EVERETT - They hardly ever mention her name. In fact, Cynthia Roth's two sons are quick to shut down any attempts to talk about their mother, but it's clear their grief is still close to the surface.
Their mother's best friend, now the boys' legal guardian since Cynthia Roth's drowning death one year ago today, recently asked 10-year-old Rylie if he would like to have a photograph of his mother.
"Before I could even finish the sentence, he snatched it out of my hand and held it," Lori Baker said. "They're still working through a lot."
Outwardly, life has settled into a comfortable routine again for Rylie and 12-year-old Tyson, who live with Baker, 32, in Everett. Baker has worked hard to help the boys start over without their mother and their stepfather, Randy Roth, who is serving a 50-year prison sentence for drowning their mother in Lake Sammamish.
Randy Roth is appealing his first-degree-murder conviction in the death of his fourth wife, who had named him the beneficiary of life-insurance policies worth nearly $400,000. Cynthia and Randy were married for 11 months.
Baker filed a lawsuit to keep Randy Roth or his family from sharing in any of the money. A proposed settlement would give the two boys nearly all of the money and would prevent Randy from having access to it.
In her first interview since Cynthia's death, Baker described how she had lived with Cynthia and her two boys for about 6 1/2 years when Randy introduced himself to Cynthia at the concession stand she managed for the South Everett baseball league her sons had joined.
The two women met shortly after Cynthia's first husband, Tom, died in 1984 of cancer.
Six months later, Baker moved into Cynthia's Silver Lake-area home. She helped with housework and the rearing of the two boys, and they all vacationed together, making the rounds between relatives on holidays.
"That's one thing that has made this transition very easy for the boys and myself," Baker said. "We were already a family."
Shortly after Baker moved in, Cynthia was making out her will and asked her if she would be the guardian for the boys in the event of her death.
After Cynthia started seeing Randy, Baker moved back in with her parents. Randy seemed like a family man and made "brownie points" by including Cynthia's sons in many of their dates during their summer-long courtship, Baker said.
Cynthia initially had reservations about marrying a man who had been married twice before. One marriage ended in divorce, and a second, to Janis Miranda, ended when she died in an apparently accidental fall off a cliff. Prosecutors now say Miranda was killed by Randy for her insurance money, although he hasn't been charged. It wasn't until later that Baker learned from police about a third wife, Donna Clift.
But Cynthia felt the couple had a common bond because both had been through the death of a spouse, Baker said. She also liked Greg, Randy's 14-year-old son by his first wife, "and thought Dad couldn't be doing a whole lot wrong." Cynthia was trying to do the right thing by providing a male role model for her boys, but she was too trusting, Baker said.
EARLY SIGNS OF TROUBLE
Baker's first clue that something was wrong came shortly after the couple married, when she was helping the family move to their new house in Woodinville.
Rylie started crying at one point and said Randy had kicked him in the stomach. Baker told Cynthia, who didn't say anything. Later, when Baker visited them at their new house, she asked Rylie about some scratches on his cheek.
Baker says he told her, "Dad hit me with a rake."
Again, she told Cynthia but got no reply. "She never had an answer for me," Baker recalled.
The boys later told Baker that they were afraid to tell their mother much because they didn't want Randy to hear about it and further discipline them.
Randy's defense attorney, George Cody, believes those stories were fed by the atmosphere surrounding the investigation and trial that helped paint Randy as cold-hearted and manipulative.
The boys initially told police that they liked Randy, Cody said, but after his arrest, their stories changed dramatically.
Baker said the boys' stories never changed but became more explicit over time.
Randy once made them do 250 bend-and-thrust exercises in the middle of winter outside in their underwear, Baker said. Later, Randy overheard Tyson talking about how his hands were bleeding from pressing into the gravel driveway. He picked Tyson up by the neck and told him there was no need to talk about that, then threw him across the room, Baker said.
The relationship between Cynthia and Randy soured quickly after their marriage. "She definitely went downhill - even as far as fixing herself up or keeping the house up," said Baker.
But Cynthia said she couldn't leave Greg. She thought by being there, she helped balance Randy's disciplinary bent, Baker said.
On July 23, a relative of Cynthia's called Baker to say she had died. Randy said it was an accident, that their raft had flipped over when it was swamped by the wake of a passing boat. Baker wondered why a man with knowledge of emergency first aid couldn't have done more to help save her.
"Different things bothered me . . . but I didn't want to think of somebody doing that," Baker said, so at first she believed Randy's account.
But when Randy initially denied the existence of a will, Baker knew something was wrong. She finally got access to the safe-deposit box where she knew there was a copy of the will. But it was empty. "When the bank called and said Randy had been in there two days after she died, I was sick," she said. "I think he had gotten rid of it and thought that would take care of it."
After Cynthia's memorial service, the boys never went back to live with Randy. A copy of the will was located in the Snohomish County courthouse and they went to stay with Baker.
Baker and Randy's family are close to a final agreement on how Cynthia's estate and life-insurance proceeds should be divided. Under the proposed agreement, which still must be approved by a judge, Cynthia's two sons would receive about $292,000 from two life-insurance policies - one she owned before she married Randy and two-thirds of the proceeds from a policy purchased after she married him. Greg Roth would receive about $88,000 from the second policy.
In addition, about 80 percent of the money from the sale of the Roths' Woodinville home would go to Cynthia's two boys, while Randy would receive about 20 percent, representing his half of the interest in the community property. He also would get an amount from the estate as compensation for his agreement to settle the case quickly, Cody said.
None of the money will go to Randy, however. He already has agreed that it will be applied to his legal fees, Cody said.
The money going to Rylie and Tyson would be placed in an account and all expenditures would have to be approved by the court until they are 18 years old, Baker's attorney, John Sinsheimer, said.
Greg now lives with Randy's father, Gordon Roth, and Randy's stepmother in Glenwood, Klickitat County. Gordon Roth said his grandson is adjusting well, but he doesn't talk much about what happened.
"I suppose he thinks if he doesn't talk about it, it'll go away. I don't believe in reliving the past. Life goes on, no matter what."
DOING WELL AT SCHOOL
Rylie and Tyson spent the school year at Silver Lake Christian School, which is connected to the Silver Lake Chapel where Baker has worked for the past 15 years. They play on the same baseball team and Baker goes to all their games.
Bob O'Neal, Tyson's sixth-grade teacher at the school, said the boys have adjusted well, at least on the surface.
"They've done surprisingly well, I think. I don't know how they've held out as they have," he said. O'Neal will be Rylie's teacher this year.
Raising the boys has become a family project. Baker's sister cares for them during the day, and they often see their grandparents.
The boys started counseling this year, although they are taking a break this summer. Baker said she expects they will resume in the fall because they were only starting to work through some of their feelings about their mother and their stepfather.
The boys told Baker they didn't want to be interviewed. Even discussing it with prosecutors before the trial was difficult for them, she said.
Their faith in God keeps them going, Baker said. "We believe that God takes care of us. They're going through this for a reason. I'd like to think they're protected. I'd like to think they'd grow up and be terrific men."