The discovery of a partial human skull in October in a wooded area in East Pierce County has reignited interest in solving some long-term missing persons cases. Investigators won’t know if the skull fragment is from a man or a woman until DNA test results are complete.
“Anytime there are human remains found in the state, loved ones of missing persons from around the state and sometimes bordering states will reach out and make sure that we are making that comparison and ruling out or checking on their loved ones,” said Carri Gordon with the Washington State Patrol’s Missing and Unidentified Persons Unit.
Investigators are taking a regional approach to try to solve these cases because serial offenders don’t pay attention to law enforcement jurisdictions. Investigators are starting in Tacoma, where five women and teens went missing between 1994 and 2010.
“All five of these women were known to engage in prostitution activity and were involved in drugs and alcohol or a combination thereof,” said Tacoma Police Det. Lindsey Wade.
Investigators are hoping to talk to anyone who knew the women or teens or who they associated with at the time they went missing. They also want to know about any violent encounters they may have had.
“They might not know their names but they knew a nickname or they knew a vehicle description. Even something small can open up an investigation,” said Wade.
Helen Tucker was 27 years old when she disappeared in January of 1994. She was last seen on Puyallup Avenue at what was then the BP station at Puyallup and Portland Avenue. She actually had contact with law enforcement that evening and reported that she was a victim of an attempted assault by a “John.” Her mom has started a Facebook page called “Missing Helen” in an effort to locate her.
“Someone knows exactly what happened to my daughter and I will keep pushing until the day I die,” said Freda Gable.
Tami Kowalchik was 17 years old when she vanished Christmas night in 1999 after she went out with friends. “She did call her mom later in the evening and told her mom that she had run into an acquaintance, somebody who was possibly a truck driver and her mom never heard from her again,” said Wade. Her mom remembers the truck driver’s name as “Tony.”
“Tami thought she knew the ropes and she didn’t. She caught up with somebody that was a little bit smarter than her,” said Cindy Cherry.
Debra Honey was 41 years old when she disappeared in 2002. Honey was a prostitute who frequented the Puyallup Avenue corridor. “We don’t know if she got into a vehicle with an unknown subject or may have hooked up with an unknown acquaintance,” Det. Wade said. “We just don’t know.” Honey left behind her 17-year-old daughter to raise her two younger siblings. “She was a model. She did hair amazing. She did nails. She was great. She was the best mom,” said Tiffany Sylvester. Sixteen-year-old Jennifer Enyart has been missing since 2000. She ran away from home in Spokane to Seattle, where police picked her up for prostitution. Her parents came and picked her up on Sept. 21, 2000 and then headed south to Tacoma. “She ended up jumping out of their car at a gas station in Tacoma and they have not seen her since,” Wade said. A story like Jennifer’s is all too common. “It hovers right around 1,800 missing persons statewide at any given time. A large proportion of those numbers are runaway juveniles,” said Gordon.
Danielle Mouton was 24 years old when she disappeared in 2010. She was homeless but frequented the Nativity House and the other day shelters.
“It’s likely that some of the people who knew her might have their memories intact and might be willing to come forward with information,” said Wade.
Detectives are looking into the backgrounds of the missing women and teens to try to make connections with some of their associates.
“It’s a very small area of the state to have that many similar missing person cases,” said Gordon. If you have any information that can help solve these cases, call Tacoma Police or the Washington State Patrol’s Missing and Unidentified Persons Unit at .1 (800) 543-5678 or e-mail them at MUPU@WSP.WA.GOV.