she reportedly said Wright went to Wisconsin with a blonde. That differed from the redhead-with-a-sports-car story she gave others.

Detectives got ahold of Wright’s siblings. They had sent him cards and tried to call. One had tried to file a missing persons report, but there was a mixup.

Detectives this week got a judge’s permission to search the property. An anthropologist with the King County Medical Examiner’s Office confirmed that the bones found there are human, sheriff’s spokeswoman Shari Ireton said Friday.

Donohue reportedly told others that she stabbed Wright and then told him she’d call an ambulance only if he apologized. She left him bleeding on the floor and went to work. He was dead when she came back, the police report says.

Rikki King: 425-339-3449; rking@heraldnet.com.

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