Murder in Ballard

An eerie crime frightens the neighborhood.

THE MURDER of Donna O'Steen is an unscheduled stop for Ballard, where, in the local paper, crime is kids throwing rocks at streetlights. "The big thing recently," said a man at the buffet table during a memorial service this week for O'Steen, "was someone swiping that stuffed king crab off the wall at the Smoke Shop." Just last week came a quintessential Ballard heist: Woman, note, boutique bank at Safeway, out the door with cash, caught.

Still, two men also invaded a Ballard-area woman's home last week, tying her up and robbing her; in August, a woman was stabbed to death by her fianc頩n a Ballard apartment complex for low- income and disabled people; in March, a couple died in a murder-suicide near the high school. After a recent crime meeting in Ballard, Seattle Police crime prevention team coordinator Terry Johnston arrived at work the next two days to find her voice mailbox brimming. "The majority of requests were for me to come out and do a home security survey," says Johnston, whose services are most popular in the worst of times. "We got three or four from West Seattle, one from Magnolia. But the majority were Ballardites."

So, likely, were most of the 500 or so friends, family, and strangers who stuffed themselves into a room at the Ballard Elks Club on Shilshole Bay Sunday and formed an overflow line down the stairs and out into the afternoon. This, too, was a crime meeting. Visitors weaved past a banquet table arrayed with the life of Donna O'Steen—six photo albums and dozens of framed photographs. There was Donna and her first husband, Jim O'Steen, who died of cancer. There she is with Rich Haynie, her second husband and best friend. There they are with their two kids, 13 and 11—Donna became a mom at 40—and the extended family.

In almost every scene is water— Donna on the sloop, Donna on the shore, Donna at sea, Donna ("age 2?") by a lake. One photo was taken on the white sands of the South Pacific: Donna in a one-piece bathing suit, posing with a tray of tropical fruit, a mop of mahogany hair shading her eyes.

Everyone liked that one best. They put it on the cover of her memorial card.

"We played dolls when we were kids; we were Bluebirds and Campfire Girls; we watched Lawrence Welk and drank Nesbitt's Orange," Shirley Lacy said at the service for her sister, describing their typically 1950s life on Mercer Island.

"This is really hard for all of us," Lacy said as the packed room stood perfectly still—some concentrating on the calm bay waters out the windows. "And it will probably get harder."

A sailor who pampered her green and white sloop, the Renaissance, O'Steen lived up the way on the cliffs of Sunset Hill, a community of Ballard, where she was mysteriously slain, apparently by an intruder, two weeks ago.

Perhaps it was random—a burglar who saw mom and daughter drive away in the early morning, who figured the home would be empty, but who was surprised when Donna returned shortly. She was stabbed to death.

"She loved the water so much," said her daughter, Morgan.

Police, tight-lipped, seem baffled. The killer cut the telephone line. Why, if the victim was to be killed? She was not sexually assaulted. But did she fight? She was apparently bound with duct tape. Then why murder her? The intruder didn't just run off when discovered. Don't they always?

"There's nothing yet," her husband said, standing in an impromptu receiving line, shaking hands and hugging teary visitors, much like he did at his and Donna's wedding 14 years ago. They sailed together and worked together at their marine- insurance office on Lake Union. "The evidence is going to come back this week supposedly," Rich Haynie said, referring to lab and fingerprint tests police are awaiting. He shrugged helplessly. "Other than that, I don't know anything."

There was that transient, of course. "Some guy came into the Sloop Tavern," said Seattle writer Grant Fjermedal, a friend and neighbor of O'Steen and Haynie. "And he was mouthing off, had blood on his hands, and I heard they even arrested him. But he wasn't the one." A transient's shack down the bluff at Shilshole was also searched, to no avail.

Where this leaves Ballard, home of the $4 haircut—a dollar a side—is laughing less these days, said Fjermedal. "We used to live with our door unlocked. We don't live that way anymore."

randerson@seattleweekly.com

 
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