‘What struck us most ... were the people,’ 20/20 producer says of Mandy Stavik murder

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Bass on trial for Stavik’s death

Timothy Bass was convicted in Whatcom County Superior Court for the 1989 murder of Amanda Stavik.

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While the 1989 kidnapping, rape and murder of 18-year-old Amanda “Mandy” Stavik has remained in the hearts and minds of many longtime Whatcom County residents and law enforcement the past three decades, it was the arrest of Timothy Bass in late 2017 that put the case on “20/20” producer Sean Dooley’s radar.

“This case stood out because of the massive and lasting effect it had on the local community, as well as the persistence Whatcom County authorities showed over decades in solving it,” Dooley told The Bellingham Herald. “We were instantly intrigued by the impact Mandy Stavik made on people — both people she knew personally and those who had simply heard of her story.”

The ABC investigative news magazine will tell Stavik’s story and the county’s nearly 30-year quest to get her family justice in a special called “30 Years Searching” that airs at 9 p.m. Friday, Sept. 20, on Channel 4.

Though most “20/20” specials are an hour, Friday’s will stretch two hours, as Dooley said it took that long to properly tell the whole story in the way it deserved.

“We hope that the people of Whatcom County are proud of their community’s unwavering commitment to solve this crime and provide the Stavik family with answers to what happened to Mandy,” Dooley said of what he hopes area residents will get out of the episode.

On Nov. 24, 1989, Stavik went for a jog near her home in Clipper, near Acme, and never returned. Her body was found three days later in the south fork of the Nooksack River. She was wearing only her jogging sneakers and socks.

In December 2017, Bass, 51 of Everson, was arrested in connection with Stavik’s 1989 death. Bass’ coworker, Kim Wagner, turned in a plastic cup and Coke can he drank from and discarded. The DNA from those items matched the suspect profile created from evidence taken from Stavik’s body during an autopsy.

Bass was sentenced to nearly 27 years in prison on July 2 by Whatcom County Superior Court Judge Rob Olson after a jury convicted him May 24 of first-degree murder of Stavik.

Stavik mug cropped
Amanda Stavik of Acme disappeared Nov. 24, 1989, home on Thanksgiving break from her freshman year at Central Washington University. Her body was found three days later. File Courtesy to The Bellingham Herald

“We wanted to highlight the short but extraordinary life she lived as well as the diligent investigative work on the part of the Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office,” Dooley told The Herald. “Another unique element that made this case stand out was that a citizen from the community, who didn’t know Mandy personally but had never forgotten her story, took it upon herself to get the DNA evidence needed to crack the case.”

Despite tackling the case nearly three decades after Stavik first went missing, Dooley said the extensive coverage of the case gave the “20/20” crew great leads to work for the story.

He also said the crew got great access to those closest to Stavik, including her mother, Mary Stavik, and sister, Molly Brighton, as well as the sheriff’s lead detective, Kevin Bowhay, longtime Whatcom County prosecutor David McEachran and Wagner.

“What struck us most about this story were the people — particularly Mandy’s mother, Mary Stavik,” Dooley said. “Mary has a quiet strength and resiliency that is palpably felt in her interview. She is someone who has had the extraordinary experience of losing two children to murder — years before Mandy was abducted and killed her older brother Brent was murdered in Alaska.”

The episode also includes tapes of sheriff’s detectives’ interview of Bass, which were not presented at his trial.

“The recorded police interview with Timothy Bass is fascinating,” Dooley said. “Police confront him with the fact that they have a positive match to his DNA.

“At first he tries to pump the detectives for information on how exactly they were able to obtain a sample of his DNA to test, since he’d been refusing to voluntarily turn it over for years, and then his story does a 180. Once he seems convinced that the police are not bluffing and do in fact have his DNA, he tells them that he had a consensual sexual relationship with Mandy.

“But Bass is unable to offer even the most basic information about Mandy — what she was studying in college, if he had ever spoken to her by phone or letter while she was away at school, etc.”

Dooley said Bass also told detectives that he met Stavik while riding his bike one day with his father, but his father’s death made it impossible to verify.

In addition to the interviews of Mary Stavik, Brighton, McEachran, Bowhay and Wagner for the episode, ABC’s release on the episode said the crew spoke to Gina Malone, Bass’ ex-wife; Bridget Whitson, Mandy’s stepsister; Rick Zender, Mandy’s former boyfriend and Whatcom County Sheriff Bill Elfo. The Bellingham Herald’s Denver Pratt, who covered Bass’ arrest and trial, and former writer Carol Virginia Herrick, who covered Stavik’s disappearance, also were interviewed.

“We appreciate ‘20/20’s’ work on this production, which will depict how good citizens came forward to help law enforcement solve this horrendous case of kidnapping, rape and murder,” Elfo said in a sheriff’s office release about the episode. “My hope is that it will motivate people who may have suspicions about other cold case murders here or elsewhere, to come forward and provide information to law enforcement.”

David Rasbach joined The Bellingham Herald in 2005 and now covers breaking news. He has been an editor and writer in several western states since 1994.