By Polly Keary, Editor
A year has passed since Jacque Rothenbuhler, 59, of Monroe was murdered in her backyard.
In the small hours of a blustery night on March 18 of last year, Rothenbuhler’s body was found in the backyard of her Maple Street home. She was dead of a cut to the neck. Near her body was an assortment of pills, scattered near her left hand. There were too many to carry, yet no container was found.
A year later, the murder remains a mystery.
Police still have no clear suspect, but there is still a lot of evidence that could yield clues, and they are still optimistic, said Monroe Detective Barry Hatch.
“There’s probably seven or eight people of interest, but none have been elevated to the level of suspect,” he said.
As details of her life emerged over the course of a year, she seems an unlikely target of a murder.
In the first weeks after her murder, a picture of who Rothenbuhler was began to emerge. An interview with five of her friends at a neighboring home painted a picture of a well-liked woman with strong attachments to family and friends.
She had a history of loving fitness, and was a very active gardener. She also had a fondness for looking after others, taking displaced people into her home, and caring for sick friends or helping people move.
But all wasn’t well.
Among the friends who remembered her, one, a man named Chris Frick, has since been sentenced to nine years in federal prison on drug charges.
Her social world had changed in recent years, as the woman became involved with people involved with drugs, Hatch said.
Previously, Rothenbuhler had been committed to her own health. A former pharmacy worker and single mother of three, she climbed Mt. Rainier and Mt. Baker, and worked as a fitness instructor at several local gyms.
She also loved karaoke, and liked to watch her grandkids.
“A lot of people knew her,” said Hatch. “Her service was well-attended by darn near every walk of life in Monroe.”
But a relationship seems to have altered her course.
“She really was a decent citizen before she got hooked up with the drug world,” said Hatch. “Through a guy she was dating she got hooked up with hard narcotics, and it spiraled out of control after that. She was probably in her late 40s, early 50s.”
She stayed close with her children, but they were dismayed when she was arrested in 2009 on investigation of burglary that resulted in drug treatment.
It seemed to grow worse the last year of her life, though, her children later said. She had been out of work for about four years and had little income.
She did, however, have a habit of keeping an eye on the neighborhood and trying to make sure people were safe and following rules.
Hatch thinks that her killer may not even have been targeting her in particular.
“She was living in a house that had a lot of people coming and going, and it’s possible someone wasn’t even mad at her, but was just someone staying there. It’s possible the person who killed her didn’t even know her,” Hatch said. “But it’s also possible that person knew her very well.”
There are people in Monroe who know who did it, Hatch is sure, but one of the problems he’s been having is that people are sometimes pretending to know more than they do.
“The dope lore is really causing a lot of problems,” he said. “You could almost say some people are allowing people to believe they did it. That’s making things difficult.”
And forensics haven’t yielded much.
Even the pills didn’t turn out to be a solid clue; none of them were narcotic and there was no obvious connection between them. Now Hatch thinks it might have been a red herring.
But it’s a long way from being a cold case, Hatch said.
“It becomes a cold case when there are no more tips and no more leads, but this isn’t that,” he said.
It takes a long time to process forensic evidence, he said. It’s analyzed in tiers, the first round of evidence going to the backlogged labs where it can be four or five months until results come in. Then a second batch of evidence may go, followed by a third.
Right now there is a lot of forensic evidence at Washington’s crime lab, and some is at a specialty lab in Texas.
“Even though it’s been a year, there’s still a lot to be done,” Hatch said. “I’m pretty optimistic. This is a solvable crime.”