Hood River County law enforcement officials are frustrated by an unsolved murder case -- and even more frustrated by the rumors it has generated.
Since the body of orchardist Eric Tamiyasu, 41, was discovered in the bedroom of his Binns Hill Road home on June 30, rumors have swirled that Sheriff Joe Wampler was somehow implicated in that crime. At one point, that speculation went far enough to suggest that Wampler had been suspended from his duties by the FBI, which had launched an independent investigation.
"I haven't commented on these rumors because they were obviously unfounded and our standard procedure is not to discuss criminal cases that are under investigation," Wampler said Jan. 30.
He admits that the tales surfaced following another standard procedure by his office: to spare family members further discomfort by disposing of mattresses that had been soiled beyond redemption by bodily fluids.
"We have always just tried to be `nice guys' and not subject families to more trauma," said Wampler.
He said Tamiyasu's bed was burned by deputies hours after the badly-decomposed body had been taken away for an autopsy. Because of the physical condition of the body, law enforcement officials would not learn until about 40 hours later that he had been shot in the head by a .22 caliber gun probably four or five days earlier.
However, Sewell said all forensic evidence had been gathered, including the bedding, before Wampler agreed to have the soiled mattress destroyed in order to spare Tamiyasu's family from that unpleasant task.
But after learning that the bed had been burned, Ramona Tamiyasu, Eric's sister, immediately began to question why that move was made with such haste and whether important clues had gone up in flames.
Sewell is confident the crime scene was processed correctly enough to stand up to any defense challenge. He said the execution-style murder, which does not appear to be tied to a robbery or any other motive, has made it more difficult to investigate.
In addition, Wampler said there have been lengthy delays processing evidence because state budget cuts reduced available personnel at the central crime lab.
"This case remains a top priority for us, we've successfully resolved a number of other fatality cases this past year and we're not going to rest until this one is resolved also," said Sewell.
Wampler said after Ramona registered complaints about the destruction of private property, the sheriff's office even willingly paid for a replacement bed.
"I take full responsibility for getting rid of the mattress and it is a practice this office will not do again," he said.
Wampler and Sewell both reiterated that all leads in the Tamiyasu case are diligently being tracked down.
"We have a cold-blooded killer loose in our community who needs to be put behind bars and we need anyone who had contact with Eric after the evening of June 25 to come forward with any information, even if it seems insignificant," said Detective Gerry Tiffany, the lead officer on the case who can be reached on his direct line at 387-6846 and welcomes even anonymous calls.
The Tamiyasu family has posted a $10,000 reward for all information leading to the arrest and conviction of Eric's murderer.