Criminal logo

Case Remains Unsolved Nearly Four Decades: Is Law Enforcement on the Wrong Track?

The Peculiar Case of the Tube Sock Killings in Washington State

By Brutal NationPublished 3 years ago 9 min read

The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown - H P Lovecraft

Is This Case Related to the Others or Just a One-Off?

EDWARD SMITH (True Crime Articles)

Edward Smith met Kimberly LaVine while they were both attending the University of Southeastern Massachusetts at Dartmouth. They quickly fell in love, and upon graduating in 1984, they moved to Kent, Washington. They both worked as accountants, got engaged, and planned the wedding for the summer of 1985.

On March 9, 1985, they decided to get away for the weekend. They decided to go to Grant County along I-90 to explore the area and visit the known tourist landmarks. What transpired during this trip is still unknown. However, what is known is that the following afternoon, Edward's body was found near the Wanapum Dam in a gravel pit. His hands were tied behind his back, and the murderer cut his throat. His wallet was missing, and there was no sign of Kimberly anywhere. When Smith and LaVine's didn't show up for work on March 11, their employers reported them missing. Even more, concern arose when numerous attempts to call the pair went unanswered.

KIMBERLY LAVINE (True Crime Articles)

Authorities opened a missing person report, but they had nothing to go on for a couple of weeks. That's when the couple's car was located by someone approximately 10 miles from where Edward's body was discovered. Law enforcement officials were quite desperate to find Kimberly. However, they weren't very optimistic about her still being alive, considering they had already found Edward's body and the vehicle were located. The only bright side of this case, if you can call it that, was the single fingerprint they found on the car that didn't match either Edward or Kimberly.

It was five months later, in August of 1985, that Kimberly's remains were discovered approximately two miles from where Edward was found. It would only take authorities four years, in 1989, to match the fingerprint from the vehicle. It belonged to Billy Ray Ballard Jr, a truck driver currently serving time in Wyoming State on a different charge. He was brought back to Washington, and he pled guilty to both murders. But there's speculation he even committed the crime at all.

The Case That's Attributed to Be the First

HARKINS & COOPER (True Crime Articles)

August 1985 only got darker for that area of Washington. Tacoma residents, 27-year old Stephen Harkins, his 42-year old girlfriend Ruth Cooper, and their dog went camping for the weekend at Tule Lake in Pierce County. They had plans to return home on Sunday night sometime. When they didn't show up for work at the vocational school where they were employed, coworkers and their families became quite worried. On August 14, only four days later, some hikers came across Harkins's body. He was wrapped in his sleeping bag and had a single gunshot wound to his head. They also discovered the dog lying nearby; it had also been shot and killed.


As in Kimberly's case, Ruth could not be located anywhere nearby. She wasn't found until October 1985. That is when a purse, skeletal remains, and a dismembered skull were discovered in a wooded area. Dental records confirmed the remains belonged to Ruth. There was also evidence that a tube sock had been tied around her neck, which initially led detectives to believe she had been strangled. However, an autopsy determined that her cause of death was a gunshot wound to the abdomen.

Another Similar Yet Not So Similar Murder/Disappearance Case


Nearly two months had gone by with nothing substantial in the way of evidence turning up. Then on December 12, 1985, 36-year old Mike Riemer, his 21-year old girlfriend Diana Robertson, and their 2-year old daughter Crystal left Tacoma in their 1982 Plymouth pickup truck. They were headed for the Nisqually River to check on some animal traps Mike had set up in that area and search for a Christmas tree.

That afternoon, in a K-Mart parking lot, 30 some miles away, Crystal was found walking around alone. When someone noticed her, she was sobbing. Every attempt employees and customers made to locate her parents turned up nothing, so they called the police. She was placed in a temporary foster care home. Her picture was splashed all across news broadcasts and newspapers all over the state of Washington.

As a result of the media attention, Crystal's grandma saw her picture and sought to obtain her guardianship. When the grandmother asked her where her parents were, all she could say was, 'Mommy is in the trees.' Unfortunately, this little bit of information offered little help as it was too vague to launch a proper search party investigation.


The case quickly turned cold due since there weren't any substantial leads. It remained a cold case until February 18, 1986. That's when another motorist happened to discover their 1982 Plymouth pickup and Diana's remains were nearby in a vast forested area off State Route 7. An autopsy revealed she had been stabbed a total of 17 times, and she also had a tube sock tied around her neck.


Authorities descended on the area with their K-9 search teams looking for more evidence and any sign of Mike. However, he was nowhere in the vicinity. It's as if he just vanished into thin air. Upon searching the couple's truck, they found the front seat had bloodstains across it. There was also a manila envelope with 'I love you, Diana' written on the front. Dian's mother said she believed the handwriting to be that of Mike. However, there was no conclusion as the analysis performed on the writing stated it was inconclusive. Due to the findings in the vehicle, authorities theorized that Mike was the prime suspect and may have also been the one to murder Stephen and Ruth earlier.


Mike remained the prime suspect for decades as no other bodies were discovered, and he was nowhere to be found. They determined him to be the main suspect since he had a history of Domestic Violence. Before her death, he had physically assaulted Diana several times - even getting arrested on October 19, 1985. But they always worked out their differences and stayed together. He was a roofer in Seattle and an accomplished animal trapper, so they determined he had the know-how to survive in the wilderness.

Additionally, Diana was discovered with a tube sock tied around her neck like Ruth. They never located him or his remains. He wasn't eliminated as a suspect until March 2011 when hikers came across a partial skull that was determined to belong to him. This skull was found only about one mile from where Diana's remains were found that February 1986.

As With All Things Unknown - Theories Abound

Suffice it to say, though there have been several theories regarding this case, none of them hold any substantial weight. Even though Ballard was convicted of abducting, torturing, and raping two women in Wyoming, he didn't kill those women. And although he confessed to murdering Edward and Kimberly, none of it fit his MO. If Ballard were responsible for those murders, there's no tie to the other two cases. Nothing else was similar other than the heavily forested areas where the bodies were located.

At one point, authorities thought they had a compelling yet unidentified person of interest. An unknown male showed up at a wedding reception where some of the couple's friends were. He was looking for Stephen, and he seemed pretty pissed. The friends asked him why he was so mad. He said he and Stephen had a dispute because Stephen allegedly damaged the guy's motorcycle. However, this lead never panned out.

An autopsy on Mike couldn't determine his cause or time of death, other than rule out a gunshot wound to the head as no damage indicated that kind of trauma. A minute number of people still believe him to be the culprit on some level. They suggest it is possible that he killed Diana and then committed suicide. There's only one thing that doesn't fit this scenario: It doesn't explain how Crystal was found 30 miles away in a K-Mart parking lot. Maybe he killed Diana, took Crystal to the K-Mart, and then went back to bury Diana's remains. This also doesn't make any sense when one considers how Diana's remains were found.

The standard theory held by law enforcement and among web investigators is that there was an unidentified serial killer who is/was behind all of the murders. This particular theory is out there and so widely accepted because all the murders happened in a short span in the same vicinity with similar MOs. It's the most commonly accepted theory since the females had a tube sock around their necks and were separated by quite a distance from the males in all incidents.

Despite many theories and a ton of speculation, no solid leads have come out of any of it. The last bit of substantial evidence was when Mike's partial skull was found in 2011. There also appear to have been no similar murders in that vicinity since Mike and Diane disappeared. The case grew very cold. Is it possible more murders occurred, and the remains just haven't been found? Did the killer stop? Move to a different area? Get arrested for another crime and was unable to kill again? Or perhaps the killer is still lurking in the woods of Washington, looking for their next target.

We hope you find this case as fascinating as we did. If you enjoyed reading the article, please leave us a tip so that we may continue to bring you high quality, informative and entertaining articles in the future.


Associated Press. “Skull Found in Washington Revives Unsolved Murder Mystery.” Fox News, 14 April 2011, Accessed 8 July 2021.

Associated Press. “Woman's Body Discovered.” The Spokesman-Review [Mineral], 103 ed., no. 278, 20 February 1986, p. 115,,3149541&hl=en. Accessed 9 July 2021.

Berry, Craig. “The Unsolved Case of the 1985 Tube Sock Killings.” The Crime Articles, 23 January 2018, Accessed 9 July 2021.

Camacho, Gillian. “Washington: Tube Sock Killings.” Sites at Penn State, Penn State, 9 October 2020, Accessed 9 July 2021.

East, Michael. “Bodies Kept Piling Up in the Pacific Northwest. Was it the Work of One Killer or a Coincidence.” Front Page Detectives, 1 May 2021, Accessed 9 July 2021.

“Mineral, Washington Murders.” Wikipedia,,_Washington_murders. Accessed 7 July 2021.

Mulick, Stacey. “Mystery Lingers: Discovery of Trappers Skull Adds Clue to Couple's 1985 Disappearance.” The Olympian, 13 April 2011, Accessed 8 July 2021.

“Murder Victim Identified.” The Dispatch [Tacoma], 92 ed., no. 45, 6 November 1985, p. 16,,586578&hl=en. Accessed 8 July 2021.

“The Northwest Today: Officers Baffled Over Couple's Disappearance.” Eugene Register Guard [Tacoma], 119 ed., no. 55, 17 December 1985, p. 20,,4370426&hl=en. Accessed 7 July 2021.

Pearson, Adam. “Remains Those of Tacoma Man Missing Since 1985.” The Spokesman-Review, 12 April 2011, Accessed 8 July 2021.

United Press International (UPI)). “Are Cases Tied?” Ellensburg Daily Record [Tacoma], 84 ed., no. 204, 28 August 1985, p. 19,,6954905&hl=en`. Accessed 7 July 2021.


About the Creator

Brutal Nation

A podcast series with a unique perspective on the dark world of lesser-known serial killer and true crime cases. We have 2 goals:

  1. Be Informative
  2. Be Unique

There's a bonus for you: Entertainment

That's what it's all about!

Reader insights

Be the first to share your insights about this piece.

How does it work?

Add your insights


There are no comments for this story

Be the first to respond and start the conversation.

Sign in to comment

    Find us on social media

    Miscellaneous links

    • Explore
    • Contact
    • Privacy Policy
    • Terms of Use
    • Support

    © 2024 Creatd, Inc. All Rights Reserved.