When Thurston County residents disappear without a trace

Ronda Hanning has been distributing bracelets, cards and fliers with Logan Schiendelman’s photo and contact information. The Tumwater teen has been missing for eight months.
Ronda Hanning has been distributing bracelets, cards and fliers with Logan Schiendelman’s photo and contact information. The Tumwater teen has been missing for eight months. sbloom@theolympian.com

It’s not often that people go missing without a trace.

But that’s what happened to Tumwater resident Logan Schiendelman in May.

Nearly eight months later, the Thurston County Sheriff’s Office is out of ideas, Sgt. Carla Carter said.

“All leads have been exhausted at this point,” Carter said. “The case remains open and active, and any tip that we receive is thoroughly investigated.”

Despite the lack of new information, Schiendelman’s friends and family haven’t given up hope. They’ve put up countless fliers throughout Thurston County and followed up on leads on their own. They hope that the 20-year-old is still out there alive and well, and that he’ll contact them someday.

“Even if he contacted us and told us that he didn’t want to come back, that would be something,” said Mary Ware, Schiendelman’s aunt.

“But I think that if he could call one of us, he would. Especially his mother.”

Schiendelman is one of several people who went missing last year — but most people who go missing in Thurston County show up sooner or later.

“In a majority of missing persons cases, we’re lucky enough to find people relatively quickly. But of course, there are those ones where we never learn what happened to them, or the case ends tragically,” said Lt. Paul Lower of the Olympia Police Department.

“As a police officer, those ones really bug you.”

For example: The Olympia Police Department began investigating the disappearance of Gail Doyle, 60, in early June. But soon, the Thurston County Sheriff’s Office picked up the case as a homicide investigation.

James E. Stidd, a 66-year-old Thurston County man, is charged in her death. He pleaded not guilty in June to second-degree murder while armed with a deadly weapon, tampering with physical evidence, and four counts of first-degree unlawful possession of a firearm.

Stidd is being held in the Thurston County jail, with bail set at $2 million. His trial has been postponed a few times and is now set for the week of March 6.

However, her remains have not yet been found. She is still missing.

“We have no discernible evidence of where the remains of Gail Doyle lie,” Carter said. “We exhaust all leads and continue to move forward with prosecution without a body.”

Thurston County Prosecutor Jon Tunheim said he has never before personally handled a homicide case in which the victim has not been found, but he has attended many trainings on the subject. Typically, the cases are more complicated because there’s more to prove.

“In a no-body situation, the first thing you have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt is that the person is, in fact, deceased,” Tunheim said.

Prosecutors then have to prove that the nature of the death was homicide and that the suspect killed the victim.

“They tend to be very labor-intensive cases,” he said.

Keeping hope for Logan alive

Ware said she’s still in disbelief about Schiendelman’s May 19 disappearance. She said it’s not like him to take off without telling anyone.

“Personally, I am still in a bit of a shock over the whole thing,” Ware said. “We’re all just completely frustrated and worried.”

“We’re all going through sleepless nights, wondering if we could have found him if we’d done something different.”

His car, a black 1996 Chrysler Sebring convertible, was towed from the shoulder of southbound Interstate 5 the day after he went missing. It was found at milepost 92, near Maytown. Schiendelman’s personal belongings — including his wallet and cellphone — were found inside.

In the days following, rumors surfaced that a man who wasn’t Schiendelman was seen running from the car.

The details lead Ware to believe something bad may have happened to her nephew. She doesn’t think he would have left his phone and wallet behind.

“Nineteen-year-old boys just don’t seem to function without their phones — at least he didn’t,” Ware said.

She said it’s hard not to think about other high-profile missing persons cases in the region — for example, Nancy Moyer of Tenino who went missing in 2009 at age 36, and Lindsey Baum of McCleary, who went missing in 2009 at age 10. She said she sometimes wonders if whatever happened to Moyer and Baum happened to her nephew, too.

Soon after Schiendelman went missing, his friends and family launched a large-scale public campaign asking the community for information and urging people not to forget him.

A Facebook group named “Logan Schiendelman is Missing” has more than 8,600 members, including people who knew Schiendelman, law enforcement officers, and people who just hope he’ll come home safe.

Ware often posts updates about the case on the page, along with updated fliers for people to print and hang up, and photos of Schiendelman as a child.

A team of volunteers has raised about $10,000 in reward money by selling Logan Schiendelman bracelets and buttons at Tumwater High School football games. The bracelets include the date May 19, 2016 — the day Schiendelman went missing — and the letters NGUNNGU, which stand for the football team’s slogan: “Never give up, never never give up.”

“Sometimes people get forgotten, but we don’t want that to happen with Logan,” said Ronda Hanning, who organizes much of the fundraising.

Scheindelman’s supporters will renew their hope at a Thursday candlelight vigil at Mountain View Church, at 940 Israel Road, Tumwater. The vigil will begin outside the church at 6:30 p.m., and the group will later move into the fellowship hall to listen to speakers, watch a video about Schiendelman, and have coffee and cookies.

“It’s been pretty bleak lately for the family, there’s just not a whole lot of information,” Hanning said. “We’re hoping that this renews everyone’s strength to continue looking for Logan.”

The family also plans to erect a sign showing Logan’s face along I-5, near where his car was found. Ware said they’ve already found a landowner who will let them put up the sign. They just need to raise enough money to make it happen.

“We have to keep his face out there in case someone looks at it and says, ‘I know him,’ ” Hanning said.

Gail Doyle’s case

On June 8, the search for Doyle reached a detached garage on Stidd’s property, on Longhorn Loop, south of the Olympia Regional Airport. Detectives reportedly found spattered blood and a hammer with blond hairs around it.

Stidd was arrested near Ritzville in eastern Washington early the next morning.

Although her remains weren’t found at the home, deputy prosecutors said at a June 10 hearing that there was enough evidence to charge Stidd in her death. Senior Deputy Prosecutor Scott Jackson is handling the case.

Local attorney Richard Woodrow is defending Stidd.

In recent letters to Thurston County Superior Court, Doyle’s family describe the toll her death has taken — especially since her remains haven’t been found.

“A good number of us suffer from nightmares, imagining what happened to her in the last moments of her life,” wrote Doyle’s niece Denise Vermillion.

Many members of the family wonder where Doyle is and what condition her body is in, she wrote.

The family has taken the search into their own hands, traveling to Montana in the hopes of learning more about Doyle’s disappearance.

“We have yet to find her, (Stidd) won’t tell us where she is,” Vermillion wrote. “My family will never see her again, love her, spend another holiday with her.”

For weeks, the search for Doyle’s remains focused on a remote Eastern Washington landfill. Carter said June 14 that the Sheriff’s Office was about 90 percent sure that Doyle’s remains were there. Stidd allegedly took some items to the Thurston County Waste and Recovery Center shortly after Doyle went missing, and detectives believed that Doyle’s remains might have been among them.

However, the search yielded only a bear paw that investigators initially believed was a human hand.

The Sheriff’s Office then dug up several areas of Stidd’s backyard, but again found nothing.

Tunheim said that while prosecuting the case will be difficult, it’s not impossible. It’s just a matter of putting together many small pieces of evidence — the victim’s habits, a lack of financial activity since the suspected death, physical evidence and witnesses.

“It turns out to be a case that’s built on circumstantial evidence,” Tunheim said. “A lot of people believe that means it’s weak evidence, but it’s not. You can still build a strong case that way.”

Amelia Dickson: 360-754-5445, @Amelia_Oly

Vigil for Logan Schiendelman

A candlelight vigil for Schiendelman will be held from 6:30-8:30 p.m. Thursday at Mountain View Church, 940 Israel Road SW, Tumwater.