Police pursue tips in girl's disappearance

A convicted sex offender whose home and van were searched Sunday and Monday hasn't been eliminated as a suspect in the July 4 disappearance of 12-year-old Zina Linnik, Tacoma police said Tuesday.

"We can't say that he's the one," police spokesman Mark Fulghum said. "But we still haven't been able to eliminate him from any involvement."

Fulghum would not say whether the man was connected to the tip that led police to the Tiger Mountain area in Issaquah on Tuesday.

The search of the Parkland home where the 42-year-old man was staying yielded girls undergarments among other items, according to search warrant records.

No further description appears - nothing about the size, labels or other identifiers. Fulghum said he didn't know about the discovery until late Tuesday afternoon, when a reporter asked him about it.

An affidavit filed by police states that the license plate number of the van closely resembled the partial plate description Linnik's father gave to police after her disappearance. When police found the van, it had a different license plate. The man admitted to police that he changed it, records say.

"Federal authorities have detained the man for unspecified immigration violations," Lorie Dankers, spokeswoman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said. Dankers said she could not disclose the nature of the violations.

Court documents filed today in Pierce County Superior Court charged the man with failure to register as a sex offender, noting his 1990 conviction for first-­degree incest in Pierce County.

The News Tribune is not naming the man because he has not been charged with a crime related to Linnik's disappearance. When police questioned him, he denied any involvement, and said he was not in Tacoma's Hilltop neighborhood on July 4.

Police spoke to two people who had dinner with the man on July 4 at a Parkland house. They said they were with him from about 7 to 9 p.m. He left after that, they said.

Linnik disappeared about 9:45 p.m., police say. She was last seen in an alley near her family's home in the 2500 block of South J Street in Tacoma.

Linnik's father, Mikhail, told police he saw an older gray van parked in the alley. He recalled seeing the numbers 677 or 667 in the license plate and possibly the letter B before the van drove away. A few minutes later, he found a flip-flop sandal on the pavement near where the van had been parked. The sandal was the same type his daughter had been wearing, court records say.

An unnamed neighbor who lived near the alley told police he also saw a gray van around the time Zina Linnik disappeared, according to the search warrant records. The neighbor heard a scream of pain from the alley, and looked out, but the van was gone.

Friday, a police detective conducted a computer search, seeking prior police reports linked to vans fitting the description given by Mikhail Linnik. The detective found one report from May 1 of this year that led to the Parkland house, the sex offender and his van.

Detectives found the van and the owner Sunday, at the Parkland address, but the van had a different license plate. The man appeared to notice detectives watching him from an unmarked car, and walked away from the house, records state.

Detectives stopped the man. When they questioned him, he admitted switching the plates a few days earlier. He said the original plates had been stolen several months earlier and he couldnt' afford to buy new ones, so he took plates from another vehicle.

Police found no one else living in the home, according to the records. The man said the house belonged to his sister, and he had been living there while remodeling it. Detectives found few furnishings inside, and evidence of remodeling, including bags of concrete mix and fresh wallboard.

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