Woman’s death is still a mystery, but Terrace police elaborate

Cheryl DeBoer

Cheryl DeBoer

MOUNTLAKE TERRACE — Detectives are far from finished investigating the mysterious death of Cheryl DeBoer, but police say the evidence — or a lack of it — is pointing away from homicide.

It is a difficult conversation for Mountlake Terrace Police Chief Greg Wilson.

“From a law enforcement perspective, we need to take out the emotional strings that may be pulling us in a certain direction and look objectively at the evidence, or the lack thereof, in determining the manner of death,” he said.

Earlier this week, the Snohomish County Medical Examiner reported that DeBoer, 53, died of asphyxiation and fresh water drowning. She was found in a culvert with a plastic bag wrapped around her head. The manner of death remains undetermined.

The medical examiner labels cases undetermined when there is little available information about the circumstances surrounding the death or when known information equally supports, or conflicts with, more than one manner of death.

The same day as the medical examiner’s announcement, Wilson issued a statement saying, “At this point in the investigation, there is nothing to suggest DeBoer’s death was the result of an act of homicidal violence.”

He elaborated during interviews Tuesday and Wednesday.

Without getting into specifics, Wilson said evidence that would be expected in a homicide case has not been found in DeBoer’s death. Not at the spot where her car was found alongside a well-traveled city street. Not in the culvert where her body was discovered nearly a week after she disappeared. Not on her hands or around her neck.

Detectives are waiting for results from other prongs of the investigation. Computers are being analyzed by forensic experts with the Everett Police Department. The U.S. Marshal’s office is examining cellphone records and where calls were made based on pings from cellphone towers. The Washington State Patrol Crime Lab continues to analyze evidence, including the plastic bag itself and the origins of drops of blood found in her car.

“I know people want answers now, but it takes time,” Wilson said. “I could see it taking several months before we get all of this back. It’s not the one-hour crime drama we see on TV.”

DeBoer was reported missing Feb. 8 when she didn’t show up for work at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle. A friend told police that DeBoer texted her around 7 a.m. to say that she’d forgotten her work badge at home. DeBoer suggested the woman drive to work without her. When the woman offered to wait DeBoer wrote that it would take about 10 minutes. Her cellphone was shut off, “powered down” shortly after the final text, according to a search warrant.

Her husband found the couple’s Subaru Legacy later that day in the 23400 block of 58th Avenue W near Mountlake Terrace Transit Center. The area often is used as overflow parking for people using the park-and-ride lot.

A surveillance system at DeBoer’s home shows her husband leaving around 6:50 a.m. Feb. 8, a few minutes before Cheryl. He arrived at work in Mukilteo around 7:15 a.m.

His wife’s work badge later was found at the home.

The Mountlake Terrace woman’s body was discovered by volunteer searchers on Feb. 14. She was in a culvert along Lyon Creek at 244th Street SW and Cedar Way in Mountlake Terrace. The location is about two miles east of the transit center. The DeBoers’ house is about a mile north of the culvert.

Wilson said DeBoer’s car was locked and there were no signs of a struggle. Although blood spots were found inside her car and there were cuts on her fingers, medical experts determined that they were self-inflicted.

She was found in a large culvert containing a creek. Her clothes were not disheveled and there were no tears in the fabric. Her glasses were folded. Brambles covering the eastside of the culvert had not been disturbed. There were no signs of disturbance to the ground along the west side of the culvert, Wilson said.

DeBoer was found with a thin plastic bag loosely fastened around her neck, the chief said. There were no ligature marks or signs that she had been restrained. The bag was from a take-out restaurant DeBoer frequently visited. People sometimes use plastic bags to end their lives, Wilson said.

Some questions are unanswered. Police don’t know how DeBoer ended up at the location where her body was found. They have not found her cellphone or her identification.

Family and friends told police that her disappearance “is completely out of character for her.”

Detectives are continuing to look into her medical history.

“We hope that answers to the question that the family, friends or community may have will be answered but we also know that there is the possibility that there may be some questions that may not ever be answered,” Wilson said.

Wilson said the police department wanted to be transparent with information after the medical examiner released its findings on the cause and manner of DeBoer’s death.

“If we have evidence that we were withholding there would be a reason behind withholding the evidence for the integrity of the investigation,” Wilson said. “At this point, we feel comfortable releasing information about this case.”

Eric Stevick: 425-339-3446, stevick@heraldnet.com.

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