It’s been 32 years since Mandy Stavik, an 18-year-old college freshman, disappeared in Acme, Washington, in 1989. She went out for a jog and never come back. Her body was found three days later in a river. For over two decades, there was no suspect and the case went cold.
For Mandy’s family, friends, and community, however, the dark cloud hanging over Mandy’s death never went away. Then, in 2013, two mothers were chatting in a park while their kids were playing. That conversation ended up being the catalyst to solving Mandy’s murder.
This is how a cold case went hot decades later…
All Signs Point to Tim
“I just kind of turned to Merrilee and said, ‘Well, I am sure I know who killed her,’” Heather Backstrom recalled of that conversation in the park. Merilee Anderson said, “And I turned to her and said, ‘Oh, I do, too.’” Both women were talking about a man named Tim Bass, who used to live down the road from Mandy.
Heather and Merilee remember having creepy encounters with him around the time Mandy was killed, but for whatever reason, they never came forward with their suspicions. “To accuse someone of something that we don’t know for sure is a little scary,” Heather explained.
A Cold Case Gone Hot
For years, these women kept their hunches to themselves. But once they got to talking, they knew they were on to something. Merilee decided to talk to the police. The Mandy Stavik case, which had gone cold, was reopened. By then, in 2013, Tim was a married man and working as a driver at a bakery.
Police started began investigating Tim, and one woman proved to be essential in closing the final chapter of this saga. Her name is Kim Wagner and she was Tim’s co-worker at the bakery. Kim came up with a plan to help the police connect Tim to the murder. “I just never forgot about Mandy,” Kim said. “And that’s why I did it.”
The Day After Thanksgiving
Mandy had gone missing the day after Thanksgiving while jogging with her German shepherd, Kyra, on the road to her house. But Kyra came home without Mandy. The 18-year-old was described as bright, vivacious, and athletic – she loved horseback riding, softball, track and basketball.
“She was very everything,” her mother, Mary Stavik, told ABC News. “I don’t know that there are words to describe her.” Three days after her last jog, Mandy was found in a river just miles from her home. She had drowned and evidence showed that she had been sexually assaulted.
A Community Gripped by Fear
At the time, Kim Wagner was working as a delivery driver in the same town. She was 19, had grown up in the area, and saw how the fear gripped the entire community. “It impacted me. It was the first time something scary happened,” Kim told ABC News.
“It changed everyone’s perspective on our little corner of the world. It could’ve been the person next door. We didn’t know.” For years, the police investigated the murder. They looked closely into several persons of interest, but no one was ever arrested for the abduction and murder.
Acme: A Trusting Town
Acme is a small town in Washington State’s Whatcom County. The town sheriff, Bill Elfo, was appointed top cop in 2003, and he described Acme as a place where people don’t lock their doors and even leave their keys in the ignition.
Mandy and her family lived on a dead-end street, a mile from the highway. They had come from Alaska, and her parents were divorced. Mary brought her three children – Lee, Mandy, and Molly – to Acme to make a new life for themselves. There used to be four children…
Her Brother Was Killed Years Prior
Sadly, Mary Stavik had to suffer the loss of two children. Before Mandy’s murder, her son Brent was shot and killed in Anchorage, Alaska, in 1975. Brent’s murder was – and still is – unsolved. In 1989, Mandy was 18 and had just graduated from Mount Baker High School.
She had just began her first semester at Central Washington University and come home for Thanksgiving break. The day after the holiday, she went out for a late afternoon jog down Strand Road, where her house was situated. She headed toward the Nooksack River, with the expectation that she would come right back.
Her Last Jog
Mandy typically ran with her mom, who would bike next to her. But on that particular November day, Mandy took the family dog as her running companion. Lee, Mandy’s brother, was at a friend’s house down the same road.
“He was there visiting his friend, Jeremy,” Mary recalled. He remembers seeing her jog by. But she never came home. The dog, Kyra, showed up about two hours later, alone. “I was panicky,” Mary said. “First person I called was her boyfriend.” Mandy was dating a guy named Rick Zender at the time.
Who and Where Is the Boyfriend?
Mary called the sheriff and everybody else she could think of; she had everybody she knew searching for her daughter. The residents of Acme started looking for Mandy immediately. They were told that she was wearing a light-colored sweatshirt, green sweatpants, blue running shoes with a purple stripe, and was listening to a Walkman.
“We just prayed that they would find her alive. You think to yourself, ‘God, maybe she’s just hurt. She can’t get home,'” said Mandy’s sister, Molly. It’s only natural that authorities first looked to Rick, the boyfriend.
First, They Found Some Sweatpants
Rick and Mandy had been an on-and-off couple for three years, since high school. He was the one who drove her home from college for Thanksgiving. But after he gave his statement to the police, which they described as “extremely forthcoming,” the kid was cleared.
Meanwhile, the search for Mandy continued. Two days after her disappearance, the search-and-rescue team was looking on side roads, when they discovered pair of teal-green sweatpants. Mary was then brought to the location and shown the clothing to potentially verify that they were the same pants Mandy was last seen wearing.
Then, They Found the Body
“I didn’t remember exactly what she was wearing. But I didn’t think they could have been,” Mary recalled. “For one thing, they were dirty. And they had ripped holes in them. And Mandy wouldn’t have ever worn anything like that.”
The pants were sent to a lab for analysis but were never positively connected to Mandy. On day three of the search, a body was found. It was Mandy’s. She was found six miles from her home in the Nooksack River. She had only shoes and socks on. The autopsy concluded the cause of death was asphyxia by drowning.
Drowning in Shallow Water?
Molly remembers hearing the news. “I remember running out of the house. I ran off into the field and I just remember screaming — screaming at life, at God. How could something like that happen?” Ron Peterson, a former sergeant at the County Sheriff’s Office, reported that there were no signs of struggle at the location of the body.
The water was quite shallow, which made investigators wonder how Mandy, a strong swimmer, could have drowned. “She must not have been conscious. There was no digging in the gravel,” Peterson said. Mandy did have an injury on top of her head that the medical examiner suggested could be what knocked her out.
A New Tool
There was also evidence that she had been sexually assaulted. At the time of the autopsy, Peterson had returned from the FBI’s academy in Quantico, where he was informed that DNA evidence was now being used as an investigative tool.
In 1989, the only ones doing forensic DNA testing were officers submitting samples to the FBI. So, the police sent DNA from Mandy’s body to the FBI. What they got were DNA profiles for both her and an unknown male. No one in the registry matched the male DNA.
A New Detective
Investigators followed every lead they could, and even consulted with a task force that was working on the Green River serial killer case in Seattle. But detectives were ultimately told that Mandy’s case didn’t fit the profile they had developed for the Green River Killer.
Detective Kevin Bowhay was assigned to the case; he was the third lead detective to take a spin at trying to find Mandy’s killer. Bowhay decided to do a systematic DNA sweep of as many men as possible living in the Acme area in 1989.
A New Suspect
The process was to find who lived in the area back in 1989 and how old they were,” Bowhay explained. “I thought, ‘It’s just a matter of time. We’re going to ask the right person, or we’re going to get the right sample of DNA. We just got to keep plugging away.'”
Four years later, after several DNA provided no matches, Sheriff Elfo told Bowhay that a man named Tim Bass had come to their attention. It turns out that in 1989, Tim was living on the same road as the Stavik family, and for some reason, he was never contacted by the authorities.
The Loner on the Street
There were a few houses between the Mandy’s house and Tim’s home, and she would jog past his house almost every day. Their families knew each other as he went to the same high school as Mandy. His younger brother, Tom, was also friends with Mandy.
“He was a loner. He was quiet,” Annie Sirguy, a friend of Mandy’s, said of Tim. “My impression is, kind of, he was just a little bit of an oddball.”
The Controlling Husband
According to Sheriff Elfo, Tim moved out of the area shortly after Mandy’s murder. A few months after the murder, in January 1990, Tim married Gina Malone and moved to Everson, which is about 20 miles out of Acme. They had three kids and Tim started working as a local delivery driver for the Franz Bakery Outlet.
Gina, who later became his ex-wife, said that Tim was very controlling —he would tell her what to do, what to wear, and who to talk to. When they would watch shows about murder, “he would always say the murderer was stupid, you know, and didn’t cover his tracks very well,” Gina shared.
On Top of the Suspect List
The police went to Tim’s home and asked him about Mandy, and he made it seem like he couldn’t remember her name. “That was definitely a red flag for me, which indicated to me he was obviously lying,” Bowhay described.
“Everybody knew what the Mandy Stavik case was, and she ran past his house every day. How would you not know it?” Tim also told them that he was not going to give the police his DNA because he simply didn’t trust them, according to Bowhay. That alone moved Tim to the top of the suspect list.
Getting Their Hands on His DNA
The police needed to get their hands on Tim’s DNA. So, they approached Kim, who was then working as the manager of the bakery’s outlet store. At first, she was hesitant about cooperating with the police.
Kim explained: “They came in. They said that there’s an employee here under investigation for a case and they would like to get routine information and maybe collect a cigarette butt in there.” She said she “shut them down. I was like, ‘Yeah, no. This is way above my pay grade.’” And so, she pointed them toward the bakery’s human resources department.
Connecting the Dots
The police told human resources that they wanted a subpoena or search warrant but “didn’t have sufficient probable cause to get a warrant,” Elfo explained. Later on, during a conversation Kim had with her husband and friends at a bar about her co-workers, the name Tim Bass came up.
That’s when she learned that he had lived on the same street as Mandy before she was killed. The thing is, when she met with the police, she didn’t know they were working on the Mandy Stavik case.
Ready to Cooperate
“This light went off in my head and I thought, ‘Is that why the police were at my work?'” Kim said. The next time the police entered the bakery, to get Tim’s delivery route, she was ready to cooperate.
Kim took the detective into her office to clarify if they were indeed working on Mandy’s case. “He just looked at me like, like a cartoon character, like the eyes popping out of their head. He just looked at me, like, ‘Oh, my God,’ and then I said, ‘Was it Tim Bass?'”
He Took His Trash Home With Him
Kim gave them Tim’s delivery route. Although they didn’t have a subpoena nor a search warrant, Kim decided to act on her own. Soon, Bowhay and his team learned that Tim was extremely cautious about his DNA.
When he would deliver the baked goods, he would always wear gloves. Moreover, he never seemed to throw things away at work. “Tim basically took his trash home,” Bowhay disclosed. “He didn’t leave any chance that somebody would find something.” In other words, he was behaving in a way a guilty, yet clever, man would.
A Mom Helping a Mom
Kim realized that getting his DNA would be a major challenge, so she offered to help. Still, the investigators decline her offer on the basis that they couldn’t ask a civilian to collect evidence. They would, however, accept evidence brought to them.
Kim took matters into her own hands. “I 100% volunteered to do it,” she stated. “The reason I wanted to know was I’m a mom now. If something happened to my daughter, I’d want someone to help me… the thought of her mom never having an answer of who did that to her daughter… if I could help her find that peace, I wanted to do it.”
The Water Cup
Kim started watching Tim closely. The bakery had a water cooler, and she would see him drink from one of the plastic cups and throw it away. When she looked in the garbage, her heart was “beating out of my chest,” she recalled.
“I grabbed it and I put it in my desk drawer. I was like, ‘Oh, my God. That just happened.'” The cup was then sent for testing and yes, the DNA matched the sample that had been taken from Mandy’s body all those decades ago.
It’s Never Too Late for Justice
It took four years since Heather and Merilee spoke in the park to bring the murderer to light. In 2017, Timothy Bass was arrested at his place of work and taken to Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office. Bowhay described Tim’s demeanor as “flat” when they interviewed him.
“I’m sure in his mind he was thinking, ‘I’ve gone through all these measures to make sure you guys didn’t get my DNA. How did this happen? Where did I screw up?'” Bowhay shared. “I think once he realized we actually did have his DNA. Then, he switched.”
Tim had a story prepared. He told investigators that he and Mandy were involved in a secret sexual relationship back in 1989. He said he met her when he was with his dad. “We were mountain-bike riding up and down the road, and he talked to her. He had a way with people.”
Tim said he would bike around and she would jog, “and then we’d talk and stuff.” He said it took place in the spring of 1989, and that it “wasn’t that long a relationship because she went away to college.”
“Kissing and Stuff”
Tim asserted that there was no communication between him and Mandy afterwards, and that he never even called her. “She’d just say when she’d come back, she’d see me,” he stated. “It was more of a friendship type thing.”
Tim said they “just talked” and then it grew into “more of a physical thing, and we didn’t even really do it that much.” They were mostly into “kissing and stuff.” Tim claimed that Mandy showed up at his house the day she went missing.
She Would Never Be With a Guy Like Tim
This story, according to the authorities, was Tim’s way of accounting for how his DNA wound up on Mandy’s body. His father, who was the only person who could verify Tim’s claims, was no longer alive. As convincing as Tim thought his story was, neither the police nor the Stavik family bought it.
“There’s no way my sister would have had a relationship, a physical relationship with Tim Bass,” Mandy’s sister said. “She was way, way, way out of his league, to put it bluntly.”
Quite a Birthday Present
Tim was arrested and charged with murder in the first degree. It was on Mary’s 81st birthday that she learned of the arrest. All the while, Tim maintained his innocence and denied involvement in Mandy’s rape and murder.
“I don’t know what else to say,” he told the investigators. “Everything I’ve said is the truth.” Gina, his then wife, originally provided an alibi. She had told the police that she was with him at his home on the day Mandy disappeared.
No Witnesses of Such a Relationship
“I was on my way to Tim’s house because I went to his house after school, and I passed her. She was running,” Gina stated to investigators in 2017. “So, I saw her.” Of course, she was lying to the police. Tim’s trial took place in 2019, and prosecutors asked every witness if they ever saw Mandy with Tim at any time.
Nobody said they had. When Tim’s younger brother, Tom, entered the bench to testify, he told them that his brother was very anxious after detectives asked him to submit a DNA sample.
Help a Brother Out
Tim testified on the witness stand that Tom told him, “The reason I’m so worried, I’m so anxious, is that I slept with Mandy.” When Tom asked, “What?” Tim went, “Yeah, I slept with Mandy… I was hoping that you could maybe say that you slept with her too.”
Tom asked his brother, “How long did this go on?” He replied, “Oh, we slept together a couple times before she went to college and then once when she came back on Thanksgiving break.” But Tom didn’t lie to authorities. Tom told the authorities that he refused to lie for his brother.
The False Alibi
Tom wasn’t planning on saying that he slept with Mandy. By then, Gina had divorced Tim, and she was also called to the stand. That’s when she fessed up to her lie. Gina decided to come forward and admit that the alibi she originally gave them was not true.
She confessed that she had no memory of being at Tim’s house the day after Thanksgiving. “I believe Gina was providing his alibi to protect herself and once she felt secure and safe herself, then she could actually tell the truth,” Bowhay reasoned.
Lie for Me
Gina stated that after the police came to their home in 2017, Tim told her that she needed to lie to the cops and say that he was with her on the day of the murder. “Otherwise,” he told his wife, “I’m gonna go to prison.”
“What do you say to someone like that?” Gina voiced. “Like, you have to be careful about what you say. I felt like I just had to agree with everything he’s saying because if I don’t, I could be next. I wasn’t a strong person back then. I was very weak, but I should’ve gone with my gut instinct.”
The Jury Is In
On May 24, 2019, the jury convicted Tim of murder in the first degree. The judge served Tim the maximum sentence of 27 years in prison. Rick Zender, Mandy’s old boyfriend, said, “I felt like I was holding my breath for 30 years… I can’t even describe the relief when he was found guilty.”
Before his sentencing, Tim addressed the court. “I would first like to say that I am 100% innocent of this crime. I wish no ill will towards anyone here, not even today. But I am having a hard time with this,” he stated.
A Web of Lies
Tim’s family also had their turn to speak. Tim’s mother, Sandra Bass, insisted that her son never tried to blame his late father for Mandy’s death. That said, she stated, “I do know my son is not guilty of this crime.”
The judge finally made his own comments to Tim: “For 30 years you have lived free from the responsibility for your acts, but that life has been a lie and tragically it has caught your family, your mother, your brother, your ex-wife and your children in its web.”
Her Own Prison
Peter Van Sant, a reporter from CBS News, covered the story. He asked Gina, “Tim says he’s an innocent man. What do you say?” Her response: “Guilty as hell. I lived in prison for 28 years with him and now it’s his turn.”
Tom admitted that he wonders if his brother considered killing others, even Heather or Merilee, the ones who brought his name up in the first place. “I think potentially more could’ve been his next victims,” Tom told Peter. It’s an eerie thought for sure, and one Merilee addressed.
It Takes a Village
“Do you sometimes think, “we’re lucky to be alive?” Peter asked Merilee. “Yup,” she answered. As for her and Heather, they’re proud of their roles in putting Tim behind bars. “In the end, three women’s word or experiences are what took him down. And I love that.”
Kim, part of the trio, gives credit to the town of Acme. “It really took a village. It took a whole community. The sheriff’s office never gave up on Mandy,” Kim shared. Kim wasn’t the only emotional one in Peter’s CBS interview.
Bowhay paused to collect himself when he said, “We got the right guy… The community could feel safe and be whole again. And I had hoped, at that point, the family could heal.” A reward fund for any relevant tips, that was set up years ago, eventually reached $25,000.
The money was later donated to a scholarship fund set in Mandy Stavik’s name at her high school, Mount Baker. The scholarship has been awarded, to date, 29 times since 1990.
Up for Parole in 2036
Mary said that though nothing will bring her daughter back, she finds comfort in knowing the man responsible has finally been brought to justice. “I kind of learned that the living have to go on to honor the goodness in what you’ve lost,” Mary said.
As for Tim, he was 51 when he started his prison sentence at Clallam Bay Corrections Center on the Olympic Peninsula. He is reportedly under “close custody,” which means he has more supervision, less freedom, and limits on personal property and programs. He will be up for parole in 2036.