EVERETT — A young girl’s disappearance is being investigated as a suspicious death her family allegedly has been trying to hide for up to four years for reasons that still are not clear.
Detectives with the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office on Saturday searched a south Everett mobile home and recovered a plastic tote filled with concrete. On Tuesday afternoon, they learned from the Snohomish County Medical Examiner that the tote also contained the remains of a girl.
Officials are waiting for the medical examiner to confirm identification.
Detectives are investigating the girl’s mother and her current husband for unlawful disposal of human remains, perjury and theft for allegedly collecting state assistance for the child.
No arrests have been made, sheriff’s spokeswoman Shari Ireton said.
So far, detectives haven’t determined what happened to the girl or when, according to a search warrant filed in a Snohomish County district court.
“We are working with the medical examiner,” Ireton said. “We will conduct a thorough investigation about how the girl died. That often can take days or weeks, but it is important to answer those questions. We owe it to this little girl to find the answers.”
Born in 2007, the girl would be about 9 now. Investigators have found no indication the child ever attended school. Court records describe an unstable family life marked by parental drug use and child abuse.
She was somewhere between ages of 3 and 5 when she dropped from sight.
Detectives from the sheriff’s office and police in Lynnwood and Woodinville have been told by the girl’s extended family that the disappearance was explained over the years through a series of evolving stories, according to a 22-page affidavit filed in court.
People asking about the girl first were told that she’d gone to live with relatives outside the area. Later, some were told the child had died, supposedly from chicken pox with complications of a brain tumor.
In more recent times, they reportedly were told the girl drowned while taking a bath — in one version while her mother was intoxicated — or that she drowned after hitting her head on the bathtub.
Another story is that the child was attacked while bathing with a sibling, who drowned her, and the family decided to cover up the killing, the search warrant said.
According to the story relayed to investigators, the couple panicked and “wrapped the child in a towel, deposited the child into a cooler, kept her in that cooler for some time until the body began to stink, then poured concrete in this cooler,” sheriff’s detective Tedd Betts wrote in the search warrant affidavit.
Visitors to the couple’s homes over the years reported foul odors. They also were told to keep away from a plastic cooler or tote that was kept in various locations as the family moved around over the years. The locations included an outside deck, a garage and under a mobile home.
“The fact pattern shown in this case is consistent with a child who has died — albeit at this time, from unknown circumstances,” Betts wrote.
The criminal investigation began in October with a voicemail to the Woodinville police chief.
Woodinville police forwarded the information to Lynnwood. A detective sergeant was assigned to investigate. He learned that roughly four years ago, a girl disappeared and reportedly died while in the care of the couple, then living in Lynnwood. The Lynnwood investigator notified the sheriff’s office when it became clear the events described had occurred in the unincorporated area of the county.
Meanwhile, the sheriff’s office had been independently investigating the family. The missing girl’s sister had complained to school officials about being touched inappropriately by her stepfather. The man reportedly admitted to the allegations and moved out.
As part of that case, a state Child Protective Services worker took steps to protect the welfare of the other children. The social worker pressed for information about the 9-year-old’s whereabouts, according to the search warrant.
He checked to no avail with several school districts. One of the girl’s siblings said she was living with her dad.
In late August, he left a voicemail warning that if the family didn’t supply him with clear information about where the girl was, he’d have to assume the girl was missing.
The CPS worker also asked detectives investigating the molestation allegations to try to find the missing girl, the search warrant said.
The search warrant affidavit suggests that CPS had been trying to find the child for four years prior to this summer.
Child Protective Services had no contact with the family from July 2010 to June 2016, said Norah West, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Social and Health Services, which oversees CPS.
“While there was no open case at the time of the discovery of the child fatality, we did have history with the family in the past 12 months,” West said. “We notified law enforcement when we became concerned about the child’s whereabouts and were unable to locate her, and we have continued to diligently collaborate with the sheriff’s office.”
The three other children have been placed in out-of-home care as a result of the sheriff’s investigation, West said.
The social services agency also has opened an investigation and is coordinating with the sheriff’s office on its criminal investigation, West said.
Sheriff’s detectives spoke with people who reported smelling something decomposing at the woman’s homes.
They ultimately spoke with one of the woman’s relatives, who said the woman allegedly confided about trying to mask smells by encasing the girl’s body in concrete or cement.
“Pouring liquid cement into a container with a body would assist greatly in containing the odor — and concealing the body,” Betts wrote. “However, my training and experience has also taught me that when a body — even a decomposing body — is encased in cement, mortar or similar media, it can slow the decomposition process.”
Court records indicate that the girl’s mother and another man believed to be her father had a rocky relationship that ended in divorce. A family court investigator recommended in 2010 that neither parent have custody of the children.
One of the girl’s grandmothers wrote in court papers in 2010 that Child Protective Services had placed the girl with her at birth. Both parents admitted to drug abuse. The father also acknowledged he would drink until he blacked out.
The girl’s father later pleaded guilty to assaulting a child after mistreating another one of his children. He initially was charged with child rape in the case, but prosecutors amended the charge before the man pleaded guilty. He was sentenced to more than three years in prison.
The girl’s mother was convicted of forgery in connection with a 2001 case. She admitted stealing checks from her parents and cashing them for thousands of dollars to buy drugs and pay back a dealer.
In 2008, she admitted to felony theft after stealing a friend’s PlayStation 3.
The mother reported that she stopped using drugs in 2009. In 2010, she sought custody. She said the father was being physically and emotionally abusive and not taking care of their children.
“I am therefore asking that the court place the children in my care, so that I can ensure that all of their needs are met in a safe environment,” she wrote.
Court papers don’t say when the woman began dating her current husband.
Records also show that the same Lynnwood detective who was involved in the recent investigation interviewed the woman 15 years earlier in the forgery case.
He wrote at the time that the woman was several months pregnant and “allegedly using narcotics while carrying her fetus.” Her children at the time reportedly were living with her parents.
Eric Stevick: 425-339-3446; firstname.lastname@example.org.