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Police say he killed Jennifer Bastian in 1986. Family, neighbors know him as a caring man

News Tribune, Tacoma, Wash. logoNews Tribune, Tacoma, Wash. 5/12/2018
© Tribune News Service

It's hard for the people who know Robert Washburn to reconcile the man they see as a doting father with the man police say killed a young girl 32 years ago.

They see compassion in the way the 60-year-old spends all his time with his disabled daughter, whom he cared for alone in their Eureka, Illinois, apartment.

They see a friendly man who kept to himself but was happy to chat in the courtyard or help fix a broken-down car.

They struggle to see in him the cruelty needed to abduct and kill 13-year-old Jennifer Bastian, which Tacoma police say Washburn did in 1986.

Washburn was 28 when the girl disappeared while riding a bike in Point Defiance Park. Her body was found weeks later in a wooded area.

Neighbors in Eureka were shocked when several officers came Thursday and led Washburn away in handcuffs.

"I'm kind of freaked out right now," Jennifer Hailey told The Peoria Journal Star.

Hailey allowed her 12-year-old daughter to visit Washburn's home several times a week to spend time with his daughter, who is in her early 20s.

Cindy Stephens, Washburn's ex-wife, saw his face on television Thursday. The Kent woman had seen past broadcasts about the Bastian case, but this was different.

"They put my ex-husband up there, and I just about died," she said Friday. "This is raw for me. This is upsetting. All I know is that was my ex-husband, all right? We never saw this coming. He was always gentle."

Stephens, 60, said she and Washburn married in 1990, four years after the murder. Both worked at Boeing, she said. He was a mechanic; she worked in engineering. Their marriage ended in the mid-1990s, she said.

Washburn left Boeing and moved, first to Burlington in Skagit County and then to Illinois. He reportedly lived in the same Eureka apartment for the last 13 years.

Neighbors said he spent most of his time inside with his daughter. He allegedly kept his windows closed and didn't like visitors after 4 p.m.

"He was a full-time caretaker," neighbor Nicole Brown told The Pantagraph newspaper in Illinois. "He would sometimes take his daughter out to go shopping . . . . That's about the only time we saw her come outside."

It doesn't appear Washburn had a job in Illinois.

Some questioned the camera equipment he kept pointed at the parking lot, but he claimed it was to prevent break-ins and the apartment manager allowed it. Others wondered why he kept his truck covered with a tarp anytime he wasn't driving it.

Stephens said she and her ex-husband remained friends to an extent, but most of their conversations revolved around their daughter. He never talked about the Bastian murder or his possible involvement.

"Hell, no," she said. "I would have divorced him and turned him in. I am happy for that family, for that little girl."

While charging papers described Washburn jogging regularly at Point Defiance Park, Stephens didn't recall that side of him.

"He was not an athletic kind of a guy," she said. "I never knew he jogged. I always kidded him and called him a Caspar Milquetoast."

Stephens said she didn't ask Washburn about his personal life before they met. She recalled that he enjoyed working on cars and tinkering with electronics. He was also a stargazer.

"He loved the universe and stars and stuff like that."

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