Without a trace

By Scott North

Herald Writer

Editor’s note: This is the first of two stories about the 12-year legal saga surrounding the disappearance of Arlington resident Juliana Schubert.

Three years ago after a jury in a civil court ruled Karil Nelson’s missing daughter was the likely victim of homicide, the Arlington woman made a point of visiting a grave.

She took three roses. Two were yellow, symbolizing light and hope. The third was red, she said, representing God’s love.

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No trace has been found of Nelson’s daughter, Juliana Schubert, who disappeared in 1989 from the Arlington-area home she shared with her husband and two young sons. No gravestone marks her passing.

Instead, Nelson placed the flowers on the grave of a detective, a man who, like her, refused to believe the 30-year-old woman had simply abandoned her life, leaving home without a car or cash or her children.

Juliana Schubert

Case timeline

Here are some key events in the mysterious disappearance of Juliana Schubert:

  • June 13, 1980 – David and Juliana Schubert are married.

  • June 30, 1989 – Juliana Schubert disappears.

  • Aug. 12, 1989 – Investigators find no trace of missing woman during search of Arlington home.

  • Jan. 6, 1994 – Snohomish County prosecutors charge David Schubert with second-degree murder.

  • March 1994 to February 1995 – Case is dismissed as lead detective Rick Blake wages a losing fight with leukemia.


    Rick Blake

  • Sept. 23, 1996 – David Schubert convinces probate court to declare his missing wife dead.

  • Jan. 16, 1997 – Juliana Schubert’s mother, Karil Nelson, files a civil wrongful death case against David Schubert.

  • Feb. 20, 1998 – Civil jury rules David Schubert likely killed his wife.

  • Jan. 3, 2000 – State Court of Appeals affirms wrongful death verdict.

  • Oct. 11, 2001 – Prosecutors again charge David Schubert with murder.

  • Rick Blake of the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office spent more than five years investigating the disappearance. He pieced together an entirely circumstantial case that Juliana Schubert had been murdered by her husband, David Charles Schubert, a former insurance broker who had also been a reserve police officer in Arlington. Before his death from leukemia in 1995, Blake convinced prosecutors to charge David Schubert with murder. But his fatal illness put the case on hold.

    Roughly seven years later, David Schubert is once again heading to court, facing a murder trial scheduled to begin later this month. A key hearing is set for Thursday.

    Prosecutors give Nelson much of the credit for keeping the case alive. In 1997, she took the unusual step of filing a civil lawsuit against her former son-in-law, alleging her daughter’s disappearance was actually a wrongful death. The jury unanimously decided David Schubert was the slayer, prompting prosecutors to spend three years quietly preparing a criminal case.

    Nelson said she simply couldn’t let go.

    "That’s my child. I love her. That is what a mother would do," she said.

    * * *

    David Schubert has spent the past dozen years insisting he had nothing to do with his wife’s disappearance. He continues to do so and finds it difficult to be the focus of unending suspicion, said his attorney, public defender Richard Tassano.

    "No one seems to care that I am innocent," David Schubert said in court papers filed in 1997. "I should at least be entitled to the same protection of law everyone else is."

    The couple married in 1980. She was 21; he was 40. It was David Schubert’s second marriage. Earlier that year, his first marriage of 17 years had ended in divorce. At the time, Juliana Schubert was working in a bank. David Schubert ran an insurance business from his home. She became his secretary.

    Nine years and two children later, the couple was heading toward divorce.

    David Schubert has consistently maintained he last saw his wife on June 30, 1989. He’s testified under oath that she left their home and called him a few days later to say she wasn’t coming back.

    The couple’s sons, now adults, were ages 6 and 8 when their mother dropped from sight. Both have testified they last saw their mother climbing into a red convertible driven by a woman with blond hair.

    One of the boys, at age 11, testified at an investigative hearing on the case he thought his mother had abandoned her sons because "I don’t think she liked both of us."

    That’s simply not true, Nelson and others say.

    Juliana Schubert doted on her children, delighting in their birthday parties, working in scouting and volunteering in their classrooms.

    "That was her life," Nelson said. "She was a total mom."

    * * *

    Nelson said she learned of her daughter’s disappearance at about 6:30 one morning in late July 1989 when David Schubert called in response to numerous phone messages she had left. Her son-in-law had earlier said her daughter was on vacation. But Dave Schubert said that wasn’t true; that his wife had abandoned them weeks before.

    Nelson found that unfathomable. She’d watched the eldest of her six children grow from a little girl who loved strawberries, to a teen-ager who willingly worked at the family dry-cleaning business, to a young mother who delighted in keeping a clean house. Nelson called the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office and was directed to detective Blake.

    Blake later wrote he was surprised to hear from Nelson. He’d been investigating Juliana Schubert’s disappearance for a week, and had been led to believe the missing woman and her mother were estranged. David Schubert was the source of that information.

    The detective already had doubts. David Schubert hadn’t reported his wife missing. That was something done by two of the woman’s concerned friends in late July 1989.

    As Blake investigated, he discovered David Schubert allegedly told several stories regarding his wife’s whereabouts. Some people heard she was vacationing in Chicago, others Colorado.

    That made little sense because Juliana Schubert knew no one in those places and had just started a new job in Everett. She’d told people she was saving money so she and the boys could move out on their own. About a week after her disappearance, David Schubert went to her office and picked up family photos, memorabilia and a bouquet of flowers he’d had delivered to her desk shortly before she dropped from sight. He told his wife’s boss she wasn’t coming back. He repeated the claim in late July when he filed to divorce the missing woman.

    Blake found people who said both Schuberts discussed their marriage ending in violence. David Schubert allegedly told a friend he wanted some "peace" in his life and that he would kill his wife if she didn’t cooperate. Juliana Schubert told someone else she’d been threatened with a handgun. Other witnesses said David Schubert was extremely jealous and controlling of his younger wife and had rigged the intercom system in their home so he could secretly monitor and record her conversations.

    Blake suspected foul play and convinced a judge to permit a search of the Schubert home. No trace of the missing woman was found. By then, Juliana Schubert had already been gone for nearly 1½ months.

    You can call Herald Writer Scott North at 425-339-3431

    or send e-mail to north@heraldnet.com.

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