The Lewis County Sheriff's Office has extradited an Olympia man in Mexico who's accused of playing a role in his father's death so he could collect a life-insurance policy.
Ken Varner, 34, faces charges of first-degree theft and promoting a suicide attempt after his father, Jim, 49, who was found dead in 2006 with a gunshot wound to his chest. The elder Varner was found Feb. 2, 2006, in his red 1996 Nissan on U.S. Forest Service Road 20, about three miles outside rural Packwood.
Jim Varner was a former State Patrol Trooper and an investigator with the state Department of Labor and Industries. His wife reported him missing the day before he was found.
The Sheriff’s Office initially ruled the cause of death as suspicious; it later was ruled a suicide. The Lewis County Sheriff’s Office could not release more information about Ken Warner’s connection to the death or his whereabouts in Mexico because of the ongoing investigation, said Cmdr. Steve Aust of the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office.
A year after Varner’s death, his wife, Kendra, advertised in newspapers a $7,500 reward for information leading to a resolution in her husband’s case. The Olympia couple had been married for almost 25 years and had three children.
In April 2006, the Thurston County Sheriff’s Office reported that it was investigating an insurance-fraud scheme involving the dead man, including his son and another unnamed male adult. Detectives said a new title for a 1949 Chevrolet Woody Classic that didn’t exist and a fake bill of sale for $59,500 had been created in the case.
In January 2008, Douglas Merino, a former mayor of Westport in Grays Harbor County, was found guilty of first-degree theft and conspiracy to commit first-degree theft for reporting the car as stolen. Three months later, he was sentenced to 30 days of work release and 30 days of electronic home monitoring.
In a twist of irony, Merino also is a former fraud investigator with the state Department of Labor and Industries.
Ken Varner pleaded guilty to a count of first-degree theft in the case but fled to Mexico before his sentencing, according to court papers.
Jim Varner’s body was found one day after he’d been questioned by an insurance company fraud investigator about his $60,000 claim on the nonexistent Chevrolet.