SNOHOMISH — Detectives believe Barbara Decker, 78, was washing dishes in her kitchen near Maltby on Sunday when she was attacked by her contractor’s nephew.
Her throat was slashed. Investigators allege the suspect then called out to Decker’s daughter, Janine Shaffer, 62. Shaffer also was attacked and tried to run before she was grabbed from behind.
At first, she thought she was being choked. She suffered a serious wound to her throat, apparently an attempted slashing with a carpet knife. Shaffer managed to call 911. She then found her mother, who was still alive at that point but couldn’t talk, Snohomish County sheriff’s detective Dave Fontenot said in Everett District Court on Tuesday.
Mother and daughter were together on the floor when police arrived. Decker was dead from her injuries. Shaffer remained at Providence Regional Medical Center Everett on Tuesday.
Her injuries were described as life-threatening, though she has been able to talk with detectives and family members, and her family said she is improving. A deputy prosecutor told the judge that if she doesn’t survive, the case could lead to a death penalty trial.
Judge Tam Bui ordered the suspect, John Dimitri Kuljis, 31, held on $1.5 million bail. He is under investigation for first-degree murder and first-degree assault. He has no criminal convictions, according to his attorney.
As for motive, investigators have found “none whatsoever,” said Fontenot, the lead investigator. There is no evidence that any argument preceded the attack, he said. Prosecutors have alleged premeditation, something the defense denied.
The attack was reported around 3 p.m. Sunday at the property shared by mother and daughter on 212th Street SE. Kuljis had been working on the bathroom with his uncle that day, court papers show. He had been to the house once before, about three weeks earlier.
Kuljis was arrested at his home in Everett later Sunday. Clothing stained with what appeared to be blood was recovered from his washing machine, the judge was told. He also reportedly had blood on his shoe.
Kuljis initially told detectives that he hadn’t gone to the job site all day, according to court papers. He also said he acted in self-defense.
Court papers say Kuljis told police that he uses medication for a mental health issue. There was no mention of that during his bail hearing. Kuljis and his wife divorced last year, public records show. His wife had accused him in 2013 of domestic violence and drug use. She also alleged that he made suicidal threats. She later asked a judge to dismiss her protection order.
Kuljis was evicted last year from a home in Everett for owing rent. He also has several recent arrests related to drugs, one just last week, records show.
His uncle also was arrested after the killing. Jail records show he was wanted on warrants, some from 2014 and some involving contracting without registering with the state. He has a felony theft case on another matter pending trial.
The uncle told detectives that he tried to intervene as Kuljis chased Shaffer with a knife, court papers said.
He said that he drove his nephew back to a home in Everett where Kuljis lives with his parents. Along the way, Kuljis reportedly cleaned blood from his hands and threw out a knife along Highway 522.
Mark Glover, now a nurse, is a former Lynnwood police detective. Decker was his mother, and Shaffer is his sister. The family was told the knife believed used in the attack had been purchased a day earlier.
“All indications are this is a thrill killing,” he told reporters after Tuesday’s hearing.
He said the alleged self-defense claim is upsetting, and that he wanted to be in court Tuesday to look in the eye of the man accused of hurting his family. They have set up an online fundraiser at tinyurl.com/janine-shaffer to help his sister, who is disabled, find a new home. Their hope is she won’t have to return to the place where her mother was killed.
Decker loved to bake, especially cookies, and was known for giving treats to visitors.
Glover brought some of his mom’s banana bread with him Tuesday. She had packaged it up, apparently to give away.
He believes she had planned to hand it to the contractors when they finished their work.
Reporter Scott North contributed to this story.