(Kate Erickson / The Herald)

(Kate Erickson / The Herald)

DNA cracks 1984 Everett cold case; ‘sexual sadist’ arrested

Judy Weaver was last seen alive walking home from a cafe she owned. Forty years later, police tied Mitchell Gaff to the killing.

EVERETT — After an investigation that went cold for nearly four decades, Everett police arrested a suspect with a lengthy history of sexual violence Wednesday in the long-unsolved killing of Judy Weaver.

Police booked Mitchell Gaff, 66, into the Snohomish County Jail on Wednesday afternoon for investigation of first-degree murder, first-degree rape, first-degree arson, first-degree kidnapping and first-degree burglary.

DNA profiles had been discovered on pantyhose and a ligature used to bind and kill Weaver, Everett detective Susan Logothetti wrote in a police report. It came back as an apparent match for Gaff in the national DNA database CODIS. Earlier this year, detectives “surreptitiously” collected DNA from Gaff’s saliva, using methods that aren’t explained in the report. A state crime lab confirmed his profile was a match, according to police.

Investigators had located the Level 3 sex offender in Olympia, where he was living under a legally changed name, Sam Wise Price. Everett police announced the arrest in a press release Wednesday evening.

Detectives tried to interview him. Gaff reportedly invoked his right to remain silent.

Gaff made his first appearance in Everett District Court on Thursday. A judge found probable cause for the allegations. The judge ordered Gaff held behind bars without bail.

Police found no evidence Gaff and Weaver knew each other before the night of the killing.

A family photo taken of Judy Weaver (far left) during a beauty pageant in the late 1950s. This photo originally appeared in The Everett Daily Herald on June 3, 2009.

A family photo taken of Judy Weaver (far left) during a beauty pageant in the late 1950s. This photo originally appeared in The Everett Daily Herald on June 3, 2009.

‘It’s going to be closure’

Weaver, who co-owned the Bell-Ness Cafe on Hewitt Avenue, had walked home alone from downtown Everett the night of June 1, 1984, as a Salty Sea Days celebration wound down.

That night, a witness reported seeing Weaver at a Dairy Queen, a routine stop for her a half-block from her home, where she often ordered a dish of vanilla ice cream. She may have left with a young man. The witness thought Weaver already knew him.

Just after midnight, the Everett Fire Department was called to a fire at 35th Street and Rucker Avenue.

Weaver, 42, was found killed in her one-story, five-unit apartment building. She’d been tied up with a phone cord, strangled and brutalized, according to past reporting by The Daily Herald. Her clothes had also been cut off with a knife.

The fire was contained to the bedroom and the bedroom door was closed. Firefighters noticed the back door was unlocked. They had to crawl into the bedroom because it was filled with thick black smoke. They determined the fire was started on the bed with a paper towel in a Ponds cold cream jar.

Weaver had been born in Everett. At 17, she was crowned the queen of a local beauty pageant, according to newspaper archives. She worked with her mother Edith Perrault and her daughter, Cathy Myers, at the Bell-Ness.

“She was street-smart, and kept a gun in the restaurant’s basement,” The Herald reported in 2009. “It was safety in case she was ever confronted while counting the till.”

Cathy Myers (right) and her sister, Colleen Kayster, hold out hope that police will one day sold the case of their mother, Judy Weaver, who was killed in 1984. This photo originally appeared in The Everett Daily Herald on June 3, 2009. (Mark Mulligan / The Herald file)

Cathy Myers (right) and her sister, Colleen Kayster, hold out hope that police will one day sold the case of their mother, Judy Weaver, who was killed in 1984. This photo originally appeared in The Everett Daily Herald on June 3, 2009. (Mark Mulligan / The Herald file)

Myers remembered working with her mom at the cafe the day before the killing.

Then, “I got a knock at the door at 6 a.m.,” Myers told The Herald in 2009.

For years, as the mystery wore on, her family continued to seek answers.

“It’s not going to bring Mom back,” Myers said. “But it’s going to be closure.”

“People liked her; she was likeable,” recalled another daughter, Colleen Kayser, in the same article.

‘A sexual sadist’

About five years earlier, in 1979, Gaff had been convicted of assault and burglary after binding a woman’s hands and repeatedly hitting her with a pistol. The attack only ended because the woman escaped, according to court records. At sentencing, Gaff expressed remorse for the crime and was sentenced to probation.

At the time of Weaver’s killing, Gaff was 26. He lived at his parents’ house in Everett in the 5500 block of South 3rd Avenue in the Lowell neighborhood. He worked for a carpet cleaning service, then got hired at a flower shop on Evergreen Way in August 1984. Two months after Weaver was found dead in 1984, Gaff broke into the home of two teenage sisters in Everett and raped them. He was convicted of two counts of first-degree rape and first-degree burglary and sentenced in 1985.

On the eve of his release in 1994, prosecutors filed papers to have Gaff legally detained under the state’s sexual predator law.

In the years after his conviction, Gaff admitted to sexually assaulting numerous others, according to court documents. At one point, Gaff was trying to attack 10 to 30 women a day, knocking some to the ground and putting his hands up their skirts, he admitted during a jury trial. In a psychological evaluation, Gaff admitted he preferred to use a knife to disrobe his victims.

Gaff said his behavior escalated in summer 1984. He admitted to cruising around for women to sexually assault, stalking them at local malls and following them to their cars. Gaff reported he was “quite dangerous” in summertime because he obsessed over women in revealing clothes.

“I noted the obvious similarities in the behavior demonstrated by Gaff in these crimes to Judy’s homicide,” detective Logothetti wrote in her police report.

Investigators pointed out how Weaver was a stranger to Gaff, he allegedly broke into her home through an unlocked door, bound her and used a kitchen knife. Those details were present in the other cases, according to the report.

A quote from Michell Gaff which originally appeared in The Everett Daily Herald on Jul. 31, 2000.

A quote from Michell Gaff which originally appeared in The Everett Daily Herald on Jul. 31, 2000.

‘A high risk’

For two decades, Gaff was incarcerated at the state’s Special Commitment Center on McNeil Island. Therapists diagnosed him a “sexual sadist.” Twice — in 1995 and 2000 — juries found Gaff to be a sexually violent predator who legally could be confined to receive treatment.

In December 2000, after Gaff had undergone treatment for about five years, state experts testified the time had come to move Gaff into a community-based setting, where he could continue to receive treatment under supervision. Still, Snohomish County Superior Court Judge James Allendoerfer declined a motion to allow him to re-enter the community.

Convicted sex offender Michell Gaff is escorted into court. This photo originally appeared in The Everett Daily Herald on Aug. 15, 2000. (Justin Best / The Herald file)

Convicted sex offender Michell Gaff is escorted into court. This photo originally appeared in The Everett Daily Herald on Aug. 15, 2000. (Justin Best / The Herald file)

In September 2006, Gaff moved to a halfway house after a jury determined he was ready for release from the commitment center. The $550,000-a-year program was designed to ease him back into society over a period of eight years.

But in April of the next year, Gaff was caught in the home with videotapes of TV programs featuring depictions of sex, violence and torture. Gaff had made the tapes personally, using “Girls Gone Wild” infomercials and a cable broadcast of the movie “Saw.” Officials found 44 tapes in Gaff’s room, as well as hundreds of DVDs, CDs and floppy discs.

Gaff was prohibited from watching or possessing such materials as part of his treatment at the home. Gaff had been kept under constant electronic surveillance and was only allowed to enter the community with an escort. He initially lied about the tapes, before acknowledging he found them sexually stimulating.

Mitchell Gaff (Photo provided by the Thurston County Sheriff’s Office)

Mitchell Gaff (Photo provided by the Thurston County Sheriff’s Office)

Judge Allendoerfer again ruled Gaff was to be barred from living at the state-run home.

In 2016, Gaff was released to a “Less Restrictive Alternative” placement in the community, according to sex offender registry records.

After Gaff was released from prison, he changed his name.

He was still required to register as a Level 3 sex offender — those who pose a “high risk to sexually reoffend within the community at large.”

‘There’s nothing to do at this point’

Charges in the Weaver case were expected to be filed in Snohomish County Superior Court.

“Our investigators have worked tirelessly to get justice for Judy Weaver’s family,” Everett Police Chief John DeRousse said in a statement Wednesday. “We are incredibly proud of Det. Susan Logothetti for her effort and persistence which ultimately led to the identification and arrest of this suspect.”

Everett Chief of Police John DeRousse speaks to the media after a bail hearing for Mitchell Gaff at Snohomish County Superior Court in Everett, Washington on May, 2, 2024.

Everett Chief of Police John DeRousse speaks to the media after a bail hearing for Mitchell Gaff at Snohomish County Superior Court in Everett, Washington on May, 2, 2024.

After the bail hearing, DeRousse again credited the “tenacity and vigilance” of detectives who brought the case together after 40 years.

Weaver’s family also attended the hearing, but declined to speak to media.

Everett police did not immediately respond Thursday to questions about whether Gaff had ever been a suspect in the case. It was also unclear why his DNA had never been identified on crime scene evidence before.

In the police report, police emphasized there was “no known connection” between Weaver and Gaff.

Over the years, detectives had re-examined the case. In 2002, for example, Everett arson investigator Pete Grassi sifted through old evidence again: a piece of carpeting from the apartment and a cigarette butt from a potential suspect. State patrol crime analysts produced a readable strand of DNA, but it didn’t match the one person police were looking at in the case. He was cleared. The DNA didn’t return a match in any law enforcement database.

At the time, police said the case had basically stalled.

“There’s nothing to do at this point,” Grassi said in 2009.

He expected the case would remain unsolved until a tip cracked the case open again, or until DNA produced a match in a computer database.

Jonathan Tall: 425-339-3486; jonathan.tall@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @snocojon.

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