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"Cold Cases: Unsolved murders, disappearances haunt island"

"There are bodies in the ground, at the bottom of lakes or lying on the seabed.Investigators believe that the remains of at least three people have been hidden away on Whidbey Island by the same hands that violently ended their lives.There are also bodies of murder victims in local cemeteries, where they lie under stone markers while their killers walk free. Their names haunt the island. Teresa Hesselgrave. Ron Frye. Darrin Wade Gerhke. Linda Moran. Mary Frances Hunter. Deborah Palmer. Russell Kunkel.Detectives have suspicions about husbands and friends and others, but justice waits while investigations continue and continue and may never end.It was four years ago this Saturday when Oak Harbor resident and 36-year-old Navy wife Hunter disappeared. Her husband, Navy Lt. Derek Hunter, told police he last saw her at the Cascade Mall in Burlington Sept. 2, 1996.The investigation into her mysterious disappearance - which has involved the Navy Criminal Investigative Service, Burlington police, the FBI and even TV's Unsolved Mysteries - led agents to the woods near officer's Capehart housing on the NAS Whidbey Seaplane Base early this year. But her body was never found.Her father, Joseph Tremblay of Alabama, marked the sad anniversary with an unusual ad in today's News-Times. He continues his own four-year, voluminous investigation into his daughter's disappearance. While still officially a missing person case, he and NCIS agents are certain that Hunter was murdered. Tremblay holds out hope that her killer will be brought to justice before another anniversary of her disappearance comes around.The reason I am doing this is so that other parents won't have to go through this again, he said, adding that his investigation will bring him back to Whidbey in September.The NCIS assigned the Hunter investigation to a special cold case squad two years ago Friday. Special Agent Don Johnston, who works out of the agency's Whidbey office, is handling the case. For several months late last year and into 2000, he coordinated a massive search effort in the woods near the family home, bringing in cadaver-sniffing dogs, forensic anthropologists and a new ground-penetrating radar system.Meanwhile, Derek Hunter - who agents said refused to cooperate with the investigation - has moved to Florida.Darrin Gerhke, Russell KunkelFive years ago this summer, Island County Sheriff Mike Hawley was a detective when 23-year-old Darrin Gerhke was shot and killed, then dumped near his trailer home off Goldie Road. Gerhke worked as a dishwasher in downtown Oak Harbor and was last seen at the City Beach Park at 11 p.m. June 19.A local man was arrested on suspicion of the murder, but he was released without any charges filed. Hawley said his best lead in the case was a couple of pine cones that were stuck to Gerhke's body. The cones were DNA tested in order to determine which tree they came from, but the murder site has never been found.Part of the difficulty in investigating the case, Hawley said, was that Gerhke apparently was part of the local gay scene, which is pushed underground because of the Navy. We really ran into a brick wall trying to get gay people in the Navy to talk to us, Hawley said.Then just last December, Gerhke's friend and former neighbor, 47-year-old Russell Kunkel, was found dead on the beach near the Navy base. He was naked except for one sock and one boot.While he died from saltwater drowning, foul play is suspected.The drowning was totally suspicious, Island County Detective J.D. Burns said, but added that he has found no links between Gerhke and Kunkel's deaths. Burns, a veteran detective, is handling all of the unsolved murder and missing persons cases for the county.Detectives continue to look at person of interest in both the Gerhke and Russell cases, Hawley said.Teresa HesselgravePolice are also looking at a possible serial killer in another unsolved murder.Hawley said that the arrest this spring of suspected Spokane serial killer Robert Yates, who grew up in Oak Harbor, has renewed interest in an unsolved 23-year-old murder.Nineteen-year-old Teresa Hesselgrave's body was found in a wooded area near her Coupeville home April 15, 1977. She had been bound and gagged but there was no evidence of sexual assault. She died from asphyxiation.After realizing that Yates could be a potential suspect - he may have lived in Coupeville during that time - Hawley sent DNA evidence taken from the scene of the crime to the state lab for comparison with Yates' DNA profile.There is no word yet on the outcome of the tests.Ron Frye Over the last year, Hawley said his detectives have been using high-tech equipment from the Navy to look for the bodies of a couple of missing people. The imaging equipment allows investigators to look at the ground beneath a body of water to find a corpse that may be buried in the muck and mud.Based on a new tip, Hawley said they searched for remains of Ron Frye in marshes around the Coupeville area. Frye was a 17-year-old Coupeville resident when he disappeared in 1994. He was last seen at Ebey's Landing with a man who later became a convicted sex offender and wound up in prison in Spokane.According to Detective Burns, the suspect said Frye walked off into a woods and that was the last time he saw him.Linda MoranDetectives also searched south end lakes, Hawley said, in hopes of finding the remains of Linda Fisler Moran. The 26-year-old woman disappeared in 1996. Her husband, Bill Moran, reported that she vanished at a South Whidbey gas station. The couple lived in Clinton with her 8-year-old son.Bill Moran, who has moved to Seattle, was definitely a suspect in his wife's disappearance, Burns said.Deborah PalmerAnyone who lived in Oak Harbor in March of 1997 undoubtedly remembers when 7-year-old Deborah Palmer was reportedly abducted while walking a few blocks to Oak Harbor Elementary School. After several days of an enormous search and coverage by Seattle media, her body was found washed up on a North Whidbey beach. She also died from asphyxia.Palmer's killer was never found, but Oak Harbor Police Capt. Rick Wallace said detectives continue to follow the occasional lead and feed information into a FBI computer program designed to help with such cases.Wallace said investigators have ideas about several very possible scenarios, but can't prove anything.We can't get past anything but suspicion, he said.Which is the problem with all of these cases: Investigators may have strong suspicions and be able to point out the murderers who walk among us, yet there isn't enough evidence for charges.But the names of the dead remain. "

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