A final refuge for those down on their luck The Raymond, Washington torture-slaying investigation
Update: Michelle Knotek was sentenced to more than 22 years in prison for the deaths of Kathy Loreno and Ronald Woodworth, who were boarders in her home when they murdered.
House Guests of the Knotecs
Ronald "Woody" Woodworth, 57; Shane Watson, 19; and Kathy Loreno Thomas, 36 disappeared after moving into the cheerful, country home where they were invited to stay by the Knoteks. And another elderly gentleman under Knotek's care died questionably in his own home after leaving his estate to the Knoteks.
Raymond is located in southwest Washington State's North Pacific County. Raymond has about 2,900 residents and South Bend, the Pacific County Seat, a few miles down the road has 1,700. The region is dependent on timber, fishing, and tourism. Weyerhaeuser mill has been the major employer and for generations. And missing people are not easily forgotten. When people enter Pacific County they know they are in paradise. The sparsely populated Willapa Valley is a coastal region nestled between the Pacific Ocean, and the horse shoe shaped Willapa River, surrounded by rolling hills, pastures, orchards and large farms with big old barns. The abundance of fish and wildlife and old growth forests attracts hunters, fishers and environmentalists. Deer meander through plentiful gardens and orchards in the abundant blackberry bushes, wild flowers and the wide varieties of inland birds and water fowl. Gentle ocean breezes blow in with the tides. North Pacific County seems a little sunnier than the surrounding beach communities. There is always something going on. The community seems to find things to celebrate all year long. Surrounding beaches throw festivals and celebrations, surfing competitions to sand castle contents, log sculpting and flying kites. South Bend has an annual Oyster Stampede. Many people don't lock their doors or take many safety precautions. People know each other. It's not an easy place to keep a secret. Housing and property is cheap, the pristine Pacific Ocean beaches, mild climate and a low crime rate makes the area an attractive place to retire or vacation in, but the depressed local economy makes it a tough place to find work or make enough to support a family.
But now the Green River Task Force are in Raymond digging for evidence in what appears to be a couple of serial killers preying on vulnerable citizens.
David and Michelle "Shelley" Knotek
David and Michelle "Shelley" Knotek (NOH'-tek) lived in an adorable, bright red, 2 story farmhouse, surrounded by a white picket fence, on a quiet country road, facing the Willapa River. Their cheery mailbox is painted with smiley-face suns and pink hearts. Their cute mini farm looks like it could be featured in "Country Living"
Michelle was a divorce with two young daughters. She married David about 15 years ago in Long Beach, WA and they had one daughter together. They lived in nearby Old Willapa for several years, prior to moving to their home in Raymond in 1990.
Among the bird feeders and chimes, the Knoteks welcomed "the down and out" into their house of horrors sitting on a graveyard.
Michelle and David Knotek, their youngest daughter, 14, 6 dogs, cats, rabbits and a bird often shared their cozy looking home on 4 acres with people down on their luck, according to David Knotek.
The front gate, with a big patriotic yellow ribbon, was always kept closed, possibly because the property concealed abuse, torture and death.
David Knotek, 51, a Vietnam veteran, and construction worker graduated from Raymond High School in 1971. Even though he passed a test to become a priest, he decided to join the Navy for 5 years where he learned the heavy construction trade. He had also worked for the local Weyerhaeuser mill for awhile. Friends described him as a good guy, pleasant, and with a great sense of humor.
Acquaintances say David became withdrawn and distant over the past decade and had become a heavy drinker.
David was well liked, didn't seem to have any enemies and was never known to be a problem.
"I've known David forever," said former Raymond Mayor Leon Lead. "He applied for a garbage truck driving job (with the City of Raymond) when I was mayor. He blended right in, in fact, I'm surprised they're still around the area. I haven't seen him in years. "He was the last guy I would think of for something like this, kind of a Regular Joe."
John McVey remembers David from high school, as a handsome, cool, popular guy who was nice to everyone.
McVey watched him transform into a nervous wreck after he married.
"Dave looked like he was always looking over his shoulder. He looked paranoid. thought he was just stressed." McVey said.
It's not as easy to find locals with anything good to say about David's wife, Michelle, 49, a home caregiver.
"Crazy Shelley," is described by relatives and acquaintances as "flighty, schizophrenic, evil, volatile, temperamental and oddball."
She had a talent for manipulating vulnerable people.
Michelle was sometimes charming but with a scary temper. One minute she was nice, the next she would turn on you.
Michelle's stepmother, and Shane Watson's grandmother said Michelle told wild lies and had angry outbursts.
"She told everyone in the family that she had cancer, and David went right along with it. It didn't matter what Shelly would lie about. He'd stick up for her."
She said she loves her stepdaughter, Michelle, but she hopes they both get the death penalty. "In my opinion, they both bought a one-way ticket to hell," she said.
Tracy Flynn of Raymond said Michelle was "extremely persistent" when she "stalked" her after a minor fender-bender. Michelle wanted Flynn to pay for car repairs, even though police couldn't determine fault. She followed her, called constantly, showed up at Flynn's work, and her mother's home.
A good friend of the Knoteks' youngest daughter stayed at their house frequently, once for a month. She never witnessed the mood swings or fits of rage that earned Michelle the nickname "crazy Shelley." She said Michelle was always friendly around her. But that her friend would become fearful when it was time for her to leave and go back home.
Carl Carlzen who lived near Michelle said she was "a little restless and high-strung," but the family seemed friendly and normal. His biggest complaint about the area was the elk knocking down his fences.
"He stayed because of the girls. He's a loyal man."
Shirley Knotek, Dave's mother, said before he met Michelle, he was dumped by another woman.
"He was on the rebound, he was sad, and (Michelle) was friendly - you know how it goes."
Shirley says her son was so unhappy that he stayed away as much as possible, often all week on jobs for a construction company in Oak Harbor.
The couple's three daughters were allegedly abused by their mother. After talking to witnesses and the Knotek children authorities confronted an intoxicated and belligerent David when he realized his 14 year old daughter was removed from their custody.
When confronted about the crimes he told deputies he and his wife befriended those down on their luck, subjected them to painful, humiliating abuse and disposed of the bodies.
David acknowledged fatally shooting and then burning his wife's nephew, burying a handy man and a woman staying with them. He dumped ashes of 2 victims along a nearby beach.
He admitted destroying evidence and inventing cover-up stories with his wife. He was cooperative and provided law enforcement with reliable details before he "lawyered up."
David claims the deaths were accidental.
Kathy Loreno Thomas: a fun, cheerful and kindhearted person
Kathy was helpful, cheerful, a free spirit, private, nonconfrontational and always smiling.
Kathy Loreno Thomas grew up in Simi Valley, Calif. but when Kathy, was 19, she and her mother, Kaye Thomas, moved to Pacific County, Washington after her stepfather was killed in a car crash. Her own father, who worked in the movie business, had died in an accident on the set of filming a show.
Kathy lived with her mother, grandmother and siblings in South Bend, WA as a hairdresser. Jeff Loreno said his sister felt like an outsider in Willapa Harbor, where everyone knew each other.
She was dating a man her mother didn't like. and when her mother told her to stay away from Michelle, Kathy left home. At first she stayed with her friend, Carolyn Barnum, but soon began living with the Knoteks, at Michelle's insistence. Carolyn Barnum played on a softball team with Kathy and Kathy baby-sat Barnum's children.
"The closer she became friends with Michelle, the further she drifted away from her other friends," said Carolyn Barnum.
In 1994, Carolyn and Kathy were job hunting at the mall when they ran into Michelle. Michelle followed Kathy into the mall bathroom, they were arguing. A half-hour later, Kathy told Carolyn, 'I'm going to go home with Michelle." She mentioned something about not wanting to bring any trouble on Carolyn. She was visibly shaken. That was the last time Carolyn Barnum saw her.
David claims he attempted CPR unsuccessfully while Kathy died choking on her own vomit. David did not want to take her to the hospital because of injuries on her.
When family and friends asked about Kathy, the Knoteks claimed she had moved to California with her truck driver boyfriend.
Kathy was reported missing by her mother, Kaye Thomas. She placed ads in the Willapa Harbor Herald, with a picture of her daughter, asking the public for help. Kathy's brothers hired a private investigator, who concluded she probably was dead and considered Michelle the only real suspect. Kathy's younger brother Eric Thomas, 40, a former Marine, said 9 years ago he felt his sister had been killed.
"We've had closure since '95. We've all known she was dead."
More than 2 years ago, Michelle's step-cousin, Richard Huffman, gave Pacific County sheriff's detective statements which said someone saw Knotek torture and kill a woman. July 11, 2001, Huffman said, his aunt, Lennette Watson, Michelle's stepmother -- faxed statements of at least two witnesses detailing Kathy's murder, to Pacific County Sheriff's Deputy Jim Bergstrom.
"This witness clearly saw the incident and clearly saw details surrounding the incident," Huffman said. "And that's what my aunt offered the police -- very, very specific, telling detail."
He says she followed up with authorities for 9 months, with no arrest, she repeatedly called Bergstrom to follow up. But "got no response."
After James "Mac" McClintock, 81, died under Michelle's care, they called Bergstrom in again . The detective told her he was working on the case, he was swamped, they were tied up in a big trial.
The statements of Kathy's alleged murder to Bergstrom meant he had the information 7 months before McClintock died and 2 years before Ronald "Woody" Woodworth, 57, disappeared.
Last year a Pacific County sheriff's deputy told Eric Thomas they suspected Kathy was killed by Michelle and her remains were in the Knoteks' yard. They called Kathy's mother, Kaye Thomas, a former sheriff's office employee, to report headway on the case.
Pacific County Sheriff John Didion acknowledged witnesses came forward a year and a half ago, "We haven't had enough (information) to take the action that we did at the end of last week."
Jeff Loreno said more than 8 months prior to the arrests, Bergstrom confirmed by telephone that Kathy was killed. Bergstrom told Jeff she was killed with an iron and her body burned but declined to say why they believe that theory.
Didion admitted Kathy's case was omitted because it was mistakenly classified as an "attempt to locate," which is less of a priority than a missing person. So she was not included in a list of official unsolved missing persons cases reported by the Pacific County Sheriff's office to state and federal government or other missing person registries.
Less than 2 weeks before the Knoteks were arrested on August 8, 2003, witnesses (not identified in court papers) claimed the Knoteks had abused and tortured Ron "Woody" Woodworth and Kathy Loreno Thomas to death. Witnesses correctly indicated remains would be found on the property. August 9, 2003 Police discovered Woodworth's remains in the couple's back yard.
Prosecutors believe Kathy was tortured to death.
Kathy was 36 when she disappeared in 1994; she would have turned 45 the day the Knoteks were arrested.
Shane Watson a sweet guy missed by others
Shane Watson, Michelle's nephew, 19, was born June 6, 1975. He was a sweet-natured teen who enjoyed outdoor chores like chopping wood with David. With his grandfather's blessing, he moved in with his aunt and uncle, David and Michelle in the early 1990's.
"He had finally found the friend he had always wanted," his grandmother said.
Shane had a troubled, unstable family life. Shane grew up in Tacoma, but lived with his grandparents after his parent's rough divorce. His grandfather was ill so Shane went to live with the Knoteks.
Shane had documented the abuse suffered by Kathy. After Michelle found the photograph she beat Shane.
Two weeks after that Dave claims he caught Shane out in the pole building with a .22-caliber rifle which upset Dave because Shane was not allowed to handle firearms. There were angry words and physical altercations as Dave attempted to take it away from Shane when it accidentally discharged hitting Shane in the neck.
Dave told another law enforcement officer he stood several feet away from Shane and shot him. He cleaned up the blood with bleach, then burned Shane's body for disposal as he had with Kathy, dumping ashes on the beach. He tried to burn the .22 but only the stock would burn, so he left it in the laundry room.
But David also said he killed Shane because he feared he would "go into a bar and spill all of the information about Kathy Loreno."
Dave says he regrets killing Shane to this day.
After Shane disappeared, friends and relatives looking for him were told he was fishing in Alaska or living with his girlfriend. When the Watsons called or came over, Shane was always gone.
The Watson's saw their grandson, last in 1992.
Shane's father is trying to be located for a memorial service.
Dental records have been requested to link evidence found to Shane or Kathy. Families were told DNA evidence would be important.
Ronald "Woody" Woodworth - a vulnerable man befriended by the wrong people
Ronald "Woody" Woodworth, 57, was a small in stature about 5'6" feet tall with thin white hair. Woody came up the Raymond area from California to take care of his mother. After he got up here, his life partner left and Woody was devastated. Apparently he went through some major personality changes.
He was fondly remembered as a proofreader by the local weekly newspaper, the Willapa Harbor Herald, from 1998-1999. Active in the Lions Club, he enjoyed volunteer work. He also possessed the rare skill of being able to read hieroglyphics. He liked flashy jewelry and wore rings with huge gemstones.
He had several brushes with the law.
In 2001, Woody was in trouble for check fraud and writing bad checks. He was charged, but didn't appear.
Four people applied for an anti-harassment protective order against him. The order was granted on a temporary basis. A woman with the same last name as his filed a domestic-violence protective order against him 2002.
One neighbor said Woody liked to hide in ditches and jump out at people to frighten them.
A witness claims Michelle physically abused Woody. His feet were plunged into boiling water until the skin came off. He was made him jump in bare feet from a height on to hard gravel. They forced him to work in the yard barefoot, wearing only a bathrobe and hat. David would beat Woody in the mouth.
Woody lived with the Knoteks for 2 years, and was last seen July 20, 2003. According to David, 2 days later, Michelle called him at work, out of town, to say Woody killed himself. July 25, 2003, David came home and buried him.
His disappearance prompted witnesses to cooperate, resulting in enough information for Sheriff's to obtain a search warrant for the Knoteks'
Before the arrests a witness told officials that Woody's clothes were still in the pole building. David showed police where he buried Woody. And a body believed to be Ron "Woody" Woodworth was exhumed.
When Michelle was arrested she claimed her husband had driven to Woody to Olympia, WA, where he caught a bus to San Diego. David said that was one of the of the stories he and Michelle had rehearsed ahead of time.
A 1996 aerial photograph of the Knoteks' property shows freshly turned dirt behind the home in an area now overgrown. It is not known if that area has been searched.
If it weren't for the public's help, these cases might have remained a mystery. Neither Woody nor Shane were ever reported missing, they had no ties with their families. An autopsy was conducted in King County.
Knoteks owned other properties in the area
Authorities next plan to search the backyard of the Knoteks' old Wilson Creek Road house located at the end of a long isolated driveway, about a mile away from where they were currently living. A current resident of that house noticed doors marked with holes where heavy-duty locks were installed on the outside of doors.
James "Mac" McClintock -- loved and missed by his friends and neighbors
James "Mac" McClintock, 81, was a Pearl Harbor veteran, retired merchant crewman and widower. He was adored by his neighbors and popular in the community.
About 8 years ago, Mac put his wife, Mary, into a nursing home, and lived alone since. Mac went everywhere with his black Labrador "Sissy." Mac loved the dog so much that he wanted Sissy buried next to him.
September 2001, Mac hired Michelle to care for him. Neighbors heard Michelle screaming at him abusively several times.
Mac wrote a will, leaving his estate, his dog, Sissy and over $5,000.00 to care for his dog, to Michelle, whom he listed as a "friend." Mac willed Michelle ownership of his estate to take place at Sissy's death.
Mac had several strokes and heart problems, but got around in a motorized cart. He often fell out of his motorized wheelchair, requiring medical aid. Between a 3-4 year period, McClintock called for aid 70 times. But was never seriously injured.
Feb. 9, 2002, James "Mac" McClintock died after "falling" in his home
Someone was in the home when he fell. Michelle called 911 to report he had fallen. Police Chief Dave Eastham said Mac did live long enough to talk to deputies and did not mention foul play.
Michelle took the lead in handling arrangements after his death. Michelle took Sissy and received at least $5,000 from the estate to care for the dog until it's "death." Six months later, Michelle reported Sissy died, which meant Mac's house valued at $140,000, was now Michelle's.
The death certificate lists the cause of death as ``acute subdural hematoma, blunt impact to head." The doctor who examined his body ruled the manner of death "undetermined." After examining Mac, the doctor referred the death to the Pacific County coroner, David Burke, who is also the county's prosecuting attorney.
It is unclear if the office ever looked into the death but the case will be reopened.
Michelle lied about Sissy's death to take ownership of the home.
In fact, Sissy, an older female black lab, came up for adoption when David released their pets for adoption after his arrest. Sissy was identified by the local vet who had treated her when Mac was alive.
After Mac's death, David began using his Social Security number. In fact, several Social Security numbers were used by David or Michelle.
Michelle temporarily moved Woody into Mac's home after inheriting it. Woody was fixing the house up for sale before Woody died.
After McClintock died, Kaye Thomas, a former Pacific County Sheriff's Office employee, Kathy's mother and a friend of Mac's requested the Pacific County Sheriff's Office to investigate McClintock's death.
Michelle was taken into custody at the home she inherited from Mac. She was taken without incident.
Didion said he was not aware of any attempts by to get authorities to look into McClintock's death.
Owned property in Battle Ground, WA
Clark County detectives investigated a former home of the Knoteks' in Battle Ground, WA. Michelle's parents gave it to her in 1981. The Knotek's had instructed renters to stay out of certain areas of the property. The Knoteks rented it out before it was sold in 2002.
The state Department of Social and Health Services initiates an investigation
The state Department of Social and Health Services is investigating Michelle's association with the state's long-term care system.
State records indicate Michelle started working April 17, 2000, as a case aide employed by the Olympic Area Agency on Aging, based in Aberdeen, WA. They provide case management for vulnerable adults receiving publicly funded services.
Michelle's duties were was to provide information and referrals for clients seeking help. She occasionally visited clients at home. The agency terminated Michelle's employment "by mutual agreement" in June 15, 2001 -- 14 months after she was first hired.
About the same time Michelle was terminated from the agency, Woody moved into the Knoteks' home. Woody began harassing Olympic Area Agency on Aging employees and threatening staffers. He said 'heads will roll' and 'Mount Vesuvius will blow. He made references to the devil, hell and retribution."
None of the other victims -- Shane, Woody or Kathy -- were clients of the Olympic Area Agency. It is not know if any of the alleged victims were DSHS clients, due to confidentiality laws.
DSHS has determined the Knoteks were not licensed by the state and they have no record of working as state employees but declined to say whether any other clients or former clients of the agency had contact with the Knoteks.
Michelle Driving while in Clallam County only previous charges found against her
In 1995 and 1998, Michelle was charged in Clallam County District Court for driving under the influence; her address was listed in Sequim. She pleaded guilty in the first case and completed the conditions of a deferred prosecution in the other. Other than that she has no other criminal history known at this time.
The Murder Charges against the Knotek's
Their first appearance in court was on August 11, 2003. David Knotek is being held on suspicion of assisting his wife in covering up the murders and abuse of Kathy Loreno Thomas and Shane Watson.
Shackled and cuffed Dave appeared to be in a fog. David said little.
Michelle appeared angry, upset and confused. She shook her head and exhaled loudly when Judge Joel Penoyar said witnesses would fear for their safety if she were released.
August 13, 2003, charges were filed in Pacific County Superior Court. Michelle Knotek with two counts of 1st-degree murder in the deaths of Kathy Loreno and Ron Woodworth. Prosecutors allege Michelle showed "extreme indifference" in the deaths of Kathy Loreno and Ronald Woodworth.
David, looking weak and worried, didn't speak.
David waived his right to a speedy arraignment and declined to enter a plea to a single count of 1st-degree murder. He was charged with rendering criminal assistance and unlawful disposal of human remains in Woody's death.
At his lawyer's request, arraignment for David was rescheduled for for August 25, 2003, with Grays Harbor Superior Court Judge Mark McCauley presiding.
Burke wouldn't comment on David's request for a delay but said there's no plea agreement. There is speculation that David would give more information about his wife in exchange for a lesser punishment. Others who know David say he just wants to come clean and get this off his chest.
Shirley Knotek, David's mother cried at the end of his arraignment.
They each could face additional charges, and there may be more victims.
August 14, 2003 bail for David and Michelle was raised from $4 million to $5 million each. Pacific County Prosecutor David Burke said he had information indicating they would be strong flight risks.
Michelle didn't speak during her brief appearance and showed little emotion. A not guilty plea was entered by her appointed attorney, Scott Harmer.
Michelle pleaded innocent to 2 counts of 1st-degree murder. Charges previously filed by Deputy Prosecutor Lori Miller allege Michelle showed "extreme indifference to human life."
Prosecutor David Burke officially downgraded those charges August 22, 2003 to 2nd-degree murder or 1st-degree manslaughter. In exchange Michelle agreed to give hair, blood, fingernail and handwriting samples to the prosecution, but said prosecutors would have to obtain a search warrant to analyze the clothing she was wearing when booked jail. Judge Joel Penoyar also decided August 22, to make the sealed search warrant available to defense attorneys, but not the public.
He delayed ruling on other motions until Sept. 2, 2003. The motions include Michelle's request for a new judge. Penoyar, the only Superior Court judge in the county, had presided over a previous case in which she was involved.
Michelle's attorneys, Scott Harmer, told the judge he was at the Knotek home during the previous week, the doors were locked, he had to peek through windows and dodge FBI agents using radar equipment to searching soil.
"There were items strewn about the house," he said. "Obviously it was in disarray. We were unable to do anything because we have no (evidence list) from the state. We don't know what was taken out. The FBI showed up and started doing things behind the house we weren't privy to." Harmer wants the prosecution to hand over an "evidence log."
Burke eventually offered to make available the search warrants used by authorities to arrest the Knoteks and search their property. Burke said the warrants remain sealed "because, my feeling is, if we had Seattle and Portland media descending on this, things could get messy."
They are being held at the county jail at South Bend. Both face a possible sentence of life in prison.
Judge Joel Penoyar tentatively scheduled trial for Oct. 13, 2003.
These crimes raise larger questions for the community about how missing people can slip through the cracks, the lack of available responsible, caregivers for vulnerable disenfranchised citizens facing homelessness, mental illness, poor health or old age, as well as the obvious question ... how well do you know your neighbors?
Task Force Formed
The Pacific County sheriff's office has fewer than 15 deputies. Pacific County Prosecutor and coroner, David Burke, is consulting with King County prosecutors for assistance with this investigation.
A task force was quickly formed by area representatives from the King, Lewis, Grays Harbor and Clark county sheriffs' offices, South Bend and Raymond police and the King County medical examiner's office, which has special expertise in the examination of decomposed remains because of the county's Green River serial killer case.
The state Attorney General's Office has offered assistance and Didion has appealed for federal help.
Tips & Other Missing Person Case
Tips are pouring into his office since the reports of the findings.
Anyone with information about these crimes are encouraged to contact Pacific County Sheriff John Didion at 360-875-9395.
Raymond does have another unsolved missing-child case of an 11-year-old Laotian boy who disappeared 8 years ago.
Kari & Associates
Copyright Kari Sable all rights reserved 1994-2007