'Justice is Jenny's:' Family of 13-year-old killed 1986 speaks out

"It is astonishing that we have found the needle in the haystack," said Theresa Bastian, Jennifer's sister. (Photo: KOMO News)

TACOMA, Wash. -- The family of murder victim Jennifer Bastian say it's astonishing that a suspect has been arrested after all of these years. The 13-year-old was killed in Tacoma in 1986. The family is speaking publicly for the first time since the arrest of a suspect was announced last week.

"We never gave up on wanting justice for Jenny," said her mother, Pattie Bastian, to a room full of detectives and others involved in the case. "Tacoma never gave up on wanting justice for Jenny. And now after all this time justice is Jenny's."

Police say in court documents that DNA found on Bastian's clothing matches that of Robert Washburn, who lived in Tacoma at the time of the murder. The teen had gone on a bike ride through Point Defiance Park on Aug. 4, 1986. When she didn't come home, police and volunteers fanned out with fliers looking for the little girl. Her body was found a few weeks later in a remote area of the park.

"This is the best feeling yet," said retired police detective Gene Miller. He was there in 1986 and through the years kept looking for the killer as a cold-case detective. The break came when a DNA profile sketch was made a few years ago.

But investigators didn't have DNA from Washburn who had since moved to Illinois. He was just one of 160 people detectives wanted to check. The FBI went to his home, and he voluntarily gave a sample. It matched. The arrest was made.

"This is the one along with the Michella Welch case," Miller said,. "If I could solve no others, these are the ones that begged to be solved and so it's a very very good feeling for me." Welch was killed earlier that same year in North Tacoma. It is a case that is still unsolved.

But for the Bastians this is a long-awaited moment., "It's just been a lot of a roller coaster of emotions," Pattie Bastian said. "Of course we're happy. Of course we're ecstatic that their work has paid off."

Added Theresa Bastian, Jennifer's sister: "The longer it goes the more you have to acknowledge the odds get slimmer. It is astonishing that we have found the needle in the haystack."

Also taking in the moment was one of Bastian's childhood friends, Kari Madden. She was her bike riding partner. "I was supposed to go with her," said Madden. "I was 16 at the time."

But something came up. She didn't go, and she's felt a sense of guilt ever since. "I did for a long time, and now with this news I kind of am again a little bit."

Pattie Bastian said said Madden never got the blame from her the family.

"Never, none of us have ever thought anything negative about Kari ever. We've never even said, 'What if' because 'What if'' probably meant Kari would have been gone, too."

But Madden said, "I did think that back then when I was 16. I realized that was a possibility as well."

Washburn is still in the jail in Illinois and is expected to be brought back and be in court as soon as May 21.

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