News Flash

Prosecuting Attorney

Posted on: June 22, 2018

Man Charged with 1986 Murder of Michella Welch

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TACOMA, WA - Today Pierce County Prosecutor Mark Lindquist charged Gary Charles Hartman, 66, with murder in the first degree and rape in the first degree in the death of 12-year old Michella Welch.

Hartman was developed as a suspect using DNA technology.

“The murders of Michella Welch and Jennifer Bastian stunned our community and were among the main reasons we formed a cold case team,” said Prosecutor Lindquist. “DNA technology is rapidly advancing. If you’re a criminal who left DNA at a crime scene, you might as well turn yourself in now. We will eventually catch you.”

On March 26, 1986, Michella was playing in the park with her two younger sisters. She rode her bicycle home to get everyone lunch. Her sisters left the playground area to play near a gulch.

When her sisters returned, Michella’s bicycle was at the playground area and sandwiches were waiting for them on the picnic table, but there was no sign of Michella. The sisters searched and could not find her.

Police responded and searched as well. Eventually a search and rescue unit found Michella’s body in an isolated area of the gulch more than a quarter mile away from the play area of the park.

On March 27, 1986, the Medical Examiner determined that Michella died from blunt force trauma to the head. There was also evidence of sexual assault.

In May of 2006, a male DNA profile was developed from the swabs collected at the autopsy, but detectives searched state and national data bases and did not find any match.

Twelve years later, Tacoma Police detectives began working with a genetic genealogist at Parabon Nanolabs. Genealogists used DNA technology to identify a subject by matching the unknown profile to a family member. Traditional genealogy was then used to build a family tree from publicly available websites.

The genealogist identified two brothers who had the correct amount of shared DNA to match the DNA in evidence. They both lived in the north end of Tacoma during 1986. Gary C. Hartman was one of these brothers.

On June 4, 2018 Tacoma Police began surveillance of Hartman’s home. The next day, Hartman left his home and drove to Western State Hospital where he is employed. He and a co-worker drove to a nearby restaurant and ordered breakfast. The detective sat at a table approximately ten feet from Hartman. Hartman wiped his mouth several times with a brown paper napkin, then crumpled it up and placed it into a bag. An employee was cleaning up the area and collected the bag, which she turned over to the detective at his request. The napkin was submitted to the WSP crime laboratory for comparison to the unknown DNA profile in this case. 

The WSP crime lab reported that a match was found between the DNA on the napkin and the DNA in evidence.

The Tacoma Police Department and the Pierce County Prosecutor’s Office will hold a news conference today at 2 pm at Tacoma Police Headquarters. More information will be available at the at time.

Charges are only allegations and a person is presumed innocent unless he or she is proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

For more information, please contact James Lynch at (253) 798-6265, jlynch@co.pierce.wa.us.

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