Whatcom County Sheriff explains what Stavik verdict means to community
More from the series
Bass on trial for Stavik’s death
Timothy Bass is on trial in Whatcom County Superior Court for the 1989 murder of Amanda Stavik.
The life and death of 18-year-old Amanda “Mandy” Stavik deeply touched many within the Whatcom County community.
Stavik, who was described as a vivacious and gregarious young woman, was a 1989 graduate of Mount Baker High School, an avid athlete and bright student. She played saxophone in band, ran cross-country and track, and worked at the Whatcom Family YMCA.
On Friday, May 24, 51-year-old Timothy Forrest Bass was found guilty of abducting, raping and murdering Stavik nearly 30 years ago. Bass had been on trial for three weeks in Whatcom County Superior Court for first-degree murder, and was also found guilty by the jury of special verdicts for first-degree rape, attempted first-degree rape, first-degree kidnapping and attempted first-degree kidnapping.
“We’re glad that there’s some justice for Mandy and her family, but there will never be justice. She’s not going to be brought back in this life, but at least the person that’s responsible for this just horrific offense is not going to be roaming the streets anymore,” Whatcom County Sheriff Bill Elfo told The Bellingham Herald.
Stavik disappeared Nov. 24, 1989, while on a jog near her home on Strand Road in Clipper, near Acme. Three days later, her body was found in the south fork of the Nooksack River. She was naked, except for her socks and running shoes.
Elfo said the sheriff’s office never gave up on the case, and that he personally met with Stavik’s mother about once a year to keep her updated on the progress they had made.
“This case has haunted me since I became sheriff. I inherited it, and there’s not a day I didn’t think about it,” Elfo said. “There’s been ups and downs during the investigation, and I’m glad that we continued pursuing it, and it culminated (Friday) afternoon — 30 years of work — all within that couple seconds where the jury returned a verdict.”
Detective Kevin Bowhay, who took over the Stavik case in 2009, said the reality of Bass’ guilty verdict hadn’t yet set in.
“I haven’t really processed it, that this is real. I’m very overwhelmed, very emotional, but very happy for the family,” Bowhay told The Herald. “What I saw is something that really strained the family. Everybody processes and handles it different, but what I saw (Friday), was the closure actually brought the family back together.”
When Bowhay received the Stavik case, he was the third detective to take to take the lead. He started a systematic DNA campaign of people who lived in the Acme area and eventually made contact with Bass’ coworker, Kim Wagner, at Franz Bakery. Wagner collected a plastic cup and Coke can Bass discarded and turned the items into Bowhay.
Bass’ DNA from the items matched that of the suspect DNA profile created from evidence taken from Stavik’s body during an autopsy, leading to his December 2017 arrest and subsequent conviction.
Bass’ sentencing date has yet to be set. He will be held in the Whatcom County Jail until that time.
Bowhay said Stavik’s death left an uneasy feeling within the community, creating a sense of worry and fear that the person responsible was still out there.
“Here’s a young person, home for Thanksgiving break and living in a community that’s tranquil, where everyone knows each other, and if she can be abducted, raped and thrown in the river, who else could that happen to?,” Elfo told The Herald.
‘Rule him in or rule him out’
Bowhay said feels honored to be part of the team that helped arrest the man responsible for Stavik’s death. He said those within the sheriff’s office kept pursuing the case for the right reasons — not just because they wanted to be the person who solved it. It was good to bring closure to so many, he said.
“When you hear about the exceptional person she was, it’s sad. A lot of people who she would have touched their lives, they didn’t get the benefit of meeting her,” Bowhay said.
Bowhay said Bass first became a suspect in 2013 after two community members came forward to voice their concerns about him. Bowhay said the two people did not want to be identified, but brought Bass’ past actions to the attention of detectives. They then began to focus on him, Bowhay said.
Bass became the best lead for a suspect the sheriff’s office had, and they decided to work it until they could “rule him in or rule him out,” Bowhay said.
‘We’re all kind of family’
Bowhay said while Whatcom County is sizeable, it feels like a small community and people run into others they know fairly often. He said those in the rural areas of the county learn to count on their neighbors.
“The community kind of sticks. We’re a really tight-knit community and people stick together. And what affects one family, affects everybody else, because I guess we’re all kind of family,” Bowhay told The Herald.
Bowhay said he’s looking forward to getting back to his other cases, which had been put on hold while he pursued the Stavik case.
Elfo said there are other cold cases that detectives are still working on that he believes can be solved. He said Stavik’s death resonated with so many, because she resembled their own children.
“If God forbid that happened to one of our family members, we’d want law enforcement giving their all to solve it, and that’s what we did on this case. And that’s what we intend to do with our other cold cases. We owe that to all victims, that’s our responsibility,” Elfo said. “This (was) just a great day for our community. I got to take a deep breath (Friday).”
BEHIND OUR REPORTING
About our coverage
Reporter Denver Pratt will be in court every day of the Timothy Bass trial for the 1989 death of Amanda “Mandy” Stavik. Bass is accused of first-degree murder.
Check back weekdays for concise updates from court. Or, sign up for our Breaking News newsletter for updates.