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.

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