32 Years Later, 'Sweet Older' Man Arrested in Girl's Murder

It could be the second cold murder case solved in Tacoma in 2 months
By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 21, 2018 6:55 PM CDT
32 Years Later, Suspect Arrested in Murder of Girl, 12
Stock photo.   (Getty Images / Rockard)

On March 26, 1986, 12-year-old Michella Welch was abducted from a park in Tacoma, Wash., sexually assaulted, and killed with a cut to the neck. More than three decades later, police have arrested a suspect in her murder, the News Tribune reports. Gary Charles Hartman, 66, was booked into jail on suspicion of first-degree murder. Police have not yet said how they zeroed in on him, though a news conference set for Friday was expected to shed more light on his arrest. "This is completely from left field for us, I mean like way left field," says a neighbor of Hartman. "He had four or five collectible cars that he and his wife would always drive around. Very cordial and very sweet older people. The neighbors thought he was greater than sliced bread."

Records show Hartman is a registered nurse with an active license, and a co-worker says in his current job he arranges community placements for patients who are discharged from the state hospital. "He’s gotten a couple of very troubled patients off the ward that have been there for decades," the colleague says, noting they were surprised by his arrest. "It is so unfair that he’s been out and living his life and doing whatever he wants to do and hers was cut short," a friend of Michella tells KOMO. "It has always weighed on my heart." Oddly, a 13-year-old girl disappeared while riding her bike in the area five months later and was found dead weeks after vanishing; police long believed the two murders were connected, but ultimately DNA tests revealed two different men killed the girls. A suspect in the other girl's murder was arrested last month; more on that story here. (More cold cases stories.)

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