Mysterious Tube sock killings

It was a lovely summer’s day in Tacoma, Washington, when Ruth Cooper, 42, and her boyfriend, Steven Harkins, 27, decided to make the 10-mile trip to Tule Lake in Pierce County. They planned a weekend of camping during their summer break from the vocational school where they worked. It was August 10, 1985, Tears for Fears was on the radio, “Back to the Future” was in cinemas, and everyone was talking about the crimes of the Night Stalker down in California. 

Still, nothing like that ever happened in Tacoma. 

Up until that point, when couples’ bodies began to accumulate in the Pacific Northwest. Was there an argument between lovers? a serial killer’s work? Are the timing, victim characteristics, and involvement of multiple murders really a coincidence?

Over a number of years, four couples perished, and two individuals are currently behind bars for a number of crimes. The remainder is unsolved.

On Monday morning, when Cooper and Harkins hadn’t arrived at work, their respective families filed missing person reports. Four days would pass before hikers in Pierce County came across Harkins’ body at a campsite, shot in the head while he slept and found inside a sleeping bag. The hikers quickly discovered the body of the dog of the couple also shot. Authorities arrived quickly to investigate the murder and launch a wide-scale hunt for Cooper, whom they suspected was more likely a second victim than a murderer.

The pair appeared to have been surprised by Harkins’ apparent execution in his sleep and Cooper’s possible kidnapping. Ironically, one of the key elements of famed serial murderer Richard Ramirez’s modus operandi—whose kills were prominently covered by cable news channels—was surprise couples in the middle of the night, shooting the man with a revolver before sexually abusing the woman.

Naturally, there was no relationship between the cases.

A skull was discovered two months later, on October 26, about a mile and a half distant from Harts Lake. Further investigations turned up the remains of the body two days later, nearly skeletonized and without her clothing, with dental records proving that it belonged to Cooper.

A tube sock was put around her throat after she was shot in the stomach. The sock, which is frequently used in athletics and sports, was allegedly used as a restraint tool rather than a weapon, according to police.

Police had “a lot of information about what happened,” according to Detective Norm Wiemer, but there were no suspects in the case. Some people speculated that the double homicide from the previous year might be connected.

A couple from Kent in the Seattle-Tacoma metropolitan region named Edward Smith and Kimberly Diane La Vine had also been kidnapped and killed.

While attending the University of Southeastern Massachusetts at Dartmouth, Smith, and LaVine met and fell in love. The pair relocated to Kent, Washington, after graduating in 1984, where they found employment as government accountants. As they started their journey through life, everything appeared to be going well for them, and soon the two became engaged to be married. That time never arrived. On March 9, 1985, the couple made the fateful decision to have a weekend getaway in Grant County off the I-90. They wanted to explore some of the landmarks and scenery in the area.

It would be some time before the details of that night’s horror came to light, but Smith’s body was discovered the next day in a gravel pit not far from the Wanapum Dam, so it was clear that murder had taken place. His throat had been cut, and his hands were bound behind his back. It would take some time for authorities to be able to identify Edward because he had lost his wallet and ID; in the meantime, his employer had reported him missing. La Vine was the subject of an extensive search, and two weeks later, the couple’s abandoned car was located 10 miles from the scene of Smith’s death.

Although a fingerprint was found, the missing woman has yet to be located. La Vine wasn’t discovered until August, the same month Cooper was discovered. What tragedy occurred that night wouldn’t be known for a few years, but Smith’s body was discovered the next day in a gravel pit next to the Wanapum, and Harkins was murdered. La Vine’s body, which had been exposed to the elements and eaten by predators, was discovered in sagebrush two miles from her fiancé.

The case, which was still under active investigation, took a worrying turn on December 12, 1985, when roofer Mike Riemer, 36, and his girlfriend Diana Robertson, 21, traveled from their Tacoma home to Pierce County.

Riemer and Robertson planned a camping trip similar to the first pair and intended to both check trap lines placed by Riemer and look for a Christmas tree. The two also took their 2-year-old daughter, Crystal Louise Robertson, and it was she who initially raised the alarm when she was discovered by herself the same night at a K-Mart 30 miles away in Spanaway.

When the small child, who had been identified by local news, was questioned by her grandma about where her mother was, she said, “Mommy was in the trees”

In the hopes that the couple’s distinctive red Plymouth pickup vehicle would be easy to identify from the air, police started looking for Riemer and Robertson right away. Nevertheless, searches were unsuccessful.

Diana Robertson’s body wouldn’t be discovered until the chilly month of February 1986, when it was discovered by a man who had stepped out of his car to walk his dog. The deceased was discovered next to the couple’s truck, just off a logging road not far from Mineral, and was half buried in the six inches of snow that had recently fallen.

Investigations were initially impeded by the rain, but bloodstains and a message that simply said “I love you, Diana” were discovered inside the pickup truck.

It appears probable that something, possibly a paper gift or message of some type, had been included within the manila envelope with the writing. Louise Conrad, Diana’s mother, later stated that she was certain that Riemer was the author of the writing.

An FBI specialist, however, was not as sure, claiming that handwriting analysis was actually inconclusive and that no concrete connection to the missing Riemer could be found. Riemer’s winter coat, which he would not have been expected to leave behind, was also in the car. Diana had a tube sock tied around her neck and was found to have 17 stab wounds; forensics could only determine that the blood was human.

“Unfortunately, some of the qualities of the blood were lost after two months and roughly two weeks. Moreover, they were unable to reveal the blood type to us. Yet, they could tell us that the blood was human.” Lewis County Sheriff’s Department Detective David Neiser reported

Given that the relationship between Riemer and his girlfriend was described by the press as “stormy,” police suspected Riemer himself of being involved in her death. The two had just gotten back together when Riemer was charged with domestic abuse and criminal damage in October.

When Robertson first complained, she said her boyfriend had forced open the door to her apartment and knocked her to the ground, where she had rubbed her face into the carpet. Her nose and left eye showed noticeable scars, and the two of them had been the subject of two prior reports of domestic disturbances. The pair had disregarded the restraining order in order to reconcile.

Although this violence was clearly disturbing and unlawful, it was only considered a misdemeanor and was far from being a felony. In spite of this increase in violence, authorities thought he may have murdered his fiancée before abandoning Crystal at the K-Mart and running away. Despite there being no obvious reason, given the use of the tube sock, this also made him a suspect in the deaths of Cooper and Harkins. “He beat her up. He took everything out on her. He blamed her for the things that he did. If he was seeing somebody else, he would turn it around like Diana was seeing somebody else and justify it in his own mind.” – Darlene Robertson, Diana’s sister, and reported. 

Mike Riemer’s father acknowledged that foul play may have been involved in a press interview after his son first vanished. He added that his son always carried a.22-caliber revolver when out inspecting his trap lines, saying, “In the woods, you couldn’t surprise him. He could escape the woods if he was harmed.”

Given that both Cooper and Harkins were shot with a. 22-caliber gun, the existence of a firearm may be indicative. Nonetheless, given that such rifles are prevalent, Robertson would surely have been killed with the weapon in this scenario.

Robertson wasn’t shot, which raises the intriguing possibility that someone fired their gun for an unidentified reason because shell casings were discovered not far from the pickup truck. It was never made clear if these came from a.22 caliber.

Police would have nothing fresh in the case for 22 years because there wasn’t much more information available and their suspect appeared to have vanished.

A hiker was in the woods close to Mineral on March 26, 2011, about a mile from where Diana Robertson was discovered 25 years earlier. The man saw a broken vacuum cleaner cover and lifted it curiously to uncover the partial remains of a skull.

After Riemer’s skull fragment was positively recognized as his, a search turned up a jawbone missing its teeth and a pair of rubber boots that may or may not have been connected.

As no additional remains were discovered, there was no way to determine a cause of death, which might have provided some insight into what happened in 1985.
The only thing a coroner could report was that the skull had not been damaged, such as by a gunshot wound, as what occurred in Steven Harkinson’s Death.

It’s debatable whether or not Riemer is no longer a suspect in light of the skull’s discovery.

The body was discovered within a mile of Robertson and appeared to have gone unreported during searches at the time of the initial murders. If the region was searched, it may have been Riemer’s second attempt at suicide, or the body had been securely hidden. The chance that the killings were actually a second double-killing and the real culprit fled also exists if the body was somehow missed.

There seems to have been no evidence that Riemer was capable of committing three killings, despite the fact that he was known to be violent against Robertson.

If Diana’s murder was preplanned, it seems improbable that he would have done it in front of his daughter if he intended to leave his daughter at a K-Mart 30 miles away. Also, the car had obvious blood on the passenger seat, and he would have been almost probably covered in it, making any journey away from the scene in the car extremely perilous.

It appears more likely that there is a second car present. Furthermore, it doesn’t seem possible that Riemer would walk a mile away from the lady he had claimed to love before returning to the scene of the murder to commit himself out of regret.

If his sorrow about his deeds was so great, wouldn’t he want to pass away with them?

There were other coincidences in the case, including the fact that both men were known for their love of the outdoors and that the partnerships between both spouses had a big age gap of 15 years. Even while such a gap would be significant at any time, the presence of two murders committed by the same person makes it look extra bizarre.

Yet, following Riemer’s passing, no additional homicides used the distinctive tube sock, and his familiarity with the location where he placed traps, ownership of a.22-caliber revolver, and violent past cannot be discounted.

If the earlier murders of Edward Smith and Kimberly Diane LaVine are disregarded, he is the lone suspect.

Police were able to conclusively connect the fingerprint found on the Smith and LaVine vehicle to a trucker by the name of Billy Ray Ballard Jr. in 1989, which led to the resolution of the case. Ballard was apprehended in Wyoming for the kidnapping, rape, and torture of two women months after the killings after his fingerprints were finally matched.

He instantly admitted to killing Smith and LaVine, entered a plea of guilty at his trial, and was given a mandatory life sentence. There is no proof that he was directly involved in any of the murders that occurred in Washington, but he was clearly on the lam at the time.

No socks were discovered in the killings Ballard committed, and decomposition is exceedingly improbable given the makeup of tube socks.

But in all three murder cases, the lady has discovered some distance from the murder victim, and in two of the cases, the victim’s skull was discovered unattached to the corpse. But, due to predators taking bones away, this is not rare.

Another identical pair of murders occurred in November 1987, over 100 miles to the opposite side of Seattle, although they were never connected to other unsolved deaths in Washington Ballard’s crime.

Tanya Van Cuylenborg, 18, and Jay Cook, 20, traveled from Canada to buy components for Cook’s father’s company. Tanya was last seen leaving for the ferry in Bremerton, and on November 24, her body would be discovered in a ditch close to Alger; she had been chained, raped, and shot in the head. At a Greyhound bus station, her wallet and keys were discovered in a trash bin.

Prior to Cook’s body is located nearly 60 miles from the scene where Tanya was killed, police had reason to believe Cook was the murderer. He was assaulted and choked.

DNA taken in 1987 was able to be submitted to GEDmatch in 2018 because to modern technologies. Police quickly detained William Earl Talbott II, a truck driver, after discovering two cousins. Talbott was convicted of the murders and is currently incarcerated at Washington State Prison serving two life sentences.

2019 saw the publication of a letter by Van Cuylenborg’s former best friend, May Robson, to the court that was quoted by Seattle Weekly “My heart will carry the sadness for the rest of my life. My friend Tanya is missed.”

There will probably be some relief that Talbott is now in jail, despite the fact that it is of little consolation. The families of Ruth Cooper, Steven Harkins, Diana Robertson, and perhaps Mike Riemer, however, have been denied this peace.

It seems almost clear that at least three of those people—possibly four, perhaps more—were killed in the woods near Tacoma by the same killer.

Ballard admitted to two of the murders, but it’s possible that he was involved in more.

2019 saw the publication of a letter by Van Cuylenborg’s former best friend, May Robson, to the court that was quoted by Seattle Weekly “My heart will carry the sadness for the rest of my life. My friend Tanya is missed.”

The fact that Mike Riemer still appears to be the lone suspect in the death of his girlfriend will likely bring some calm to both parties, despite the fact that it is of little consolation. Yet, with significant questions unanswered, it is impossible to conclusively say that he was the culprit. Despite the fact that the horrible summer of 1985 took place 37 years ago, the likelihood of new evidence being found in the woods or anyone speaking is decreasing. While some people would feel at ease knowing the case was solved all those years ago, an elderly killer might be lurking someplace to take his lethal secrets to the grave.



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