Rumors of Murder

Date Published 06.13.08
Several years later, Microsoft would come to town.  The area would change --- a gentler, middle-class gloss would coat the newly flush neighborhood.  But this was 1983, and in the Kingsgate area of unincorporated King County, northeast of Seattle, the jobs were still mostly blue-collar.  Warehouse work.  Logging.  People often worked two jobs to support their families.  Stress, and unhealthy ways of dealing with it, was common, and passed on.

Detective Mike Mellis, from the King County Sheriff’s office, is struck by how many boys from the area, who would have been young teenagers in 1983, didn’t make it.  Motorcycle accidents.  Overdoses.  Locked up for life.

The men’s ruined and addled lives are particularly frustrating for Mellis because he believes they hold the secret that will unlock a 25-year-old murder mystery. 

“Pat’s dead!  His head’s bashed in!” 

The whispers started at a Kamiakin Junior High party.  A classmate, 13-year-old Patrick Cress, had vanished two weeks earlier, and the unsettling rumor was that he was lying in a ditch near a wooded construction site, beaten to death.


Patrick Cress

On May 18, a week later, an electric company worker discovered Patrick’s body in a watery ditch near a construction site.  The cause of death was “cranio-cerebral trauma” --- multiple skull fractures. 

Detectives tried to chase the chain of rumors to their source.  They interviewed Pat’s friends and classmates, but never found the point of origin. 

Mellis, 25 years later, has tracked down guys living in Alaska and Florida.  He’s visited jails and talked to inmates.

He always gets the same line. 

“I heard it, but I can’t remember where.”

Mostly he believes them.  They’re foggy from hard living, tough from stints in jail, but they don’t seem to be lying. 

So he continues to follow the hushed rumors, the grisly, concise details about a boy’s murder, seeking the first to whisper.  There, Mellis believes, he'll find the answer --- the killer --- he's looking for.

-------------

Patrick Cress had always been uncomfortable away from home, so his parents were slightly surprised when he asked if he could sleep over at a friend’s house on Friday, April 29.

Dick Cress remembers that his son had been particularly good about doing his chores that week; Patrick had earned the sleepover.

Dick and his wife Katie asked to speak to the friend’s parents first.  When everything seemed okay, they let Patrick go.

The Cresses had moved west from Indiana with their four children in 1979.  They wanted to be closer to Katie’s parents, and they liked the Kingsgate area, the parks and small shopping center.

Cress recalls a laid-back bedroom community.  It wasn’t a wealthy neighborhood, but it was safe. 

“There was no evil around,” he says.  “Kids could go out to play.”

Patrick was the third child, the first-born son.  A neat kid, Cress says, a free spirit who loved hiking, climbing and fishing.

He had his share of problems, his father admits.  Patrick was hyperactive and had attention deficit disorder.  He was in special education classes.  But he was making progress and getting good reports, Cress says.

Around 12:30 on Saturday Patrick called and made arrangements with his parents to pick him up.  The Cresses weren’t familiar with the friend’s neighborhood and didn’t want to get lost.  They told Patrick they’d pick him up in the parking lot of the Juanita Firs Safeway, a nearby grocery store.  He agreed and indicated he’d see them in a few minutes.

Patrick wasn’t a perfectly behaved kid, Cress says, but he was extremely punctual.  It was very unusual for him to be late.  As the minutes ticked by, and there was no sign of their son, the Cresses began to panic.  They drove around and made calls. 

Their oldest daughter, Kim, said Patrick had called a few minutes after they’d left to see if they were on their way.  He’d sounded fine and said he’d see her soon.

“But where did he make that call from?” Cress says in a phone interview, the question just occurring to him.  The narrative of his son’s murder yields new angles all the time.  He makes a note to ask detectives about the second phone call.

They searched the mall, scanned other parking lots: no sign of Patrick.  At 5:30 p.m., the worry unbearable, Cress called 911 and reported Patrick missing.

An officer arrived at the house a short while later.  Cress says he took notes and asked for a picture of Patrick.  Then he dropped a bombshell.

He’s probably run away, the officer told the stunned Cresses, adding that there wasn’t much the police could do.

“When you hear from Patrick, give us a call,” the officer said before he left.

By 6:30 p.m. Cress and his wife had a premonition that they would never hear from their son again.  They felt in their hearts Patrick was dead.


Patrick Cress

Cress says the first officer’s attitude represents the general tone of the ensuing murder investigation.  In “The Value of a Smile: Victimization 101,” the book Cress wrote about the case and how it affected his family, he describes a lackluster investigation by disinterested detectives. 

That is, until Mellis got assigned the case two years ago.  Mellis grew up in the area and remembers hearing about the murder.  He’s reinvigorated a case that spooked him and his classmates when he was in high school.

“I’m as optimistic as I’ve ever been,” Cress says.

Nineteen days after he went missing, Patrick was found at the end of a utility ditch, covered in straw and partially submerged in water.  The friend’s house where Patrick had spent the night was a few hundred yards north of where he was found.

Both Mellis and Cress say the area where Patrick’s body was found was known as a hangout for local teenagers.  “A party spot,” says Mellis, a place where kids would sometimes gather to smoke pot. 

Mellis believes Patrick’s killer was someone he knew.  An object was used, though Mellis declines to specify. 

He speculates the killer could have been a neighborhood bully, or an angry acquaintance riled up about a stupid debt.  Whoever it was, Mellis doesn’t believe he intended to kill Patrick.

It was most likely a beating gone wrong, Mellis says.  The attempt to hide the body with straw reveals a level of guilt.

Cress wonders about the Seattle Times newspaper drop box near where Patrick’s body was found.  He says some of Patrick’s friends had newspaper routes and used the drop box; Patrick sometimes helped them deliver newspapers.  He wonders if one of those boys could be a suspect.

Patrick’s murder had devastating long-term effects on his family.  Cress had to leave his job in architecture and later had trouble finding work.  The family struggled emotionally.  In 1993, Katie Cress died of breast cancer, an illnesses compounded, Cress says, by grief and stress. 

Cress has found some relief acting as an advocate for victims of violent crimes.  He started the organization Dignity of Victims Everywhere, or DOVE, through which he shares advice and gives help.

Mellis continues to investigate leads and pore over the case file.  One piece of evidence is of particular interest to him.  It’s a handwritten note scribbled on typical school paper from one teenage girl to another.  Creases suggest the note was folded and handed off.  It reads:  “To Michelle, From Kim, It’s Important!  It’s a slight possibility the police don’t know yet so don’t tell ‘cause that me be wrong.”

No police paperwork was found to show the source of the note.  Mellis would like to know the author or intended recipient. 

The sheriff’s office is releasing new details about Patrick’s case now for strategic reasons.  This August, Patrick’s classmates from 1983 will gather to celebrate their 20-year high school reunion.

As teenagers, they gossiped about the murdered boy in the woods.  Maybe those who knew something were too scared to come forward then.

They’re in their late 30s now.  Most have children of their own; some have 13-year-olds.

Adolescent rumors proved too vague back in 1983, but maturity, and maybe guilt, has likely changed people.

Cress and Mellis hope the rumor mill churns again at the reunion; this time, maybe someone will break from the whispering and give detectives the answer they need to solve the 25-year-old mystery.

Anyone with information about this case should call the King County Sheriff's Office at 206-296-4155.


The Feed

RT @emilynussbaum: The artful @hodgman's straightforward case for Hillary: https://t.co/ijA8xHJ8Tm
@Twaikuer @pattonoswalt @daveanthony Know what he does believe in? PAC $. Took 10K from HRC pac 2006. That means he's in her pocket.#BSLogic
@Twaikuer @pattonoswalt @daveanthony Good one. Unfortunately Bernie on record as not believing in charity.
@johnlevenstein Thanks for asking, btw. That's the kind of elevated discourse missing lately. A lot of mud slinging. #I'mNotAboveItEither
@johnlevenstein Can't convey it all thru Twitter but yes, she has flaws. Too poll-driven, burned needed bridges, trouble owning mistakes.