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McNeil Island off the coast of Washington state is inaccessible by any road and not welcome to most visitors. Once the site of a state prison, the island is now home to a most unwelcome and dangerous inhabitant: Violent sexual predators who have served their prison sentences but are deemed too dangerous to return to society. These men have been banished from society and largely forgotten about. And that last part, Detective Lindsey Wade finds out, is a problem. Lindsey specializes in DNA cold cases and she knows that some of the men of McNeil Island might be responsible for other crimes. She wants to test and record their DNA. As she works to make this happen, she stumbles upon a decades-old murder. Will she find the answers on the island of the banished?

The Detective: Lindsey Wade

Lindsey served as a Tacoma Police Officer for twenty-one years. During her fourteen years as a detective, she investigated sexual assaults, child abuse, missing persons, and homicides. In 2010, Lindsey discovered that serial killer Ted Bundy’s DNA was not in CODIS. She worked with authorities in Florida to track down a sample of Bundy’s DNA and finally entered it into the national database in 2011. In 2012, Lindsey’s work on collecting DNA from convicted sexual predators in Washington state who’d slipped through the cracks led to an arrest in the 1980 homicide of a teenage girl. Lindsey retired in 2018 as the Tacoma Police Department’s cold case detective and joined the Washington State Attorney General’s Office as a senior investigator assigned for the Sexual Assault Kit Initiative. She is a former member of the FBI ViCAP National Advisory Board and teaches child abduction response and cold case investigations for the National Criminal Justice Training Center at Fox Valley Technical College. Lindsey has been a speaker at numerous law enforcement conferences around the country, lecturing on cold cases, sex crimes, DNA, and child abduction response. She recently published a true crime memoir titled, “In My DNA: My Career Investigating Your Worst Nightmares”.

Read Transcript

Yeardley:  Hey, Small Town Fam. It’s Yeardley. How are you, guys? I’m so glad that you’re here. The case we have for you today is all about hard work paying off. So, I don’t know about you, but when I was growing up, there were always grownups around telling me that I should stay a kid as long as possible. And from a very young age, I always thought, that was so dumb, because I have no control over the passage of time. But I also always wondered, “Why do grown-ups say that?” Now that I’m a grown up many times over and a fairly anxious one at that, I feel like I know why the adults of my life hoped I’d stay young forever.

 Because the older I get, the more familiar I become with the UNs, uncertainty, unfairness, unimaginable, unheard of. And the kindergarten view of the world that I held as a child where I thought if I did the right thing, I was guaranteed a happy outcome, turns out not to be a hard and fast rule after all. What? So, it gives me great joy to tell you that our guest today, returning fan favorite Detective Lindsey brings us a case where her tenacity and hard work pay off in spades and end up creating lasting, positive change in the world. Here is, Before You Go.

Yeardley:  Hi, there. I’m Yeardley.

Dan:  I’m Dan.

Dave:  I’m Dave.

Paul:  And I’m Paul.

Yeardley:  And this is Small Town Dicks.

Dan:  Dave and I are identical twins.

Dave:  And retired detectives from Small Town, USA.

Paul:  And I’m a veteran cold case investigator who helped catch the Golden State Killer using a revolutionary DNA tool.

Dan:  Between the three of us, we’ve investigated thousands of crimes, from petty theft to sexual assault, child abuse to murder.

Dave:  Each case we cover is told by the detective who investigated it, offering a rare personal account of how they solved the crime.

Paul:  Names, places and certain details have been changed to protect the privacy of victims and their families.

Dan:  And although we’re aware that some of our listeners may be familiar with these cases, we ask you to please join us in continuing to protect the true identities of those involved-

Dave:  -out of respect for what they’ve been through.

[unison]:  Thank you.

Yeardley:  Today, on Small Town Dicks, I have the usual suspects and I am excited. I have Detective Dan.

Dan:  Hello, there.

Yeardley:  Hello, there. I have Detective Dave.

Dave:  Hello, there.

Yeardley:  [laughs] I feel like he was wondering if he should actually even say hello, say hello differently. Never mind. And we have the one and only, Paul Holes.

Paul:  Hey, hey.

Yeardley:  Hey, hey. And Small Town Fam, we are so excited to welcome back one of your new favorites, and certainly one of ours, a ringer, the one and only, Detective Lindsey.

Lindsey:  Hello.

Yeardley:  So, listeners, I’ll remind you, or if you’re new to the podcast, I’ll tell you for the first time that Detective Lindsey gave us a really compelling case in Season 13 called At Last. And Lindsey, when you spoke to us back then, your book had just come out. I’m going to tell our listeners, it’s called In My DNA: My Career Investigating Your Worst Nightmares. It’s the most perfect title, because I’ve listened to the book on tape. It’s so well done. And my God, you, Lindsey, went to the mat on so many things. And also, how you come away from seeing the things you’ve seen and still somehow manage to be a mother, a wife, a functioning human being in the world? It’s a superpower.

Lindsey:  Well, thank you for saying that. I appreciate it. [chuckles]

Yeardley:  So, Lindsey, let’s get this party started. Tell us how this case came to you.

Lindsey:  So, this is a case that I learned about in 2011 as a cold case. And it was a bizarre circumstance, because I wasn’t assigned the case. In fact, this didn’t even happen in my jurisdiction. This is a crime that occurred probably, I don’t know, an hour or so from my jurisdiction. However, I stumbled across some really interesting information, and it led me down this rabbit hole.

 So, this was a case that occurred back in 1980, involving a young woman named Susan Lowe. She was 19 years old, and she lived in the city of Bellevue, Washington. So, this was a jurisdiction north of Seattle, a quiet bedroom community, very affluent neighborhood.

 Susan lived with a roommate. She worked at a local furniture store. She lived a pretty quiet life. She was just a regular young person trying to make her way. And on this particular evening, she decided to stay home while her roommate went out. She told her roommate that she was going to watch the Seattle SuperSonics Basketball game that evening. And that was the last time that anybody heard from Susan.

 Her roommate came home late in the evening, and noticed that the apartment was dark and assumed that Susan was asleep. And it wasn’t until the following morning that she went to wake Susan up and discovered that she was dead, clearly dead, that there was a stocking wrapped around her neck. Her roommate ran to the neighbors, and they called the police.

 So, Susan’s case, it was pretty clear that it was a home invasion. There was no sign of forced entry. However, a neighbor who was interviewed during the canvass reported that they had been watching TV that evening, watching Charlie’s Angels, because that’s what was on in 1980 on TV.


 They heard someone knocking on Susan’s door, and then they heard what sounded like a bang and then running and a muffled scream. Now, they didn’t tell anyone. They didn’t call the police. They didn’t think it was apparently anything worth noting. So, they did nothing about it. But that would be consistent with Susan answering the door and then this guy forcing his way in.

Yeardley:  Wow. And I’m guessing even if the offender left his DNA behind, it wasn’t much use to investigators back then.

Lindsey:  Correct. This was 1980, definitely before DNA testing. They did some ABO blood typing to look at the semen that was identified and obtained from her autopsy. But other than doing that kind of blood typing, there was no way to identify anyone. And so, this case went cold fairly quickly after Susan killed.

 And before I tell you more about this case, I have to tell you about a place called McNeil Island. McNeil Island used to house a prison. And now the prison has long since been abandoned, but they have the Special Commitment Center out there. The Special Commitment Center was opened in 1990. It was opened to house Washington state’s worst of the worst, sex offenders. So, these are individuals that have served their prison sentence, and they are deemed too dangerous to be released into the community. And so, instead of being released, they are civilly committed to this island.

Dan:  Is it only sex offenders?

Lindsey:  Correct. The only people that live on this island are staff that work out there and the residents themselves.

Dave:  Do you sleep with one eye open? I mean, oh, my gosh.

Yeardley:  Is this like a transition from prison to society, or we’re going to keep you forever on this island, is the idea?

Lindsey:  Okay. So, these people, if they’re found to meet the definition of sexually violent predator, they are detained on this island indefinitely. So, they could be there for the rest of their lives. They’re constantly being evaluated to determine whether or not they can be released. A lot of them will never be released. Some of them do get released, but they have to have like an ankle monitor. They have all these rules about what they can do. And if they violate it, they go back.

Paul:  Do they have freedom of movement?

Lindsey:  No. So, it’s all locked down. They can’t come and go freely. It really is like a prison setting. And then they have a transitional area on the island where they can live in these cottages as they’re getting ready to transition, but it’s still locked down.

Dave:  It’s like Alcatraz.

Lindsey:  Yeah.

Dave:  You’re out here to keep you away from people and away from reuniting with the mainland.

Lindsey:  Yeah. There’s nothing else going on out there other than going to this facility. There’s no reason for anyone to go. In fact, I’m not sure you can go unless you have a reason.

Yeardley:  And how far is McNeil Island from shore? I feel like not far enough.

Lindsey:  Oh, well, I mean, far enough that you have to take a ferry. You can’t swim across or anything like that.


Yeardley:  So, it really is like Alcatraz that way.

Lindsey:  Yeah.

Yeardley:  Wow.

Lindsey:  This place, over the years since 1990, has housed somewhere around 400 civilly committed sex offenders. So, back in 2011, I was working on a cold case and interacting with some folks at The Department of Corrections in Washington, just trying to run down some information about suspects. We just got on this conversation about DNA, and something prompted me to ask whether or not the DNA samples from all of the sex offenders on McNeil Island had been collected and put into CODIS. And no, that’s not the case. I found out that there were about 40 of these guys out on this island who never had their DNA collected, which was just shocking to me.

 So, I reach out to the Special Commitment Center and ask about these individuals and ask that they go ahead and collect the samples from these guys. I was pretty much blown off. They initially told me, “Well, we do collect their DNA. We just collect it on the way out,” which wasn’t helpful, because as we know, some of these guys will never get out. And even if they do get out, do you really want to be collecting their DNA on the way out and then have to go find them after they hit to a new case? So, that thought process was just completely backwards to me.

Dave:  I think it highlights extreme incompetence in failing to understand the nexus between how that might be useful evidence. And it happens. Certain lanes of the criminal justice system only see what’s right ahead of them. They don’t look to the sides and they don’t look back. So, I’ve dealt with it in the past on a triple murder suspect who I went to a fellow agency in the government and said, “I need files for this person.” And they acted like, “Not our problem.” And I’m thinking, “You guys interested in what he did over the weekend? Maybe you want to make it your problem and get on the right side of this.” So, I’m not saying it’s an intentional incompetence. I’m just saying the lack of foresight here is pretty alarming.

Lindsey:  Yeah.

Paul:  In California, we ran into the same type of issue in multiple layers. At one point, it turns out that individuals on death row did not have their DNA up in CODIS. And the law at the time, it was just a misdemeanor to refuse to provide a sample. So, what are death row inmates going to do if they being asked, “Hey, we want your DNA.” So, the law was changed, so reasonable force could be used if they had a qualifying offense. And if you’re on death row, you have a qualifying offense. But then we also found out that just within the general prison population, when inmates were dying in custody, they weren’t being sampled. Even though the prison system actually had a DNA sample in their files, so to speak, they weren’t turning those over. And so, there was a big push, particularly because of the Golden State killer case, to get all of these DNA samples up.

 And then, just like Lindsey was saying Washington is sampling these offenders upon release, and some of them are never released. Well, Nevada was doing the same thing. And I believe there was a case in which Nevada released somebody, the DNA goes into the system, but that person after release goes up to Washington and kills somebody before they’re caught.

Yeardley:  That’s just insanity.

Paul:  It’s also frustrating because you think, “Oh, everybody is sampled.” And oh, no, they’re not.

Lindsey:  No.

[Break 1]

Yeardley:  I wonder what the criteria is to be let off that island. If you’re so violent that you get out of prison but you’re not allowed to go home, how do you convince somebody that you’ve been essentially rehabilitated enough to go back into society?

Lindsey:  It’s a very complicated process. From my understanding, they are constantly being reevaluated. And so, once they get to a point where a psychologist or some kind of an expert signs off and says they no longer meet the criteria to be a sexually violent predator, then they have an opportunity to go into basically, like at halfway house with ankle monitor and lots of conditions. But they have to be deemed to no longer meet this criteria of being sexually predatory and also having a mental abnormality that would cause them to reoffend.

Yeardley:  All the other detectives are shaking their heads now. [Lindsey laughs]

Paul:  Well, it’s like somebody who comes up for parole over and over again, and was denied, and then they adjust what they’re saying, their behaviors in order to try to satisfy what the parole board needs in order to allow to be released. But over and over again, when we start talking about sexual offenders, they have a very high recidivism rate, even after decades of being in custody or going through treatment and rehabilitation. And they can be very convincing that, “I’m cured. I’m good.” And then they get released, and what do they do? They reoffend.

Lindsey:  Mm-hmm.

Yeardley:  Right. So, Lindsey, that brings us back to your question, how come we don’t have all the DNA samples from the men on McNeil Island?

Lindsey:  So, it was pretty frustrating. I kept on reaching out, calling, emailing, and I was just getting the runaround. And so, I finally decided, okay, I’m going to have to step this up a bit, because clearly, I don’t have the authority to tell these people what to do. So, I ended up reaching out to the attorney general’s office, and they have an entire unit at the AG’s office that does nothing but special cases related to these sexually violent predators. And so, they’re the ones that prosecute these cases, even though they’re civil. So, I reached out to them and spoke to the section chief for the SVP unit and told her what was happening. And so, she lit a fire under the people out there at the Special Commitment Center to get these samples collected and get them to the crime lab.

 All in all, it took about two years, which is insane that it would take that– And I’m like, “I’ll get on a boat and go out there with some Q-tips and swab these people myself.” I mean, come on. But eventually, we got all of them collected and uploaded into CODIS.

Yeardley:  Lindsey, why are these violent sex offenders allowed to refuse to give a DNA sample?

Lindsey:  Well, technically by law, they’re not allowed to refuse. It is a crime to refuse to provide DNA if you owe it. But it’s just a gross misdemeanor. So, just like Paul pointed out, if you’re on death row, what do you got to lose? If somebody [laughs] says, “You owe me DNA. And if you don’t do it, you’re going to get charged with a gross misdemeanor.” They’re like, “Great. [Yeardley laughs] Who cares?”

Yeardley:  Sure.

Lindsey:  And it just doesn’t pack a punch, really. It’s a gross misdemeanor.

Yeardley:  So, the AG is on the case and is getting these people who have refused to comply.

Lindsey:  Yes. So, once we got all the samples collected, the lab started processing all these samples and getting them uploaded into CODIS. And 2012, surprise, surprise. I know you’re going to be shocked when I tell you this, [Yeardley laughs] there was a hit.

Yeardley:  [laughs] Oh, no. Really?

Lindsey:  Yeah, right? Yeah, there was a hit to this unsolved rape and murder case from 1980. It was a complete shock, because I knew nothing about this case.

Yeardley:  You’re talking about Susan’s murder in 1980.

Lindsey:  Yes. And when I first heard about it, I was just floored. I knew that there was going to be a hit at some point. I just was hoping it was going to be one of my cases. But I was like, “Hey, this is awesome.” I ended up calling the detective out of the blue.

Yeardley:  Is this the detective who was in charge of Susan’s case?

Lindsey:  Yes. And the detective was Jerry Johnson. He was so confused when I called, because I’m trying to explain to him who I am and what my role was. And he was like, “What are you talking about?” He goes, “I just came to work one day, and there was this crime lab report in my mailbox, and it said there was a hit on this case.” He was like, “It didn’t even dawn on me why this guy was hitting to my case now after all this time.” I don’t think he had gotten deep enough into the case yet to really see this guy’s history.

 And as it turned out, this guy was on McNeil Island since 2000. I’m going to tell you his name, because it’s public information, but his name is Michael Halgren. He’s the offender of that ends up matching the DNA in this case. So now, this is 2012. And prior to 2000, he had been in prison. He had been in prison since the, I think, the mid 1990s. So, it was pretty shocking for the detective, because the detective on the case, Jerry Johnson, had been working on this case for 15 years. He had collected dozens of DNA reference samples from potential suspects in the case. He had gone down every avenue he could possibly think of to go down to try to solve this case. He had this DNA profile. It was in CODIS. There were no hits. He was just really convinced that the case would never be solved.

 So, to just come into work one day, you got your cup of coffee in one hand, [Yeardley laughs] you go to grab stuff out of your mailbox, and it’s like, bam, there’s a CODIS hit from the crime lab. Like, “What is going on here?” So, it was pretty amazing. The detective and his partner ended up going out to McNeil Island to interview this guy. Michael Halgren completely denies knowing anything about the case.

Paul:  Hey, Lindsey, what is the DNA evidence in this case?

Yeardley:  So, the DNA evidence from this case were vaginal swabs.

Paul:  Okay. So, you have semen?

Lindsey:  Yes.

Paul:  Vaginal semen?

Lindsey:  Yup.

Paul:  Okay. So, you have detectives going and talking to this offender, and they don’t bring up the DNA right away, right?

Lindsey:  No.

Paul:  This is perfect, because Halgren’s now making denials.

Lindsey:  Yes.

Paul:  This is golden, because at a certain point, how do you explain your semen inside her vagina.

Lindsey:  Yeah, exactly.

Dave:  And that highlights investigators, and how you ask questions and the order in which you ask questions and which questions you choose. I’m going to hold on to this one. The perfect setup here is, do you know this person or were you ever in this area? And they say, “No.” Well, in the back pocket is this swab that could have never ended up where it ended up, unless suspect was right there. So, the sequence and how you ask the questions and the wording is really important.

Paul:  Yeah. I’ve got a case in which an investigator went. It was a sex worker that had been strangled. Her body was dumped. Vaginal semen. And this investigator goes right in and immediately confronts this guy and is like, “Why is your semen inside the sex worker?” And he goes, “I have sex with hookers.” Done. Basically, it’s a softball pitch. The offender hit that ball out of the park. And this caused this case to languish until a DNA hit was found on a second victim who was not a sex worker. And now it’s a serial killer. We know that. But this is where having that experience and understanding like Dave was talking about, you just don’t rely on the DNA evidence. You still need to have an interview strategy when you talk to the offender. Have them make statements.

Lindsey:  Yeah. So, they don’t tell Halgren about the DNA initially. They just ask him questions about his whereabouts. He was a machinist in the area at the time of the homicide, so he had a reason to be in that area, and he was from the area. But he said he was engaged at the time, never would have cheated on his fiancé. They really couldn’t come up with any connection between him and Susan. The best they could do was that he admitted to buying marijuana from somebody that lived near the victim’s apartment complex. And that was about as close as they could get to why he would even be in Susan’s neighborhood. I think it was later determined that his fiancé was on a bowling league and bowled at the same place that Susan bowled. So, the thought was maybe Halgren saw her there at some point and followed her home.

Yeardley:  So, if police don’t think that Halgren and Susan actually knew each other, talk a little bit about the fact that the police report also said there was no forced entry into Susan’s apartment the night she was killed.

Paul:  Yeah. One of my pet peeves– And I see this a lot. It’s not necessarily within law enforcement, but it’s definitely out there in the online community is that when law enforcement says there is no signs of forced entry, now there is an assumption, well, the victim must have known the offender. And there are times when offenders force themselves in and leave physical evidence of use of force on the structure in order to get inside. But more times than not, this is the tactic that an offender uses. And most of the time, the victim is answering the door.

 And at this point, that bang that Lindsey said the witness heard is probably that door being pushed open and slamming, and now the offender’s inside. But you’re not going to see the door kick. You’re not going to see the pry marks. So, when law enforcement says no signs of forced entry, you can’t jump to conclusions as to the relationship between the offender and the victim.

Yeardley:  Right.

Dave:  I’ve got handfuls of cases of people just randomly walking into somebody’s house.

Yeardley:  Because the door was unlocked?

Dave:  Yeah. Checking doors. So, this is why I preach to friends and family, have your door locked all the time. 12:00 noon on Saturday, there are folks out there who their sense of time does not match up with the rest of us. And boundaries. Some folks are not deterred by a closed door. Some folks are not deterred by a locked window or locked door.

Lindsey:  Yeah, exactly.

[Break 2]

Lindsey:  So, this Michael Halgren, he had just a horrendous criminal history. We looked at all of the things that he had done in the past, both documented and things that he just disclosed while he was at the Special Commitment Center. It was terrifying. And this other misconception about how offenders, they just stick to one victim, he was a clear example of somebody that was equal opportunity. Whatever the opportunity was that presented itself, that was going to be his victim. And so, his first known rape was a woman that was walking to work in the morning. He saw her, and abducted her right off the street, and dragged her into his van and sexually assaulted her.

 There happened to be a police officer nearby who heard the screams coming from the van and ended up intercepting and basically stopping this in progress. Halgren got arrested. He went to prison. Got out. Then he picked up a sex worker in Seattle and was posing as a police officer. So, now he’s using a ruse. So, he’s gone from blitz attacker stranger to now, I’m going to pick up a sex worker and pretend I’m a police officer. He ends up handcuffing her. She actually bailed out of the car while it was moving.

 And again, this guy has bad luck, because there’s a police officer nearby, and he sees this woman come rolling out of this vehicle in Seattle and so gives chase. There’s a short pursuit, and he ends up getting arrested for a second time. Goes to prison. And then instead of being released after that sentence was up, he got sent to the Special Commitment Center, and that’s where he was until 2012, when he was linked to this 1980 murder that he had done prior to the other two rapes that he was convicted of.

Yeardley:  Wow. Lindsey, how long was Halgren’s first stint in prison after the first rape?

Lindsey:  It was less than 10 years. I don’t remember the exact number. But it was not very long. I believe the second one was five years. Not a long period of time.

Yeardley:  And then he goes to the Island.

Lindsey:  Right. And so, while he’s at the island, he is interviewed by various psychologists. He ends up giving some really horrendous details about some of the other crimes that he had committed over his lifetime that he’s never been connected to. He admitted to at least 25 instances of peeping tom type situations where he would be looking into windows, indecent exposure. Halgren admitted to a couple of other home invasion, sexual assaults in the same area where this homicide took place. So, we really have no idea how many victims he has, but I think it’s safe to say a lot.

Dave:  I think it’s important to note how sex offender treatment goes, that in a treatment environment, sex offenders are given opportunities to provide a full disclosure. Let’s talk about all the worst things I’ve ever done in life, because we’re trying to get to the bottom of this, so we have to address all of it. Given the nature of those disclosures by the offender in a treatment environment, those are privileged conversations that cannot be passed along to law enforcement.

Yeardley:  Why?

Dave:  Because it’s like talking to your doctor, your therapist, to your attorney, to your wife. It is a privileged conversation. I understand the reasoning behind it, that if we’re asking these sex offenders to be fully honest, how do we hold a jail sentence over their head during the interview. Like, if they’re going to be fully honest, let them be fully honest without arresting them at the end of that interview, because you’re still going to have to corroborate everything that the person’s claiming in this disclosure. But I think folks would be surprised to know that we don’t get contacted by therapists for violent sex offenders saying, “Hey, in today’s session, this guy confessed to three murders.” It just doesn’t happen.

Yeardley:  But I have a question, because I thought that therapists were obligated to report things like murders. Or, for instance, if their patient says that they’re going to harm themselves or somebody else, then therapist is duty bound to tell law enforcement that there’s danger brewing.

Dan:  There are laws in all 50 states now requiring therapists to mandatory report. Now, every state is different also. In most of these cases, a lot of patients now, when you sign up for therapy, you sign forms recognizing that if you make certain statements during therapy, that those statements can be reported to law enforcement. The other part of this is you have to be very specific. So, if a child is in danger, a therapist has a patient and the patient is relating information about that he’s going to offend on a child, you have to specifically identify who that child is, what their relationship is to the patient.

 There are other boxes that you have to check. So, it’s not just as general as, “Hey, I murdered three people.” And therapist goes and reports it to the authorities. There are other things that have to be done in the meantime. This is why it’s really important for therapists to ask follow up questions like, what three people are we talking about here? And let’s really get into the weeds of what is this statement that was just delivered to me as a therapist? How do I unpack that?

Yeardley:  Right. I see.

Lindsey:  So, luckily in this case, I was lucky enough to go out with the detectives to make the arrest. So, they invited me along, since I had a little hand in solving the case. [Yeardley laughs] And so, we took a ferry out to the Island, and then we went into the facility to get Mr. Halgren, and he was placed under arrest. And then we got back onto this, I guess it was a tugboat. It was just this really bizarre situation where we’re on this boat, and then they disconnected us from the main part of the boat. And so, then we were just like floating in the water until this other boat came and got us. I was just thinking, [Yeardley laughs] well, I can see land. [Yeardley laughs] So, if I have to swim, I will. But this is very strange. [laughs]

Yeardley:  That is so strange. Lindsey, what does McNeill Island look like?

Lindsey:  McNeill Island is a small island. In the Puget Sound, it’s actually not too far from my house, believe it or not.

Yeardley: Oh. [laughs]

Lindsey: Yeah. And it’s like a seven square mile island that is inhabited currently by the Special Commitment Center.

Yeardley:  How is it that Halgren is arrested if he’s already in custody in some form on this island?

Lindsey:  Because when he was on the island, he was not technically incarcerated. They consider this a treatment facility similar to a mental hospital, but a little different. And so, they’re considered residents of this facility. It’s not run by Department of Corrections. It’s actually run by Department of Social and Health Services.

Dan:  So, Lindsey, you’re standing on a tugboat-


Dan:  -with the Detective Mr. Johnson and Mr. Halgren. How’s that go down?

Lindsey:  It was interesting. I think at that point, Halgren knew the jig was up. I don’t think he was surprised to see us show up there to tell him he was going to jail. So, I don’t remember him really saying anything. It was a quiet ride.

Dan:  But it’d been a while since he’d been off the island.

Lindsey:  Yeah. They have to take them off if they have medical appointments and things like that. They have to transport them off the island. So, I don’t know when the last time he had been out was–

Yeardley:  So, did Halgren plead guilty to Susan’s murder?

Lindsey:  He did. Yes. So, it was interesting. Susan Lowe’s case was the very first that the King County Prosecutor’s Office looked at when they formed their cold case unit in, I think 2005 or 2006. And so, it was pretty exciting for them to be able to move forward with this case. And as you can imagine, the fact that this was a case from 1980, they had concerns about finding witnesses and all of the things that come along with the trial this many years later. So, I think everyone was relieved, including Susan’s family, that Halgren agreed to take a plea. And his ask was that he just wanted the opportunity to be able to go back to the Special Commitment Center at some point, once he served a sentence, if he was still alive. So, I think Mr. Hallgren was sentenced to 14 and a half years in prison. So, I don’t know that he’ll ever get out of prison.

Yeardley:  That doesn’t seem very long though.

Lindsey:  So, you have to keep in mind with these cold cases that they have to sentence these offenders based on the sentencing guidelines from whenever the crime occurred. Today, they would get 30 years or whatever, but back in 1980, the sentencing guidelines were not as strong.

[Break 3]

Paul:  Lindsey, Detective Johnson is spending a ton of time on this case, yet, Halgren, the offender, is in custody. And if they had just taken his DNA sample up front, it would have saved so much time on law enforcement’s side to close this case out.

Lindsey:  Yes. I get on my soapbox when I talk about lawfully owed DNA, and those are the offenders that slip through the cracks and don’t have their DNA collected. I’m a big fan of genetic genealogy, but there are certainly cases where the case could have been solved for a $30 buckle swab, as opposed to spending $10,000 on a genealogy case. The thousands of man hours that go into investigating one of these cases and the years that the families spend wondering what happened. So, it’s frustrating, because we have a system in place. We already have it. It’s called CODIS. [chuckles]

Yeardley:  [laughs]

Lindsey:  So, we just have to use it.

Paul:  Law enforcement is also dropping the ball. This is where we have registered sex offenders who are out in the community. They lawfully have to provide a DNA sample. And many have, yet there are many that have not. I have a guy that I looked at during my investigation on Golden State Killer who was hopping fences and raping women in Sacramento back in the 1970s when the Golden State Killer was doing the same thing. He was a registered sex offender. His DNA wasn’t in the system. I called up the agency, which is in the northern part of Northern California, a small agency, and he was a registered sex offender with that jurisdiction. And I said, “How come you have not collected his DNA?” And the detective I talked to said, “I don’t know how to do that.”

Yeardley:  [gasps] Oh.

Paul:  And I was immediately on the phone with California DOJ, who manages that program, and I was like, “You get somebody out there to train this agency, and you make sure you get this guy that I’m looking at as the Golden State Killer, get him sampled and get him into the system.” That type of situation has happened over and over again.

Lindsey:  Yeah. It’s so frustrating, because yeah, it would be like a whole another episode for me to talk about this. But anyway, there are just so many different ways people slip through, and it’s ridiculous in this day and age especially.

Dave:  Did Halgren ever recount? What happened that night with Susan through Halgren’s eyes?

Lindsey:  He never did give an account of what happened.

Dan:  After the case is solved, we identify Mr. Halgren as the perpetrator. He pleads guilty. Do you have or does Detective Johnson have contact with Susan’s family, and how does that go?

Lindsey:  Yeah, my recollection is that he had contact, and this is Detective Johnson, with Susan’s sister. She actually lived up in Canada, but she did come down for the sentencing. As well as Susan’s roommate, who I think lived out of state, but she came back for the sentencing as well. So, it was really great to meet them. I think that’s one of my favorite parts about doing cold case work is to be able to meet the people that were impacted, and just to see what kind of an impact the resolution of the case has had on them.

 Susan’s sister actually reached out to me quite a while after the sentencing. She was beginning to do work with victim advocacy as a result of her sister’s case. She was just really a wonderful person. She just was genuinely thankful, but also very interested in just the process and just wanted to know like, “How did this all happen and how do these cases work?” So, that was really nice to be able to interact, especially since this technically was not my case. But I enjoyed working on it so much.

Dave:  I think he probably felt like it was partly your case though.

Lindsey:  Yeah, I actually developed a great relationship with Detective Johnson. He and I had never worked together prior to that. So, it was great. And I think just a lot of new relationships were created as a result of this case.

Yeardley:  Of being the squeaky wheel.


Yeardley:  Yay for the squeaky wheel. Lindsey, I’ve read your book, and you investigated a lot of cold cases. When you take stock of your career, which you’re able to do a little bit now, especially, I think, when you write a book, you now have a 40,000-foot view of your many years in law enforcement, what’s the thing that you’re most proud of?

Lindsey:  This case is definitely at the top, because I do think that it’s very likely that Halgren could have just died out there and nobody would know the difference. I wonder if the case ever would have been solved, I think with the advent of genetic genealogy, hopefully they would have attempted that and hopefully there would have been evidence left to do that testing. There’s lots of what ifs, but I just feel like this is one of those cases that probably wouldn’t have been solved had it not been for turning over rocks and asking questions and asking why, which is the common theme throughout my career is why, why, why. [Yeardley chuckles]

Paul:  I have to give a lot of kudos to Lindsey in this situation. She went the extra mile. This was something that she identified as, there’s a problem here. And it wasn’t her fight. This is not a Tacoma PD issue. This is a state level issue. But she took it upon herself to pursue it. And Lindsey, even though right now you solved Susan’s case, your efforts helped solve Susan’s case. Think about all the other residents on McNeil Island that are now up in the system. And when other cases finally get around to being worked and the DNA is going up there, you may have served a role in solving many other cases. So, this is where just the effort of one person can make a huge difference.

Lindsey:  Yeah. I appreciate that.

Yeardley:  Thank you so much for joining us. Lindsey, it’s so wonderful to have you back. I really enjoyed your book. I hope everybody goes out and gets it. You have much to be proud of.

Lindsey:  Thank you so much.

Dan:  Great work. And I like to picture us five. So, Yeardley, Dan and Dave, Paul and Lindsey in a van.

Yeardley:  Oh, God.

Dan:  On a T-shirt. But it’s the mystery machine. [Yeardley laughs]

Lindsey:  Yes. On McNeil Island though, right?

Dan:  Yes, on McNeil Island.

Lindsey:  Are we going to be on a barge?

Dan:  Maybe we could get some fan art or-

Dan and Paul:  Simpsonized.

Dan:  Yes, Paul.


Dave:  Oh, the McNeil Island ferry, and we got the mystery machine with all of us in a window and a little Scooby Georgia in the back window.

Yeardley:  Fantastic. Lindsey, before we sign off completely, tell us and our listeners the name of your book again, so they can go get it.

Lindsey:  Yes. My book is called In My DNA: My Career Investigating Your Worst Nightmares. And it is available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Target, Walmart or my website, pretty much wherever you get books.

Yeardley:  Fantastic.

Dave:  Thanks again, Lindsey. And listeners, you can also hear Detective Lindsey on Season 2 of The Briefing Room,-

Lindsey:  Mm-hmm.

Dave:  -where we talk about child abduction cases.

Lindsey:  Yes.

Yeardley:  Oh, yeah. Small Town Fam, if you haven’t heard that episode of The Briefing Room, it’s a great one. All righty, everybody, y’all are free to go. Small Town Fam, you guys are great. We’ll see you on the other side.


Yeardley:  Small Town Dicks was created by Detectives Dan and Dave. The podcast is produced by Jessica Halstead and me, Yeardley Smith. Our senior editor is Soren Begin, and our editor are Christina Bracamontes and Erin Phelps. Our associate producers are the Real Nick Smitty and Erin Gaynor. Gary Scott is our executive producer, and Logan Heftel is our production manager. Our books are cooked and cats wrangled by Ben Cornwell. And our social media maven is Monika Scott. It would make our day if you became a member of our Small Town Fam by following us on Facebook, Instagram and YouTube at. @smalltowndicks. We love hearing from you.

 Oh, our groovy theme song was composed by John Forrest. Also, if you’d like to support the making of this podcast, hop on over to There, for a small subscription fee, you’ll find exclusive content you can’t get anywhere else. The transcripts of this podcast are thanks to SpeechDocs and they can be found on our website, Thank you SpeechDocs for this wonderful service. Small Town Dicks is an Audio 99 Production. Small Town Fam, thanks for listening. Nobody is better than you.

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