MONROE — Two days before corrections officer Jayme Biendl was killed in a prison chapel, a convicted rapist who is the prime suspect requested people pray for him because he was struggling with temptation.
Byron Scherf, 52, submitted a prayer request Jan. 27 in the chapel at the Washington S
tate Reformatory in Monroe, according to a search warrant by the Monroe police detectives made public Thursday.
In his written request, Scherf asked others who attended the chapel to pray “for me for very pressing temptations I have been dealing with — I want to do the right thing but am really struggling.”
The request made reference to a biblical passage and Scherf also wrote, “I pray the Holy Spirit will help me to see the way of escape.”
Biendl was strangled Jan. 29.
In the same search warrant affidavit, detectives reported that they found items hidden in the chapel that they believe could have been intended for use as an attacker’s “rape kit.”
In the sanctuary, they found two pairs of shoelaces wrapped up by rubber bands. One was in a potted plant; the other between the pot and a cabinet. They also found several packets of ointments. They were found in an area where Scherf was described as sometimes sitting when he participated in chapel services.
Biendl spent the past five years working as the chapel’s lone corrections officer, although chaplains and volunteers often were there during her shifts. Scherf volunteered as a porter, working as both a janitor and clerk.
Detectives’ interviews with multiple inmates and staff suggest that Scherf didn’t spend much time in religious services, rarely staying past the first hour.
The search warrant released Thursday is one of several filed in recent days as part of the ongoing investigation. Scherf is being kept at the Snohomish County Jail and he met with detectives on Wednesday, but officials aren’t publicly discussing why.
A Seattle television station on Thursday reported that Scherf confessed to killing Biendl.
Snohomish County Prosecuting Attorney Mark Roe said he can’t discuss Scherf or the case against him until detectives complete their investigation.
Monroe police spokeswoman Debbie Willis also said she could not discuss the case or comment on what Scherf may have told investigators.
“It’s nothing I can talk about. That did not come from me,” she said. “It’s an ongoing investigation.”
Detectives this week identified roughly 60 more people they want to interview as part of the criminal investigation, Willis said. Many are inmates.
The search warrant made public on Thursday is one of several that have been sought in the case in recent days. Combined, the warrants shed new light on what detectives believe happened:
• Surveillance camera footage from the prison shows Biendl propping open the door to the sanctuary for Scherf at 8:08 p.m. so he could get baptismal blankets. He then returned to a chapel office where he spent most of the evening. A fellow inmate brought Scherf his jacket around 8:30 p.m., closing time. The jacket had been left in the sanctuary.
• An inmate told investigators that he and Scherf left the chapel at the same time the night of the killing, but Scherf said he needed to go back, claiming that he’d left behind his hat.
• Detectives found an unusually bent piece of wire, possibly a paperclip, in a chapel office garbage can. Suspecting the wire had been used to pick a lock, detectives fashioned a replica. It worked to open chapel door latches.
• Detectives obtained a judge’s approval to seize all the property that was in Scherf’s cell, including paperwork and his electric guitar. They’ve also sought all prison records regarding Scherf’s history with the corrections department.
In affidavits, the detectives said they believe the records may be helpful in resolving questions about how Scherf got along with corrections officers and others behind prison walls.
According to one affidavit, in his cell Scherf kept psychological records that quoted one of his relatives. The relative suggested Scherf “would not do well with, or would not interact well with female prison guards an/or prison female prison officials.”
“Oh really,” Scherf wrote in the margin of that document, detectives told the judge.
Investigators also found papers in Scherf’s cell titled “Details of My Life History.” In it, the author wrote of a brief stint in the Army in 1976, the same year Scherf briefly served. Whoever wrote the report also bragged about being able to “pull a psychological scam” to end his military service.
Search warrants are clear that detectives are preparing for a possible death penalty case.
Scherf since 1997 has been serving life in prison without possibility of release after being convicted of three attacks on women.
The search warrants show investigators have been spending considerable time with Scherf since the killing. For example, they obtained a judge’s permission to carefully photograph Scherf’s nude body under special lights that make it easier to spot injuries, including hidden bruises.
They also recovered in the chapel a cartoon that an inmate told them Scherf gave Biendl. The cartoon makes reference to somebody being a “wolf in sheep’s clothing.”
“I know through experience and research ‘A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing’ is an idiom of Biblical origin,” a detective said in an affidavit. The phrase is used to describe “those playing a role contrary to their real character, with whom contact is dangerous.”
The inmate told investigators that Scherf apparently gave Biendl the cartoon shortly before she was killed, perhaps the same day, according to court papers.
The reformatory remained in lockdown Thursday and there is no timetable for lifting the restrictions, Monroe Correctional Complex spokeswoman Cathy Kopoian said. The other four prisons at Monroe are in a less restrictive lockdown, meaning inmates can move around in their housing units but there is no outside recreation.
There has been no visitation at any of the prisons in the Monroe complex since the Jan. 29 homicide.
Eric Stevick: 425-339-3446, firstname.lastname@example.org