From Herald archives: Stavik’s body found in Nooksack

Searchers find Amanda Stavik’s body Nov. 27, 1989 along the south fork of the Nooksack River, three days after she disappeared while jogging.
Searchers find Amanda Stavik’s body Nov. 27, 1989 along the south fork of the Nooksack River, three days after she disappeared while jogging. The Bellingham Herald file

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Read about the arrest in the Mandy Stavik murder, plus other coverage of her 1989 disappearance.

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Editor’s note: This story was first published Nov. 28, 1989.

As a Whatcom County medical examiner was finishing the autopsy on 18-year-old Amanda T. “Mandy” Stavik today, sheriff’s deputies were seeking a pickup reportedly seen in the area when she disappeared near her mother’s Clipper home.

Stavik’s body was found early Monday on a sandbar in the south fork of the Nooksack River about 3 1/2 miles from where she was last seen jogging Friday afternoon.

The death of Stavik, a graduate of Mount Baker High School, is being treated as a homicide, Whatcom County Sheriff Larry Mount said at a press conference Monday. He has assigned five to seven officers to work full-time on the investigation.

Mount said Stavik’s body was nude except for the running shoes she was wearing when she disappeared, and the cause of death was undetermined. He said there were few marks on her body; he declined to be specific about one area of the body which he said did suffer trauma. He did not say whether she had been sexually assaulted. An autopsy was started Monday night.

So far, the sheriff said, there were no suspects.

Sheriff’s deputies were, however, on the lookout for a black or brown full-size Chevrolet or Ford style pickup with a matching canopy and a gold stripe. The truck reportedly is higher than a normal pickup, clean, a late model with oversize tires. The truck was spotted by a neighbor the afternoon of Stavik’s disappearance.

“We have a blank slate at this point,” Mount said.

“We’re assuming it was not an accident, so we’re treating it as a homicide,” he said. “We know the beginning, and we know the end. We do not know the middle at all.”

Sweatpants found Sunday morning in Skagit County have not been positively identified as those that Stavik was wearing when she disappeared. Mount said they will be examined by a crime lab.

Mount said the body was found by an Everson volunteer firefighter trained in river rescue, who was in a boat searching the river for any sign of Stavik. Now, detectives will focus a portion of their investigation on searching upriver to determine where the murder took place.

“We don’t even have a crime scene,” Mount said. “We’re asking the public’s help. We’re not certain when her body was put into the river and where. We are not assuming anything about when she died.”

FBI investigators conferred with sheriff’s officials Monday morning to gather details that can be used to determine whether the young woman’s death fits a pattern of any other slayings.

“The public has been very cooperative with us and we’ve gotten a number of calls,” Mount said. Some involved vehicles reported in the area, but none included license plate numbers or descriptions of drivers.

“This is our biggest frustration at this point,” Mount said.

Several people have asked why other law enforcement agencies in the area were not notified about Stavik’s disappearance sooner.

Mount said other agencies were notified Saturday night.

“On Friday night when we started the search and rescue, we didn’t know what we had,” he said. “It was probably 24 hours after we had gotten the first information on her disappearance before we put it out. ... We didn’t know if she was off on a trail and had gone running or what. I think what we did was appropriate in terms of getting the information out.”

Mount said that since the Nooksack River flooded much of the county and toppled an 80-foot section of the Mount Baker Highway bridge earlier this month, patrol deputies have spent more time in the Acme-Clipper-Van Zandt area.

But law enforcement patrols alone aren’t enough, he said.

“Whatcom County is not untouchable in this type of crime,” the sheriff said sadly. “It is not uncommon for people to be approached like this, but it is the exception for it to go this far.”

Mount cited as an example the assault Oct. 9 at the entrance to Kulshan Campground in the Baker Lake area of a 27-year-old woman jogger from Concrete who was approached by two men, who put a rope around her neck, threw her down and kicked her in the face and chest. The woman fought, and the suspects fled the area in a Pinto-type vehicle.

The sheriff said that people walking or jogging for exercise should face traffic so potential assailants do not take them unaware. He also said people should not walk or jog alone, if possible.

Stavik, who graduated in June from Mount Baker High School, was an athlete, whom Mount describes as physically fit. He suggested that she may have been abducted by more than one assailant, or an assailant with a weapon.

A Central Washington University freshman, Stavik was home for the Thanksgiving holiday, with her college roommate, Japanese exchange student Yoko Uchiyama. The two had gone walking together earlier in the day. When they returned, Stavik said she wanted to go jogging, and took the family’s 6-year-old German shepherd with her.

Her mother became concerned when Stavik failed to return on schedule, and called the police with the dog returned along around 5:30 p.m.

A stunned and grieving community banded together Sunday and Monday to donate $9,000 to a reward fund for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person or persons responsible for Stavik’s death.

Mount urged citizens to donate to the fund in hopes that it might elicit clues to help solve the slaying.

Anyone interested in donating to the fund may write a check to the Mandy Stavik Fund, Bellingham National Bank, 1501 Cornwall Ave., Bellingham, WA, 98225.

ABC’s investigative series “20/20” will premiere “30 Years Searching,” a two-hour special on this case at 9 p.m., Friday, Sept. 20, 2019.