The Mountlake Terrace Police Department on Tuesday shared additional details regarding their investigation into the death of a Mountlake Terrace woman whose body was found in a culvert more than a month ago. The Snohomish County Medical Examiner determined Monday that 53-year-old Cheryl DeBoer died of asphyxiation by a bag over her head and freshwater drowning and the Mountlake Terrace Police Department said Monday there is no evidence of homicidal violence.
The manner of her death has not yet been determined, and likely won’t be for months as investigators await analysis of her computer and phone records and other forensic data – all with support from other federal, state and county officials.
“We’re working with multiple agencies that are providing assistance with this,” Police Chief Greg Wilson said Tuesday.
For example, the Washington State Patrol is assisting with processing evidence through their crime lab. The Everett Police Department is analyzing DeBoer’s computer records. The U.S. Marshals office is looking at her phone data. The Snohomish County Medical Examiner, Sheriff’s Office and Prosecutor’s Office have also been involved with elements of the investigation, such as determining the cause of death, search and rescue and obtaining search warrants.
While this provides greater resources for the Mountlake Terrace Police Department, it also means that investigators have to abide by the timelines set by those other departments, which constantly have other cases and limitations. For example, a technician in Spokane who is analyzing blood evidence is on leave through the end of March.
“We need to wait for all of this to come back to us, which causes delays,” Wilson said.
The police chief stressed that while he understands the public’s desire for quick resolution of the case, his department will not make any conclusions regarding DeBoer’s manner of death until all of the evidence has been analyzed.
“We’re going to be very meticulous in our investigation to make sure that we’re thorough,” Wilson said. “I think the public is used to seeing a crime drama on TV where the incident or crime is solved within an hour. It creates the belief that this is quick. It is not.”
Wilson said again Tuesday that the evidence that investigators have found so far does not suggest homicide.
“At this time, there is no evidence to support the manner to be an act of homicidal violence,” Wilson said. “When we investigate cases like this, it’s important that we remove the emotion and focus on the physical evidence or lack of physical evidence, which is still evidence.”
“What we know is the physical evidence, or lack thereof, discovered at either scene does not support that there was evidence of a robbery, assault, abduction or homicide,” Wilson said, referring both to where DeBoer’s car was found at a Mountlake Terrace Park and Ride overflow lot on Feb. 8 and where her body was discovered at Cedar Way and 244th Street Southwest on Feb. 14.
Five weeks after DeBoer’s body was discovered, there have still been no eyewitness reports from anyone who may have seen or heard anything near where DeBoer’s car was located in the parking lot at 23400 block of 58th Avenue West, which is typically busy on a Monday morning.
DeBoer’s car was found locked and secure, with nothing around the car or in the car to indicate foul play, Wilson said.
“If there was an assault, abduction or attack, you would expect to see some kind of evidence, like belongings on the ground or disorganization around the scene, especially at the time this would have occurred,” he said.
Blood was found on the passenger side of the car. A small amount of the blood on the center console, seat and door is DeBoer’s blood. Two small cuts were found on two of DeBoer’s fingers, which the medical examiner determined appear to be self-inflicted.
However, a larger amount of blood on the floorboard of the car is animal. What type of animal blood and how it got there is yet to be determined.
DeBoer’s body was found lying face down in a culvert near the intersection of Cedar Way and 244th Street Southwest with a bag loosely secured over her head. It was a take-out bag from a fast food restaurant she frequented, Wilson said.
Her clothing was on and was intact and orderly. It was not disheveled or torn. There was no sign that she had been tied up, handcuffed or contained in any way.
“One would expect to see injuries if she was attacked or held against her will,” Wilson said.
The culvert she was found in is large, Wilson said. Investigators who are 6 feet tall or taller were able to walk and stand inside. A creek runs through the culvert. It is about 2 to 3 feet deep. From the east, the culvert is blocked by blackberry bushes and other shrubs that were not disturbed, but from the west, where most of the traffic would be in that area, the opening is clear.
“There is no physical evidence that she was forced into the culvert. You would expect to find disheveled clothing or scrapes, but there was nothing like that,” Wilson said.
A razor blade was found in DeBoer’s pocket.
Wilson emphasized Tuesday that the investigation is ongoing.
“We still have more investigating to do. This case is not closed,” he said. “The investigation involves the examination of computer records, cell phone records, and we’re waiting on the return from the crime lab on a number of pieces of evidence that have been submitted.”
Members of DeBoer’s family have been speaking out online about the investigation.
On the MLTnews Facebook page Monday night, Mike DeBoer, Cheryl’s husband, commented, “This women was my wife and she would never had done this to herself the police are still working on the case and there are thing[s] the public doesn’t know. And the public should be worried.”
Lenore Peterson, Cheryl DeBoer’s mother, commented, “As confusing as the news reports are, our family is unwilling to discontinue the investigation surrounding Cheryl’s death. It is inconceivable that Cheryl would take meat out of the freezer for dinner, text the driver of her carpool that she would be at the park and ride in 10 minutes, park her car, walk 1 1/2 miles, crawl through brambles and mud, put a plastic bag over her head and lie face down in a cold shallow creek to end her life.”
Peterson also asks anyone who knows anything or saw anything suspicious on the morning of Monday, Feb. 8 to contact the Mountlake Terrace Police Department.
–By Natalie Covate