• Ashley

Episode 3: Diana Robertson

Updated: Aug 20

A young mother was murdered in December of 1985 near Mineral, Washington. Her case has remained unsolved for over 3 decades… along with the murders of a couple that took place just four months earlier… these cases have been tied together somewhat by location but mostly because of tube socks found at the crime scenes. Are these cases actually connected? Well, that depends on who you ask. The show Unsolved Mysteries couldn’t even figure this one out, but now in 2020, DNA might finally reveal the truth… about what happened to Diana Robertson. This is Washed Away.

Sources for this episode include: Unsolved Mysteries, Wikipedia, True Crime Diary, and True Crime Articles.


An important note: 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men have experienced some form of physical violence by an intimate partner. The Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence is a local (to me) group that's helping domestic abuse survivors. Learn more at wscadv.org and if you’re in a DV situation and need someone to talk to, please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1 800 799 7233.


This podcast supports the Black Lives Matter movement and I hope you'll join me in learning how to actively be antiracist. You can find out more here.


Transcript-

Ashley:

A young mother was murdered in December of 1985 near Mineral, Washington. Her case has remained unsolved for over 3 decades… along with the murders of a couple that took place just four months earlier… these cases have been tied together somewhat by location but mostly because of tube socks found at the crime scenes. Are these cases actually connected? Well, that depends on who you ask. The show Unsolved Mysteries couldn’t even figure this one out, but now in 2020, DNA might finally reveal the truth… about what happened to Diana Robertson. This is Washed Away.

Ashley:

Before we get to Diana, I need to tell you about Steven and Ruth. And since we're talking about murder, you're going to hear some details about cause of death and violence and listener discretion is advised.

On Saturday, August 10th, 1985, 27 year old Steven Harkins, his 42 year old girlfriend, Ruth Cooper, and their dog set out for a camping trip near Tule Lake in Washington state. Stephen and Ruth worked at a vocational school together and when they didn't show up Monday morning, their coworkers knew something was wrong. Then on August 14th, four days after the couple had left their place in Tacoma, Steven's body was found. He was still in his sleeping bag and had been killed by a single gunshot wound to the head. His dog was nearby, also shot and killed, but Ruth was nowhere to be found. In fact, she would remain missing until October 26th when a skull was discovered near Hart's Lake in Pierce County. That's about a mile and a half from where Steven's body was originally found.

Ashley:

Two days after that, a body and purse were found that confirmed it was Ruth Cooper. She had died of a gunshot wound to her abdomen, but also had a tube sock tied around her neck. Some write ups theorized that Ruth was decapitated since her skull was found, uh, separated from her body. But it's also possible that her head had been removed by animals after death. I know it's hard to think about a detail like that, but it could be important to figuring out who did this to her. While there are some suspects who have been looked at over the years, no one has been held accountable for taking the lives of Steven and Ruth. The couples' murders were a terrible tragedy that you would never imagine happening again, but it did.

Det. Beall:

They're found, uh, by Mineral off on a logging road, by a guy with his dog and he wanted to give his dog a break. So he pulled off in the logging road and he sees this car. Everything's covered with snow. I think there's about 6 inches of snow on the ground. So he sees the car and he calls the Sheriff's office and they respond out there and they go "Oh, that's the car that was missing!” You know, they run the plates and, you know, come up and find out it’s Riemer's vehicle. And at the back of the vehicle is, um, Robertson and she's nude from the waist up and she's got jeans on and stabbed 18 times. So the cause of death is, you know, stab wounds and her arms are in a ligature behind, behind her back.

Ashley:

That's detective Pat Beall, once retired, but now working on cold cases for Lewis County. And he's talking about the woman this episode is focused on - Diana Robertson. She was a beautiful 21 year old mother of a two year old girl named Crystal. She lived in Tacoma or Puyallup, in that area. I found conflicting reports. And she was in an on and off again relationship with Crystal's dad, a man named Mike Riemer. He was 36. On December 12th, 1985 the family of three reportedly drove off in search of a Christmas tree and to check on some of Mike's animal traps.

Det. Beall:

He was a trapper. His full time job was a roofer for some company out of Tacoma. But his part time job, fun job, I guess was a trapper. His dad was a DNR guy back in the day and, you know, brought him up in the woods and taught him how to trap and weld and stuff. So he had a designated trapping area. So periodically she would follow him around with his, with his trapping stuff. So that morning that they come up missing. He picks her up at about seven o'clock in the morning and they start with the trapping routes and they, we have visualized a little that people actually saw the two of them, you know, at different locations where they dropped the boat in. He drops the boat in and floats up river and she meets him a little further over at, you know, at another place he's checking his traps and things like that.

Det. Beall:

So they were doing that down in the, um, Puyallup area. So they're all together. And the kid is, the kid’s with her, and they're all in the truck and, you know, everything seems hunky dory. And then sometime shortly after eight o'clock, he'd go to his father's house. Well, two of them go to the father's house. They go in the house, the daughter, and Riemer go into dad's house, but mom's not there at that time. So we don't know what happened to mom, between when they started trapping and things like that. Dad offers, “Hey, you want some pancakes and bacon breakfast?” “No, no, no. We got to go dad” blah, blah, blah, gets in the car. And they disappeared. Shortly after that, the little girl’s dropped off at, they didn't have Walmart back then, Kmart there in Spanaway. Back in the day was the last business complex before you got out in the boonies. The little girl, I mean, what started this whole thing was the little girl was found later in the day and is, you know, a lost child. So they didn't even identify her for like two days, you know, put it on the news. I got this child missing. And so now we got the child found and identified, but it took like a couple of days. Now you have the other two missing, you know, mom and dad who are in a very strange relationship.

Ashley:

If this case is starting to sound familiar, you've probably watched a lot of episodes of Unsolved Mysteries, or at least the two that featured Diana Robertson and Mike Riemer. You might even remember Robert Stack’s voice saying something along the lines of “mommy is in the trees”. That was reportedly the only thing Crystal, Diana’s young daughter could say after she was reunited with her grandparents. For years, that detail has haunted Websleuths and citizen detectives. And it's easy to understand why. They've also spent a lot of time speculating about how Crystal ended up at that Kmart when her mother was found miles away in the forest and her father seemed to have vanished. But as you heard Detective Beall theorize, Mike simply could have dropped her off on the way out of town. Though it's hard to imagine Diana being okay with that. So the family was last seen together on December 12th, but Diana, she wasn't found until February and Mike, he was missing until 2011. Here's Detective Beall, again.

Det. Beall:

In 2011, a homeowner that has some acreage over there, you know, like 20 some acres he's fixing to sell his property. So he wants to go out and find his property stakes. What they do with property stakes. Those steel rods are driven in the ground. So you take like a little Geiger counter out there, you know, a little metal detector, and you try and find your corner stakes. This homeowner is out there looking for this corner stake and he finds a skull on the ground and he thinks it's a bear skull. He doesn't know. So he goes to his neighbor and says, “Hey man, I found this up here.” And he goes, “Holy shit. That's not a bear skull!” So they call the sheriff, they go out there, and now they got this other scene. So they searched this area.

Det. Beall:

Now the skeleton isn't totally intact because of animals. And so they search an area. They get the dogs out there and they searched the area and they find, you know, maybe half of the skeletal remains in a area, but within maybe a 50 yard radius of where the skull was found. In the skull, through the eyeball, going up through the skull was a tree growing up. They cut the tree, of course. So, they can take it into count the rings. And it goes back 35 years. It goes back to the number of years of the tree that his body was there. So his body had been there for a long time.

Ashley:

Oh, wow. So that was a way of knowing how long he had been laying there? That's interesting. Okay.

Det. Beall:

Within a year or two, I mean, you know, you don’t, the assumption is that something happened. He walked across the road and died there. Now whether he killed himself or he was injured from a scuffle, or we don't know that. We'll never know that. His dad said he had a 22 caliber pistol with him that he always carried. And that pistol's never found, but who knows up in those woods, it could be from A to B, there is such a great area. There's no way you can search it all. But now when you go out and you map it and I'm looking at the map right now, from where the vehicle was found to where he is sitting or laying down, or the majority of his bones, were is… by the way a crow flies… around 1500 feet. Not very far, you know, it's very easy to walk if you're injured or whatever. Now we know he didn't shoot himself in the head because the skull is intact. You know, there's no bullet trauma or whatever in the skull. So, you know, we'll, I don't think we'll ever know how he died.

Ashley:

At this point. You're probably wondering what the heck happened to these people. And what do Diana and Mike have in common with Ruth and Steven, you know, where is this going? Well, something that ties Diana's murder to Ruth's is that she was also found with a tube sock around her neck, which I think is a pretty significant detail since strangulation wasn't her cause of death. It was stabbing. And it wasn't Ruth Cooper's cause of death either, she was shot. And yet a tube sock was used in both murders. Murders that happened just four months apart. And in the same area of Washington state. Two sets of couples, out in the woods, separated from each other, and discovered at different times. It's eerie. And the tube socks are why these murders are often discussed together as part of “The Tube Sock Killings” or “Mineral Murders” as they're usually called. But Detective Beall, isn't sold on them being connected at all.

Det. Beall:

People back in the day, were looking at linking because of this tube sock that was possibly used. That's what people looked at all “my God, a tube sock was involved and it's, you know, it's, it's gotta be the same people!” and you know what I mean? Something like that. Well, those two socks back in the day were analyzed, on their case and on our case and there, so they didn't come from the same batch or the same run or, you know, anything like that. So when they used to buy the tube socks, not always, but you know, if you went into a store and you bought a pack of eight or ten or four or five, or, you know, something like that. You know, if you just read it on the surface, that looks like it might be something and it's probably not… but it very well could be. We don't know for sure.

Ashley:

He says that law enforcement has their own theory about what happened to Diana. And it involves who's usually the first suspect in a case like this, the husband or the boyfriend, AKA Mike Riemer.

Det. Beall:

So one of the things that, that we found in, you know, going over the minute records and things like that, they had the restraining orders against other, because he was hostile and had cut her tires, you know, several different times and you know, harassment. And she dated another guy. There was those type of problems. And anyways, he had a lot of anger issues and he was also under court mandated counseling and he was prescribed Ativan and apparently it can deescalate people's anger. I guess they give it to people that have anger issues and it's a normal prescription. But if you read the side effects of it, so we do our research and we do the read the side effects, well one of the side effects is fits of rage. So you go, Oh, okay. We got a domestic violence situation. We got a potential of fits of rage from this medicine. If he's taking it, you know, regularly, I mean, it kind of falls in line with, with the theory that we're kind of developing. So it kind of points towards to domestic violence. Um, you know, with all the other things. To me anyways.

Ashley:

Before we go any further, I wanted to give you some stats about domestic violence here in Washington state. In 2017, there were at least 55 domestic violence related fatalities, including 35 homicides and 20 abuser suicides. And back in 2011, there were over 47,000 domestic violence offenses that were reported to the police that year. And nationally, one in three women and one in four men have experienced some form of physical violence by an intimate partner. That could include slapping, shoving, pushing, any kind of violence. The Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence is a group that's working to reduce those numbers by helping domestic abuse survivors and providing resources and options. You can learn more at wscadv.org. And if you believe you're in a DV situation and need someone to talk to please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at +1 800-799-7233.

So it sounds like law enforcement has had their eye on Mike as the suspect in Diana's murder since 1985, But what if he was a victim himself and these murders were committed by an unknown serial killer? That’s been my theory all of these years and I know I’m not alone. In fact, when his skull was found in 2011, it was reported that he was no longer being looked at as a suspect… but after talking to Detective Beall, it should be clear that that isn't true. Surprisingly though, this might be the year that that changes.

Det. Beall:

In 1985, they didn't have DNA and stuff like we have nowadays. So once they found his body and they linked them together, this was in 2011, they go back and they look and they go, Holy cow, we can send some of this stuff in for process, for evidence. And the technology from 2011 until today is 10 times more advanced than it was 10, 15 years ago. It's amazing the stuff that they can do, you know, the labs extracting things and stuff like that. Well, anyway, the guys in 2011, they went and they took this ligature that was used to tie her arms behind her back. And her bra that was also used to tie her, you know, kinda wrap her arms up. Um, they sent this stuff to the lab and they got a DNA, a partial DNA profile. So that's on file. We have that. When I'm reviewing the case and I'm looking at it and I'm going, okay, we got this.

Det. Beall:

Did anyone ever check Riemer out? You know, they got his bones and everything. Did we ever pull his DNA in, check it against that DNA? And no one ever did. So what we have is we've taken, um, his teeth and they're at the Washington state crime lab in Vancouver right now. We're trying to get DNA out of them. And once that's done, matter of fact, I, uh, last Friday, I just sent an email off to the gal that's doing it saying, “Hey, any luck yet?” you know, you can't bug them like on a daily basis. We do it every couple months. I haven't heard back, but his teeth have been up there. So if we get DNA, we will get a DNA profile out of these teeth. I'm having confidence! I sent like five teeth up there, you know, all of the molars, you know. So if we get it, then they'll check that DNA and do a YSTR test to the DNA that was found in that ligature. Now, if it comes back to that person, to Riemer, you know, it's kind of a closed case. Now we'll never know what happened to him, but she would have been killed by him. It's taken me a year to get to this far, or since I got this case been a year and a half, those teeth have been at the lab for almost a year. So it's slow.

Ashley:

That YSTR test he mentioned is often used in forensics and paternity, YSTRs are taken specifically from the male Y chromosome and STR stands for short tandem repeat. Alright. So even though the process has moved really slowly so far, it sounds like we could know the truth about what happened to Diana sometime this year or maybe in 2021. That’s assuming the DNA comes back and matches Mike. But what if it doesn’t?

Det. Beall:

Let's say hypothetically, and we're working on this, hypothetically, it doesn't match up with that male DNA profile on that ligature and bra.. you go, Oh shit. Now you've got a problem, right? Now you could come in and it could be associated with the other case, because some stranger's out there killing people, but you want to eliminate one first. But if it comes back where it's not Riemer’s, I mean, that's our theory. Then we go to the next step, which would be really getting in with Pierce County and checking with their people. You know what I'm saying? Working closer than we already have. Cause I know they have some stuff at the lab on their case also, but they're probably having the same problem that we have - is they’re cold cases. And they have a low priority, you know, as far as getting processed.

Ashley:

I reached out to Pierce County as well to see if they had any updates on Steven and Ruth's murders. I never heard back though, according to Detective Beall, if they have DNA waiting to be processed as well, that can mean both of these cases might be solved soon, which would be huge. And I can only imagine how much of a relief that would be for all of the families involved. They've been waiting literal decades for answers.

If you have any information that could help find Steven and Ruth's killer, please contact the Tacoma and Pierce County Crime Stoppers at tpcrimestoppers.com or you can anonymously call 1-800-222-TIPS. Diana and Mike's cases are being handled by Lewis County, where detective Beall works. And yes, I'll be sure to release an update as soon as any DNA results become available. In the meantime, you can compare these three or possibly four murders by looking at all the resources in my show notes, they're over at washedawaypodcast.com.

Ashley:

And before I let you go, I wanted to make it clear that I stand with the Black Lives Matter movement. And I 100% condemn how the police treat people of color in this country. I understand saying that might make it harder for me to find experts to interview on this podcast in the future. But I don't care. Part of the reason this episode took so long to release was because I didn't want to promote this podcast during such an important time in history. I didn't want to take any attention away from what's happening in the streets of the United States and more locally, right here in Seattle. Personally, I've been protesting, donating, signing petitions, and most importantly, I've been educating myself on how I can practice anti-racism in my daily life. And I hope you're doing the same. I'm also going to make it a point to not just cover unsolved cases about white people on this podcast. Something I've failed in doing so far, but I pledge to do better going forward. And if there's a case you'd like to see me cover, please let me know. Send me an email to washedawaypodcast@gmail.com

Credits:

Washed Away as a Cosmic Bigfoot production. Find out more at cosmicbigfoot.com. For show notes, sources, images, and transcripts visit washedawaypodcast.com and be sure to follow the show on Instagram and Twitter @washedawaypod. If you want to help this podcast reach more listeners, you can do that by leaving a rating or review, especially on Apple. I'm Ashley Smith and I'll have another episode for you in a couple of weeks. Thanks for listening.

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