Snohomish County investigators have said little about the shooting deaths of two hikers on Mount Pilchuck this week.
And that’s how it should be, experts in murder investigations said Friday.
Only one person knows what happened on that trail Tuesday.
That’s the killer, said Robert Keppel, a former detective who hunted serial murderers, including Ted Bundy and Gary Ridgway, the Green River killer.
“The public shouldn’t be worried they don’t know what the police know. I know Snohomish County sheriff’s detectives, and they’re hard-working people,” Keppel said.
As is true of many other Northwest detectives, investigators in Snohomish County are experienced in working outdoor crime scenes, finding clues amid the jumbled debris on the forest floor, Keppel said.
During his career as a detective in King County and as the chief criminal investigator with the state Attorney General’s Office, Keppel participated in more than 2,000 murder investigations. He knows some of the detectives involved in this case. Some have attended his classes.
Sheriff’s detectives on Friday continued to search for whoever fatally shot Seattle school librarian Mary Cooper, 56, and her daughter Susanna Stodden, 27.
“We are putting everything forward to bring a killer to justice,” sheriff’s deputy Rich Niebusch said at a press conference Friday.
He declined to answer specific questions about what steps investigators are taking to find out who killed the women along the Pinnacle Lake trail.
“Our first priority here is to solve a homicide,” Niebusch said.
The only new information Niebusch released Friday confirmed what some close to the investigation had been saying privately for days.
Both victims had gunshot wounds. And there was no evidence of murder-suicide, Niebusch said.Keppel, a criminal justice professor, advises homicide detectives that it is best to reveal little publicly about their investigations.
Serial killer Ted Bundy said silence benefits detectives, Keppel said. That’s because murderers often follow closely what investigators are saying about the case.
Bundy “said information can be pieced together to help the killer know how close police are,” Keppel said.
Silence also keeps down investigative distractions, such as bogus confessions from attention seekers, Northwest true-crime author Ann Rule said.
Rule, who has written books about Bundy, Ridgway and other killers, said she is following the news about the Snohomish County slayings.
“This one seems very strange, and I’ve written well over 1,000 homicides,” Rule said.
The case could be further complicated if it was a stranger who shot Cooper and Stodden, Rule said.
Stranger killings account for 15 percent to 20 percent of all homicides. A good number of those are motivated by greed for drugs or money, Keppel said.
“People shouldn’t have a sense that they can’t walk the trails in daylight hours,” said Jim Fox, a professor at Northeastern University in Boston, Mass. He is considered one of the nation’s leading criminologists.
The sheriff’s office on Friday afternoon closed the twisting gravel road leading to the Pinnacle Lake trailhead.
The move came because additional investigation at the scene is under way, Niebusch said.
The trail was open but deserted earlier Friday. A reporter hiking back from the lake encountered sheriff’s deputies and Washington State Patrol troopers heading up the trail, accompanied by dogs. The police asked to see the reporter’s identification and said the trail was closed.
Earlier, the forest’s quiet was broken only by the noise of a television station’s helicopter circling above the treetops.
Patches of snow marked the trail’s end near Pinnacle Lake. Aside from many footprints in the mud, there was little sign of what happened earlier this week.
Investigators are still looking for help from anyone who may have been on the east shoulder of Mount Pilchuck on Tuesday morning and into the early afternoon. That’s when investigators have determined the women were killed.
A witness saw Cooper and Stodden alive at the trailhead at 10 a.m. Another hiker reported finding their bodies at 2:30 p.m. near the lake.
Detectives have seized the van the women left at the trailhead and have begun searching it for clues, Niebusch said. He declined to say more. He also would not discuss what other items owned by the victims may have been seized.
Niebusch said detectives have spoken with their counterparts in Oregon where campers met similar violence last year. He didn’t elaborate.
Although the bodies were found on federal national forest land, the sheriff’s office will maintain custody of the investigation, with help coming from the FBI, Niebusch said. That decision was reached after Sheriff Rick Bart spoke with the U.S. Attorney’s Office, he added.
Niebusch said detectives are trying to find the proper balance between sharing information to protect community safety and maintaining the integrity of the investigation.
Hitting the right balance is key, Keppel said.
So is giving investigators the room they need to work, he added.
“A lot of media think whatever they do helps the investigation,” he said. “You are not going to solve the case. Detectives solve cases.”
Herald writer Scott Pesznecker contributed to this report. Reporter Diana Hefley: 425-339-3463 or firstname.lastname@example.org.