Probes Are Criticized -- Snohomish County Investigations Of Killings Reviewed

EVERETT - Blurred photographs and logistical confusion at a crime scene may have hampered the investigation into two of a string of unsolved Snohomish County murders believed to be the work of one or more serial killers.

Those are some conclusions from Robert Keppel, a criminal investigator for the state Attorney General's Office and a nationally known expert on serial killers. He was asked to review the Snohomish County sheriff's office's investigative techniques in the 1988 slayings of Jennifer Burnetto and Robyn Kenworthy.

Snohomish County Sheriff James Scharf last summer asked Keppel to review 11 cases in which bodies and body parts had been found in rural eastern Snohomish County since 1983. Most of the finds occurred between 1988 and 1991. Detectives were debating whether to add a woman's skeleton found Sunday near Picnic Point County Park to the list.

Keppel so far has completed only his report on the Kenworthy and Burnetto cases, which detectives consider the most similar of the deaths being reviewed. The women were killed five months apart in 1988, and both were partially buried along old logging roads near Index. Both had histories of prostitution and street life. Burnetto had been stabbed to death; Kenworthy's cause of death has never been released.

Keppel served as a consultant to the Green River Task Force, a multiagency group formed in 1984 to investigate the murders of 49 women in the Seattle area between the years 1982 and 1984. Most of the victims were prostitutes.

Keppel delivered a blistering report to King County investigators in 1983, citing scores of missed opportunities, ignored tips and inconsistencies in the first stages of the Green River probe.

But the Snohomish County sheriff's office refused to release most of Keppel's review of its cases, saying that making public the full list of recommended improvements could hamper future investigations. The Times obtained other sections through the state's public-records law.

Keppel wrote that nearly half the photographs taken at both crime scenes were unusable, and that others weren't labeled to indicate what they showed.

"The entire photographic record of the scene was less than adequate," he wrote. Better shooting and a careful record of camera settings, distance from the object and compass direction "can be a great assistance in refreshing the memory of those who were at the scene of cases which remain unsolved for long periods of time."

Snohomish County Lt. Tom Greene, who oversaw processing of some of the discoveries, acknowledges his officers needed more training in outdoor crime scenes. He said they've since improved.

"Photographs always help. If you can't use the photographs, you've lost that `thousand words,' " Greene said. Even so, he said, inadequate pictures of the bodies is just one of several problems hampering the Burnetto and Kenworthy investigations.

Keppel also mentioned that reports of the Burnetto investigation show "there was no officer with the responsibility to keep track of other officers and visitors to the crime scene."

Greene said the major crimes unit recently adopted a coordinated "blitz" approach to outdoor homicide scenes, committing twice the number of detectives to initial work on processing evidence and interviewing witnesses so leads can be followed up quickly.

In general, Greene said, the murders remain unsolved largely due to a lack of officers. There are only four homicide detectives at the sheriff's office, double the number of just a year ago. Keppel recommended one detective per case for the Green River killings.

Keppel refused to comment on his report. "I'll let it stand for itself," he said. Meanwhile, he said, it could take months before the other cases are analyzed.

Of the 11 Snohomish County victims on Keppel's list, three were dismembered. The severed skull of a Bothell woman was found in the High Bridge area of Monroe in March, near a man's scalp found the day before. Two severed legs belonging to the same man were found in Startup and Snohomish in February and August of last year. The torso of another unidentified man was found in Gold Bar in 1987; additional parts of the same man had been scattered as far away as Ebey Slough.