Coke Can Pulled from Bakery's Trash Helps Solve 28-Year-Old Murder Mystery

Police had been trying to obtain a DNA sample from a person of interest for several years.
December 20, 2018, 8:20pm
coke can being crushed in hand
Photo: Getty Images

Amanda “Mandy” Stavik would have turned 47 this year. She should have turned 47 in the same way that she should have turned 37, or 27, or even 19. But Mandy Stavik was murdered while she was out jogging in November 1989, and the 18-year-old’s life ended beside the Nooksack River in rural Whatcom County, Washington.

For 28 years, the Whatcom County Sheriff’s Department continued to respond to leads, to investigate suspects and, once a year, to dutifully meet with Stavik’s mother, Mary, to reassure her that the department was still actively looking for Mandy’s killer. Last December, Sheriff Bill Elfo was finally— finally—able to tell Mary that they’d made an arrest in her daughter’s case, and it was largely because of a Coke can that a bakery worker threw in the trash.

Timothy Forrest Bass had been a person of interest for several years, especially after detectives learned that the now 50-year-old had lived just over a mile from Stavik at the time of his murder. He’d been known to attend girl’s high school basketball games, so he could see the teenager play. And on the day that she disappeared, her running route would’ve taken her right past Bass’ house. All of that was enough for officers to ask him to provide a voluntary DNA sample. He refused. They asked again, and Bass again refused.

According to the Bellingham Herald, officers then contacted Franz Bakery, where Bass worked as a delivery truck driver. They asked Franz to provide Bass’ delivery route, and to allow them to swab his truck for DNA, but the bakery ultimately declined to cooperate without a search warrant or a subpoena.

In early 2017, when a detective made a repeat visit to the bakery, an employee recognized him, and asked if they were still investigating Bass. The officer said they were—and the unidentified woman mapped out Bass’ delivery route for him. “In my mind, it’s public knowledge. You can sit on a street corner and see the same person drive by at the same time every day. It’s not privileged information,” she said in court earlier this year. “I just gave it to [the officer]. After I asked if it was that case and who it was, I felt a basic human moral obligation to help.”

Officers followed Bass for one night, but weren’t able to recover anything that contained his DNA. The detective contacted the woman again, and she volunteered to watch him to see if he ate or drank anything at work. True to her word, she grabbed one of Bass’ cups and a Coca-Cola can he’d thrown away and turned them over to the police. His DNA was tested against the DNA that had been collected from Stavik’s body, and it was a match.

On December 12, 2017, Bass was arrested and charged with the first-degree murder and first-degree rape of Mandy Stavik. (The rape charge was ultimately dismissed several months later, due to “statute of limitation concerns.”)

“I think the highlight of my career, and it’s been a long one [...] is being able to tell Mrs. Stavik that the case had finally been solved,” Elfo told the Bellingham Herald. “People have traveled the world trying to solve the case. There’s been lots of effort from a lot of different detectives, generations of detectives have come and retired. This has been something our deputies have worked long and hard on. We’re really proud of people that put work into the case and we will hopefully have justice for Mandy and her family.”

Over 900 people attended Mandy Stavik’s memorial service in December 1989.

Bass is being held in Whatcom County Jail, and his trial is currently scheduled for April 2019. If convicted, he faces between 20 years and life in prison.