DNA strikes again: Edmonds man, 77, arrested in 1972 killing of Bothell woman

Detectives searched for a Mill Creek killer for 47 years. Genealogy and genetics led to a breakthrough.

Forty-seven years ago, Jody Loomis left her Bothell home on a white 10-speed bike to see her horse at a stable east of what is now the city of Mill Creek.

She had pedaled three and a half miles when she crossed paths with the killer, who shot her in the head with a .22-caliber bullet in the woods near 164th Street SW.

On April 10, an Edmonds-area man, 77, was arrested and charged with Loomis’ murder — a long-awaited break in an investigation that began Aug. 23, 1972.

Semen was left on a hiking boot Loomis wore that evening, according to charges filed in Snohomish County Superior Court.

Over the past year, a new forensic tool known as genetic genealogy led Snohomish County sheriff’s detectives to zero in on a retired heavy-equipment operator, Terrence Miller. Based on DNA from the boot, an Oregon genealogist built a family tree for the suspect using public websites like GEDmatch, where people can upload their DNA profile to search for lost relatives.

The research pointed to an Edmonds family with six brothers and a sister. One brother was Miller. At the time of the killing, he lived a few blocks north of 164th Avenue Southwest, five miles from a dirt road where Loomis was found. He had been accused of sex crimes at least five times since the 1960s, charging papers state.

Undercover police watched Miller sipping a cup of coffee at the Tulalip Resort Casino in August 2018. He tossed the cup in the garbage. Officers swooped in to dig it out so Miller’s DNA could be compared to the genetic profile on Loomis’ boot.

This photo of Terrence Miller is believed to have been taken around the time of Jody Loomis’ murder. (Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office)

This photo of Terrence Miller is believed to have been taken around the time of Jody Loomis’ murder. (Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office)

A state crime lab confirmed it was a match in September 2018, according to the charges.

“We haven’t been able to find any link between Jody (Loomis) and Terrence Miller,” Snohomish County detective Jim Scharf said in an interview. “We think it was stranger-stranger contact. So this guy was a real predator.”

Sheriff’s Capt. Rob Palmer announced Miller had been booked into jail at a press conference on April 11. It’s the second major cold case that county detectives say they’ve solved with the help of genetic genealogy. It has reignited dozens of high-profile cold cases nationwide over the past year.

Last fall, detectives paid a visit to the Edmonds-area house where Miller and his wife of 42 years sold ceramics out of their garage, a business called Miller’s Cove. By then, detectives had known for weeks that Miller was their suspect. His wife invited them inside.

On a table they noticed a single edition of Reporter sister paper, The Daily Herald. The paper was nearly seven months old. The big front-page story, “Arrest made in cold case,” was about the new DNA technology and how it had helped Snohomish County detectives arrest a trucker in a rape and double homicide from decades ago.

The ten of hearts

In the summer of 1972, Jody Loomis lived with her parents, her fiancé and her sister, age 12, in a single-story home on Winesap Road, between Mill Creek and Bothell.

She had celebrated her 20th birthday in June.

A budding artist, Loomis painted her bedroom walls with a mural of running horses. Her horse Saudi was kept at a stable six and a quarter miles away.

That warm August afternoon, Loomis borrowed her sister’s hiking boots, the kind with thick waffle-stomper soles. She had never biked to visit her horse. Most days, she would be dropped off by her parents. About halfway into her ride, she paused to talk with a friend on 164th Street Southwest. Afterward a girl, 14, saw Loomis riding east to Penny Creek Road — what’s now Mill Creek Road, where condos, a shopping center and asphalt have sprouted up in the place of woods and open fields.

Back then it was rural enough that people might go out for target practice in the trees. A man and woman in a car turned up a dirt road off Penny Creek to do some shooting around 5:30 p.m. A log blocked their path. The man got out to move it, and as he came closer, he saw the young woman on the ground. She had a gunshot wound above her right ear, but was alive. Loomis could not speak during the drive to Stevens Memorial Hospital in Edmonds. She was dead on arrival at 5:45 p.m. A deputy coroner found signs that Loomis was raped.

The case of Jody Loomis was highlighted in a deck of cold-case playing cards created by the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office in 2008. (Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office)

The case of Jody Loomis was highlighted in a deck of cold-case playing cards created by the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office in 2008. (Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office)

Years later, Dr. Matthew Lacy at the medical examiner’s office reviewed the case file. Given the bullet’s path, he found it likely that Loomis was seated and getting dressed when she was shot, while the assailant stood over her, like an execution.

Loomis’ white Japanese bicycle had been tossed in a ravine 180 feet away, according to newspaper articles of the time.

Every lead went cold, for decades.

In 2008, the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office put together a deck of playing cards to be handed out in prisons. Each card had an unsolved case — killings of local men, women and children. The idea was to bring in fresh tips. Loomis’ case was the oldest in the deck. Her face appeared on the 10 of hearts. One portrait showed her in riding gear beside a dark brown horse. A second photo gave a close view of her face and her round tinted glasses.

It was after sundown that summer night in 1972 when a detective knocked on the door, recalled Jody’s sister, Jana Smith, in a Herald story about the cards. Loomis’ mother collapsed at the news. Her father didn’t have time to catch her. The death hurt her parents so much, Smith said. She hoped one day her sister’s killer would be unmasked.

“I want them to sweat. I want them to know we’re looking. I want them to wonder if there is DNA that can solve the case,” Smith said in 2008. “Imagine 35 years, thinking you’ve got away with it?”

Loomis’ sister attended the press conference Thursday, but declined to speak in front of rows of news cameras.

Loomis’ parents have passed away. Her mother died in January. Detectives wish they could have made the arrest while she was alive, said Scharf, the lead detective.

Many investigators on the original case are long deceased, too.

After four and a half decades, detectives had no way to know if Loomis’ killer would still be living.

A private Virginia laboratory, Parabon Nanolabs, has played a key role in many genetic genealogy cases in the past year, including the two in Snohomish County.

According to a New York Times article last week, Parabon had helped to identify 47 suspects in cold cases. Nine of those suspects are dead and will never face their day in court.

The search

Alan Rice, who was 13 when Loomis was killed, canned fruit and raised cattle at his family farm, in what became Mill Creek. The Rices didn’t try hard to keep people off their 1,000 acres, because it would’ve been impossible. They ran a fruit stand at a corner along Bothell-Everett Highway.

“You got to remember, this was out in the boonies,” Rice said. “It was like a kid setting up a lemonade stand.”

Each summer the Rice family would chop down 15-20 cords of firewood. Rice was felling trees that day with his father. They hauled the logs back home, then headed back. In the meantime, Loomis had been killed, near the spot where they’d been chopping.

“We went back up into the woods and all of a sudden, we were surrounded by a bunch of detectives,” Rice recalled.

Immediately they became persons of interest. Rice, a retired Boeing engineer in Lake Stevens, spent nearly a half-century under a cloud of suspicion.

“It’s been one of those things that our family has talked about, thought about, over the years,” he said. “It was an unsolved mystery for us, too, because we were a part of it.”

Rice gave DNA samples to the sheriff’s office to try to clear his name.

Detectives sent pieces of evidence from the Loomis case to a state crime lab in 2008. Months later lab workers found microscopic sperm on the boot. A genetic profile was uploaded to CODIS. There was no match in the database.

The same partial profile was compared to males like Rice and his father.

Again, no matches.

Last year, Scharf worked with Parabon Nanolabs and genealogist CeCe Moore to identify a suspect in the 1987 killings of a young Canadian couple. In May 2018, it became one of the first cases in the country in which genetic genealogy had led to an arrest. That defendant, William Talbott II, is awaiting trial.

Parabon extracted the DNA from the sample on Loomis’ boot last summer.

Distant relatives of an Edmonds couple had uploaded genetic data to public ancestry sites. Genealogist Deb Stone believed the suspect had to be one of their six sons.

“Since these were third cousins, I knew I had to build back to great-great-grandparents,” Stone said Thursday. “A lot of people are going to be connected to those great-great-grandparents. Dozens of people. You build a lot of trees.”

At first she had no way to know the cousins, from England and Canada, were on opposite sides of the tree, except for the clue that they didn’t share DNA. Stone found two sets of ancestors and began building forward, in search of a marriage in which the family lines intertwined. It took 57 hours of digging through online family trees, court papers and other public records, Stone said.

Since early 2015, Stone has worked with the Snohomish County Medical Examiner’s Office to find next of kin and resolve about 50 cases. She helped rule out suspects in the homicides of the Canadian couple in 2017.

But this was the first time her sleuthing led to an arrest. She emphasized that her efforts were only one piece of a larger puzzle, and that police did the bulk of the legwork.

“I think a big credit goes to the detectives who didn’t give up on it for 47 years,” Stone said.

At the news that the suspect’s identity had been confirmed, Stone felt a rush of excitement and a sense of honor, to try to give answers to a family that has waited so long.

“And I also felt sort of a big sense of responsibility,” Stone said.

The suspect

Miller has lived in southwest Snohomish County for most or all of his life — and as of this week his home was still blocks north of 164th Street Southwest.

On Facebook, where he remained active up to the day of his arrest, he wrote that he worked on heavy equipment all over Western Washington from 1958-95.

Investigators pieced together a brief biography.

At 18, Miller married a girl who was 14. They had two girls and divorced after two years, in 1962. Eight months later, his second wife gave birth to a daughter. He divorced and married a third time in 1967.

In 1968, Miller drove up next to a teenage girl in a company truck in Mountlake Terrace, according to charging papers. He called her over and showed her that he was naked from the waist down. In a police interview, he admitted to exposing himself, and was cited for lewd conduct.

At the time of Loomis’ death, Miller was 30.

Meanwhile, his third wife gave birth to two more girls, then filed for divorce in 1974. Many years later, Miller told police he’d molested a pre-teen girl, according to the new charges. In the girl’s timeline, it would have been in the early to mid-1970s. That case was deferred in 1978.

Detailed police reports have been lost or purged.

Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office Capt. Rob Palmer talks to the media about the arrest of a suspect in the murder of Jody Loomis, a cold case from 1972, at the Snohomish County Courthouse on Thursday, April 11, 2019 in Everett, Wash. It’s the second major cold case that Snohomish County detectives say they’ve solved with the help of genetic genealogy. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office Capt. Rob Palmer talks to the media about the arrest of a suspect in the murder of Jody Loomis, a cold case from 1972, at the Snohomish County Courthouse on Thursday, April 11, 2019 in Everett, Wash. It’s the second major cold case that Snohomish County detectives say they’ve solved with the help of genetic genealogy. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Miller married his fourth wife in 1976. Ever since, they’ve lived in a home near 52nd Avenue West.

In March 1990, Miller was accused of molesting two sisters. They later reported the touching could have been an accident, and no charges were filed.

And in 1999, a man with developmental disabilities reported Miller sexually abused him. It was a single incident that likely occurred outside of the statute of limitations, according to prosecutors. Officers did not arrest Miller.

Deputy prosecutor Craig Matheson filed charges of first-degree murder April 10. In court papers the prosecutor asked for $1 million bail, noting Miller would likely never get out of jail, if convicted. He’d face a minimum of 20 years in prison.

An arraignment hearing was delayed on April 11. A defense attorney said she was just appointed, hadn’t seen the charges and hadn’t even met the defendant yet.

Miller had spoken with detectives at the sheriff’s office.

“We showed him a picture of Jody,” Scharf said. “But he said he didn’t know what we were talking about.”

Sheriff’s detectives are still building their case.

A horse bridle Loomis took with her that day was never found. So investigators want to know if Miller had it. They also want to know what kind of car he drove.

This week, guns were recovered at Miller’s home, Scharf said. Detectives hope to find out if Miller owned a .22-caliber firearm in his younger days.

Tips can be directed to the sheriff’s office at 425-388-3845.

The news

Every few years, Rice’s sister Kenda Machorro would stop by the courthouse to ask if there had been any progress in finding the killer.

Jody Loomis never left her memory.

Machorro, 61, of Arlington, was the last witness to see Loomis alive and well in 1972. She’d been selling produce from the Rice family fruit stand, when the young woman on a bike rode past.

That evening is seared in Machorro’s mind. Loomis was shot on her family’s property.

“She was a human being,” Machorro said. “She was a person. I didn’t want her forgotten…I want Jody’s family to know that somebody else remembered her, all of these years.”

She’d never met Loomis before, but she paid close attention to the way the cyclist paused oddly long, before she crossed Bothell-Everett Highway.

Within an hour, deputies swarmed the woods. Machorro told them what she’d seen: a car that passed by after Loomis, and people coming down the hill just after Loomis went up.

Nothing came of it.

Her father was looked at as a possible suspect up until he died, she said.

A flood of emotion and memories came over Machorro when she read the news on April 11.

“I always wondered what would happen, what I would feel like, when they found him,” she said. “Now I know. It’s a good day for her family, and a good day for our family, too. Because this puts it to rest.”

For the rest of the day, she could not keep from crying.

Caleb Hutton: 425-339-3454; chutton@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @snocaleb.