Edward Smith and Kimberly Dianne LaVine met while attending the University of Southeastern Massachusetts at Dartmouth. They were head over heels for one another, and when they graduated in June of 1984, they moved to Kent, Washington, where they worked as accountants. It wasn’t too long after when they got engaged and had plans of tying the knot in front of family members in the summer of 1985 in Wrentham, Massachusetts.
On Saturday, March 9, 1985, the couple wanted to get away for the weekend. Their plan was to travel three hours away to Grant County, Washington on I-90 and explore the beautiful surroundings and well-known tourist landmarks in the area. It’s unknown on what transpired during the trip and subsequent hours in the middle of the night, but on the following afternoon, the deceased body of Edward Smith was found in a gravel pit near the Wanapum Dam.
Edward’s wallet and any form of identification were absent. His hands had been bound behind his back and he had been killed by having his throat slashed. However, Kimberly was nowhere to be found. On Monday, March 11, 1985, Edward and Kimberly’s employers called the Kings County Sheriff’s Department when they didn’t arrive to work that morning or pick up their phone after several attempts of contact.
A missing person(s) investigation ensued but nothing pivotal sprouted up until two weeks later when Edward and Kimberly’s vehicle was found abandoned ten miles away from where his body was located. The car and body of Edward matched descriptions given by employers and family members. The authorities were on high alert to locate Kimberly with not a lot of optimism, but they did manage to obtain a single fingerprint on the vehicle that didn’t belong to the couple.
Five months later in August of 1985, Kimberly’s skeletal remains were discovered two miles away from where her fiancé Edward was found. Four years later in 1989, the single fingerprint found on Edward’s car was matched with a truck driver named Billy Ray Ballard Jr. He had been serving time on a separate charge in Wyoming State Penitentiary. With the fingerprint belonging to Ray, he was extradited to Washington State and plead guilty to the murder of Edward Smith and Kimberly LaVine.
They had planned to be home by Sunday evening but when they didn’t show up for their job on Monday, employees and family members grew increasingly concerned. Four days later on Wednesday, August 14, 1985, hikers strolling through a forest in South Pierce County stumbled upon the body of Stephen Harkins. He was found in his sleeping bag and murdered by a single gunshot wound to the head. His dog was discovered nearby, also shot and killed.
Similar to Kimberly LaVine, Ruth Cooper was unable to be located. Two months later in October of 1985, a purse, dismembered skull, and skeletal remains, belonging to Ruth were found which was corroborated by dental records. There had been a tube sock wrapped around her neck indicating strangulation but the cause of death was determined to be committed by a gunshot wound to her abdomen.
Later that afternoon, two-year-old Crystal Robertson was discovered aimlessly walking around by her lonesome at a K-Mart shopping center thirty minutes away in Spanaway, Washington. She had been crying and in total distraught. Employees and customers attempted to locate her parents but their efforts were in vain so they notified the police. The authorities put her in a temporary foster care and declared her missing — spreading her picture across newspapers and television news broadcasts for the state of Washington.
Shortly after the media circulation, Crystal’s grandmother recognized her granddaughter’s photograph and acquired guardianship. When she asked her where her parents are she could only proclaim, “Mommy is in the trees.” Though this new information was gleaned, it proved too vague to properly perform an adequate search investigation.
The mysterious disappearance of Mike Riemer and Diana Robertson was starting to turn into a cold case due to the lack of prominent leads. It wouldn’t be until Tuesday, February 18, 1986, when a motorist discovered a red 1982 Plymouth pickup truck and Diana’s deceased body in a wide forested area on Washington State Route 7. Her cause of death was the result of seventeen stab wounds and a tube sock tightly fastened around her neck.
The Lewis County Sheriff’s Department arrived at the scene with their bloodhounds in search of more evidence and Mike Riemer, but he had seemingly vanished without a trace. When they examined the truck, they found blood stains all across the front seat and a handwritten note on a manila envelope saying, “I love you, Diana.” Diana’s mother believed the handwriting matched Mike’s but a conclusive answer couldn’t be determined. Nevertheless, due to these findings, law enforcement speculated Mike was the prime suspect and may have been the perpetrator behind Stephen Harkins and Ruth Cooper’s murder.
Mike Riemer remained the prime suspect
for decades. He had a history of domestic violence. Prior to Diana’s murder, he had physically assaulted her several times — one of which resulted in his arrest on October 19, 1985. However, he and Diana were always reconciling their differences. Additionally, he worked as a roofer in Seattle as well as an animal trapper. He had the expertise to survive outdoors. Plus, since his girlfriend was found with a tube sock around her neck just as Ruth Cooper, and no sign of his skeletal remains, this only substantiated law enforcement’s theory. In March of 2011, Mike was eliminated as a suspect when hikers uncovered a partial skull
belonging to him only a mile away from where Diana’s body was found.
There haven’t been many viable theories that hold a ton of credible weight. While Billy Ray Ballard Jr. was convicted of abducting, torturing, and raping two women in Wyoming, along with the murder of Edward Smith and Kimberly LaVine, there is zero evidence to suggest he had any part in the subsequent murders. Furthermore, despite the murders occurring in a densely forested area, the modus operandi was different.
When law enforcement was investigating the murder of Stephen Harkins and Ruth Cooper, they discovered an interesting but unidentified person of interest. According to friends of the couple, a man showed up at a wedding reception looking for Stephen. He had been irate. When the friends of Stephen asked the individual about his disdain, he stated there was a dispute between the two because Stephen had damaged his motorcycle. Nonetheless, this lead didn’t pan out.
There is a small group of people who believe Mike Riemer is guilty in some capacity. An autopsy couldn’t conclude how or when he had passed away. However, a gunshot to the head was ruled out because there was no damage to his skull indicating that type of trauma. It’s possible he could have murdered Diana and subsequently committed suicide, but that theory doesn’t explain how his two-year-old daughter was found thirty miles away at a shopping center. Did he possibly kill Diana, take Crystal and drop her off at the store, and double back to try and bury Diana’s remains? That explanation doesn’t hold much weight considering how Diana’s remains were recovered.
The most common theory among law enforcement and web sleuths alike is that an unidentified serial killer is responsible for the murders. This theory is evident given how the murders were committed in such a short time span and in close proximity to each other in similar fashion. The tube sock around the female victims’ necks and being separated from their male counterpart only provides more credence to that suggestion.
Sadly, despite theories and speculation, there have been no solid leads. There hasn’t been any substantial information subsequent 2011, and with no similar murders taking place in the vicinity after the disappearance of Mike Riemer and Diana Robertson, the case as unfortunately gone cold. Could the killer(s) still be prowling the woods of Washington?