KENNEWICK — A perfume bottle, sheet music, handwritten musings of a love-struck teen and a wedding cake topper fill a box that Janet Swanberg still has a hard time opening 35 years after her sister was murdered in downtown Kennewick.
The items carry great memories for Swanberg, but they also bring tears and heartache because she still doesn't know who killed the vivacious and free-spirited teen.
Carole Tyler, 19, was found stabbed to death inside the Tri-City Herald's circulation department. She had been the first to arrive at work at 6 a.m. on Oct. 30, 1976.
Police gave lie-detector tests to a number of people, analyzed the evidence and even made an initial arrest, but nothing led to a suspect.
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Swanberg -- so close to her younger sister that they often were mistaken for twins -- withdrew from their group of friends because she was left to wonder: Was it a person they knew or was it a random act by a transient or a drunk from a nearby bar who followed Tyler into the building that morning?
"For the first 15 years, all I could think was this person's got to be caught because there has to be justice. After that, you have to come to some terms with it," Swanberg said.
Her only solace is that the killer has been living with his or her actions and maybe be tormented by it.
Tyler's death remains a mystery for the Kennewick Police Department. It is one of two murder cases for the agency without an identified suspect, and among 24 unsolved homicides in the Tri-Cities.
But Kennewick Police Chief Ken Hohenberg and his detectives are optimistic that ever-changing advancements in technology eventually will help them close the case.
Hohenberg admits he has been tenacious about keeping his investigators active on cold cases, but said that is because he is passionate about holding people accountable for crime, especially murders.
He said they will even look into sending evidence to a private laboratory if needed because of a backlog at the Washington State Crime Lab.
"That case always stood out in my mind. ... If it was my family, I'd want closure, even though sometimes you don't necessarily want to know what the answer is. But for the victim and the family and even for the community, I think it's important to solve these cases," said Hohenberg, who joined the force in 1978, when Tyler's case was going stale. "As a police department, it's incumbent upon us to make sure that we utilize all of our resources to try to close these things."
Crime laboratories have new techniques and tools to examine evidence and have been getting answers from even a limited number of items.
Those developments, coupled with a DNA database that grows daily, is helping investigators solve more cold cases across the country -- even some in the Mid-Columbia.
In the past 13 years, and as recently as December, DNA analysis identified suspects in three Kennewick murders -- the 1982 strangulation of Rose Baugh, the 1978 stabbing of Lisa Martini and the 1989 stabbing of Laurie Harm.
"It gives us hope that there is a good possibility we're going to be able to get some resolution to the (Tyler) case," said Kennewick police Detective Brian Pochert. "If other people can do it, why can't we?"
Earlier this month, Tyler's case was assigned to Detective Wes Gardner to see if a fresh set of eyes might bring a different perspective and maybe spot something overlooked by previous detectives.
Gardner is rereading the initial case report and officers' notes from during the years until he knows the contents of the five thick binders by heart.
He will review the evidence collected -- hair fibers, blood samples, fingerprints, clothes and more. He will check what has been sent to the crime lab again and again during the years, then decide what may benefit from new testing.
And he plans to take another look at the people in Tyler's life.
As old as the case is, Gardner knows that technology is what's going to solve it. Yet he would like to think that if the perpetrator still is alive, they may be ready to get this off their chest.
"Whoever did this, it's been eating at them and probably has been eating at them for a long time," he told the Herald. "Maybe it will spark an interest out there, and maybe the person who did this, it will touch them."
Gardner and Pochert recently visited where Tyler was found to get an idea of what they have been seeing in grainy, 35mm photographs.
The North Cascade Street building no longer belongs to the Herald and long ago was remodeled, but the bathroom where Tyler's body was found still is there.
According to detectives, witnesses and Herald archives, Tyler got to the office about 6 a.m., flipped on the lights and went to the bathroom to change. She had ridden her motorcycle to work that morning from her parents' Kennewick home and apparently was changing out of a heavy sweater when she was attacked.
Two other Herald employees got to work between 7:30 and 7:45 a.m. They saw Tyler's motorcycle outside and found the office door unlocked, but the phones were ringing, the coffee hadn't been made and Tyler was not around.
Co-worker Dustin VanCleve went in search of the coffeepot in the bathroom, where employees always washed it and filled it with tap water. He found the just-washed pot but also discovered Tyler's body behind the door, sprawled on the floor in a pool of blood.
A bent knife used by circulation employees to cut office cakes was found nearby.
An autopsy done later that day showed she had been stabbed several times in the chest and back, along with being hit over the head.
She also had deep cuts on the palms of her hands, indicating she tried to fight off her killer.
There were no signs of a break-in or robbery and Tyler's purse was untouched.
Detectives gathered the evidence and sent it to the FBI crime lab in Washington, D.C. The results came back two months later without clearly identifying a suspect.
Officers initially focused on Tyler's estranged husband, a football player she met at Columbia Basin College and had married in June 1976. The couple had separated about two weeks before her death and she had moved back in with her parents.
Meanwhile, police questioned about 100 people and gave polygraph tests to a number of them, but that led nowhere.
Gardner, from his preliminary review of the file, said there are "all kinds of scenarios that could have occurred." The office building wasn't in an isolated area, with the downtown bar scene just a block away and the railroad tracks nearby.
Swanberg said there also is the possibility that when Tyler got to work, the person may have been standing outside and she let them in.
After all, that was Tyler's personality: She had no fear and would befriend anybody from every walk of life.
Known to her friends and classmates as Carole Bresler until she married, Tyler was a 1975 Kennewick High graduate and a Miss Tri-Cities candidate that year. She struggled through the talent portion of the competition with a singing number, Swanberg laughingly recalls, but it was like Tyler to throw herself into whatever she was involved with.
Tyler was athletic but didn't participate in any school sports. She loved to roller-skate, ice skate and water ski; played the piano and sewed her own clothes, including dresses for school dances.
"She was very vivacious. I called her a free spirit," Swanberg said. "She didn't care what others thought. If she was doing it, then it was an OK thing to do."
Carole and Janet had an older sister, Helen, and much-younger brother, Edgar, but the two girls were always together since they were born just 16 months apart and shared a bedroom.
"I think it was hard for us to be apart," said Swanberg, 55. She notes that her sister would have been 54 and has "been gone a lot longer than she was alive."
Their mother, Shirley Stewart, didn't touch her daughter's room for about six months after her death before boxing up her things. About five or six years ago, she gave a Styrofoam container filled with mementos to Swanberg.
Since then, Swanberg had glanced at the contents maybe two times before last week, when she opened it up and really looked at everything.
For the first time in three years, she pulled out her sister's scrapbook and studied the faces in the class pictures and read the newspaper clippings of high school sporting events featuring Tyler's boyfriend at the time.
"You save everything because you don't have anything. You didn't know you were going to have to save anything," she said of the various items in the box. "... I'm still having a hard time going through it. You miss that person. ... But I can look at it now, and it's not so horrible."
Her parents now live in Idaho, and Swanberg regularly talks with her mother. They often reminisce about Tyler, laughing at some of the mischievous or funny things she did. Swanberg said her sister's tragic death pulled her and her mother even closer together.
"It makes you realize you don't know how long you have with each other, so you value every moment," she said. "I think we've learned there is nothing that's not forgivable, like fighting. We can agree to disagree, but we're not not going to be friends."
Swanberg lives in Kennewick with her husband, David, and their 22-year-old son, Jon. She said she used to dread the end of October each year, but found joy in it when her older son, Eric VanZandt, was born on Oct. 28. He's now 29.
Swanberg said she feels like her sister is always with her. She has speculated through the years about who she thinks may have killed her sister, but doesn't know how she would feel if the killer was finally caught.
She worries about the emotions it would stir up again for the family if the suspect didn't just confess and plead guilty to the crime, and instead forced everyone to go through a trial.
"Maybe the best thing for us is that we've decided that this person has suffered through all the years ...," Swanberg said. "(The killer) has thought about it and has had to concentrate on keeping his or her mouth quiet for 35 years.
"I want them to think about what they did, to have to think about it, and I think they have. If they're a normal person, I think they have. ... I just hope it's not somebody I know."
The detectives recognize that law enforcement training and evidence testing capabilities in 1976 were limited compared with today, and they must overcome that difference.
In the end, Gardner said, it's not him, but hard work and technology that will solve the case.