Only questions remain after ’68 disappearance
December 15, 2009
By Warren Kagarise
Innocence Lost, a three-part series about the 1968 disappearance of David Adams.
Part 1: Missing
The walk home was short, but David Adams never completed the trip.
David left a friend’s house on a late spring day in 1968, and set off down a shortcut worn by neighborhood children. Somewhere along the path — whether by accident, misstep or chance encounter — the 8-year-old boy disappeared from Tiger Mountain.
Searchers volunteered by the hundreds and combed through dense forest for days. Tiny Issaquah, with 4,000 or so people then, was the nexus in the unprecedented search effort.
With the techniques and technology available to investigators and searchers in May 1968, the search for David unfolded as a rescue mission.
Searchers offered theories.
Maybe David fell down a coalmine shaft. Maybe a wild animal attacked the boy. Maybe — a more remote maybe in the 1960s — someone abducted David.
Searchers found nothing.
In the decades since the disappearance, the unsolved mystery baffled investigators and stalled when evidence eluded detectives. The case gathered dust for years at the King County Sheriff’s Office, with investigators stymied by scarce evidence and witnesses whose memories were blurred by time and pain.
Detectives revived the investigation in April with a federal grant meant to solve decades-old cold cases. Days after authorities announced the new Cold Case Unit, a detective interviewed a Lewis County man about the disappearance. But the case has produced no arrests.
The events renewed attention, too, in Issaquah, where longtime residents recall the fruitless Tiger Mountain search. The investigation also forced the Adamses to confront the grief and unanswered questions associated with the disappearance.
As the decades passed, however, accounts and recollections were muddied because news organizations — including The Issaquah Press — repeated incorrect information in the years since the disappearance.
‘A garden-variety 8-year-old boy’
The year he disappeared, David was a third-grader at Clark Elementary School.
“He was like most any other 8-year-old boy, sweet and naughty at the same time, loud, and just liked to play and do the things little boys play,” Ann Adams said when asked to describe her lost son. “He was a bright little boy. He excelled at school.”
Ann and Don Adams raised a close-knit family — six children in the house on Tiger Mountain, where the Adamses still live today. A daughter was born a few years after David disappeared.
“He was just pretty much a garden-variety 8-year-old boy, endearing and frustrating at the same time,” said Ann Adams, now 76. And, she added with a laugh, “probably the bane of his teacher’s existence very often.”
David, the second oldest, had a mischievous streak, Ann Adams recalled. She remembered a photograph from Easter, with her oldest daughter, Jill, in a frilly Easter dress, and David beside her in a holiday outfit. Look closely at the photo, Ann Adams recalled, and notice David holding fingers aloft above Jill’s head to make rabbit ears, with “just a glint in his eye of mischief.”
David had dark hair and striking blue eyes, like his mother. In the most common photo of him — the picture reproduced on playing cards with photos of missing people — David wears a bright rust-colored shirt, but the eyes capture attention first.
Jill Stephenson was not yet a kindergartener when her older brother disappeared. Though she recalls little about David, she said she remembers those blue eyes.
Stephenson also recalls the day David vanished. She was playing in the backyard with her brothers when a neighbor told them David was missing.
Rob Killian shared a desk with David at Clark. The boys went to the same church, and attended each other’s birthday parties.
Killian said he remembers most the brittle silences in the years after David disappeared.
“I am not sure if I have blocked all of these memories, but I remember being quiet around his family a lot in the days and months later,” he recalled. “There was such fragility and silence.”
Killian, now a Seattle physician who runs a group family practice and works with HIV patients, said the 1968 school year came to a hushed, somber close.
“My desk, the double desk,” Killian recalled, “eventually got cleaned out and I sat alone the rest of the school year.”
A fateful day
Friday, May 3, 1968: David rode the bus from Clark to the stop along Southeast Tiger Mountain Road.
David and the oldest Adams son, Steven, walked from the stop to the house where the family had moved less than two weeks earlier.
After school, David went to play with Kevin Bryce, then 6, a friend from church. Although the Adamses were new to Tiger Mountain, the family had worshipped with the local Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints congregation for years.
Don and Ann Adams and their five children settled on the Eastside after Don Adams accepted a job with Boeing. Don Adams, a captain in the Air Force Reserve, was called back to active duty after the Pueblo incident — a Cold War flashpoint in January 1968, when North Korea seized a U.S. Navy surveillance ship. By early May, Don Adams, now 77, was stationed in Oklahoma for Air Force training.
Meanwhile, on the first Friday in May, David and Kevin walked on Tiger Mountain from the Adams house to the Bryce residence. The boys used the fateful shortcut, a path beaten across a field. The trail led behind the Adams house to a gravel road, now 241st Place Southeast.
David and Kevin crunched down the gravel road, crossed a bridge above 15 Mile Creek and headed up the hill toward the Bryce house. The boys used a trail worn by the Bryce children, instead of using the driveway circling the front of the house.
At about 5 p.m., David was due home for dinner. Ann Adams planned to take the children to J.C. Penney in Bellevue to buy shoes.
David asked his mother on the telephone if he could stay awhile longer.
“I did tell him to come home because dinner was nearly ready and we were going to go down” to Bellevue, Ann Adams recalled.
Kevin walked with David to the 15 Mile Creek bridge, and then asked if David knew how to get home. David said he could find the way, and he headed down the trail.
After 15 minutes or so, Ann Adams called back to the Bryce house to tell David he needed to leave. David, she was told, left right after she had first spoken with him.
Ann Adams and neighbors canvassed the neighborhood, calling for David and asking others if they had seen the boy.
“Hours passed and they couldn’t find him. The authorities became involved,” she said.
Within hours, a massive search would unfold on Tiger Mountain. Neighbors looked through the night.
David was nowhere to be found.
Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.