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Man charged in killing of woman in 1996; both worked at Kent car dealership | Update
King County prosecutors charged a 59-year-old Montana man on Monday for second-degree murder in connection with the killing of a Kirkland mother of two in 1996. The two were co-workers at Bowen Scarff Ford in Kent.
Clifford E. Reed allegedly caused the death of Sandi Rae Johnson, 28, in April 1996, according to charging papers. King County Sheriff's Office detectives arrested Reed on Monday in Victor, Mont. Reed reportedly moved to Montana shortly after Johnson disappeared. Johnson's body was found in August 2004 along Highway 410 in Pierce County.
“This proves what can be done with a dedicated cold case unit that follows up on leads and conducts thorough investigations,” said King County Sheriff John Urquhart. “The Sheriff’s Office remains committed to finding ways to seek justice in murder cases, no matter how much time has passed.”
Reed will be extradited to King County to face the charges. As of Tuesday, he remained in the Ravalli County Adult Detention Center in Hamilton, Mont.
“This case shows the true value of a cold case detective squad,” said King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg. “The families of victims of unsolved murders need to know that we will never give up seeking justice for them.”
Prosecutors requested bail be set at $5 million.
"He is a flight risk and a risk to community safety," wrote Carla Carlstrom, senior deputy prosecuting attorney in charging papers. "The defendant left the state shortly after Sandi Johnson was murdered and never returned. He has no ties to Washington. Apart from this killing, he is known to have seriously assaulted an escort who refused to cooperate as a witness to the resulting felony charges. The defendant ultimately was convicted of assault in the fourth degree and has several other arrests in his background."
The charging papers did not detail what led detectives to arrest Reed 16 years after the killing of Johnson. But the documents listed the details surrounding the disappearance of Johnson and Reed's connection to her.
Reed was a co-worker of Johnson’s during her disappearance. Detectives conducted multiple interviews throughout the investigation and friends of Reed revealed his alleged infatuation with Johnson.
“Reed told friends that Sandi was ‘a very special person,’ that they had an active sexual relationship and that they would eventually marry,” according to charging documents. “In reality, Sandi did not return his affections, denied any romantic relationship and told friends Reed needed to leave her alone.”
Reed had allegedly loaned Johnson $1,800 for a house payment and often spoke of wanting to find a steady job so that he could support Johnson and her children if they ever ended up in a serious relationship. However, the suspect denies having any romantic relationship with Johnson.
Johnson was reported missing on April 27, 1996 by her separated husband Ken Johnson after she missed important family events.
Washington State Department of Transportation workers later discovered her body on Aug. 25, 2004 on eastbound Highway 410 in Pierce County. Her skeletal remains were identified via dental records and an autopsy by Pierce County Medical Examiner Dr. John Howard revealed her death was by homicide.
On April 25, 1996, Johnson worked a double shift at Bowen Scarff Ford in Kent as an administrative coordinator. She chose to work the extra hours so she could take the next day off to prepare for her son’s 5th birthday, which included two parties. As a result, Johnson arranged for her children to stay overnight with her babysitter.
On a Friday morning, she left a message with her babysitter to pick up her then-2-year-old daughter and 5-year-old son later in the day so she could do some shopping. She also made plans with her friend to have lunch at Cucina Cucina in Bellevue. But she never showed up.
After Johnson failed to pick up her children that night, and later missed her son’s first birthday party, her husband reported her missing.
That weekend, employees of the Thriftway Market in South Seattle noticed Johnson's green Ford Escort station wagon in the driveway and reported it. The doors were unlocked, the key was in the ignition, her cell phone and papers were in plain view and the seat was all the way back, which “was unusual, considering Johnson was petite."
Reed lived 1.25 miles away from the store at the time of Johnson's disappearance.
The next day, Johnson’s wallet was located on Rainier Avenue South at the Eagle Hardware store with a missing license, but was identified with other cards.
During the police investigation, Reed told detectives that he had ordered custom-made stools for Johnson’s children, which would also act as a birthday gift for her son. Ken Johnson told police Sandi told him she was going to Reed’s that Friday morning to pick them up.
Reed’s apartment neighbors contacted police three days after the woman went missing and said they saw a vehicle that matched her car’s description, parked outside of Reed’s apartment on April 26, 1996 and also heard a woman’s voice, but saw Reed drive the vehicle in the direction of the Thriftway store alone. Reed claimed the car was “some guy’s” who met him for auto-work and said the car was a Subaru.
On May 1, court documents say Reed’s neighbor received a call from Reed who asked him to tell police that he and Sandi were just friends and that he was kidding about their sexual relationship.
Reed’s roommate told the neighbors that he was at work that Friday but while he was gone Reed had vacuumed, cleaned out the vacuum cleaner and rented a carpet cleaner to clean the carpets.
“…This was unusual since Reed had never cleaned the apartment in the years prior to that,” the charging documents state.
When detectives questioned Reed 16 years ago, he said he believed Johnson could have committed suicide. No other people interviewed about the case suggested she could have taken her own life and abandoned her children.
Raechel Dawson of the Kirkland Reporter contributed to this article.