(Introduction to show begins)
TODD MATTHEWS (Missing Pieces Host): I’m Todd Matthews. This is Missing Pieces. Tonight we have with us, Barbara Thompson. Welcome Barbara.
BARBARA THOMPSON (Guest): Welcome. It’s nice to be here.
TODD: It’s good to have you here. Barbara was just making fun of my accent, but I forgave her because she’s a really nice lady. I think you’re in Washington State, right?
BARBARA: Yes, I am.
TODD: Okay. You are the mother of Ronda Reynolds?
TODD: Thirty-three years old, and she was murdered December 16, 1998. Is that correct?
BARBARA: That’s correct.
TODD: And we’ll have all your website information on your page; you’ll have a permanent archive at Missing Pieces, and hopefully we can do updates and maybe we’ll find information for you.
BARBARA: Well, thank you, that would be very helpful.
TODD: So I’m going to use your realcrimes.com website; they have a really good outline here. I don’t know if you’ve participated in that but it looks really good, so we’ll use their particular information to pick apart.
BARBARA: Okay. We do have a more expanded website at www.justiceforronda.com and her name has no ‘h’ in it. That really expounds on all of the evidence that we have and all of the step-by-step things that have been happening.
TODD: Okay, we’ll make a note of that. So she died on the floor of her master bedroom walk-in closet following a heated argument with her husband.
BARBARA: That’s right.
TODD: Okay. What can you tell us from that point?
BARBARA: Well, I had talked to her the night before; a couple had talked to her the night before, and she had gotten her airline tickets and made all the scheduled arrangements to bring her dogs and she was going to fly home the next morning. Originally she was going to stay at a friend’s house, and then after thinking things over, when I last talked to her she told me that she had decided that she was going to go back to the house and face her ex-husband and tell him that she wasn’t going to just leave. She had put $15,000 into their new house and if she got divorced, she wanted her money back, and she was not going to give him a divorce for 6 months because he had been having an affair with his ex-wife who is a convicted drug felon, and she wanted to be free of any HIV tests.
TODD: Uh huh.
BARBARA: And we talked about her not going back and just letting things lie and let the attorneys take care of it, but she chose not to do that. She went back to the house; a friend of hers took her back and dropped her off and she went in. I last talked to her at 11 o’clock that night. I got her airline reservation numbers, the flight numbers and everything, and that was the last time that I talked to her.
TODD: Well, you know, I’m looking at the website that you referred me to, justiceforronda.com and of course we’re going to use that for the show as well. It’s pretty strongly worded: ‘A TRUE story of investigative cover-ups, and a Mother’s determination to expose the TRUTH...’
BARBARA: That’s exactly what it is. The husband called 9-1-1 at 6:20 a.m. and made a report that his wife had committed suicide…
TODD: Uh huh.
BARBARA: …and the 9-1-1 operator asked him if he had taken her pulse, and he said, “No.” The operator asked him to go back and take her pulse, he acknowledged that he did and came back and said, “There’s no pulse.” The first arriving officers were there at 6:45. Two of the deputies got there, the first arriving deputy let three of his (the husband’s) boys leave without being questioned or their car looked at or anything, and they left. They took a statement from the husband and the husband told the deputies that he last saw her at 5 o’clock in the morning and she was alive, and he woke up at 6 o’clock and she was not in bed so he went looking for her, and found her at 6:20 in her closet, and he said that the closet door was closed; he pushed the door open and wiggled her toe and then opened the door and realized that she wasn’t moving so he went up and took a pulse and there was not pulse, then he called 9-1-1. Now that is just the first of numerous inconsistencies in this man’s testimony. And the biggest thing at this point besides when he called 9-1-1 and when he took her pulse, this particular closet door…the door was open when the investigating officers got there and her legs were through the door, through the sill of the opening.
TODD: Uh huh.
BARBARA: There is no way that door could have been closed and then opened with her…pardon my expression, with her dead body on there. Then we get into the deputy coroner arriving at about 7:20 a.m., and it was evidenced that rigor mortis and lividity was already setting in and that is at the most, a little over a two-hour timeframe, which doesn’t happen. From that point the case was turned over to another detective named Jerry Berry, who within just a year or so of that point, he left the sheriff’s department because he refused to lie and cover up over her case.
TODD: And that was like nearly 3 years later.
BARBARA: That was about a year and a half later that he left.
BARBARA: He pushed the investigation steadily from that time until May of 1999, he was hospitalized for a couple days, and the detective sergeant that was over him wrote a statement, and closed the case. We have since proven that the statement and the facts that that detective sergeant wrote were falsified.
TODD: Now, will we be able to get a copy of his statements?
BARBARA: It is on her website.
TODD: Okay. So we can use that.
BARBARA: Yes. And we know that this particular sergeant detective, who by the way has been allowed to retire since all of this, we know that he has made false statements, and lied, and either disposed of or destroyed evidence.
TODD: Now why would that be?
BARBARA: You know I would like to believe that it started out with untrained law enforcement personnel that arrived on the scene with a call in their mind that a person had committed suicide, and they just handled the case as that. They made a lot of mistakes, and in order to cover up their mistakes, they automatically ruled it as a suicide.
TODD: So it’s more or less them trying to cover up their own mistakes rather than to try to cover up the homicide, but you have to cover up the homicide to cover up your own mistakes.
BARBARA: Right. This particular county does have a history of the easiest way out that when there is a death to label it a suicide. You don’t have to spend money to investigate. You don’t have to spend money to try to prosecute. It saves tax dollars. When you do an obituary, when there’s a suicide, you are not allowed to put anything in that obituary about how that person died. You can’t say that they died of a gunshot wound; all you can say is they died in their home. So the public has no idea that something might have been going on.
TODD: Have you found out why would they do that? Why would that be a…?
BARBARA: Why would it be a common practice?
TODD: Yeah, to not put that in there. Why are they not allowed to do it?
BARBARA: Believe it or not we’re seeing that in a lot of counties, especially small counties, where they don’t have the money to investigate; they don’t have the money to train their personnel.
TODD: Uh huh.
BARBARA: So it’s easier to label something in a manner that’s easy to get rid of and not cost any tax dollars.
TODD: Well it’s something that people are not going to say, “Hey, there are a lot of homicides going on here and there is nothing being done about them.”
BARBARA: Lewis County has one of the highest rates of suicide per capita in the United States.
TODD: But you can’t tell that by looking at the obituaries.
BARBARA: No. No.
TODD: Now, what have you done? I know you’ve been working on this for a while now. What are you doing to try to change some of that?
BARBARA: We have been told that the sheriff’s department now handles every reported death as a homicide…
TODD: Uh huh.
BARBARA: …right from the get-go. I question that particular thing. I know they’re doing better. I know that they’re watched a little more closely. They have a reporter in Lewis County that has done a really good fair job of covering deaths and trying to make the citizens aware of different deaths and what they might or might not be, so I think that we have accomplished something in that county.
TODD: Do you think it just boils down to education, lack of education situation?
BARBARA: I think they lack the funds to train their law enforcement personnel.
TODD: Uh huh.
BARBARA: I would like to believe that most of the law enforcement personnel in that area, and every area, are good. You always have some that aren’t good, but I would like to believe that the largest percentage is good, but I do believe they are underpaid, under-trained, under-respected, and I think they have a lot of challenges to overcome.
TODD: You hate to go to bed at night thinking that nobody cares and nobody is going to help respond to a situation if something happens.
BARBARA: You know I don’t go to bed thinking that; I do go to bed wondering how I can make it better so that they do respond better and that they do better. I think so many of them do try; I would really like to believe that, I would just like to see it done better.
TODD: Now you mentioned those statistics in Lewis County, will we have something that we can use for the website with the show here that shows the rate as compared to other counties in the state, or do you have that type of…I know you’ve done a lot of research obviously.
BARBARA: I do. I will have to look that up and give it to you.
TODD: Okay, and that’s no problem; we’ll put it at this point of the episode, because all of this is transcribed and you’ll have a really nice document later to use, hopefully to take things forward, and we’ll put those things in order for you.
BARBARA: Okay. Yes, and I can supply that; we have some statistics that show it.
TODD: Okay. I see that you mentioned another homicide investigator, Jim Roby, with over 500 solved homicides to his credit; now tell us about that guy. Where does he fit into the picture?
BARBARA: Before I tell you about him, let me tell you about Vernon Geberth.
BARBARA: Vernon Geberth was the first outside expert to look at the case, and Vernon Geberth wrote the book ‘Practical Homicide’ and he trained law enforcement personnel all across the United States in homicide investigation. He is recognized as one of the leading homicide investigators in the nation. At the request of our lead detective, he did review the case file and he determined that it was a homicide. Lewis County Sheriff’s Department chose not to heed his determination and still kept it as suicide.
TODD: But this guy actually said more than homicide, he said than that, he felt that the crime scene was staged.
BARBARA: Yes. Yes, he did.
TODD: “Major police malfeasance…”
BARBARA: Yes. Major police screw-up, basically.
TODD: Wow. Now how do you answer that?
BARBARA: I have to agree with him.
TODD: The police, did they just totally ignore this?
BARBARA: They did. They totally ignored his report. At this point, they had gotten themselves in a corner that it was hard to get out of. A lot of ego is in this county; the sheriff himself is pretty egotistical, the detective sergeant was pretty egotistical, and I went in there demanding an investigation, and looking for the truth, and questioning the things they did, and that wasn’t acceptable practice to them to have woman come in and confront them on those terms.
TODD: Now you had a lot of guys come in on this.
TODD: You have a lot of people that actually have come in; a lot of well-respected professionals in various areas to come in and look at this.
BARBARA: Oh yes. Gary Aschenbach, I hired him to do a forensic statement analysis, and he is a forensic statement analysis expert; he also teaches all across the United States. I did not know him before; a dear, dear friend of mine attended a class of his and mentioned my daughter’s case and asked if he would be interested. I contacted him and he agreed to do this analysis for us, and his statement analysis of Ron Reynolds’s first taped statement is in the records, and it puts it pretty clear that, at one point, he indicates that they kept going back to check on the body.
TODD: Uh huh.
BARBARA: He then introduced me to this Jim Roby.
BARBARA: He is a homicide detective back east, and he also went over the entire case file very thoroughly and he also came up with homicide.
TODD: Now, all of these people you’ve run into, has everybody that you’ve brought in on this, have they all had a problem with the way this case was carried out?
BARBARA: Right. Right, and we just hired a forensic pathologist expert that just this week gave up his verbal opinion, and we’re waiting for his written opinion before we release his name, but he also has said the same thing that to him it’s clearly a homicide.
TODD: Now, I won’t pin you down the exact amount but hundreds or thousands, dollar-wise, have you spent of your own money to try to…
BARBARA: I don’t even want to begin to calculate that.
TODD: So it’s just…
BARBARA: You do what you have to do for you child.
TODD: What’s the minimal amount that you’ve had to spend on this?
BARBARA: This minimal amount?
TODD: Uh huh.
BARBARA: I think the minimal report was $350.
TODD: I’m assuming that you’re probably not a rich woman, but this has been a pretty big burden. What if you couldn’t afford any of this? Would you have to just accept this?
BARBARA: No, I would find a way. And I have been so blessed to have so much help from a lot of people. There is a lot of support out there. I would find a way. If you want it bad enough, you will find a way.
TODD: This is a lot of information to just simply not respond to, or ignore.
BARBARA: That’s my feeling, but apparently Lewis County Police think that they can continue to ignore it and it will go away.
TODD: I mean if they had an alternate theory that was something that they would want to come out with as verbally as you have, some way to contradict what they’re finding, or some piece of evidence to run them down, but we’re talking about 10 years.
BARBARA: I have asked them steadily for the last 10 years to sit down with me and show me how they made their determination of suicide. Show me evidence that indicates to you that it was suicide.
TODD: If this were my case I would definitely…if I knew you were on the wrong track, and I knew I was right, I would definitely want to sit you down and make you happy or make you feel comfortable with my findings.
BARBARA: That’s correct, and as well, you should. We just came out of the Washington State Court of Appeals with a unanimous victory. We had filed a petition to have a judicial review of the coroner’s report; meaning having a judge or a jury of our peers look at all of the evidence in the case and make their own determination of cause of death. We came back with a unanimous decision that the coroner…in a way you are entitled to do that.
TODD: Uh huh.
BARBARA: What they said was that I have a statute of limitation for 2 years from the date of the last death certificate that he changed…
TODD: Uh huh.
BARBARA: …to file for a judicial review. They led me on and put me off until that 2-year statute passed. What we said was, “Yes, that statute passed, but the coroner never met with me and never fulfilled his statutory obligation of explaining his findings to me.” The Court of Appeals upheld our reasoning, saying that, “Yes, there is a 2-year statute of limitation, but that statute of limitation will not start until the coroner…
BARBARA: …meets with the family and explains his determination. So now the coroner does have to meet with me and he has to explain his determination.
TODD: Now is there a plan for that to occur?
BARBARA: He has 30 days to file an appeal to the Supreme Court, so we do have to wait that timeframe. We received our decision on January 23rd, so about February 22nd or so his time limit will run out.
TODD: Do you expect he will do that? Do you think he’ll file an appeal?
BARBARA: I do, and I think he’ll file it at the last minute, you know, delays, delays…
BARBARA: …that’s the best answer to anything. If you delay long enough…
TODD: Well, if they delay long enough, you might die a natural death…
TODD: …then they’ll be done with it. You know I’ve seen a lot of people that, you know I know people that that’s actually happened to.
BARBARA: I know.
TODD: And they’re done, you know, it’s over now. You had your daughter cremated, is that correct?
TODD: Is that something that you’re regretting now that you’ve had to go back and review these things?
BARBARA: You know I went over that in my mind so much, but they did a very extensive autopsy at the time…
TODD: Uh huh.
BARBARA: …because Detective Jerry Berry insisted on it, but we did not know at that time that some of that evidence would not be around later, for whatever reason. I do regret it, but you can’t change it…
TODD: Uh huh.
BARBARA: …so you just go forward with what you have.
TODD: Any other points in this story where you feel like you made an error in judgment that you wish that you would have taken this direction rather than that direction, or pushed something a little harder that…you know hindsight’s 20/20 on something like this. Where do you feel like, “I should have done more here”?
BARBARA: When we had fought with the sheriff that was the current sheriff in Lewis County, his name was John McCroskey; he retired suddenly and they appointed a new sheriff, who was a good man, he was the one that I would have liked for them to have appointed.
TODD: Uh huh.
BARBARA: He contacted me because so much pressure was being put on him from other areas, that he did contact me and he promised me faithfully that he would look into it, and we met quietly, I kept my mouth shut about our meeting, I kept my word on everything, I kept all of my promises to him, and he used me and lied to me. If I regret anything, I would not have been so vulnerable and gullible to this man. He got caught up in the political mess and turned the other way. He won’t even meet with me after he promised me that he would meet with me. After they reviewed the case file, they can’t explain to me why it’s suicide, so they can’t meet with me.
TODD: Now, there have been people in your state that actually feel like this has been a murder.
BARBARA: There are a lot of people that feel like it has been.
TODD: In an official capacity?
TODD: Okay now I’m reading that an assistant coroner…
BARBARA: She did, and she did admit to me that she believed it was a homicide…
TODD: Uh huh.
BARBARA: …but obviously she won’t go public with that because she’s next in line to be coroner, so if she goes against the current coroner, he won’t give her support.
TODD: So do you understand her position in this?
BARBARA: To a certain extent I feel sorry for her that she doesn’t have the intestinal fortitude to stand her ground and do the right thing.
TODD: Now, if she moves up in line and she becomes coroner, do you think that she might do something different?
TODD: It’s too late?
BARBARA: Yeah. I think she’s made her bed; I think she has to lie in it.
TODD: So often in life we have to, I’ve seen that, for the good and the bad, you know, you go so far in something that there’s really no way to turn back, no matter who is hurt or who is dead.
BARBARA: Right, and I know that there are law enforcement personnel there, there are deputies there, that know more about the situation and that have information and know it was murder, if they come forward, they lose their jobs and they lose their security. You know, what do you do if you lose your job and all of that?
TODD: And that’s a scary thing for everybody, you know, even people not involved in this. Everybody is at a point in time where you could lose your job based on just the economic situation; I understand that people are afraid.
BARBARA: Right, and you know I don’t hold that against them; I understand. For me, I would stand up regardless.
TODD: And some people will and some people won’t.
BARBARA: Right, and that does not make them a bad person.
TODD: What kind of request do you have for anybody out there? And they’ll listen, there will be people that will read this and will listen to this, and I’m blind and I’m following your direction and I’ve read some stuff here and I’m having to go by what we’re going with; what do you ask of the people that do know more?
BARBARA: I know there are people out there that the Reynolds family, Ron Reynolds…
TODD: Uh huh.
BARBARA: …Jonathan Reynolds, David Reynolds, Josh Reynolds, I know that there are people out there that they have talked to. I know that there are people out there that know and are aware of actions of these boys that are horrific. I would ask these people to find it in their hearts to find the courage to come forward.
TODD: Now you’ve written about this?
TODD: Have you actually written and published a book?
BARBARA: I haven’t got it published; I am writing on it.
TODD: I saw some sample chapters and I’d like to see more actually. I hope you’ll let me give you an early review of it; it’s very interesting and I think it could be a very good tool for you.
BARBARA: Well, thank you, and I will see that you get some further chapters; we do have it quite a bit further than that.
TODD: Now what do you hope will be the result of this book?
BARBARA: My hope for the result of the book is to help people, mainly women, who are in abusive relationships.
TODD: Uh huh.
BARBARA: Because that’s basically what this was with my daughter. My mother was a victim of physical abuse and I grew up understanding that was what love was; I married into that abuse and my daughter saw that, although I thought and believed I was able to keep the situation under control. My daughter learnt that that was what love was about and that’s what she looked for in a husband. She was 18 or 19 when she and I started doing a lot of talking and she understood what she was looking for in men, and tried to go down a different path, but one of her comments to me was, “I can’t change. That’s what I know.” So mothers need to understand that if they’re in any type of abusive situation; verbal, mental, physical, emotional, you need to get out of it. Your children, as young as 3 and 4 years old, are aware of that.
TODD: Uh huh.
BARBARA: And you mold your child’s life by what they see in you, and it needs to be changed. Women need to find the courage to get out of those situations, for their children, if not for themselves.
TODD: Now also, is there a possibility that there could be a reward in this case?
BARBARA: You know we haven’t went that route, and we haven’t went that route mainly because when you start that, so many people come up with false information because they want the money.
TODD: Uh huh. It doesn’t look like you’ve got a process to review the data that you’re going to get.
BARBARA: Right. Right. I want the truth, and if the truth, through any of this, through all these years, when we look into situations and information and evidence that we get, I look as hard for evidence of suicide as I do for homicide, because, for me, although I don’t believe in suicide and I definitely don’t believe my daughter did. If there was something so tragic in her life that for whatever reason, as strong a person as she was, that she could not cope with that, and it was her choice to take her own life, I don’t have to agree with it, I don’t have to like it, but it was her choice…
TODD: Uh huh.
BARBARA: …I could go on with my life. I cannot accept the fact that someone murdered her. I cannot let them go and not be held accounted for it.
TODD: Now in 10 years, have you met other people that have been in the situation that you’re in?
BARBARA: Yes I have.
TODD: What kind of friendship, now this is an odd friendship, what you have in common is the thing that is the most painful thing in your life.
BARBARA: But it’s very strengthening to all of us to be able to give each other a little morale boost, to exchange information and avenues of possible help; it’s all a good thing, and nobody cries in their beer or feels sorry for themselves, it’s all a work in progress. But Ronda’s case is not the only one of this nature, it would amaze you how many there are out there; it would amaze you how many homicides are called suicides.
TODD: Well, it’s the easy way to close it out.
TODD: It’s an easy way to close the whole case out.
BARBARA: Yes, it is. It’s a very cheap and easy way, and parents are afraid to step forward. They’re terribly degrading, you know, they beat you down, telling you whatever they can try to find that might embarrass you about your child or your loved one.
TODD: So it’s not unusual that if somebody finds themselves in your position tomorrow, and they meet resistance when they find to fight it, this could be a very common thing.
BARBARA: It is, and my advice is to go with your gut feeling about your child.
TODD: How many people do you think just accept the establishment, try to accept it, because this is what ‘they’ say?
BARBARA: Seventy-five percent. I mean this is our law enforcement that is telling us; these are the people that we’re supposed to trust. These are the people that protect us. They are supposed to be above reproach.
TODD: Uh huh. You know you can compare it to people going to the doctor actually. I have older relatives that go to the doctor and they never question the doctor. It’s as if they must do exactly what they say, they never question anything, and when I go to the doctor, I do respect him, but I hired him and I’m paying him, and I’m going to ask questions and, you know they feel like they can’t, they can’t question why are we taking this course of action, wouldn’t this be better? You know I’ll ask a lot of questions.
BARBARA: And people should when it comes to investigating the death of their loved ones, they have that right. Law enforcement, sheriff’s departments, state patrol, they all have an obligation to give you information…that’s their job. We pay their salaries; however poorly they’re paid, we still pay them.
TODD: I agree, the pay is usually very low.
BARBARA: And if you don’t like it, go back and ask again, and if you don’t like that, go to a superior. You know just go up the ladder, and if that doesn’t work, there are several organizations out there that help you: Families and Friends of Violent Crime Victims (http://www.fnfvcv.org/), Parents of Murdered Children (http://www.pomc.com/), the list goes on.
TODD: And we’ll add that list, I’m going to ask you to provide me with a list of links and detailed information that you feel are really good sources and we’ll put them on your page so that other people will have the advantage of that.
TODD: And just to recap, what are we waiting for right now? As of today, February 12, 2008, what are we waiting on as the next step in this case?
BARBARA: Right now we are waiting for two things. We’re waiting to see what the coroner is going to do, if he is going to file for an appeal to the Supreme Court.
TODD: Uh huh.
BARBARA: We are hoping that even if he does, as strongly worded as the Court of Appeals put down their unanimous decision, that there will be no grounds for an appeal. We have to wait for that, but if he appeals to the Supreme Court, we’re ready for that. We are also waiting for the written report from the forensic expert that we hired, and we will use that to serve the coroner, and we will serve the coroner with his report along with a 3-inch binder full of case review information, and make a request that he sit down and talk with me and explain to me how he made his determination.
TODD: Okay, we’re going to air the show as is. We’re waiting for this data and we’ll add updates to the website to show what we’re waiting for next and when it comes in, and very possibly, we’d like to come back to you.
BARBARA: That would be fine and I’d be more than happy.
TODD: You’ve done a great job and we only want to see justice served in this and hopefully we’ll find an opportunity where somebody out there can help.
BARBARA: Thank you. You know I know there are people out there that know what’s going on that just have to find it in themselves and the courage to come forward.
TODD: And are you willing to accept an anonymous tip?
BARBARA: You bet, and we have kept every anonymous tip confidential and I guarantee that.
TODD: And maybe that’s something somebody needs to hear just the assure that you don’t want to cause anybody any problems, and that you understand the situations and how they can get sometimes.
BARBARA: That’s correct. You know there is enough pain in this as it is. I don’t want to cause anybody else any more pain.
TODD: All right. So I think you did a great job here. We’ll be listening and watching and hopefully you’ll be in touch with us and we can continue to cover this and hopefully somebody will help us out. We’ll say goodnight to our audience now and then you and I will talk a little while longer.
BARBARA: Okay, goodnight.
TODD: Goodnight, everybody. Be back again soon.
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