Mother's murder lingers for Wallula man

It has been 10 years since Cassandra Ray was found bludgeoned to death inside her Kennewick apartment. Today, her son still is waiting for the day her killer is found.

Cliff Ray remembers the day -- Feb. 10, 2001 -- that he discovered his 51-year-old mother was dead.

He was at Chuck E. Cheese's, celebrating his daughter's sixth birthday, and when his mother didn't show up for the party, he knew something was wrong.

Ray, now 36 and living in Wallula, said he went to Taco Bell, where his mother worked, and was told she had not called or been in to work all week.

He tried to call her but there was no answer, so he went to her apartment at 1107 W. Fifth Ave. and tried to kick down the door.

"A door doesn't usually stop me, but this time it did," Ray said Wednesday.

A neighbor called 911 and Kennewick police ended up breaking through the front door and found Cassandra Ray bludgeoned to death on the bathroom floor.

She had been dead for several days. An autopsy showed she died from several blows to her head.

Kennewick detectives chased several leads and arrested two people -- Diane Easter, then 29, and Paul Rusgrove, then 35 -- trying to sell some property that had been stolen from Ray.

But no arrests ever were made in connection with the homicide.

"It's been 10 years," Cliff Ray said. "I think it's time for somebody to come forward and put some closure on this."

Kennewick police Detective Sgt. Randy Maynard said Ray's homicide is an "active investigation," so few details about the case could be discussed.

Investigators don't have any new tips or leads, but Detective Michael Weatherbee was assigned as lead detective on the case about two months ago, Maynard said.

Weatherbee has been looking at the case with a fresh set of eyes to see if there's something to chase or look at that was missed.

Five years ago, police indicated they had a suspect and were close to asking prosecutors to file charges, according to Herald archives.

But they still were waiting on something else -- evidence or statements or both -- to have enough probable cause for an arrest.

They still are waiting today.

Maynard said he knows homicides can be solved years after they go cold.

"It happens. We've done it here," Maynard said.

Detectives recently closed the 1982 strangulation death of Rose Baugh after DNA evidence identified Jack Welch as the suspect in the 25-year-old's death.

Welch, 56, had been charged with first-degree murder, but the case was dismissed last week after Welch was found incompetent to stand trial.

In 1998, DNA also helped solve the stabbing death of 16-year-old Laurie Harm. Her killer, Jose R. Medrano, initially was interviewed after the 1989 homicide, but it took almost a decade to get the evidence to convict him.

Ray's murder is one of two unsolved homicide cases being investigated by Kennewick police.

The other is the 1976 death of Carole Tyler, who repeatedly was stabbed in the chest and back and found dead in a bathroom in a former Tri-City Herald building.

Maynard said Detective Chris Littrell is working on Tyler's case.

"We would love that number to be zero," Maynard said of the agency's cold cases.

For Cliff Ray, spending the past 10 years wondering who killed his mother has been hard. What makes it even more difficult is his mother was found on his oldest daughter's birthday -- she turns 16 today -- so there's a darkness that hangs over the day.

"It's a festering wound that comes up every year and ruins what should be a happy time," Ray said. "It's a rotten feeling down in your gut that somebody can do something so horrible and get away with it."

Someone took away the chance for Cassandra Ray to watch her two granddaughters grow up -- Cecilia, 16, is a bookworm and Essence, 14, wrestles and plays softball -- and to attend her son's second wedding and meet her daughter-in-law, Kelsey, and 4-year-old twin grandsons, Alexander and Austin.

"It also hurts because I don't have any family left," Ray said. "I have no one left except for my immediate family."

-- Paula Horton: 582-1556;