Jody Loomis is pictured with her horse in 1972. (Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office)

Jody Loomis is pictured with her horse in 1972. (Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office)

DNA strikes again: Edmonds man, 77, arrested in 1972 killing

Detectives searched for a Mill Creek killer for 47 years. Genealogy and genetics led to a breakthrough.

EVERETT — Forty-seven years ago, Jody Loomis left her home on a white 10-speed bicycle to see her horse at a stable near Mill Creek.

She’d pedaled 3½ miles when she crossed paths with a killer, who shot her in the head with a .22-caliber bullet in the woods near 164th Street SW.

On Wednesday an Edmonds man, 77, was arrested and charged with Loomis’ murder, a long-awaited break in an investigation that began Aug. 23, 1972.

Semen had been left on a hiking boot that Loomis wore that evening, according to the charges filed Wednesday in Snohomish County Superior Court.

Over the past year, a new forensic tool known as genetic genealogy led Snohomish County sheriff’s detectives to zero in on a retired heavy equipment operator, Terrence Miller. Based on DNA from the boot, a genealogist had built a family tree for the suspect using public genealogy sites like GEDmatch, where people can upload their DNA profile to search for distant cousins and lost relatives.

Last summer, the genealogy research pointed to an Edmonds family with six brothers and a sister. One brother was Miller. At the time of the killing, he lived a few blocks north of 164th Avenue SW, about five miles from the woods along Penny Creek. He had been accused of sex crimes at least five times since the 1960s, according to charging papers.

Undercover police watched Miller sipping a cup of coffee at the Tulalip Resort Casino in August 2018. He tossed the cup in the garbage. Officers swooped in to dig it out, so that traces of Miller’s DNA could be compared to the genetic profile on Loomis’ boot.

A state crime lab confirmed it was a match, according to the charges. There’s no evidence that Miller and Loomis knew each other before that day.

Sheriff’s detectives announced the suspect was in jail Thursday at a press conference. It’s the second major cold case that Snohomish County detectives say they’ve solved with the help of genetic genealogy. The new technique has reignited dozens of high-profile cases nationwide over the past year.

Last fall, detectives paid a visit to the Edmonds house where Miller and his wife of 42 years sold ceramics out of their garage, under the business name Miller’s Cove. By then, cold case detectives had known for weeks that Miller was their suspect. His wife invited them inside.

On a table they noticed a single edition of The Daily Herald. The paper was nearly seven months old. The big front-page story, “Arrest made in cold case,” was about a new DNA technology, and how it had helped Snohomish County detectives to arrest a trucker in a brutal rape and double homicide from decades ago.

The case of Jody Loomis was highlighted in a deck of cold-case playing cards created by the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office in 2008. (Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office)

The case of Jody Loomis was highlighted in a deck of cold-case playing cards created by the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office in 2008. (Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office)

The ten of hearts

In the summer of 1972, Jody Loomis lived in a single-story home off Winesap Road with her parents, her fiancé and her sister, age 12.

She’d celebrated her 20th birthday in June.

A budding artist, Loomis painted her bedroom walls with a mural of running horses. Her horse Saudi stayed at a stable 6¼ miles away on Strumme Road.

That warm August afternoon, Loomis borrowed her sister’s hiking boots with thick waffle stomper soles. She’d never worn them before. She’d never biked to visit her horse, either. Most days her parents would drop her off, the court papers say. About halfway into her ride, she paused to talk with a friend on 164th Street SW. Afterward a girl, 14, saw Loomis riding east to Penny Creek Road — what’s now Mill Creek Road, where condos, a shopping center, and asphalt have sprouted up in the place of woods and open fields.

Back then it was rural enough that people might go out for target practice in the thick trees. A man and a woman turned up a dirt road off Penny Creek to do some shooting around 5:30 p.m. A log blocked their path. The man got out to move it, and as he got closer, he saw the young woman on the ground. She had a severe gunshot wound above her right ear, but she was alive. Loomis could not speak on the drive to Stevens Memorial Hospital in Edmonds. She was dead on arrival at 5:45 p.m. A deputy coroner found obvious signs that Loomis was sexually assaulted.

Years later, Dr. Matthew Lacy at the medical examiner’s office reviewed the case file. Given the bullet’s path, he found it was likely Loomis was seated and getting dressed at the time she was shot, while the assailant stood over her, like an execution.

Loomis’ white Japanese bicycle had been tossed into a ravine about 180 feet from where she’d been shot, according to newspaper archives.

Every lead went cold, for decades.

The Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office put together a deck of cards to be handed out in prisons in 2008. Each card had an unsolved case on it — killings of local men, women and children. The idea was to bring in fresh tips. Even 11 years ago, Loomis’ case was the oldest in the deck. Her face was printed on the ten of hearts. One portrait showed her in riding gear beside a dark horse. A second picture gave a close view of her face and big round tinted glasses.

It was after dark that summer night when a detective knocked on the door, recounted Jody’s sister Jana Smith, in a Herald story about the playing cards. Loomis’ mother collapsed at the news. Her father didn’t have time to catch her. The death hurt her parents so much, Smith said. One day, she hoped her sister’s killer would be unmasked.

“I want them to sweat. I want them to know we’re looking. I want them to wonder if there is DNA that can solve the case,” Smith said in 2008. “Imagine 35 years, thinking you’ve got away with it?”

After 4½ decades of searching, detectives had no way to know if Loomis’ killer would still be living in 2019.

According to a New York Times article published last week, Parabon has helped to identify 47 suspects in cold cases nationally.

Nine of those were already dead, and will never face their day in court.

The suspect

Sheriff’s detective Jim Scharf sent pieces of evidence from the Loomis case to a state crime lab in 2008. Months later lab workers found microscopic sperm on the boot. A DNA profile was uploaded to CODIS. But there was no match in the national database.

The same partial profile was compared to men who became persons of interest over the years.

Again, no matches.

Last year Scharf worked with Parabon Nanolabs and a genealogist, CeCe Moore, to identify a suspect in the 1987 killings of a young Canadian couple. In May 2018, it became one of the first cases in the country where genetic genealogy had led to an arrest. (That defendant, William Talbott II, is still awaiting trial.)

Parabon extracted DNA from the sample on Loomis’ boot last summer.

Distant relatives of an Edmonds couple had uploaded their genetic data to public ancestry sites, the charges say. A genealogist believed the suspect had to be one of their six sons.

Records suggest Miller lived in southwest Snohomish County for most or all of his life — and still lived within blocks off 164th Street SW. Detectives tracked his movements for months in late 2018.

On Facebook, where he remained active up to the day of his arrest, he wrote that he worked on heavy equipment all over Western Washington from 1958 to 1995.

Investigators pieced together a brief biography.

At the age of 18, Miller married a girl who was 14 years old. They had two girls together and divorced after two years, in 1962. Eight months later, his second wife gave birth to a daughter. He divorced again and married a third woman in 1967.

In Mountlake Terrace in 1968, Miller drove up next to a teenage girl in a company truck, according to charging papers. He called her over and showed her that he was naked from the waist down. In a police interview, he admitted to exposing himself, and he was cited for lewd disorderly conduct.

At the time of Loomis’ death, Miller was 30.

Meanwhile, his third wife gave birth to two more girls, then filed for divorce in 1974. Years later he told police he had molested a preteen girl, according to the new charges. In the girl’s timeline of events, it would have been in the early to mid-1970s. That case was deferred in 1978.

Detailed police reports have been lost or purged.

Miller had married his fourth wife in 1976. Ever since they’ve lived in a home off 52nd Avenue W.

In March 1990, Miller was accused of molesting two sisters. The girls later reported the touching could have been an accident, and no charges were filed.

And in 1999, a man with developmental disabilities reported Miller sexually abused him, too. It was a single incident that likely occurred outside of the statute of limitations, according to prosecutors. Officers did not arrest Miller. That was his most recent run-in with police, until detectives booked him into the Snohomish County Jail on Wednesday.

Deputy prosecutor Craig Matheson filed charges of first-degree murder. In court papers the prosecutor asked for $1 million bail, noting Miller would likely never get out of jail alive, if convicted. He would face a minimum of 20 years in prison.

Miller was expected to appear in court for a bail hearing Thursday.

Sheriff’s detectives are still working on the case. If anyone has information that could help in the investigation, tips can be directed to 425-388-3845.

Caleb Hutton: 425-339-3454; chutton@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @snocaleb.

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