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DNA’s delayed justice: The fight to fill the gaps in CODIS

How a DNA law named after two Tacoma girls helped link an executed killer to a murder case that had been cold for nearly four decades


For 28 years, the brutal murders of Jennifer Bastian, 13, and Michella Welch, 12, were thought to be the work of the same deranged predator until DNA revealed the puzzling truth.

By Lindsey Wade

Nearly a decade ago, I sat at my desk inside a drab storage closet that had been converted to the cold case office on the second floor of the Tacoma (Wash.) Police Department’s headquarters building. I was poring over a massive list of names as adrenaline coursed through my body.

Maybe this is it. Maybe he’s on this list. Maybe this will finally provide the answers I’ve been searching for.

What I was searching for was nothing short of a miracle. I was investigating the brutal slayings of 12-year-old Michella Welch and 13-year-old Jennifer Bastian that had occurred in 1986. For 28 years, the two cases were thought to be the work of the same deranged predator until DNA revealed the puzzling truth — there were two different killers. In both cases, the unknown assailant left his semen at the crime scene, but there was no match in the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) at the state or national level.

I was searching for a needle in a haystack, and it seemed as though the only tool I had at my disposal was a pair of dull tweezers. Every detective who’d worked on the two murders over the previous 30 years had hoped that one day the suspect would be convicted of an unrelated crime and his DNA would be uploaded into CODIS. That’s how it’s supposed to work, but in this case, there were no offender hits and no matches to related cases. Both investigations were at a standstill.

Slipping through the cracks

I had learned over my years of investigating cold cases, that there were many reasons why a convicted rapist or killer who should be in CODIS might have slipped through the cracks. In 2011, I discovered that Ted Bundy’s DNA was not in CODIS and I made it my mission to find a sample of his DNA and get it into the national DNA database. I worked with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, and they were able to track down a vial of Bundy’s blood collected in 1978 and to everyone’s amazement, a complete profile was obtained. In 2011, Bundy’s DNA was finally entered into CODIS.

The Bundy DNA scavenger hunt was an eye-opening experience for me. It made me wonder how many other psychopathic killers and rapists were missing from CODIS. After all, the purpose of DNA databases is to help solve violent crimes and connect the dots between cases where an offender might not otherwise be identified.

DNA collection laws

Conservative estimates indicate more than 250,000 homicides are unsolved in this country. Most states didn’t begin passing DNA collection laws until the early 1990s, which means those rapists and killers who were operating in the 1970s, 80s and even the 90s are often unaccounted for in the state and national DNA databases.

Even though most states enacted DNA collection laws in the 1990s, they are not necessarily retroactive, meaning offenders convicted of violent crimes before the DNA law took effect do not necessarily qualify to have their blood or saliva collected and entered into CODIS. Many investigators and much of the public assume that anyone in prison, especially those with life sentences, on death row, or those who were executed, are in CODIS. Far too often, this is not the case.

The same year I found out Ted Bundy’s DNA was not in CODIS, I made another startling discovery. I learned there were dozens of sexually violent predators civilly committed at the Special Commitment Center on McNeil Island in Washington State who’d never submitted a DNA sample to be entered into CODIS. I made countless calls and sent many emails trying to convince the staff at the Special Commitment Center to swab all of the residents missing from the DNA database. I was initially met with resistance and told their policy was to collect DNA upon release. That wasn’t good enough for many reasons but especially since many of the predators on McNeil Island would never be released. It took almost two years of prodding, but DNA samples were eventually collected. A sample collected from resident Michael Halgren matched evidence from the unsolved murder of 19-year-old Susan Lowe in 1980 in Bellevue, Washington.

In the past, it was common practice for many states to collect DNA upon release from prison, but inmates who died in prison or those who were executed, are never “released.” As a result, it is likely that many of the offenders who fall into this category are not represented in CODIS for the invaluable purpose of resolving cold case sexual assaults and homicides and potentially exonerating the innocent.

Violent killers absent from the national DNA database

Bundy and Halgren motivated me to keep turning over rocks and to keep asking questions. That’s what detectives are supposed to do, right? These troubling examples of violent killers who were absent from the national DNA database made me consider the possibility that there were probably many more of these criminals flying under the radar. I wondered if the men responsible for the horrific killings of Jennifer Bastian and Michella Welch in 1986 might be in this category of convicted predators whose DNA had never been collected. It made sense, the murders occurred before the DNA law went into effect in Washington, so it stood to reason that maybe the killers served time in prison before DNA was routinely collected from inmates. Maybe they died in prison or maybe they were sitting in a prison, mental hospital, or special commitment center right now, basically forgotten, never having provided a DNA sample.

Additional high-profile cases confirmed my theory

As the years went on, I made note of high-profile cases in the news that further confirmed my theory.

In 2017, Nevada went back and swabbed inmates that had been locked up well before their DNA law went into effect and one of the offenders who’d been swabbed was linked to multiple murder cases in Colorado. Another long-term Nevada inmate was paroled in 2013, never having had his DNA collected. Luckily, he was transferred to Oregon to serve an additional prison sentence where he was finally swabbed. His DNA matched several unsolved murder cases in California known to be part of the Gypsy Hill serial killings and also led to the exoneration of a woman in Nevada who’d spent 35 years in prison for a murder she’d been wrongfully convicted of.

Finally, there was the 1979 murder of a young woman in Oregon that was eventually solved in 2019 with the help of Investigative Genetic Genealogy. The man tied to the crime by his genetic fingerprint had been executed in Texas 20 years earlier but his DNA was not in CODIS. If his DNA had been in CODIS, this case could have been solved years earlier at a fraction of the cost.

The case of Charles Rodman Campbell

Armed with example after example, I began researching the convicted predators in my state who’d been convicted before 1990 when Washington’s first DNA law went into effect, and from whom DNA had never been collected. The list was enormous and a bit overwhelming. I began by filtering by status to see who was deceased, who was currently in prison, who was on probation and who had been released from incarceration.


Charles Rodman Campbell

As I scrolled through the list a name caught my eye — Charles Rodman Campbell. The name was unfamiliar to me. I could see that he had been convicted of three counts of aggravated first-degree murder in Snohomish County, Washington back in 1982 and in the status column, it read, “Executed.”

Here’s another one, I thought to myself. I began digging into Campbell’s history, trying to learn everything I could. I had no idea that what I would find out would make my stomach turn.

In December 1974, Campbell approached a young mother named Renae Wicklund outside her home in Clearview, Washington. Renae saw Campbell approaching so she grabbed her baby who was outside with her, making a run for the front door. Armed with a knife, Campbell forced his way inside the house and threatened to kill her baby if Renae didn’t comply with his commands. Campbell sexually assaulted Renae and then fled. Campbell was arrested for the rape in 1976 and later convicted after Renae and her neighbor, Barbara Hendrickson, testified at his trial. Campbell was sentenced to 30 years in prison, but by 1981, he was on work release after serving less than six years in prison.

Renae had no idea Campbell had been released from prison and was living in a halfway house, not far from her home. On April 14, 1982, Campbell broke into Renae Wicklund’s home and savagely raped and murdered her. He then waited for her 8-year-old daughter, Shannah, to get home from school and murdered her as well. Campbell then killed neighbor Barbara Hendrickson, who’d come to check on Renae because she’d been sick that day. After slitting the throats of all three victims, Campbell fled. The three savage killings horrified the small community and sent shockwaves throughout Washington state. Campbell was arrested soon after the triple murder and was ultimately executed for his heinous crimes.

I confirmed with the CODIS lab that Charles Campbell’s DNA was not in the database. My next step was to contact the medical examiner’s office to see if they had a blood card or a histology block available from his autopsy in 1994. I was excited to find out that there were histology blocks in storage, but my elation was short lived when the CODIS manager informed me that Charles Campbell did not qualify for CODIS.

Absurd, right? How could a convicted rapist and triple murderer, hanged by the state for his horrific crimes, be ineligible for CODIS? The reality was that Campbell had been convicted prior to the DNA law taking effect in 1990 and he had been executed before the law became retroactive for prison inmates. Bottom line, even though I had located a DNA sample for Campbell, it could not by law, be entered into the state or national DNA database.

This was a problem.

Closing DNA collection loopholes

Over the course of several years, I drove to the state capitol with Jennifer Bastian’s mother, Pattie, and we testified in front of various legislative committees to improve the state’s DNA collection law by closing loopholes that allow predators to get away with violent crimes. Charles Campbell was my example of a violent predator who needed to be in CODIS but could not be added due to the way the law was written. Pattie Bastian spoke passionately about how her daughter’s unsolved murder could be solved with a DNA match and implored each committee to close the loopholes in the law that allow so many criminals to evade detection.

Finally, in 2019, Jennifer and Michella’s Law (SHB 1326) was passed in Washington state. This important piece of legislation helped to strengthen Washington’s DNA law by adding the crime of indecent exposure to the list of crimes that require a DNA sample upon conviction. It expanded the crime of refusal to provide a DNA sample to anyone required to provide DNA, not just registered sex/kidnap offenders. Finally, the law allows DNA samples from deceased qualifying offenders to be entered into CODIS, regardless of conviction date.


Jennifer & Michella’s Law bill signing, May 2019.

In September 2020, as a result of the new law, I retrieved a tissue sample collected at the time of Charles Campbell’s autopsy from the King County Medical Examiner and submitted it to the Washington State Patrol CODIS laboratory in Seattle.

It would be another three years before I heard the name Charles Campbell again.

This time, it came in the form of a phone call out of the blue from Seattle Cold Case Detective Rolf Norton. He told me that he’d recently received a surprising call from the crime lab. There was a CODIS hit linking a convicted offender to the 1975 murder of 25-year-old Hallie Seaman, a graduate student at the University of Washington. The hit was not associated with just any offender — it was none other than Charles Rodman Campbell, the triple murderer and rapist executed in 1994.

I was stunned by this news. It confirmed what I had suspected all along — the predators who were active during the golden age of serial killing have been largely forgotten and often excluded from DNA databases around the country, making it nearly impossible to link them to cold cases.

By now, most people are familiar with Investigative Genetic Genealogy (IGG), a new approach used by police agencies around the country to resolve rapes and murders thought to be unsolvable. Could IGG reveal the identity of the perpetrator in some of these cases? Absolutely. There have been more than 600 criminal cases solved with the help of IGG. But not every cold case is a candidate. While an investigator might want to utilize this revolutionary technique on a cold case, it’s not always an option. In some instances, as in the case of Hallie Seaman, there is no DNA left for IGG due to consumption during traditional DNA testing. In other cases, the sample remaining may be too small or too degraded to work with. Lastly, the type of DNA testing required for IGG is costly and is not currently a service provided by most state and local crime labs.

Linking Charles Campbell to a nearly 50-year-old cold case murder is a powerful example of the results that could be accomplished if more law enforcement agencies address missing offender samples in CODIS. Since 2016, the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) has offered funding to state and local agencies under the Sexual Assault Kit Initiative (SAKI purpose area 3) to address this issue. Currently, there are only 15 agencies around the country taking advantage of this funding.

As a nation, we need to do more.

Cases like Michael Halgren and Charles Campbell are not anomalies, but unless someone starts asking tough questions, we’ll never know how many more of these examples are out there, and how many more cases could be resolved.

Over the past decade, there has been a concerted effort by law enforcement agencies and crime labs around the country to get previously shelved sexual assault kits tested, but this is just one part of the equation. We need to ensure DNA samples from convicted rapists and killers are in CODIS in order to solve these cases.

Survivors and the families of unsolved murder victims deserve better.

About the author

Lindsey Wade is a Senior Law Enforcement Specialist at RTI International. She served as a Tacoma, Washington Police Officer for 21 years. During her 14 years as a detective, she investigated sexual assaults, child abuse, missing persons and homicides. Lindsey helped to create the Tacoma Police Department’s Child Abduction Response Team (CART), which was the first CART certified by the DOJ in the state of Washington in 2013. Lindsey was the lead investigator on several child abduction cases and was also asked to assist with child abduction cases in other jurisdictions. Lindsey retired in 2018 as the Tacoma Police Department’s cold case detective.

After retiring from law enforcement, Lindsey joined the Washington State Attorney General’s Office as a Senior Investigator assigned to the Sexual Assault Kit Initiative to pursue her passion — using DNA to solve cold cases. Just days after retiring from the Tacoma Police Department, a DNA match solved the 1986 murder of Jennifer Bastian. About a month later, Michella Welch’s case was solved as well. Both cases were resolved thanks to advances in DNA technology, Investigative Genetic Genealogy and good old-fashioned police work.

Lindsey has authored articles on lawfully owed DNA for Forensic Magazine, the National Institute of Justice, and the International Homicide Investigators Association. She also co-authored an article on Investigative Genetic Genealogy for Magazine. Lindsey provided her knowledge and expertise as a member of the NIJ Cold Case Working Group National Best Practices for Implementing and Sustaining a Cold Case Investigation Unit. In 2017, Lindsey created the Washington State Cold Case Working Group. She is also a former member of the FBI ViCAP National Advisory Board. As a subject matter expert, Lindsey has been a speaker at numerous law enforcement conferences around the country, lecturing on cold cases, sex crimes, DNA, and child abduction response. She recently published a true crime memoir titled, “In My DNA: My Career Investigating Your Worst Nightmares.”