By Gary C. King
Darren O’Neall, 27, arrived virtually unnoticed in the rugged Twin Peaks backwoods of Washington State on November 3, 1986, an unseasonably warm Monday.
Known as a drifter to his family, friends and law enforcement agencies across the country, O’Neall had traveled extensively throughout the United States. As the product of an Army household, his travels had begun in his youth and continued until his father, Darrell, finally retired from the military and settled with Darren’s mother, Christa, in Colorado Springs, Colorado. But for reasons, -dark, macabre reasons – that no one yet fully understood, Darren O’Neall continued to travel in his adult life, out of necessity in most cases, in order to stay one step ahead of the law.
On the move almost constantly, Darren O’Neall never remained in one location for very long. As a result, he did little bonding with others and knew few people whom he could call friends. When he chose to associate with anyone, he did so mostly with street people, “animals of the street” as O’Neall himself was known to call them. He didn’t form alliances out of a yearning for companionship but out of a need to score illicit drugs or to launch a new scam of some sort.
Mostly, however, he made contacts in the streets because he blended in so smoothly with what he termed “society’s rubbish,” which is how he sometimes thought of himself, and because he knew that such people would be the least likely ever to turn him in to the law.
Darren O’Neall was gutsy and daring, which should not be misconstrued as bravery or gallantry but instead should be understood in the vein that he would do what he had to do to get what he wanted. In that sense, some would say, he had more nerve than a government mule. But he was a loner for the most part, afraid to face lifes responsibly and on the right side of the law, and that seemed to suit him just fine.
A Ticking Time Bomb
Upon his arrival in the “Evergreen State,” Darren O’Neall promptly contacted an old high school friend who, O’Neall learned, had also recently moved into the area. While renewing their “friendship,” the old friend convinced O’Neall in short order that life and women were indeed good there and that he should rent an apartment and stay, too.
O’Neall, apparently believing his friend and taking him at his word, decided to try out the area for a while. After settling into a shabby duplex unit in Puyallup, a small community of 17,200 residents, he quickly obtained work as a truck driver in nearby Tacoma.
Although his propensity for carrying out senseless acts of violence was present early in his life and began to manifest itself during a period of enlistment with the U.S. Army, no one, not even Darren O’Neall , really knew what he was capable of doing. He was literally a ticking time bomb waiting to explode but, unfortunately, nobody knew when, where, or by what means the detonation would occur.
By January 1987 the darkness within Darren O’Neall began to surface. O’Neall’s job as a trucker took him to Portland, Oregon, some 130 miles to the south, on the evening of January 17th. Driving toward his destination, he spotted an attractive 14-year-old girl walking across a freeway overpass on the city’s southeast side on her way to a nearby convenience store.
The Girl In The Store
Driving a big rig, O’Neall’s insatiable sexual urge compelled him to turn around and drive back for a second look, just in time to see her walk inside the convenience store. With his libido now dictating his actions, he positioned his truck on the side of the street along the route she had come and waited for her to emerge from the store.
This was too good to be true, or so Darren O’Neall thought. After all, he had just driven south from Tacoma to Portland, Oregon, the City of Roses, and he had already found himself a perfect victim. While it was certainly bad luck for the girl, it was indeed good luck for him. Rarely was finding a victim so easy. Fate was clearly on his side once again. Thinking through a quickly made plan, O’Neall told himself that it would all be worth it once he had the girl under his control. He lit up a Camel filter, his favorite brand of cigarette, and drew the harsh smoke deep into his lungs as he waited for the girl to leave the store.
Five minutes passed. As he waited for her to return, he became more anxious, excited, and his breathing grew heavier, more intense with each second that ticked by. Three minutes later he lit another Camel from the one he was smoking, and flicked the finished one out into the street.
He continued to wait, and he took out one of the long-bladed hunting knives that he always carried with him as he began to fantasize about what he would soon be able to do with the girl. He turned the knife over and over in his hands, feeling the sharp, turned-up tip. The things he planned to do to the girl were terrible, unthinkable by most people’s values – but not to his.
People, to Darren Dee O’Neall, were objects to be used for his pleasure alone and to be discarded like garbage when he was finished with them. He didn’t care whether she had a family or what kinds of repercussions his actions would have on them or the girl. Thoughts of decency were foreign to him. All he cared about was himself, what he needed, what he wanted. Even more frightening, there was a part of him that understood all of this.
Although Darren was not yet versed in the legality of what he was about to do, by definition he was going to interfere with a person’s personal liberty and commit the crime of kidnapping in the first degree with the sole purpose of causing physical and psychological injury to his chosen victim. He was going to confine her secretly so that he could terrorize her without being disturbed, ultimately for his sexual pleasure and the delight he would enjoy of having her under his power, under his total control. He knew what he was doing and he knew right from wrong. But he didn’t care. He was pure evil.
Finally, there she was, coming out of the store. She was carrying an open bottle of soda pop in one hand and a small sack of candy and other treats in the other. There was no time to lose. The man moved quickly into action.
He climbed out of the cab of his big rig, the half-burned Camel hanging from his lips, and moved toward the truck’s sleeping compartment door, pretending that he was attending to some kind of a problem with his rig. Such tactics had worked for him before. There was no reason for him to believe they wouldn’t work this time.
And Then She Was His
When the girl was alongside the truck, the hairy man, without any warning, pulled on the outside handle of the sleeping compartment door and swung it open, then stepped onto the sidewalk in front of her and effectively blocked her path, all in one swift action. It was imperative that he move quickly. He couldn’t risk anyone seeing him kidnap the girl.
Puzzled and somewhat startled at first, the girl stopped in her tracks and looked up quizzically at the man. Not wanting the girl to scream and cause a scene before he could get her under his control, the man attempted a halfhearted smile as he leered at her with Charlie Manson eyes. Quick as a snake he reached out and grabbed her by the front of her nylon jacket. Terrified, the girl stiffened and froze, unable to scream or fight back.
The man lifted her off the sidewalk and pushed her forcefully into the truck’s sleeping compartment. He leaped inside after her and pulled the door shut behind him, brandishing the hunting knife for the girl to see. He also told her that he had a gun, but she didn’t actually see the .357 Ruger he was carrying.
“If you scream or try to get away, I’ll kill you,” said the man, brimming with a matter-of-fact, arrogant confidence. The girl, wild-eyed with fear, couldn’t take her eyes off the knife. The knife was having the effect that he wanted it to have, and he seemed aroused by her wild display of fear.
The Perfect Place For Murder
Although terrified, the girl kept quiet and involuntarily allowed the man to stuff a gag inside her mouth and to bind her hands and feet. Squirming from discomfort and crying uncontrollably, her young mind instinctively told her that it would be futile, and possibly very dangerous, to resist. When he was certain that the bindings were tautly in place and was confident that she couldn’t get away or cause him any trouble, Darren exited the sleeping compartment and climbed back into the driver’s seat. Certain that he had drawn no attention from passersby he calmly started the engine and pulled unobtrusively away from the curb.
He crossed the overpass, then took the freeway on-ramp that headed him south into rural Clackamas County, his predetermined destination. He wanted his privacy and he knew that he would get it there.
Fifteen minutes later, Darren O’Neall pulled off onto a dark, tree-shrouded unpaved road and parked in an area not unlike that being frequented by serial killer Dayton Leroy Rogers, also known as the Molalla Forest Killer. O’Neall wasn’t aware of Rogers, who had not been apprehended yet and wouldn’t be for several more months. But no one would bother him there, of that O’Neall was certain. With steady hands he reached into a sack on the floorboard and pulled out a lukewarm can of Black Label beer, next to the last can of a six-pack that he had purchased just before leaving Washington State. He lit another Camel, climbed out of the truck, and listened intently. All he could hear was the wind-driven rain pelting the metal of the cab’s roof.
He was alone with the girl in a silent forest, and though her tears flowed like the rain coming down outside and he could hear her whimpering in the compartment behind him, he made not a sound. He was feeling good, strong, and in control. After several minutes of savoring the moment, he climbed inside the sleeping compartment and sat down next to the frightened, whimpering girl, a mere child who was only now beginning to learn about life’s darkest side.
And The Game Began
Keeping the knife where she could see it, he carefully removed her restraints. He drew back his hand at one point, as if he was going to slap her hard across the face with the palm of his hand. The display was to show her that he meant business. But for some reason he didn’t strike the girl.
Perhaps it was the way she had flinched sharply in anticipation of the pain that the slap would have caused, or perhaps it was because she had promptly nodded in affirmation that she would do just as she was told, everything that he instructed her to do as long as he promised not to kill her. But the only promise he made to her was that if she didn’t obey, she would suffer dearly for it. She believed him, and slowly followed his instructions by removing all her clothing.
The girl slowly unbuttoned her blouse and slipped it off. She next unfastened her jeans and, from a sitting position, slipped them down. She looked at him for a moment, as if waiting or hoping that he would change his mind.
“Go on, get the rest of those off,” he commanded as he showed her the knife again. “What the fuck are you waitin’ for?”
She unfastened her bra in the back and, attempting to cover her breasts with one arm, she removed the bra the rest of the way with the other. She then slipped her panties off and knelt on the floor. He pushed her onto her back, but she remained rigid.
Darren Dee O’Neall
Darren ran his large, rough hands across her breasts, and took the hunting knife and ran its tip slowly and ever so lightly across her stomach. With careful, deliberate movements he continued dragging the knife in a downward motion, across her abdomen and pelvic area to, finally, between her thighs. He felt good, all-powerful. He wriggled out of his own pants He forced himself on top of the girl and entered her forcefully. His breath stank of beer and cigarettes, and he panted as he continued to rape her.
His manhood was important to him, even if he really wasn’t the man he wanted everyone to think that he was. He had to maintain the image. It was all an extension of his fantasy, which he believed he had to keep alive to get along in the world.
The girl didn’t want to take any chances of angering him by protesting his demands that she perform oral sex on him and so she continued the deviant act until he backed away on his own. She didn’t know what he might do with the knife.
He would continue to rape her over the next two hours. At one point, when it appeared that he would not be able to attain another erection, the man grabbed the now empty soda pop bottle that the girl had been carrying when he kidnapped her and placed it angrily between her legs.
Begging For Her Life
“Bet you know what I’m doing to do with this, don’t you?” he laughed. The girl remained silent, and only stared at him with wild, frightened eyes.
He carefully, but forcefully, worked the bottle’s neck into her vagina.
When O’Neall realized that he was finished with the girl, he also knew that he had the problem of deciding what to do with her. He had kidnapped, repeatedly raped, and sexually penetrated the body of a juvenile female with a foreign object, among other crimes. If he let her go, he knew that she would likely be able to identify him at some point. He thought and talked of killing her, but she cried and pleaded with him to let her go.
“I promise I won’t tell anyone what happened if you’ll just let me go,” she cried. “Please don’t kill me!”
“I could sell you to pimps in California,” he said after several minutes of silence, an evil gleam in his eyes. He seemed lost, deep in thought for several more minutes before finally breaking the quietude. After taunting her by telling her all of the horrible things that he could do to her, he demanded that she promise, again, not to tell anyone about what had happened to her. After threatening to find her if she did, O’Neall miraculously agreed to let her go. He allowed her to dress, drove her back to the city, and dropped her off at a location where she could easily find her way home.
The Truth Be Told
When the girl arrived home, she discovered that her parents were still up, frantic with worry. They had already called the police, but, they had been told, there wasn’t much that they could do until more time had passed. She hadn’t been missing long enough to qualify as a missing person. Trembling uncontrollably, she tearfully recounted to her parents the horror she had been subjected to over the past few hours.
They reported the crimes that had been committed against their daughter to the Portland Police Bureau, and the girl was taken to a local hospital for examination. A standard rape kit, which includes a comb, swabs and evidence containers, was used to collect the evidence.
Following the medical examination, Portland Police Bureau Detective Bill Carter interviewed the girl at length. She described her attacker as a white male, approximately 25 to 30 years of age, nearly six feet tall, and about 160 pounds. She said that he had a thick mustache and beard, and somewhat crooked teeth. However, despite the investigation that was initiated that evening, it would be nearly six months before the girl would positively identify her attacker as one Darren Dee O’Neall.
In the meantime, she would begin to despise and distrust nearly all men because of what happened to her on the night of January 17, 1987, and would grow up harboring such feelings despite extensive therapy. And, like so many others who had become victims of violent crime, she would become afraid of the dark.
Darren O’Neall eventually would be charged with two counts of first-degree kidnapping, three counts of first-degree rape, sexual penetration with a foreign object, three counts of third-degree rape, and single counts of first-degree sodomy, third-degree sodomy, and sexual abuse, but not before returning to Washington State and murdering Robin Smith, and likely other victims.
Following the attack on the young girl in Oregon, Darren O’Neall, being a master of disguise and possessing an uncanny ability to elude the law, did not return to his job but instead changed his appearance, took on an alias and moved from Puyallup to nearby Edgewood, an even smaller town of only 1,600 people where he obtained a job as a laminator. As would become a part of his overall profile, he managed to stay one step ahead of the law.
Nearly two months after the attack on the young Oregon girl, in March 1987, O’Neall met attractive Mary Barnes at Baldy’s Tavern in Puyallup, where Barnes worked part-time as a barmaid. Baldy’s soon became one of O’Neall’s favorite haunts, and he began going there almost daily. Attracted to O’Neall’s ruggedness, the two instantly hit it off and Barnes soon moved into O’Neall’s apartment. Barnes satisfied him sexually at first, but after a couple of weeks he began to fantasize about the perfect woman he wanted for himself, a woman he hoped he could take back into the woods and live out the rest of his life with. It was just a fantasy, of course, one of many that he got from reading Louis L’Amour’s western novels.
Early on Saturday morning, March 28th, shortly past midnight, Darren O’Neall began eyeing a beautiful young woman from across the bar. Soon afterward his fantasy state took hold, and he immediately felt certain that he had found the perfect woman he’d been looking for in Robin Smith, 22, at Baldy’s Tavern. He found Smith, at 5-foot-3, 115 pounds with blue eyes and blond hair, very attractive. But there was a problem, one that Darren O’Neall became starkly aware of almost immediately. Robin was with her fiance, Larron Crowston, 23, however, and did not actually meet O’Neall until later that morning at his apartment. O’Neall, it turned out, had decided early that he had to find a way to separate Smith from Crowston, and shortly before the tavern closed that morning he persuaded Barnes to announce to the tavern patrons that everyone was invited to his place for an “after hours” party. A small crowd, including Smith and Crowston, accompanied O’Neall and Barnes to their apartment, where the drinking continued non-stop into the morning.
At 5 a.m. Crowston suddenly left the party, citing a previously planned fishing trip with friends that he had committed himself to, but there was the question of how Robin would get home. Robin didn’t want to leave the party yet, but Crowston could not wait any longer or he would miss the fishing boat. After being assured by O’Neall and Barnes that they would see to it that Robin got home safely, Crowston kissed his fiancée goodbye. He didn’t know it, but it would be the last time he ever saw Robin.
Robin Pamela Smith
Robin was born in New Britain, Connecticut, on April 4, 1965, to Edna and Stuart Smith. A tiny baby, not much larger than a child’s doll, Robin weighed a mere four pounds, four ounces. Her mother described her as a good baby, which, in any mother’s language, translates into a quiet baby, and the placidity that followed her into adolescence and adulthood would be but one of several traits for which she would be remembered. Somewhat prissy as a little girl, she borrowed her sisters’ clothes all the time, and these, too, were characteristics that she would carry with her into young adulthood.
Robin’s mother, Edna, grew up in New Britain, having moved there when she was five, and she lived there for approximately 25 years. Later, after marrying Stuart, her second husband, and giving birth to Robin, Edna and her family moved to Meriden, Connecticut, where they lived on Crown Street for 12 years and made their living for a while by operating a restaurant and bar. Shortly after Robin’s 12th birthday, the Smiths decided to leave New England. After considerable soul searching and planning, they packed up their belongings and moved to the state of Washington, leaving behind their friends and relatives to start a new life in the Pacific Northwest.
Although Robin was considered a generally serene and private teenage girl, she liked to dance. While growing up she often was affectionately called “Rockin’ Robin” by her friends, a nickname that was inspired by the old Michael Jackson song bearing that same title, because she always rocked and danced to the music on the radio. But Robin was no rocker at all, at least not in the true sense of the word. She liked to listen to the tunes and move to the beat, but she was not lost in the world of rock ‘n’ roll. She liked other music as well, as long as it pleased her ear and she could dance to it.
On the surface Robin, in her youngest years, was not always perceived as a friendly child, as often happens to people who are shy. People often mistake shyness for coldness or aloofness, when it is usually nothing of the sort. Deep down, Robin was really a very warm and loving young girl who was devoted to her family and friends. Although beheld by some in her later teenage years as a happy-go-lucky girl, those closest to Robin knew her as being quieter and more reserved than many young girls her age. The shyness, say members of her family, never really left her, and it always took some doing for anyone even to get to know her. She consistently moved slowly with new acquaintances, especially males, perhaps because of the pain that she had watched her mother go through during the trauma of divorce. It was only after Robin had become comfortable with someone that she would open up and talk to them, and even then only rarely would she reveal her innermost feelings and secrets to anyone outside her immediate family.
Like many kids, Robin grew up being afraid of the dark. At first it seemed natural enough to her parents, as if it was only a childhood phase that she was going through. But as time went on she began to dwell upon her fears, and often had disturbing thoughts that something terrible was going to happen to her. Family members believed that might have been one of the reasons why she kept to herself. She had friends, but she was always very selective about the people with whom she chose to associate, and she always remained close to her family.
Perhaps more of a homebody type than many of her peers, Robin tried hard to be a typical teenager during her high school years. Like most teenagers, she wanted acceptance from kids her own age and sometimes bowed to pressure, such as taking up the habit of smoking cigarettes. But she never did anything to cause her parents any real problems or grief. Even though she made good grades in school, she didn’t particularly like school, and as time went on it became tough for her mother to get her out of bed in the morning. But even that, aside from occasionally showing up late for school, never really became a problem for anyone. If she had a problem that she couldn’t solve herself or if something bothered her, she would always go to her mother with her troubles, just as all of Edna’s kids would. Of course, she had the usual fights with her three brothers and two sisters, and there was a certain amount of sibling rivalry among all of them, just as there is in any large family, but when it came down to the nitty-gritty they were always there for one another just as their mother had always taught them to be.
Despite the love and positive reinforcement that Robin received at home, she did not grow up being overly confident. She often worried about her looks and became self-conscious, which, again, was typical for a teenage girl. She was pretty, but she didn’t really think of herself as being very pretty. She had had a hernia on her navel when she was a baby, not a “normal belly button,” which, even though surgically repaired when she was an infant, transformed into a rather small line with an indentation as she grew up. Although it wasn’t particularly noticeable and didn’t mar her attractiveness, she didn’t want people to see it. For reasons that no one really understood, she developed an almost unnatural fear of having her body exposed, perhaps because of her herniated navel. She even dreaded going to the doctor out of fear that she would be asked to disrobe for an examination, and would see a doctor only when it became absolutely necessary.
The Dark Side of Robin
There was also a certain dark or grim side to Robin. Besides being afraid of the dark, which might have stemmed from her fondness for a country and western song, “Jeannie Is Afraid of the Dark,” that she listened to constantly as a child, Robin withdrew into her own little shell when her mother divorced her second husband, Robin’s father, Stuart, in 1978. As if being withdrawn wasn’t a serious enough problem for her to cope with, she began having recurring nightmares of being held captive in a crowded, dark place, nightmares that her mother now believes, in retrospect, were a chilling foreshadowing of what was to come.
Within a year or so, as she began to accept her parents’ divorce, Robin started coming out of the protective shell that she had constructed around herself. By then she had become close friends with two other girls, Julie and Trish, and the trio was inseparable. Together almost constantly, everybody soon began calling them the Three Musketeers.
Then, in 1982, Trish suddenly announced to Robin and Julie that she was moving to California. She was going to stay with a friend there and find a job, she told her friends. Robin, then 16, was deeply saddened to see her friend leave, but she nonetheless wished Trish luck and issued her a stern warning not to get drawn into the nether world of drugs or prostitution. Trish promised her friends that she wouldn’t, and assured them that she would behave herself and that she would stay in touch. Following a tearful going-away party, Trish departed her friends’ lives.
A Murdered Friend
Two months later, however, Trish called Robin. Robin, of course, was ecstatic to hear from her. But there was something about the fact that Trish had called that troubled her. Robin asked her what was wrong, not really expecting Trish to tell her but nonetheless hoping that she would. Everything was fine, said Trish. She had a job, she was happy, and she said she liked living in California. But she somehow didn’t sound normal to Robin and Robin continued to sense that something was wrong.
“Are you sure that you’re not on drugs or involved in prostitution?” Robin asked. “If you are, I’ll kick your butt because I don’t want you doing things like that. Come home if things are going wrong for you.” Still Trish insisted that everything was fine.
Two days later, while watching television, Robin saw a news report about a girl who had been murdered at an apartment complex down on the Sea-Tac Strip, a busy boulevard of hotels, motels, and restaurants so named because of its close proximity to the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. Some of the establishments were classy, but for every classy hotel or motel there were two that were seedy. Hookers, young and over-the-hill alike, commonly walked the Strip at all hours of the day and night, looking to turn a trick and make a few bucks for their next fix of heroin, speed, or whatever. Some of the girls worked independently, and others had pimps. But it didn’t matter. They were always there, rain or shine, and many of them often fell victim to a sex criminal of one kind or another while working in the world’s oldest profession. Most were either released or escaped with only minimal physical harm after having been forced to engage in any number of acts of sexual fetishism, some violent. But one such sex criminal, however, showed them no mercy. He would eventually be dubbed the Green River Killer, a vicious psychopathic murderer who wanted more out of the prostitutes, much more, than they were willing to sell to him. The Strip would become the focal point of the police, from where so many of that serial killer’s street-walking victims were plucked off the boulevard and driven to their violent, horrible deaths.
Naturally, when the girl was found dead at the apartment complex, most people never thought much about it at the time. By then the murders attributed to the Green River Killer had become more or less commonplace, and the public at first just chalked up the murder of this latest young female as another of the elusive serial killer’s victims, just another prostitute who had met an unpleasant end. But the police knew right away that the girl wasn’t a Green River Killer victim. Although the girl was indeed quickly labeled a hooker by the police, her murder simply did not fit that serial killer’s modus operandi, his method of operation. And when Robin saw the news reports of the murdered girl, her thoughts turned to Trish. But she soon convinced herself that the girl couldn’t have been Trish. She was in California.
The police couldn’t immediately identify the young girl. The news reports said that she had been raped and murdered in an upstairs apartment unit, stabbed to death, and her nude body had been tossed off one of the balconies. Soon, however, the police had a photo taken of the dead girl, just of her face, and had it published under the Crime Stoppers heading in the local newspapers. One of the victim’s former classmates recognized her, and positively identified her for the police. It was Trish, all right, and when Robin learned that one of her closest friends had been brutally raped and murdered, it was almost more than she could take.
Robin literally came unglued, as did her friend Julie, the sister of close family friend Jim Chaney. Despite warnings from her family and friends, Robin went down to the apartment complex where the murder occurred and started knocking on doors, asking questions of the tenants in an attempt to find out who had done such a horrible thing to her girlfriend. Fearing that Robin might roust the killer out during one of her irrational outbursts, Edna called a police friend and asked him to speak to her. Although Robin at first resisted the police officer’s efforts to talk some sense into her, he eventually was able to convince her to let the police do their job. Even after the case was eventually cleared, Robin and Julie would find it difficult to return their lives to normal.
The Nightmare Returns
Following Trish’s murder, Robin’s nightmares resumed and actually intensified. No longer did she merely dream that something horrible was going to happen to her. Her dreams became more specific than that and intensified to the point where she frequently dreamed of dying at the hands of another, horribly, just like Trish. Although everyone tried to console her and attempted to pump positive thoughts into her mind, the nightmares only grew worse. Concerned for her safety after Trish’s murder, and seeing how adversely the murder had affected her, Robin’s brothers and sisters began cautioning her about the many dangers lurking on the city’s streets. If anyone ever tried to rape her, they told her, just give it up if it otherwise meant losing her life. But Robin always remained steadfast.
“Never. Over my dead body I’ll fight. I’ll go down with a fight,” she told them. Although she never fully got over Trish’s brutal and untimely death, she tried hard to get on with her life. It wasn’t easy, but the fact that she and Julie were there for each other to lean on helped them both to eventually accept what had happened to Trish.
Robin is Missing
Upon returning from his fishing trip, Larron discovered that Robin had not returned home. He and Robin’s mother, Edna, became exceedingly worried about her well being after being unable to locate anyone who knew where she was. Fearing for Robin’s safety, Larron and Edna reported Robin missing to the Pierce County Sheriff’s Office.
As the missing person investigation got underway, Mary Barnes told Pierce County detectives Walter “Walt” Stout and Terry Wilson that she had left the apartment the morning of the party for a few hours, but when she returned in the afternoon both O’Neall and Smith were gone, as was O’Neall’s car. After a search of the apartment, Barnes informed authorities that Darren O’Neall had taken food, camping gear, clothing, and other items. She also discovered that an electrical cord to the television was missing, which she as well as the detectives considered very strange.
According to Barnes, O’Neall often carried a knife on his belt and another hidden in his boot. She also said that O’Neall claimed to have knowledge of survivalist skills obtained from his prior enlistment in the Army Rangers and Green Berets, but the detectives were unable to find any evidence that he was ever a member of either of the elite military groups, only that he had been an enlistee in the regular army. Barnes told the investigators that Darren O’Neall dressed primarily in western wear, including cowboy hats, boots, and jeans. In addition to having worked as a bartender and a laminator in a cabinet-making shop, the detectives learned that O’Neall exhibited considerable talent in woodworking skills. Barnes corroborated information from other sources that O’Neall was also known to frequently change his appearance through hair growth and cutting, adding and removing a mustache and beard, and sometimes wearing wire-rimmed glasses.
Later on the day that Robin failed to return home, Darren O’Neall showed up at a friend’s home at 1:30 p.m. driving a 1972 Chrysler New Yorker with Montana license plates. He explained that he was going away for awhile, but did not indicate where he was going or for how long he would be gone. O’Neall asked to borrow some money from his friend for a truck that he claimed he wanted to buy, and dropped off one of his dogs for his friend to watch for him during his absence. O’Neall’s friend accompanied him to the car, which was backed into a driveway across the street, and noticed while they were talking that something was kicking hard against the back seat from inside the trunk. When his friend asked him what was inside the trunk, O’Neall explained that he was having difficulty with his other dog and had locked it inside the trunk as a form of punishment.
“I told him, ‘That’s sick. You don’t put a dog in the trunk,'” the friend explained later when he talked to the police. “Then I walked away without writing him the check, and he drove off.”
O’Neall’s friend told Detective Wilson that O’Neall had seemed very nervous, like he was hiding something, and stressed that he had not heard any dog barking from inside the trunk. Later, Robin’s relatives discovered that the second dog, the one that was supposed to have been in the trunk, was still at O’Neall’s apartment, apparently abandoned.
Later that night at a nearby hospital emergency room, a man requested treatment for facial cuts and scrapes. The man fit Darren O’Neall’s description: a teardrop mark on his cheek and the word “J-U-N-E” tattooed across his knuckles. The following morning a man walked into the Safeway grocery store in Enumclaw, Washington, a man believed to be O’Neall. He purchased pastry, cigarettes, and Black Label beer.
Two hours later a flagman noticed someone in a car second in a line of cars in the Greenwater area near Mount Rainier waiting to get past roadwork. Unlike the others, the man did not have skis, even though he was headed toward the mountain. Also unlike the others, the man drove on by, pulled off the road, waited for twenty minutes, then returned the way he had come. The investigators eventually believed that the man seen by the flagman was none other than Darren O’Neall. It was at that time, they eventually theorized after no sign of Robin was ever found, that he pulled off the highway onto a rugged logging road and disposed of Robin Smith’s body.
Robin’s relatives, friends, and acquaintances soon told the investigators that it was completely out of character for Robin to just leave with O’Neall, especially since she was engaged to Crowston, and a missing person report was finally filed when deputies followed up on the initial reports called in by Edna and Larron. In those reports Robin was described as wearing blue jeans, a pink-and-white shirt, purple coat and white tennis shoes. She had a quarter-inch scar above her left eye. Similarly, an APB was issued for O’Neall, in which he was described as 5 feet 11 inches, 170 pounds, medium build, blond hair, blue eyes, and a light complexion. It also described a vertical scar on his right cheek, a six-inch surgical scar on his abdomen, a small, barely visible five-point-tip star tattoo below his left eye, and the name “J-U-N-E” tattooed on the knuckles of his left hand. Though there was no sign of Darren O’Neall or Robin, Robin’s family and fiance did not give up the hope that she was still alive.
Another day passed, and on Monday, March 30, 1987, the dark yellow Chrysler O’Neall was known to drive was found abandoned at a rest stop 15 miles north of Everett, Washington, north of Seattle, along the northbound lanes of Interstate 5. Though the car was the clue that almost got away, it was eventually linked to O’Neall and investigators opened the trunk. Inside the detectives found the blood-soaked jacket that belonged to Robin Smith, two teeth, a bone fragment, and a heavily blood stained interior. The cops suspected that Robin had been beaten severely with a hammer or some other heavy instrument while held captive in the trunk of O’Neall’s car. No longer did the detectives hold out much hope that Robin was still alive. Nonetheless, Edna continued to grasp a thin thread of hope and refused to believe that the worst had happened.
When he searched O’Neall’s apartment, Detective Stout found a clue in Darren O’Neall’s own handwriting. It was an outline of his future plans and ultimate goals, plans that emphasized living in a secluded cabin in the wilderness with minimum assistance and only the bare necessities. Among those necessities that he included in his writing were a copy of the Bible and Louis L’Amour novels, specifically L’Amour’s books on the Sackett family of the wild west. Stout also found dozens of L’Amour’s western books as well as western magazines scattered about the apartment. Stout soon learned from his colleagues in Idaho that O’Neall, while living in Idaho, went by the name Larry Sackett. And still more evidence of the L’Amour obsession and of yet a second alias was a medical card, allegedly used by O’Neall, in the name of Zebulan J. Macranahan. O’Neall, Stout learned, purportedly told friends that the names Sackett and Macranahan were names of characters in some of L’Amour’s books, which was why he chose them as aliases. Police now believed that O’Neall’s fantasies might help explain Robin’s disappearance.
“We believe that it does,” said Detective Terry Wilson, “and that he actually intended to go into the woods somewhere and live like some of the characters in L’Amour’s books.”
Despite the intensity of the police investigation, Edna and her family were not satisfied. In a series of events orchestrated by Edna, family members and friends went to O’Neall’s apartment. They gained entry on their own and searched it thoroughly. They found drug syringes and needles, paraphernalia, and other evidence of drug use and abuse. They also found signs that a struggle had occurred there and other evidence that was apparently overlooked by the police. They also spoke with Mary Barnes, and soon suspected her of hiding O’Neall in the hours after Robin’s disappearance.
Still being directed by Edna, family friend Jim Chaney, Robin’s brother, Robert Sharp, and others paid a visit to the home of O’Neall’s friend, the friend that O’Neall visited the day of Robin’s disappearance. They questioned him at length, and he appeared nervous. At one point a known junkie and another man came out of O’Neall’s friend’s place of business and began talking about the case and the day that O’Neall had shown up there. The junkie told of O’Neall opening the trunk of his car, and of seeing part of a naked leg. Before being told to shut up by O’Neall’s friend, the junkie also described a purple and white sock, the type that would eventually be found with Robin’s clothing in the forest near Greenwater. Because of the junkie’s reputation, the police, of course, discounted his story. Edna, however, maintained that the junkie, O’Neall’s friend, and the other man knew more than they were telling the police.
Searching for Robin
In the face of growing adversity and doubt, Edna did not give up in the search for Robin. In near desperation, she consulted a known psychic in the area who agreed to help her free of charge. The psychic soon directed Edna to the Greenwater area near Mount Rainier, and said that Robin was in or near an area where there was running or dripping water. It was becoming more difficult for Edna to talk about Robin’s disappearance and about what she now suspected had happened, just as it had become difficult for the rest of the family to organize a search for what they did not want to find. More than 50 people volunteered to search for Robin despite an overnight snowfall and despite the overwhelming odds against finding her in the vast wilderness where they believed her body had been dumped. Robin’s sister, Brenda Baker, five months pregnant, and Robert, her brother, were among the searchers who had volunteered to help a determined mother find out what had happened to Robin.
At the end of the first day’s search effort there was still no sign of Robin, but signs of the family’s hope were seen by yellow ribbons tied to the branches of trees, ribbons marking the places where Robin was not found to keep the searchers from covering the same spots twice. For Edna and her family, no sign of Robin meant that she still could be alive. They continued to cling to that belief and to what the psychic told them: that Robin was near dripping or running water.
“She could still be alive,” said Edna tearfully. “She (the psychic) said that it’s very possible that the feeling that she gets, which is total peace, could mean that Robin could be in a coma. Or she could be so drugged up that she can’t respond to anything. But the other possibility is that she could be dead.”
Police theorized that if Robin was still alive, she had lost a great deal of blood judging by the carnage found in the trunk of O’Neall’s car and that each night that she spent in the mountains, if that was indeed where she was, lessened the chance that she would be found alive.
Although they didn’t realize it until later, Edna and her family had come within a few yards of finding Robin’s remains during one of the searches, which were being consumed and scattered by coyotes and other animals. When they reflected on it later, they were grateful that they hadn’t discovered her in that condition.
Edna and members of her family, as well as family friend Jim Chaney, made the drive daily to the Greenwater area for the next two months and continued to search the vast forests and mountainous terrain for Robin. But there was no sign of a body and no sign of a suspect, a suspect who was by now considered by everyone involved as an outlaw as elusive as his fantasy of the west. Police did not yet believe that Darren O’Neall’s trail had gone cold—they said that it simply did not exist. All they knew for certain was that he was out there, somewhere.
The clue that eventually linked O’Neall to the Chrysler came when the detectives finally determined that the car had been stolen from a man that O’Neall had previously befriended in Nampa, Idaho. The man, a long-haul trucker, was eventually traced through his employer to Portland, Oregon, where he told investigators that he had picked up a hitchhiker the previous October while driving to Nampa. The man claimed that the hitchhiker had identified himself as Jerry Zebulan Macranahan, and had resided with the man in his home from October 15 through November 2, 1986. On November 2nd, the man said that he had left for a job and had entrusted the Chrysler to Macranahan during his absence. When he returned home on November 4th, he found the vehicle, a .357 Ruger, $200 and Macranahan all missing. The man promptly identified Macranahan as Darren O’Neall from a photo throw down.
The Pierce County detectives soon turned up Darren O’Neall’s extensive criminal history, but it would still be at least two months before they linked him to the January kidnapping and rape charges involving the young girl in Portland. They discovered that he was arrested on March 12, 1982, in Colorado Springs, Colorado, for obstructing police and disturbing the peace. In September 1982 he was cited for damaging private property and committing third-degree assault. In October 1982 he was again cited for drinking in public. In November 1984 he was charged with first-degree sexual assault, a charge that was later reduced to aggravated robbery. Those charges were ultimately dismissed because the complaining witness, a prostitute, could no longer be located. In July 1986 Darren O’Neall committed a second-degree sexual assault for which he was arrested and later skipped bail on. There were also a number of public indecency offenses on his record, such as urinating and defecating in public.
On April 24, 1987, an individual who identified himself as Mike James Johnson was hired as a bartender at the La Paloma Restaurant in Bellingham, Washington. It was there that O’Neall, posing as “Johnson,” met pretty Wendy Aughe, 29, a beauty school student and mother of two young children. O’Neall and Aughe were last seen together leaving the La Paloma on April 25 during the early morning hours. Not surprisingly, Aughe was not heard from again, and worried family members reported her unexplained disappearance to the police.
A subsequent search of Aughe’s Bellingham apartment revealed signs of a struggle, pools of blood, and blood soaked bed sheets and linen. “Peter tracks,” dried semen, was also found on the bed sheets. The considerable evidence found inside Wendy Aughe’s apartment suggested that a sexual assault had occurred there. After an APB was issued for Darren O’Neall, a U.S. Customs agent soon reported having taken a photograph of O’Neall driving Aughe’s car as he came back across the border into the U.S. from Canada, in the time frame when Wendy disappeared. O’Neall was the only person visible in the car in the spot check photo.
A week later, on Saturday, May 2, 1987, Aughe’s 1972 Ford Torino was found abandoned in Eugene, Oregon, and a man later identified as O’Neall was reported as having been seen at several locations in downtown Eugene attempting to sell a gold chain necklace, according to Detective J.T. Parr of the Eugene Police Department. Fingerprints taken from a food wrapper in Aughe’s automobile and from a job application submitted by “Johnson” were eventually identified as those of Darren Dee O’Neall.
Police by now admitted that it could be difficult to find Darren O’Neall. His history clearly showed that he changed his hairstyle and appearance frequently, and the effect was often dramatic. Wanted posters distributed shortly after Wendy Aughe’s disappearance expressed a new sense of urgency because the police now feared that O’Neall had killed twice and could be ready to strike again at any time. Both Robin and Wendy, police pointed out, were met by O’Neall on a Friday and disappeared late on a Friday night or early Saturday. Both cars, Wendy’s and the Chrysler, were believed dumped on a Monday morning. The two occurrences were exactly four weeks apart, and the fourth week anniversary of Wendy’s disappearance was fast approaching.
Murder charges were filed against Darren O’Neall, in part due to Edna’s urging the police to do something in connection with Robin’s death despite the fact that her remains had not yet been found. Police agreed that the heavier charge of murder would help intensify the effort to locate O’Neall. With Edna’s assistance, “Wanted For Murder” posters were distributed to all stores selling books by O’Neall’s favorite author, Louis L’Amour, and to beauty shops because O’Neall often had his hair permed, and to other locations throughout western Washington because of concerns that O’Neall was still in the Puget Sound area. A possible sighting, only one of many, had been reported a week earlier near Mount Rainier.
On Monday, May 25, 1987, the day that Memorial Day was officially observed that year, skeletal remains were discovered by hikers in the same general wooded area previously searched by Edna and her family near Greenwater. It was the same area in which the psychic had directed Edna to search, and the remains were scattered over an area near a running stream. Some of the remains were collected, and several pieces of clothing and personal identification belonging to Robin were found nearby, partially buried beneath a rotting tree stump. Detective Stout, other investigators, and Explorer Scouts went out to the site and searched the area. Edna was notified that the remains could be those of her daughter’s after a Pierce County medical examiner concluded that the bones belonged to a Caucasian female in her early 20’s with blond hair.
After being told that more bones were needed, specifically jawbones and teeth, to make a positive identification, Edna again pushed the issue with the sheriff’s department and insisted that a more thorough search of the area be conducted. She was told that searchers would go back out and excavate the wooded area just as soon as time and manpower allowed. But Edna couldn’t wait for the sheriff’s department, which was already overworked and understaffed due to budget cuts, and took it upon herself to go to the location to dig and search for the additional bones and teeth needed to make a positive identification. As a result of her efforts, which consisted of hands and knees searches over nearly a two-week period, she found the additional bones that were needed, including a jaw bone. After a dental comparison of the jawbone was conducted, the authorities positively concluded that the remains were indeed those of Robin Smith. Robin, said the police, had been beaten to death, likely with a heavy object such as a hammer. An additional search of the area turned up a rusty hammer in the nearby stream.
By this time Larron Crowston became even more despondent over Robin’s death despite the fact that he had done everything he could to help the police find her killer. He continued to blame himself for her death, saying that she would still be alive if he hadn’t left her at O’Neall’s apartment when he had gone fishing. Edna did everything she could to try and comfort him, to no avail. He eventually sought professional help and was placed on medication.
Meanwhile, on Saturday, June 13, 1987, while detectives in Washington and Oregon were busy running down leads to O’Neall’s whereabouts, the nude body of Lia Elizabeth Szubert, 22, was discovered by a passing motorist along Interstate 84 in eastern Oregon, about 12 miles east of the town of La Grande, when the motorist stopped to relieve himself at the side of the road. Although it was near dusk, he spotted a frighteningly familiar form lying at the bottom of an embankment. When he investigated further he discovered much to his horror that it was the dead nude body of a rapidly decomposing young female. Horrified, he reported his grim discovery to the Oregon State Police. Following an autopsy, the cause of Szubert’s death was listed as strangulation.
According to Detective James Howells of the Twin Falls, Idaho, police department, the case involving Szubert unfolded like this: Szubert was traveling alone from Twin Falls to Boise on Tuesday, June 9, 1987, en route to the airport to pick up her fiance, Duane Abbott, who was coming to visit her from San Diego, California. Along the way she developed car trouble and called a friend from a Gear Jammer truck stop near Mountain Home, Idaho, along Interstate 84. This was the last time anyone heard from her, and she was reported as a missing person later that evening. Several individuals at the truck stop described a male individual matching Darren O’Neall’s description as having been present in the area of the truck stop prior to Szubert’s disappearance. He was also spotted several times a couple of hundred miles to the north, in the Spokane, Washington area, several hours after Szubert’s disappearance.
Meanwhile, Edna wanted to lay Robin to rest with a proper burial, but Robin’s remains were kept in a Pierce County evidence locker. She threatened to get a court order to enable her to bury the remains, but was told that if and when O’Neall was apprehended, his lawyer could request that forensic experts examine the remains, which would mean that she would have to have them dug up. As a result Edna decided to wait to bury her daughter, and for the time being began praying at a memorial, complete with a statue of the Virgin Mary, for Robin that she had constructed in her backyard. She also traveled to the Greenwater area where she regularly placed flowers on the spot where most of Robin’s remains were found.
In studying Darren O’Neall’s modus operandi, investigators saw that he has had considerable success at being able to obtain his victims from country and western bars, which he liked to frequent. Some witnesses described him as a compulsive liar and a braggart, while others said that he appeared complimentary and charming to women. He was portrayed as a heavy drinker, a cocaine user, and a Percodan abuser, and was known to take drugs orally as well as intravenously.
Background also showed that Darren O’Neall was born on February 26, 1960, in Albuquerque, New Mexico. His parents, Darrell and Christa O’Neall, resided in Colorado Springs, Colorado. O’Neall has two older brothers, Michael and Kevin, and one younger sister, Kristen. Since O’Neall’s father was an Army career man, O’Neall consequently had traveled extensively in his youth. He was in Bad Tolze, Germany, until 1976, thereafter moving with his family to Fort Polk, Louisiana.
The detectives discovered that he had been looked at as a suspect in sexual crimes in Germany and other locations where he lived while both living with his parents and while he, himself, served out a term of enlistment in the Army.
Darren O’Neall attended high school in the Fort Polk area and later married his high school sweetheart, June Hodges. O’Neall has one son by June, Christopher O’Neall, born November 20, 1981. Christopher was being raised by O’Neall’s parents while O’Neall was on the run, who legally adopted him after O’Neall ran afoul of the law, in Colorado Springs. Although Darren was not formally divorced from June, he had a common law wife who resides in Levittown, Pennsylvania. From that relationship another son, Jason, was born. Jason continues to live with his mother in Levittown. After Darren O’Neall enlisted in the U.S. Army, he served for a short time in Bremerhaven, Germany. He was discharged on February 28, 1982. Thereafter, O’Neall returned to Colorado Springs and began his known criminal history.
At one point Detective Terry Wilson and the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department asked the FBI’s Behavioral Sciences Unit to develop a psychological profile of possible characteristics of their suspect, and the FBI complied. He fit their classic profile of a serial killer and they theorized that he might have been acting out a fantasy that stemmed from his affinity for Louis L’Amour’s westerns when he abducted and killed Robin Smith. Additional witnesses told the police that he frequently fantasized about living in the wilderness.
Because of O’Neall’s captivation with Louis L’Amour’s writing and because he had written several letters to the author, Pierce County authorities at one point asked author L’Amour for his help in their search for O’Neall, to no avail. Apparently L’Amour had never heard of Darren O’Neall and had not been contacted by him. Also, as a result of the FBI’s profile and O’Neall’s fascination with the outdoors, the Green River Task Force also looked closely at O’Neall as a possible suspect in the Green River serial murders before ruling him out.
As their hunt for Darren O’Neall continued, the investigators learned from witnesses that O’Neall actually knew very little about the outdoors despite the fact that he fancied himself a rugged outdoorsman. They uncovered information that showed that O’Neall claimed to have worked on a relative’s horse ranch in Montana and often spoke about moving to Alaska, Montana, Colorado, or Canada, but they could find no trace of him in any of those states.
After moving throughout the Midwestern and southern states and living under a number of aliases throughout the summer of 1987, Darren O’Neall’s growing notoriety and suspected crimes got him a place on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list. At one point he assumed the name “John Mayeaux,” and found himself a new girlfriend in Tennessee. He lived with the woman for a while, and ditched her in Louisiana. He stole her car and fled to Lakeland, Florida, where he settled briefly. Following a high speed and eventual foot chase following a traffic violation, O’Neall was arrested on September 22, 1987.
It was after his extradition to Louisiana that authorities learned his true identity, thanks in part to the astuteness of a rookie female officer who took the initiative to have his prints examined by the state Bureau of Criminal Identification in February 1988 after acting on a hunch that “Mayeaux” was a fictitious name. Investigators from the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department, Bellingham Police Department, and the Oregon State Police promptly traveled to Louisiana to try and talk to O’Neall and to plan their strategy in the complicated cases they were investigating. However, he refused to talk to any of them.
Nonetheless, O’Neall was eventually extradited to Washington state, but not before Edna Smith put up a major fight to bring him back. Louisiana wanted to keep O’Neall until after his trial on the stolen car charges, but Edna wouldn’t stand for it. She hounded the authorities at every turn, even sending letters and a petition to Louisiana Governor Buddy Roemer until she got what she wanted: Darren Dee O’Neall’s return to Washington to stand trial for Robin’s murder.
At another point, Deputies Ed Troyer and Ben Benson videotaped an interview with O’Neall as part of a weekly public service show they were involved with on KMO Radio in Tacoma that was used to educate the public about police procedure. After waiving his Miranda rights and agreeing to talk freely, Darren O’Neall acknowledged that he had murdered Robin Smith. He refused, however, to say anything about Wendy Aughe and Lia Szubert.
A short time before O’Neall’s trial was set to begin, tragedy struck again when Larron Crowston, Robin Smith’s fiance and the state’s star witness against O’Neall, unexpectedly died from ingesting an overdose of prescription drugs and alcohol. Although Crowston’s death was officially ruled an accident, Crowston, according to Edna Smith, never got over Robin’s murder and “died of a broken heart,” after more than a year of being depressed and despondent.
On Wednesday, January 4, 1989, during jury selection, Darren O’Neall abruptly and to the surprise of everyone, announced that he wanted to plead guilty to murdering Robin Smith. To Edna’s dismay, after being robbed of the right to a trial in her daughter’s death, O’Neall received a life sentence, which in Washington amounted to a maximum sentence of 27 years and 9 months. He is now serving his time at Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla.
In May of the following year, O’Neall was brought to Portland, Oregon, to face trial for the kidnapping and rape of the 14-year-old girl, to which he maintained his innocence. After attempting to shift the blame onto the girl for what had happened to her, he was convicted of most of the charges.
To date, the whereabouts of Wendy Aughe remains unknown, though investigators feel certain that she fell prey to Darren O’Neall’s murderous impulses. Similarly, the Lia Szubert murder remains on the books due to a lack of physical evidence linking O’Neall to the crime, though detectives are equally certain that he killed her, too. There are also other unsolved homicides in a number of states that authorities believe he may have committed. O’Neall has expressed no remorse for any of his crimes, and reportedly has resigned himself to spending the rest of his life in prison.