A 69-year-old Kennewick woman may already have been dead when the woman suspected of kidnapping her was arrested Friday night.
Blood was found in the backseat of Theresa Wiltse’s rental car when she arrived to collect $250,000 in ransom money.
But it took Tri-City and federal investigators until noon on Sunday to find Sandra Harris’ body on a rural Benton County road south of Kennewick.
She had been shot several times.
Never miss a local story.
On Monday, a Benton County Superior Court judge ordered Theresa Wiltse, 49, of Connell, held on $1 million bail while she’s under investigation for first-degree kidnapping.
Court documents claim she admitted to helping two men named “Jose and Jesus” kidnap the wife of a downtown Kennewick pawn shop owner.
But Kennewick Officer Joe Santoy wrote in a court document, “Theresa’s role appears much bigger than she claims.”
Police say Harris was abducted Friday morning from her home on the 200 block of East 41st Place, where investigators confirmed there signs of a “disturbance.”
Harris called her husband on her cellphone at 11:15 a.m.
“They have me, and they want $250,000,” she told him.
They have me, and they want $250,000.
Sandra Harris, in call to husband
Randy Harris, owner of Ace Jewelry & Loan, called police, and detectives took over the call and kept talking to Sandra Harris while trying to track the phone signal.
They told the kidnapper that the money would be paid and agreed to meet at the Country Mercantile store off Highway 395, just north of Pasco.
Just before 10 p.m. Friday, Wiltse arrived driving a Ford Edge to collect the money.
Officers could see blood in the backseat and disinfectant wipes, used in an attempt to clean it up, according to court records.
“It is important to remind the public that this was not a random act,” Sgt. Ken Lattin said in a news release. “The suspect we have in custody, Theresa Wiltse, was known to Sandra Harris and her husband Randy Harris. The exact nature of how they are known to each other is still a part of this investigation.”
Investigators have not ruled out the possibility Wiltse may have an accomplice but they said they have no specific suspects they are looking for. “We’re trying not to eliminate any possibilities, Lattin said.
Sandra Harris’ body was found, and she was shot a number of times.
Benton County Prosecutor Andy Miller
On Monday, Wiltse sobbed and lost her breath when Judge Cameron Mitchell set her bail at $1 million.
Benton County Prosecutor Andy Miller requested the high amount and said charges are expected to be filed by Wednesday.
Miller told the judge, “Sandra Harris’ body was found, and she was shot a number of times.”
After the hearing, Miller said he wouldn’t elaborate to protect the investigation.
Attorney Eric Hsu with the county’s Office of Public Defense, spoke on Wiltse’s behalf but said a defense attorney will be assigned when charges are filed.
A passing motorist spotted Harris’ body just before noon Sunday in the brush off Coffin Road, about two miles east of Interstate 82.
Benton County Coroner John Hansens said an autopsy is scheduled Tuesday by a Seattle pathologist.
The Washington State Patrol Crime Scene Response Team helped the Kennewick police by searching the Ford for evidence. The FBI and other law enforcement agencies also have been involved with the investigation.
Court records show Wiltse had past financial struggles, including a 2005 bankruptcy with her husband Michael in Michigan and later some civil garnishments in 2010-11 in Franklin County District Court.
Otherwise, public records show the former Pasco woman had only a few speeding tickets in Washington state.
Wiltse was a corrections officer at the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla from August 2008 to September 2010, when she was fired.
A state Department of Corrections spokesman could not disclose the reason for Wiltse's termination.
Employees at the pawn shop, which reopened Monday, declined to talk about Sandra and Randy Harris, but wanted to thank the police and the public for their prayers and support.