Pin It
Favorite

Justice Denied 

Fifty years later, the brutal murder of a 17-year-old in Coeur d'Alene remains unsolved

click to enlarge Tubbs Hill - ANNIE KUSTER
  • Annie Kuster
  • Tubbs Hill

On the Saturday morning of Aug. 22, 1964, Coeur d'Alene's fire chief was walking with his family on Tubbs Hill when he spotted bloodstains on the ground. He followed the trail of blood about 60 yards through brush and rocks to the shore, to a scene he surely hoped it would not lead: the naked body of a teenage girl floating face down in the shallow water of Lake Coeur d'Alene.

click to enlarge Susan Stewart
  • Susan Stewart

The summer she was 17, Susan Stewart came from Missouri with her mother and brother to spend a few months in the resort town on the lake. Her parents were from the area, and her father was an Army sergeant stationed in Okinawa. The family planned to join him overseas when the season ended.

On the evening of Friday, Aug. 21, Coeur d'Alene was sunny and still summer-warm. In Seattle, police were setting up barricades against throngs of teenage girls screaming for the Beatles on their world tour stop. In Atlantic City, Democrats were gathering for the national convention under the pall of John F. Kennedy's assassination nine months earlier. In Saigon, protests against the military regime were escalating into chaos in the streets. In the relative peace of Coeur d'Alene, Susan Stewart left home around 7 pm to go for a walk.

A bloody rock was determined to be the murder weapon. The victim's face and head had been so violently beaten that it took some time to identify her as Susan Stewart, who'd been reported missing Friday night when she failed to return home. Her father rushed back from Okinawa; the bloody rock was sent to Washington, D.C., for FBI testing. The police chief, who'd taken over just three weeks earlier, called it "the biggest case we have had in the 18 years I've been in the Coeur d'Alene Police Department."

It was a case full of intriguing clues that led nowhere. Police said they found no reason to believe sex was a motive. An autopsy revealed the teenager was pregnant when she was killed, but the likely father was located back in Missouri and ruled out as a suspect. Her clothing was missing, from her green blouse to her blue cutoff jeans, and the only item of hers ever found was a chain with a religious medallion.

A community effort to comb the hillside a week later turned up nothing. Police chased leads across the Northwest and administered more than a dozen polygraph tests, but discovered nothing. A reward for information was set; a memorial service was held. Susan's mother and brother moved overseas to join her father as planned, and the murder receded from the headlines into the uneasy silence of stories without endings.

The case remains open and officially under investigation, with no active leads.

Had she lived, Susan would be 67. She might now be a grandmother tending children at the lake or a retiree on a cross-country road trip or a lady at the grocery store who passes by unnoticed. She might have been dealt a more common death by car crash or heart attack or cancer. She may have left Coeur d'Alene at the end of the season and never returned.

Instead, she lingers in questions that fade but never leave the place where land meets water, where 50 years have worn the sharp edges off the Who and Why and left only the unanswerable What if?

Tags: ,

  • Pin It

Speaking of Last Word

  • Ride Ben Burr
  • Ride Ben Burr

    A railroad line turned bike trail is finally nearing completion
    • Sep 22, 2016
  • Opportunity Gnaws
  • Opportunity Gnaws

    Z Nation didn't just bring zombies to Spokane — it's proved that the city can support a vibrant film industry
    • Sep 15, 2016
  • Ode to (Desert) Joy
  • Ode to (Desert) Joy

    Why you should slow down — or better yet, stop — in the "drive-by" stretch of Washington
    • Sep 8, 2016
  • More »

Latest in News

  • OK, Hold Your Nose
  • OK, Hold Your Nose

    Everything you need to know before Election Day
    • Sep 22, 2016
  • Base of Support
  • Base of Support

    Polling local leaders and opinion-makers about presidential politics
    • Sep 22, 2016
  • The Messenger
  • The Messenger

    Local leaders weigh in on how Donald Trump's campaign has impacted racism in America
    • Sep 22, 2016
  • More »

Comments

Showing 1-1 of 1

Add a comment

 
Subscribe to this thread:
Showing 1-1 of 1

Add a comment

Today | Tue | Wed | Thu | Fri | Sat | Sun
Washington State Chinese Lantern Festival

Washington State Chinese Lantern Festival @ Riverfront Park

Through Oct. 30

All of today's events | Staff Picks

More by Lisa Waananen Jones

  • In Her Footsteps
  • In Her Footsteps

    A century ago, an adventurous librarian started a walking club that would grow into a regional institution
    • Jun 3, 2015
  • A Copper Touch
  • A Copper Touch

    In the fight against hospital infections, the latest innovation isn't high-tech — it's copper
    • Apr 1, 2015
  • Oils of Life
  • Oils of Life

    Essential oils bring wellness through plants' therapeutic powers
    • Feb 6, 2015
  • More »

Most Commented On

  • To Kill the Black Snake

    Historic all-tribes protest at Standing Rock is meant to stop the destruction of the earth for all
    • Sep 8, 2016
  • Murrow's Nightmare

    Debate moderators need to be much more than an onstage prop to make our democracy work
    • Sep 15, 2016
  • More »

Top Tags in
News & Comment

election 2016


trail mix


Briefs


green zone


marijuana


Readers also liked…

  • Patrolling While Black
  • Patrolling While Black

    Gordon Grant's nearly 30 years as a Spokane cop have been affected by race, but that's not the whole story
    • Jul 8, 2015
  • Opting Out of Reality
  • Opting Out of Reality

    Publisher's Note
    • Feb 11, 2015

© 2016 Inlander
Website powered by Foundation