Laurie Partridge: Missing Since 1974

Liz here. We originally had this on the list of potential topics, but information is fairly limited and we didn’t feel like this was going to be a good fit with the tone of the show – the risk of getting glib was too great. But I wanted to share this little-known story anyway, because it should be told.

Laurie Partridge was a high school senior who’d recently moved to Spokane from California. She attended Ferris High School, was on the drill team and the school newspaper, worked at the Lincoln Heights movie theater, and had a boyfriend who was about to become a fiancee. However, on December 4, 1974, Laurie had bad menstrual cramps and wanted to go home, but couldn’t find anyone to give her a ride. She decided to walk the approximately two miles home from school, leaving about 12:30 p.m.. She never made it home and has never been found. Her father had given her two Beach Boys tickets as an early Christmas present, and review of the ticket stubs after the concert (five days after she went missing) showed that the tickets she had been given were used – however, police watching the concert looking for Laurie did not see her,

A witness in 2011 said that he saw Laurie around 4:15, in a field talking to a white man in his 40s or 50s who had a vehicle nearby. The field part is not unusual, this part of town still has many fields/pastures/lots full of trees and it was much more rural in the 70s.

Just on gut feelings, I don’t know that I buy this sighting, given how late it was disclosed and how many more questions it raises. She should have been at work or on her way at that point, or have been walking around the hill for hours in winter while having bad cramps.

I should note that her boyfriend was thoroughly cleared of suspicion.

Although Laurie disappeared during Ted Bundy’s active phase, his movements and whereabouts apparently rule him out for her disappearance. Robert Lee Yates would commit his first known murders in 1975, gunning down a pair of college students in the Walla Walla area. Yates later would be better-known for killing fourteen women in Spokane in the late eighties and nineties – however, he used a gun each time and preferred to prey on sex workers. Gary Ridgway (the Green River Killer) did not tend to come over to this side of the state, and was not active until the 1980s as far as we know.

Some lesser-known potential serial killers active in that area at that time include:

  • Stanley Marvin Bernson, a Spokane produce salesman who started abducting teenage girls and young women in 1967 and continued through the eighties. He alleges that he was friends with Bundy and they shared pictures.
  • Martin Sanders, a long-haul trucker based out of Spokane. His first known murders were in 1980 – he liked to pick up hitchhiking teenage girls and hid their body pretty thoroughly, in rivers or out in the wilderness.
  • Kevin Coe, the “South Hill rapist,” certainly was very active in the area where Laurie disappeared, but doesn’t seem to have gotten underway until 1978, and isn’t a serial killer as far as we know. He was very violent however and it’s not impossible that he would have gone farther than he intended, especially when attacking someone like Laurie who was quite small.

 

Was Laurie’s disappearance even the work of a serial killer, let alone a serial killer that’s been caught? Maybe not. Possibly it was a one-time thing, or the work of someone who was just passing through the area. Possibly someone accidentally hit her with their car and panicked and concealed her remains. We just have no way of knowing, and it’s been 41 years.

This case really sticks with me though. I went to Ferris High School (many decades after Laurie) and I lived less than a mile from where she lived. One day I had bad cramps and couldn’t find anyone to give me a ride (it may have been decades later but it was still pre-ubiquitous cell phones). So I walked home, at least part of the way on the same path that Laurie would have taken. Nothing bad happened to me except for a school official warning me that a truant officer could have picked me up. But that small everyday memory, and the specifics of that case, make Laurie really stick in my mind, and make me wish so much that there would be some answers in her case.

Are her remains still on the hill? Are there clues still out there? There’s been a tremendous amount of development in the area over the decades since her death, but there are still many undeveloped open spaces, wooded areas, and farm fields. Maybe someday they’ll dig for a new apartment building and find something, or maybe we never will know. I think somebody knows something though – because doesn’t somebody always know something? – and I hope they have the guts to speak up before it’s too late.

Laurie’s CharleyProject page is here including information on how to contact the Sheriff’s office if you have a tip or lead.

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