Jefferson's unsolved mysteries: Protection Island no longer focus of cold case investigation
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Julie McCormick/for Peninsula Daily News
Bob Gebo, a retired Seattle police detective who is on the cold case squad of retired officers assisting the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office, looks over a case file on the March 27, 1973, disappearance of Althea and Jeff Blankinship of Port Townsend.

By Julie McCormick
For Peninsula Daily News

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Unsolved cases in Jefferson County

Several homicide and missing person cases extending back to 1963 are still open in Jefferson County.

In addition to the investigation into the Blankinships' 1973 disappearance, investigators are seeking information in these cases:

• March 5, 1963 -- Sharon Giusti, 20, Chevy Chase area of Discovery Road, and daughters Michelle, 2, and Clara, less than 1 year old.

The three were reported missing by Guisti's husband, who told deputies he saw his wife drive off in their car.

The abandoned auto was found a few days later about a mile from the house.

The husband lives in Shelton and was re-interviewed, but there is no new solid evidence in the case.

• June 30, 1981 -- Carla Owens, 14, Klalaloch.

The young girl was last seen heading home from a baby-sitting job near Clearwater in Jefferson County.

Deputies dug for her bones at a nearby ranch site three years ago after a former resident remembered seeing the prime suspect, a logger and handyman named Ken Berry, digging suspiciously, with a wrapped bundle in the back of his pickup truck.

The search yielded nothing.

Berry dropped dead while at a logging site in Forks in 1987 after a car wreck that had seemed to leave him unscathed. The cause of his death was never determined.

There are still a few lab tests that will eventually be run that could tie Owens to Berry, but there's no urgency, since the suspect is dead.

• Aug. 22, 1986 -- Dagmar and Robert Linton, Stockton, Calif.

The retired couple in their 60s left behind their camper at a private campground near Brinnon when they disappeared.

Their car was later found at Sea-Tac Airport, and items purchased with credit cards used after their disappearance were found in a Sumas storage locker connected to Charles Sinclair, who died at 44 in 1990 while in jail in Alaska.

Authorities believe Sinclair, a former New Mexico gun and coin dealer, was responsible for the deaths of about a dozen people beginning in 1980, many of them coin dealers who were robbed when they were killed.

• 1996 -- Rose Eaton, 83, Chimacum.

The elderly woman, who was resisting plans to move her from conditions of extreme poverty and deprivation, disappeared from her home the day she was supposed to move, leaving no evidence of her motive for leaving nor where she went.
Little Jeff Blankinship would have turned 41 years old this year.

He might have attended Port Townsend schools, maybe married a local girl.

His mother, Althea Blankinship, would be 61 and might be nearing retirement from the Civil Service job at Naval Magazine Indian Island near Port Townsend had she pursued such a course as her mother had urged her to do.

Instead, investigators are hunting evidence of the remains of the Port Townsend mother and child, who disappeared about March 27, 1973.

They'd settle for the merest fragment if it would yield proof of death, the last small but crucial chink in a wall of evidence against the Blankinships' suspected killer.

Protection Island was investigators' best hope for finding remains of the Blankinships, and plans were in the works to dig on the national wildlife refuge near the mouth of Discovery Bay in the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

But in the light of new evidence, they have postponed that effort, perhaps forever.

The Peninsula Daily News had reported that investigators would trek back out to the island for the fourth time later this month to look for bones at several locations where an old development burn site may have been located.

But new information shows that the fire occurred while the Blankinships were still alive.

It's not exactly back to square one, but it's discouraging, said Bob Gebo, a retired Seattle police detective who is on the cold case squad of retired officers assisting the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office with old cases.

"We're disappointed, but it's still an ongoing investigation," he said last week, though it's doubtful any further attention will be paid to Protection Island.

The Jefferson County cold case squad of four former law enforcement professionals overseen by Chief Criminal Deputy Joe Nole was formed two years ago at the instigation of former Sheriff Mike Brasfield, a former deputy chief with the Seattle Police Department.

Brasfield made the proposal after attending one of the regular get-togethers of an irregular group of retired officers from the Puget Sound region that, true to the gallows humor of the profession, calls itself C.O.R.P.S.E., or Congress of Retired Police, Sheriffs, Etc.

The Blankinship case is at the top of the list for the cold case squad.

Here's what investigators know so far.

When they disappeared, Althea Blankinship was 23 and preparing to take a Civil Service exam. Her son was 3.

Glenn Bagley, the Blankinships' landlord, said he'd taken them to Sea-Tac Airport to catch a plane to meet Althea's parents, vacationing in Greece.

There was no record of them flying, and Althea's passport for herself and her son was not used.

It was left behind among her things, Gebo said.

The airport story isn't the only lie authorities ascribe to Bagley.

Despite his denial of interest in Althea Blankinship, her cousin, Elaine Du Pen of Port Hadlock, found romantic cards from Bagley to Althea among her effects.

Du Pen had considered them enough of a couple to include Bagley in the Easter dinner invitation she issued to Althea and Jeffie before the disappearance.

"She was dating him somewhat, but I don't think she was that enamored," said Du Pen, who was like a big sister to Althea.

Further investigation by Kent police and KIRO-TV also found a former wife who recanted the alibi she once gave Bagley for the night in 1976 when a previous ex-wife, Esther Mae Gesler, also disappeared.

Gesler left behind five children. Her disappearance ended Bagley's financial obligation to her, Gebo said.

Bagley has had the good fortune to reach the age of 69, settle in a condo in Manila, the Philippines, and perhaps even marry again.

Police records show he married at least four times and has had liaisons with other women since leaving his job as a civil engineer for Jefferson County and heading out to Micronesia in 1986.

Bagley's job with the county gave him oversight responsibility for development under way in 1973 on Protection Island near Port Townsend, and until recently, Gebo and other investigators pinned their evidentiary hopes on the island.

Bagley owned and flew a plane that could have used the island airstrip, perhaps to transport the Blankinships or their bodies to the remote site.

KIRO's ongoing updates on the Blankinships' disappearance, their tie to Bagley, Gesler's disappearance and Bagley's pilot status had turned up two key leads.

Witnesses reported the strong stench of burning flesh from a debris fire on Protection Island at about the time the Blankinships disappeared and recalled retrieving bones from the fire and turning them over to the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office at the time.

That potential evidence was lost along with most records of the case, possibly in a move from the old courthouse, though Gebo said officers at the time never fully investigated the missing persons case. It was unprofessional but not unusual at the time even for large departments, he said.

Investigators were in the process of rounding up a group of officials from various agencies to conduct an archeological dig-and-sift operation at the fire site on Protection Island.

Instead, even newer evidence surfaced that throws those plans into limbo.

The granddaughter of a couple who had worked on the island at the time brought in her grandmother's calendar of activities, and it turns out the debris fire that had everyone so excited actually occurred in 1972, when the Blankinships were still alive.

Despite the setback, "the case is in much better shape than it was a few years ago," Gebo said.

Now, without some credible reason to believe that Bagley flew the Blankinships or their bodies somewhere to hide them, another KIRO-generated tip about his plane and others he had access to are not nearly so exciting either.

But KIRO expects to broadcast an update soon, and Gebo, a veteran of the years spent searching for King County's Green River killer, remains philosophical. And hopeful.

"Every broadcast that they've done has developed a lot more information," he said.

KIRO producer Bill Benson is behind the station's dedication to the story.

He was helping track down former classmates at Shoreline High School for a 2007 reunion when he learned one of them, Althea Marks, had disappeared.

"I knew her, and she was a gorgeous, outgoing girl," Benson said.

The first big story, which sent a news crew to Manila for an interview with Bagley, ran last November and drew witness information about the Protection Island burn site.

Benson hopes to find someone to whom Althea might have confided a fear of Bagley, and he's not about to give up the story.

"I have a personal vested interest in this. It's hard to put down," he said.

Gebo has an investment as well. He spends one day a week on cold cases -- mostly the Blankinship case -- with small compensation from a grant Sheriff Tony Hernandez was able to obtain.

Gebo said his years of experience tell him the Blankinship case is nearly close enough to expect charges, adding that is partly because of Bagley's statements, which investigators say are false.

With the newest leads now less than once thought, some other bit of new information could still lead to crucial physical evidence.

Thanks to a lock of hair saved with her high school diploma, investigators have Althea's DNA and also DNA from Jeffrey's father, who died years ago and was not a suspect.

All it takes is a fragment of tissue or bone from either mother or child.

"I think we will find it," Gebo said with conviction.

How can he be so sure?

"Because it's the right thing," he said.

Anyone with information is urged to phone Nole or Gebo at the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office, 360-385-3831.


Julie McCormick is a freelance writer and photographer living in Port Townsend. Contact her at

Last modified: October 24. 2010 12:27AM
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