On the night of March 13, 1993, fifteen-year-old Melissa Lee was alone at her home in Bothell, Washington waiting for a female friend to show up for a sleep over. She checked in with her mother, a bar tender who was at work that night, at around 9:30pm to let her know her friend would not make it and her mother told her she would be back in a couple of hours.
Sometime after midnight Melissa’s mother returned home to find the front door wide open and the house in a state of disarray; furniture was overturned, a glass of milk was spilled on the floor and Mellissa was nowhere to be found. She quickly called the police and officially reported her daughter missing on March 14.
That same day, at around 3PM, Melissa’s body was discovered at the bottom of a ravine under a bridge on the block of Mukilteo Boulevard in Everett. She was not wearing any shoes and her underwear was back to front. She was wearing comfortable clothes, the kind she would wear when lounging around the house, indicating that she had been forced outside against her will. Her mother told police that Melissa would always get dressed and put on makeup before going out and it was completely out of character for her daughter to go out in public barefaced without making an effort with her appearance. Although at it glance it seemed as though Melissa had thrown herself from the bridge above, autopsy would later reveal that she had been manually strangled to death. A toxicology report detailed that she had Ethyl Ether, also known as Diethyl ether, and Heptane chemicals in her system. Diethyl ether was once used as a general anaesthetic as it causes loss of consciousness. It is also known to be used recreationally for its intoxicating effects.
Detectives at the time believed that whoever killed the teenager wanted to make it look as though she had thrown herself off the Edgewater Creek bridge.
During the initial investigation, the Snohomish Police Department interviewed a suspect named Alan Edward Dean, then 35. Dean’s phone number was found written in the victim’s address book under the name Michael. He told them he went by the name Mike at the time and had met up with Melissa for a couple of dates the month before she went missing. Melissa kept a diary and wrote about him in it. One entry detailed that she met him on March 14 and went out with him the following day along with a friend to have dinner and go to a theme park.
It is believed he met her on a call line, a phoneline that charged by the minute and was popular with teenagers and young people in the eighties and nineties. Strangers could be connected with one another to flirt or make friends over the phone, like a precursor to AIM or open chatrooms in the early days of the internet.
Dean lived locally at the time of the murder, his home on Madison Street was less than 4 miles from the ravine where the teenager’s body was found.
There were many suspects over the years but none of them lead anywhere and despite investigation there was no arrests made. The case went cold for 27 years.
Parabon Nanolabs, a DNA technology company who have been involved in solving several long-unsolved cold cases, lent a hand in tracking down the teenager’s killer using genetic genealogy databases and DNA found on the victim’s clothing. They entered the digital profile into databases, matching with relatives of the suspect, until finally they had a name: Alan Edward Dean.
Killing Melissa Lee would not be Dean’s first crime. An article in the Herald Net details an accusation made against him several years before Lee’s death, wherein he fed drugs and alcohol to a 13-year-old girl in Arizona and sexually assaulted her after she passed out. The victim told police that she felt as though the marijuana he gave her was dosed with something that immobilized her and made her pass out. Dean denied assaulting the 13-year-old girl but said he did buy her alcohol. He fled the state soon after being charged and nothing more came of the case.
The Snohomish County Sherriff’s office began to follow Dean and retrieved his discarded cigarette butt in order to test his DNA against that found on Melissa Lee’s body in 1993. It was a match. They arrested the now 62-year-old man last month not far from his Bothell home and charged him with First Degree murder and kidnapping. His bail was set at $2 million.
When asked how she felt about the news of the arrest, Melissa Lee’s mother said: “I hope he rots in hell”.
The Snohomish County Sherriff’s department is currently looking for anyone who may have come across a “Mike” on late night chat lines or anyone who knew him in the nineties.