True Crime

30-year cold case: How a Coke can caught a killer

‘We can slowly start healing’

When Amanda ‘Mandy’ Stavik went running, her mum Mary usually went too. The pair would be spotted around their small town, with Mary keeping pace with her teenage daughter on her bike.

But in the afternoon on November 24, 1989, Mandy, 18, took off with just the family dog, Kyra, for company. Only Kyra returned.

Mandy Stavik
Mandy Stavik

Panicking, Mary called her daughter’s boyfriend, Rick Zender. Then she phoned the police and anyone else she could think of. Soon, she had everybody she knew searching for Mandy – a popular, athletic and bright student, who could play saxophone, speak Japanese and use sign language.

Her older sister Molly and younger brother Lee prayed she would come home safe. But three days after Mandy had gone missing, a volunteer firefighter found her lifeless body in the shallow water of a nearby river. She was naked apart from her running shoes.

Mandy had been raped and the cause of death was found to be drowning. She had suffered a blow to the back of her head and had scratches up her legs as if she had been running through the bush. Her clothes were gone – and so was her murderer.

In 1989, DNA crime-matching technology was in its infancy, but Detective Ron Peterson, who was assigned to Mandy’s case, had recently received training in working with DNA. His training paid off. Male DNA was found on Mandy and, although there were no matches for the male in the DNA registry, it was kept on file and preserved perfectly.

Mandy's mum, Mary
Mandy’s mum , Mary

The terrible crime affected the small community, taking its innocence and becoming a constant talking point for the many years the mystery dragged on. People were questioned, leads appeared and disappeared.

‘I don’t think I ever believed, ever, that they would catch the guy,’ Mary admitted. Then, in 2009, Detective Kevin Bowhay was handed the 20-year old cold case. He came up with the idea to do a systematic DNA sweep of as many men as he could find who were living in the area in 1989.

Four years later, he was still pursuing the same route when Timothy Bass’s name was mentioned. He’d been 22 at the time and lived a few doors down from the Staviks. His younger brother, Tom Bass, was friends with Mandy.

Having moved away shortly after the murder, Timothy had never been contacted by the police before. He was now married with three children and worked as a delivery driver for a bakery. An initial meeting with him immediately raised red flags for police. He claimed not to know or even remember Mandy Stavik.

Timothy Bass
Timothy Bass

‘[That] indicated to me he was obviously lying,’ said Bowhay. ‘Everybody knew what the Mandy Stavik case was and she ran past his house every day. How would you not know it?’

Timothy also said he would not give the police his DNA because he didn’t trust them. Suddenly, he was suspect number one. The problem was proving it – and without DNA the police had a difficult job ahead. So, they approached his colleague at the bakery, Kim Wagner.

Initially, she sent them away, but then, after realising the severity of his potential crime, she turned detective herself. Police needed a search warrant to collect Timothy’s DNA and there wasn’t sufficient evidence to grant one. However, they were able to accept any evidence brought them, and Kim was keen to find some.

The Coke can and cup

She watched Timothy closely. He would wear gloves on his rounds and, suspiciously, took his rubbish home with him. But one day, Kim saw him drinking Coke from a plastic cup and then throw it in the bin. Her heart beating out of her chest, she grabbed it and put it in her desk drawer.   she thought.

After delivering it to the police, it was sent to a crime lab for testing. Incredibly, the results indicated that Timothy’s DNA was a one-in-11 quadrillion match to the DNA recovered from the crime scene.

In December 2017 – 28 years after the brutal murder – Bass was arrested.

Mandy’s mother, Mary, learned of the arrest on her 81st birthday. For Bass, this was never meant to happen. His now ex-wife, Gina Malone, who had a domestic violence protection order against him, told how Bass watched cold case crimes on TV. ‘I wouldn’t get caught because I’m not that stupid,’ he’d bragged.

But even his plan to explain away the DNA, by saying he was having a secret sexual relationship with Mandy failed to convince anyone. ‘There’s no way my sister would have had a relationship, a physical relationship with Tim Bass,’ one of Mandy’s friends said. ‘She was way, way, way out of his league, to put it bluntly.’

Timothy Bass in interrogation after his arrest
Timothy Bass in interrogation after his arrest

In addition, Bass had no proof of a relationship and there were no witnesses who had ever seen them together.

In court, Timothy Forrest Bass, 50, pleaded not guilty, and in May 2019, his trial began. After hearing evidence for three weeks, the jury deliberated for just over a day, before convicting him of murder, rape and kidnapping. Bass was jailed for 27 years. He expressed no acceptance of or remorse for his crimes.

‘I would first like to say that I am 100 per cent innocent of this crime,’ he said. ‘I wish no ill will towards anyone here, not even today. But I am having a hard time with this.’

For the family, their 30-year wait for justice was finally over. Mandy’s sister Molly said the trial was like experiencing her death twice.  ‘It was bittersweet,’ she told The Bellingham Herald.

‘It’s like a wound that just won’t heal. It’s starting to heal and it’s got all this scar tissue — you can see it every day. And then all of a sudden, they literally rip the scar tissue off the wound and reopen it and so it’s this raw pain that we had to deal with all over again. But I think now we can slowly start healing, growing.’

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