With too little evidence to solve case, EvCC fatal arson investigation is in limbo

EVERETT — Wally Friesen knows what it is like to lose a friend.

That’s what happened in July 1999, when Everett police officer Brian DiBucci died in an on-duty fall from the U.S. 2 trestle.

In 2003, as an arson investigator for Everett police, Friesen was assigned to take a fresh look at the fire that killed Everett firefighter Gary Parks. One of his first steps was to cue up the tapes of emergency radio calls from 16 years earlier.

“I listened to the firemen and the anguish in their voices. I know what it is like to lose somebody on the job who is close to you,” Friesen said. “I wanted to solve this thing. I wanted to get him justice.”

Friesen retired from the Everett Police Department in January 2011. He spent nearly half of his career trying to make sense of what happened Feb. 16, 1987, the night the library at Everett Community College burned.

The unsolved case is now assigned to another detective and considered inactive because there are no new leads, Everett police Sgt. Robert Goetz said.

Friesen, who now lives out of state, said that when he inherited the EvCC arson investigation the case files contained the names of 54 people who had been suggested as potential suspects. He gave them all a fresh look.

“You don’t want to focus on one person,” he said. “You want to take everything, put it on the table, and clear things as you go.”

Early on, a college security guard was closely scrutinized after he lied about reporting the fire and later admitted he had been asleep at his post. Friesen said he never found evidence the man set the fire.

The same is true of serial arsonist Paul Keller, a former advertising executive who worked in Everett at the time, Friesen said.

Keller is serving 99 years in prison after admitting to setting dozens of fires around Puget Sound in 1992 and 1993. He caused millions of dollars in damage and admitted to three deaths.

From prison, Keller repeatedly has denied any involvement in the EvCC arson. He’s also refused to speak with investigators.

Keller emerged as a suspect six years after Parks died. His family told investigators that in 1987 he had lived in an apartment across the street from the college. Subsequent investigation showed Keller did not live there until months after the library burned, Friesen said.

Some claimed Keller was at the fire scene that morning, but Friesen said he never found confirmation.

Instead, Friesen said strong leads took him to Spokane and Montana. He was interviewing people about a north Everett man, who as a teenager, was questioned in 1989 after graffiti surfaced blaming him for the college fire.

One of that man’s friends, himself then still a teen, told police of a “vision” he had about how the fire started, Friesen said. Details about the fire’s origins matched information that wasn’t widely shared.

Another witness placed three young men, including the teen mentioned in the graffiti, outside her north Everett home within minutes of the fire breaking out at the college.

There was enough to raise suspicions, but not enough to close the case, Friesen said.

After the fire, the young men slipped into lives of crime. The detective got scant cooperation.

Despite the years, Friesen said he’s convinced the case can be resolved, that the necessary clue is maybe just a phone call away.

“If there is a key to the lock sooner or later somebody will find it,” he said.

Scott North: 425-339-3431, north@heraldnet.com.

Talk to us

More in Local News

The site of a new development along May Creek Road next to the entrance of Wallace Falls State Park on Thursday, Sept. 23, 2021 in Gold Bar, Wa. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Gold Bar considers home parking permits near Wallace Falls

In the past, parking spilled from Wallace Falls State Park into town. Decals could avoid conflicts.

Letter
Oak Harbor legal staff quits over ‘compromised’ relationships

The city attorney and the senior assistant city attorney, who is also the public records officer, both resigned.

The scene where police from a King County agency shot a man at the end of a car chase Monday afternoon in a Safeway parking lot in Snohomish on September, 27, 2021.  (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
Police shoot murder suspect outside Safeway in Clearview

The driver allegedly reversed into an unmarked police vehicle. Officers opened fire. He’s expected to live.

The Snohomish County Sheriff's Office released this image of a possible suspect in a homicide at a gas station at 148th Street SW and Highway 99 near Lynnwood. (Snohomish County Sheriff's Office) 20210926
Detectives investigate homicide at gas station near Lynnwood

One person was killed and a suspect was at large, the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office said.

Zach Graham stands in front of a newly restored Three Fingers Lookout. (Friends of Three Fingers Lookout)
Volunteers give makeover to precarious Three Fingers Lookout

Up high, with cliffs on all sides, the 90-year-old hut got much-needed new windows, shutters and paint.

Arlington son, 19, charged with slaying his father

Nicholi Melum had been yelling at his son, Garner, when he was killed.

Connie L. Bigelow at her store Miniatures & More in Edmonds on Tuesday. (Janice Podsada / The Herald)
Woman pleads guilty to wire fraud in Edmonds doll store fire

Connie Bigelow tried to collect insurance after setting fire to her business. Now she has to pay restitution.

Crews demolish the strip mall at 10th and Broadway, near the Washington State University Everett campus, on Monday, Sept. 27, 2021 in Everett, Washington. Crews started tearing down a strip mall Monday on property that will soon expand Everett Community College’s footprint across Broadway. The Cascade Learning Resource Center project will total 65,000 square feet. It will expand the college’s tutoring resources as well as house the library, writing center and other academic support programs. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)
Demolition begins to make way for EvCC learning center

The 65,000-square-foot project will expand the college’s tutoring resources. It’s set to open in April 2023.

Marysville man shot in hand during apparent drug robbery

At least two suspects were being sought, and police are seeking surveillance video.

Most Read