Leads remain thin half a century after the murder of 8-year-old David Willoughby

May 29—Editor’s Note: The Spokesman-Review has selected several cold cases to highlight, along with stories about genetic genealogy. Investigators declined to say whether any of those cases were good candidates for the new technology; however, they said new tips or information about any of the victims could help move investigations forward. Tipping can be called into Crime Check at (509) 456-2233.

On a hot fall day in 1970, David Willoughby and a friend went to see the planes flying towards Geiger Field.

In his brown jacket and trousers, with an orange and yellow striped shirt sticking out underneath, 8-year-old Willoughby bade farewell to his pal and started the drive home.

He never succeeded.

After more than two weeks of searching, Willoughby’s body was found in Pend Oreille State Park north of Spokane. His killer was never arrested.

Willoughby’s family life had been difficult in the months leading up to his kidnapping and murder. Her father, George Victor Willoughby, was sentenced to life in prison for the shooting death of 18-year-old Gail Eugene Roberts in 1968.

An assistant broadcast supervisor for the Spokane Daily Chronicle, Roberts had gone to the Willoughby home to discuss a paper itinerary with one of the Willoughby boys.

After her husband’s arrest, Halice Willoughby had to raise her five children alone.

David Willoughby was described as “shy but smart” by a school counselor at Audubon Elementary. He was 4-foot-2 and weighed 65 pounds when he was about to enter fourth grade.

The boy had a “fascination” with airplanes, according to his mother, which is why he and 9-year-old Rodney P. Rechtol likely walked to Geiger Field.

After watching the planes, Willoughby returned alone to the family home at 1721 N. Elm Street.

He was reported missing when he failed to return home on the evening of September 8, 1970.

On September 10, more than 150 men were searching the area, some on motorbikes, others on horseback, with two helicopters overhead.

The following day, another hundred people joined in to carry out a final search of the area, as investigators said they had “no evidence” the boy was still there.

On September 25, a passerby found Willoughby’s body in Pend Oreille State Park about 50 feet from the highway in brush.

The coroner found that Willoughby had been sexually assaulted and severely beaten. His killer probably kept the boy alive for several days before strangling him.

Days later, investigators told The Spokesman-Review they had “very few” leads.

By early October, detectives had cleared 18 suspects.

“The scarcity of good solid leads, in this case, is surprising,” Spokane County Sheriff’s Office Captain Dean Lydig said at the time. “Usually we have more information to work with in a homicide case.”

“We’re still checking possible suspects, but it doesn’t seem like too bright an avenue right now,” Lydig said.

The case was reviewed six months after Willoughby’s body was found, but little progress was made.

Then, in 1979, a tip that someone had spotted a green station wagon in the area with the boy inside on the day he disappeared reignited the investigation. Investigators investigated intensely, but did not draw many new leads, according to stories at the time.

The kidnapping was listed among the high-profile cold cases in the region in 1981, but has received little public attention since.

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