The many faces of Mitchell Gaff, suspect in 1984 Everett cold case

After an unfathomable spree of sexual violence, court papers reveal Gaff’s efforts to leave those horrors behind him, in his own words.

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

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

EVERETT — In 25 years under state supervision for sex crimes, Mitchell Gaff came out as gay, was ordained as a Buddhist priest and claimed he was “not that guy anymore.”

In a 2018 evaluation, a doctor found that despite Gaff’s diagnoses, including “sexual sadism,” his disorders were under control, and he no longer met the definition of a sexually violent predator.

“Without a doubt Mr. Gaff was significantly affected by his sexual thoughts, feelings, and urges when he was actively offending,” wrote the psychologist, Dr. Daniel Yanisch. “Over almost 25 years at the (Special Commitment Center), Mr. Gaff has participated in treatment quite consistently, and has learned many ways to intervene on his sexual and aggressive thoughts and urges.”

Despite his apparent progress, Gaff found himself back in jail last week — facing life in prison in the 1984 killing of Judy Weaver. Police believe Gaff killed Weaver, 42, amid an almost unfathomable spree of random sexual violence in Everett, Edmonds, Seattle and elsewhere.

Prosecutors charged Gaff, 66, with aggravated first-degree murder in Snohomish County Superior Court in the long-unsolved killing of Weaver, who co-owned a cafe in downtown Everett. He remained in the Snohomish County Jail this week on a “no bail” hold.

Judith “Judy” Weaver (provided photo)

Judith “Judy” Weaver (provided photo)

Until this month, Gaff was living in Olympia and registered as a Level 3 sex offender. After decades in prison for other crimes, he had legally changed his name to Sam Wise Price.

On the eve of his release in 1995 for a rape conviction, Gaff was committed to the state’s colony of sexual predators on McNeil Island in south Puget Sound.

He remained under some form of state supervision until 2018.

In August 2018, when Gaff was released from civil commitment, psychologists wrote in court documents that his diagnosed mental disorders “do not render him a substantial risk to re-offend in a sexually violent predatory manner.”

Hundreds of pages of health reports in his court record retrace his life, criminal history and reflections on how to leave the horrors of his past behind him.

“I guess I see it as my job to focus on the road and not on the rut. My focus is on how to be more tolerant and compassionate, more loving kindness,” Gaff told a psychologist in 2018. “I see it as looking at where I want to go, and not where I don’t want to go. My choice is to go to treatment rather than a porn shop, to an AA meeting as opposed to a bar, and that I make those decisions rather than something else make the decisions.”

‘If I’d just been able to kill him’

Gaff was born in Victorville, California, in 1958. He moved around a lot because of his mother’s work.

As a child, older teenage boys and girls coerced him into performing sexual acts, he recounted. It made him feel “confused, curious and ashamed,” according to a self-reported history. Around the time he turned 18, he began feeling sexually inadequate, creating turmoil in his personal relationships

When Gaff was a senior in high school, he dropped out and began living with friends. In Everett, he used drugs and alcohol heavily. He became “obsessed with sexual thoughts of strange women,” court documents said. Gaff also had fantasies of rape.

From 1978 to 1984, he stalked and sexually assaulted countless women and teenagers, according to his admissions in court papers. At one point, from 1981 to 1982, Gaff was trying to attack 20 to 30 women a day, knocking some to the ground and putting his hands up their skirts, he later reported. He also described several other rapes he was not arrested for.

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

In 1979, Gaff was convicted of assault and burglary after following Jackie Brown into her garage, binding her hands and repeatedly hitting her with a pistol. The attack only ended because Brown fought back and escaped, according to court records. At sentencing, Gaff expressed remorse for the crime and was sentenced to probation.

“I often think if I’d just been able to kill him, (other rapes) would never have happened,” Brown told the Daily Herald in 2000.

On the night of June 1, 1984, Weaver walked home from work at the Bell-Ness Cafe. Gaff allegedly broke into her home to sexually assault her, according to the charges. The ligatures used to bind Weaver’s throat ultimately killed her, deputy prosecutor Craig Matheson wrote in the charges last week. Gaff set her bedroom on fire to destroy the evidence, the charges say.

Two months after he allegedly killed Weaver, Gaff broke into the home of two teenage sisters in Everett and raped them. He was convicted and sentenced in 1985.

After the Weaver case went cold, detectives took another look in July 2020, using newly available DNA technology. Three years later, in November 2023, police learned from the Washington State Patrol crime lab that a genetic profile recovered from the wrist ligatures revealed Gaff as an apparent match in the national DNA database CODIS.

After Gaff’s arrest this month, Weaver’s family said they had “never given up hope.”

“We are very happy there will finally be justice for our mom, Judy,” the family said in a statement released by Everett police. “We request our privacy at this time as we navigate the beginnings of this difficult situation.”

A family photo taken of Judy Weaver (far left) during a beauty pageant in the late 1950s. This photo first ran June 3, 2009. (Herald file)

A family photo taken of Judy Weaver (far left) during a beauty pageant in the late 1950s. This photo first ran June 3, 2009. (Herald file)

‘Sex is like frosting’

Twice — in 1995 and 2000 — juries unaware of the Weaver case found Gaff to be a sexually violent predator. That meant he could be indefinitely confined to receive treatment.

In December 2000, 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, Superior Court Judge James Allendoerfer denied the request.

“I’ve not met anybody in 19 years (of prosecuting rapists and murderers) who is more dangerous to this community than Mitchell Gaff,” deputy prosecutor Paul Stern said at the time.

Doctors diagnosed Gaff with numerous mental disorders, including:

• Narcissistic personality disorder;

• Major depressive disorder;

• Sexual sadism;

• Alcohol use disorder;

• Voyeurism disorder; and

• Frotteuristic disorder.

In civil commitment, Gaff was cited for several violations.

In September 2006, Gaff moved to a halfway house in King County 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 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, a violation of his conditions to receive treatment at the home. 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.

As a result, Gaff was sent back to the commitment center in 2007. He returned to the King County halfway house that same year. According to court documents, Gaff kept “secret relationships” in his community, engaged in “inappropriate touching” and accessed pornography at a public library while accompanied by an escort in 2013.

Gaff told a psychologist in a 2018 evaluation that he didn’t expect to have sex ever again.

“As far as sex goes,” Gaff said, “in a relationship I would see it as a cake. The important ingredients include trust, intimacy, loyalty. Then you’ve got sex which is like frosting. It is sweet and flavorful, but it is not healthy eating long term … doesn’t mean anything to me anymore.”

In summer 2017, Gaff had often gone to public places without providing advanced notice to his chaperone. Authorities were concerned something was off with Gaff, as behavior changes often signaled “other things were going on in his life,” according to court documents.

Authorities searched his apartment, where they came across condoms and catalogs for guns, knives, handcuffs and law enforcement badges. They also found handwritten lists detailing realistic-looking BB guns he planned to acquire. He had used guns in the past to hold women hostage and sexually assault them.

Department of Corrections staff worried Gaff was, once again, building a “rape kit.”

Gaff denied it. He claimed a former Alcohol Anonymous group member encouraged him to create an emergency survival kit in case of a natural disaster.

His probation officer, who worked with him for years, wondered what good a BB gun would do in an emergency.

“In the city, someone will think you have a gun and could harm you,” she later told Gaff’s psychologist. “His explanation didn’t pan out.”

‘I speak fluent heterosexual’

After his release to Less-Restrictive Alternative housing in 2006, Gaff became interested in Buddhist teachings.

He regularly attended a Buddhist center in Olympia. Gaff was ordained as a Buddhist priest in January 2018. He described it as one of the most important events of his life.

“I don’t desire to become a teacher but to be a better student. No desire to be in charge of anything or anybody,” Gaff said, according to court papers. “In Zen, a man without rank is just a simple monk.”

Gaff also came out as a gay man around 2006, according to court documents. He reported that when his mother died, he was “more willing to express and explore those thoughts and feelings.”

“My fantasy life was not acknowledging that I was the woman in my fantasy,” Gaff said in 2018. “I speak fluent heterosexual, and people don’t see the typical gay male.”

Gaff attended meetings with an LGBTQ+ Alcoholics Anonymous group, court documents said.

His probation officer considered Gaff “superficial” and didn’t believe he truly identified as homosexual.

“He is really negative towards gay people,” the probation officer reported in court documents. “I have always thought that was just a distraction for him.”

Gaff told doctors he no longer had thoughts about sexual assault.

“Now I feel sadness and wish I could do something to stop it,” Gaff said. “The ‘Me Too’ and ‘Time’s Up’ movements. I feel sorry people go through that, for my part in it in the past.”

Under state supervision, Gaff worked in various capacities. He was hired to do maintenance work around his apartment complex in Tacoma and also worked in construction. For the most part, he worked in maintenance or janitor positions, court documents said.

As a creative outlet, while serving as an apprentice to his Buddhist spiritual adviser, Gaff produced steampunk models from the Victorian Era.

Before his release in 2018, Gaff reflected on his numerous sexual offenses. He didn’t know why he’d committed those heinous acts.

“As you know I have been in treatment for 25 years, with my share of missteps. I’ve learned as much from my mistakes as my successes,” he told psychologists. “The young man I was versus the older man I am today, there has been many miles between. I make different decisions today than I made back then.”

In 2018, Tacoma-based manufacturer U.S. Sheepskin hired Gaff as a sewing machine operator. According to court documents, he needed to be prompted to disclose to his coworkers that he had raped two teenage girls. He recalled crying through this, afraid they’d shame or reject him, Gaff told a psychologist.

A 20-year-old female coworker asked if he would get coffee with her because she was interested in his “life experience — how I did it and how I got through it,” according to court papers. Gaff disclosed the interaction to his probation officer, who reported Gaff should know better than even considering a conversation with the young woman, because he “should be at the point of supervising himself.”

Gaff reportedly told his coworkers he “did 10 years for what I did and 15 years for what I might do.”

About 15 times, he repeated to them: “I am not that guy anymore.”

Deputy prosecutor Paul Stern addresses jurors during court proceedings. Mitchell Gaff sits with his back to the camera. This photo originally appeared in The Everett Daily Herald on Aug. 19, 2000. (Justin Best / The Herald file)

Deputy prosecutor Paul Stern addresses jurors during court proceedings. Mitchell Gaff sits with his back to the camera. This photo originally appeared in The Everett Daily Herald on Aug. 19, 2000. (Justin Best / The Herald file)

Mitchell Gaff timeline:

November 1979: Everett police arrest Mitchell Gaff, then 21, for investigation of attacking Jackie Brown. He is sentenced to probation for five years.

June 1984: Judy Weaver is killed. New charges say Gaff sexually assaulted her and set her Rucker Avenue apartment on fire.

August 1984: Gaff rapes two teenage sisters, 14 and 16, in Everett. A judge later sentences him to 21 years.

January 1995: Gaff admits to a psychologist four more rapes he committed, for which he was never apprehended or convicted.

1995: A jury decides Gaff should be civilly committed to McNeil Island as a sexually violent predator.

June 1999: In sex offender treatment, Gaff admits to a fifth rape from his past.

2006: Authorities transfer Gaff to the King County Secure Community Transition Facility.

2007: Authorities order Gaff back to McNeil Island for having sexual tapes, then back to the King County facility.

2009: Gaff is sent back to McNeil Island again for violating conditions of his stay at the transition facility.

2018: Gaff is granted unconditioned release.

May 1, 2024: With new DNA evidence, Gaff is arrested in the 1984 cold case homicide of Judy Weaver.

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

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