Bellvue’s Oldest Cold Case Solved The Old-Fashioned Way
As the rain fell on a cold, winter morning on 4 December 1965, a body was discovered on the side of the road just on the outskirts of the city of Bellevue (Washington, USA) next to a patch of blackberry bushes. Stabbed 13 times, the victim was identified as 23-year- old Loren H Sundholm, who served in the navy and had been stationed nearby. He had earlier been reported as a missing person, but here on the country roads of Washington, the search for the young man had come to a tragic end when police covered his cold body.
His murder was the young city’s first homicide. Police took a series of pictures of the crime scene and set about establishing suspects, but there was only one. The last person to see him alive, local man Bill Huff, was the first person looked in to. Huff claimed that on the night of Sundholm’s murder, the pair of them had been drinking in a Seattle bar, and Huff had offered his friend a lift home back to Kirkland. Huff claimed that as they were driving along, they were forced off the rural road by another vehicle, a Buick with what he described as an Oregon licence plate. Huff explained to the officers that two men exited their vehicle and the four men began to fight, during which Huff was knocked unconscious. He said that this encounter was the last time he had seen his friend before the body was discovered.
The alibi was questionable but police had little else to go on and no evidence to suggest that Huff was lying. Sundholm’s body was found in the location that Huff had said the fist fight occurred. The victim’s family – Sundholm’s parents and an older brother, who he was particularly close to – were informed of the murder, and they were devastated. Soon after the murder, Huff left the city of Bellevue and moved to Minnesota. Police suspected that Huff was lying and interviewed him again in the 1980s and once more in the 1990s.
The last detective to interview Huff in 1998 had visited him in Minnesota in an attempt to obtain a confession from their prime suspect, but had come away empty handed. Huff died in 2009. It seemed as though the possibility of finding the person who murdered Sundholm had been lost.
As the years went by, new cases were opened in Bellevue and the town’s oldest cold case was pushed further and further down the priority list, as resources were used to focus on the new crimes occurring each year.
In 2014, Shelby Shearer, a Bellevue police detective, began to look into Sundholm’s death as a side project. Shearer had hoped that, as with the majority of cold cases, there would be some forensic evidence that could be scrutinised further with the advanced technology that was now available. However, all he found to work with was a set of black and white photos.
Shearer decided that the only way to solve this case would be good old-fashioned detective work, as opposed to relying on technology. Having reviewed the information in the victim’s file, the detective spoke with Huff’s ex-wives and other people that knew the suspect – they painted a picture of Huff as a violent man who was full of rage.
Several of Huff’s ex-wives told Shearer that they had been too afraid to speak to the police about Huff when he was alive. There were also rumours that Huff had owed Sundholm money, and another alleged that Huff had been having an affair with Sundholm’s estranged wife. But the detective would need more than a few bad character references to solve the city’s first homicide.
Shearer contacted the King County medical examiner to take an in-depth look at the body. Huff had claimed that the night he last saw Sundholm, there had been a fight. When detectives found the victim, he was without his shoes, but his socks were clean. The wet and muddy country road would have definitely left the victim’s feet caked in mud after a fight, but his soles had been clean as had the rest of his body.
What also came to light was that, according to the original autopsy report, the victim’s eyes had been scratched by the thorns of the blackberry bushes. The medical examiner pointed out that this would have only happened had the body been dumped in the bushes after death. A person who was alive would have instinctively closed their eyes, meaning they would have cut their eyelids and not their eyes.
A look at the inside of Huff’s car from one of the pictures taken at the crime scene showed a pair of shoes on the back seat. Shearer determined these shoes had most likely belonged to the shoeless victim. There was also a dark stain on the passenger’s seat. All the evidence pointed to Huff as the murderer and disproved his version of events that took place more than 50 years ago.
With the mounting evidence against the deceased suspect, the case was put before a special panel comprising King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg, department supervisors and detectives. They all agreed that it waBellBs likely that Huff had killed Sundholm in his car 51 years ago. Although the prime suspect would never be brought to justice for his crimes, the case – the oldest cold case in the city – was considered closed. Had he been alive today, Huff would have faced prosecution, a fact that gave Sundholm’s family a sense of closure now that they were finally able to understand what had happened to the young man all those years ago.
The victim’s brother, Lee Sundholm, now 75 years old, told the city’s local newspaper, the Bellevue Reporter, that, at the time, he had no reason not to believe Huff’s version of events as he was a friend of the family. He added that in light of the police’s discovery, as a Christian man, he forgave the man who murdered his brother and that he felt no hatred towards him.
This article was featured in issue 19 of Real Crime magazine. Want to read more of the world’s biggest crime-fighting breakthroughs? Subscribe to the magazine here.