Who killed Joyce LePage?
Updated: Mar 21, 2021
It is the only homicide case- solved or unsolved- to have taken place on Washington State University’s Pullman campus. Bruce LePage, as well as dedicated officers from Whitman County and WSU have carried on his father’s quest to find his sister’s killer.
In the summer of 1971, Joyce LePage, a friendly and outgoing 21 year old student of Washington State, disappeared.
The case all began with a mysterious swath of carpet that had gone missing from the foyer of Stevens Hall, a historic sorority house turned dormitory. Built in 1895, the building is one of the oldest continuously operating women’s dorm in the western United States, and still looks much like it did in 1971. Nestled in the heart of the main campus, the old building stands as a proud home to countless generations of students. The summer of Joyce’s disappearance, the building was undergoing renovations and had been temporarily closed to residents.
This didn’t hinder Joyce, who enjoyed the peace of the old building and would often sneak through a window to write letters and play the baby grand piano in the main room. Her friends knew of her habit and cautioned her against continuing to sneak into the old building.
She was last seen on July 21, 1971 when friends dropped her off at her apartment just off campus at around 10 pm. She had planned to go home to Pasco that weekend to visit family and attend the Tri-City Water Follies and then return to campus for a skydiving lesson on Saturday. She never showed up.
On July 23, two days later, a carpet was reported missing from Stevens. Joyce was reported missing eight days later. Her car was found parked four blocks from her apartment with her shoes and purse still inside. Authorities wouldn’t connect the two cases until much later.
Her family raised clover and wheat and ran a seed cleaning and processing facility. When Joyce disappeared, Bruce came home from his job on a farm in Yakima and stayed on with the family business to help. With little spare time to devote to anything other than keeping their business running, the LePage family left Joyce’s disappearance in police hands. As time passed with no news, it became painfully obvious that something truly terrible had happened.
"She had been missing for so long that I think we all pretty much came to the conclusion that something bad had happened," Bruce said.
9 months later, in April of 1972, Joyce’s body was found wrapped in a carpet in Wawawai Canyon, roughly 10 miles southwest of Pullman. A student from Moscow High School was hunting for garnets in the Canyon when they stumbled across a rolled chunk of carpet. Inside, the skeletal remains of Joyce, wrapped in two “military” blankets and tied with rope.
WSU Police Sergeant Don Maupin handled the case initially and worked on it steadily until his retirement, when he was succeeded by Jeff Olmstead. FBI forensics were involved in analysing Joyce’s skeleton to determine the cause of death. They found three areas on her right ribs that were identified as knife wounds and the most likely cause of death. Police believe that she was stabbed to death at Stevens, wrapped in the blankets and bound with rope, before being rolled into the bloody carpet and dumped in Wawawai Canyon.
After so many years, the leads on Joyce’s killer have gone cold, but there have been several suspects over the years.
“One person in particular we’ve kept track of,” says Maupin, “We know who that person is, and where they live and things of that nature. I don’t think this was an incident where the person re-offended. I think it was an isolated incident, if that’s the person.” (Johnson 2009).
Maupin also admits that her killer may have died on January 24, 1989.
Ted Bundy, one of Washington State’s most notorious serial killers, confessed prior to being electrocuted of killing at least 30 women, though police believe he was responsible for the deaths of more than 100. He was known to have been in Washington, Idaho, and Utah. Authorities suspect that he began around 1960, although his first documented kill wasn’t until 1973.
"There were certain things that kind of leaned toward Ted Bundy," says Whitman County Sheriff Brett Myers, "and there were things that leaned away." There were reports, says Myers, of a person matching Bundy's description being in the area. (Johnson 2009).
Joyce matched Bundy’s preferred victim profile. She was beautiful, auburn haired, tall, athletic, and college age. She met all his criteria. But Bundy usually blugeoned and strangled his victims, often raping the women as well. Joyce’s remains were found naked, but the wounds didn’t match with Bundy’s typical MO.
Other than attending the University of Washington in Seattle and working at a medical supply company, there is little reported on Bundy’s whereabouts in 1971, though Pullman is only a five hour drive from the Seattle area.
“I don’t want to rule anybody completely out,” says Myers, “But, my personal opinion is no. It wasn’t Ted Bundy. My gut feeling is this was someone she knew.” (CrimePiper 2019). The chance that it could have been a complete stranger, like Bundy, is still possible, but it likely was someone she was close to and was part of her circle of friends.
“The vast majority of people who are murdered are killed by someone who knows them and who has access to them.” (Spence 2014).
Myers and Olmstead have jointly worked together to create a comprehensive case file and a plan of how to proceed, hoping that one day soon, their efforts will be key in finally closing Whitman County’s longest unsolved murder case.
"Part of the process is just going through and making sure each person who had access, means, and a possible motivation - if they're still alive - at least gets interviewed and polygraphed one last time," Myers said. "That's the least we can do for the family." One of the biggest steps forward in the case, for example, came in December when a major suspect spoke with investigators and passed a polygraph exam.
"He was interviewed immediately after Joyce disappeared and again after the body was found, but he'd never taken a polygraph," Myers said. "He hadn't been contacted again since about 1972. We met with him and said here's how he could help. He was very cooperative and passed a polygraph. I'm confident at this point that we can focus on other avenues. That's a big change in the investigation in terms of our focus."
Myers also sent some physical evidence to the Washington State Crime Lab, which had never been done before. He's hoping something will turn up, although after more than 40 years he realizes the chances are slim. (Spence 2014). DNA analysis wasn’t used in the early 1970’s and new scrutiny of evidence may lead to something that was previously missed due to lack of technology.
Despite these efforts, Olmstead is haunted by the “what if’s.” What if they aren’t even close? What if the killer is someone who slipped through the cracks and was never even identified as a suspect? He hopes that they will be able to give the LePage family closure after so many years, as well as all of the officers who have worked on the case. As they continue to contact and re-interview all of her friends, family, and acquaintances, he remains hopeful that a new avenue of investigation will open.
Bruce understands the difficulties that officers face after so many years of searching. "If we can weed the list down and show that someone did or didn't do it, I'm good with that," he said. "But it would be nice to have justice. Joyce had a great future ahead of her. Her life was cut off too soon." (Spence 2014).
Now almost 50 years later, Bruce is doing everything he can to catch her sister's murderer. Including offering a $25,000 reward to anyone with information that helps lead to the conviction of the person responsible for his sister's death.
That's all we have for this week - check back next week for another post! Each week we will cover something new that catches our interest- it may be a cold case, a mysterious phenomena, or something else entirely.
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Johnson, David 2009. “Swept under the Rug WSU Student’s Remains Found Nine Months after Carpet Reported Missing from Dorm.” https://media.spokesman.com/documents/2009/02/Document2____.pdf.
CrimePiper. 2019. “Ted Bundy: The Unconfirmed Cases – Joyce LePage.” CrimePiper. CrimePiper. August 30, 2019. https://crimepiperblog.wordpress.com/2019/08/30/ted-bundy-the-unconfirmed-cases-joyce-lepage/.
Spence, William L. 2014. “A Bright Future Doused.” 2014. The Lewiston Tribune. May 19, 2014. https://lmtribune.com/northwest/a-bright-future-doused/article_db9ddbf6-6aff-53ea-afbe-6807ce4d01f3.html.