OSO, Wash. (AP) — In a clearing 10 miles up a gravel logging road, freshly cut hemlock branches cover the root well of a wind-toppled fir. Atop the boughs, a bouquet of red, white and blue carnations left by detectives marks the grim discovery they made here: the shallow grave of a local couple shot to death six weeks ago, apparently in a feud with a former neighbor who remains at large.
The killings of Patrick Shunn and Monique Patenaude were a knife-twist of heartache in Oso, a tiny, rural community northeast of Seattle that was devastated in 2014 by the nation’s worst landslide disaster.
The couple lived on a 21-acre riverfront spread abutting the scar where the hillside gave way, obliterating three dozen houses and killing 43 people. They shared a gated driveway with suspect John Blaine Reed, 53.
Reed’s younger brother, Tony Clyde Reed, led authorities to the grave this week after returning from Mexico, where the pair fled after the killings. Each brother is charged with first-degree murder.
The younger Reed has not helped track down his brother, prosecutors say. He sympathized with the victims’ families and offered limited cooperation to investigators, but he insisted he’s innocent of murder, said his attorney, James Kirkham.
The older brother was known in the area for threatening officials after the slide.
“John Reed had said before that he’d be able to take a body out to the woods and no one would be able to find it,” Snohomish County sheriff’s spokeswoman Shari Ireton said. “They did a very nice job concealing the gravesite. Our search and rescue folks were searching a 20-plus-square-mile area that’s overgrown and forested with lots of elevation changes. I don’t know how they would have found them.”
Carpeted with wild grasses and purple and white foxglove, the clearing is above the landslide, just a few miles north of the couple’s home as the crow flies, but a lengthy drive on the area’s network of logging roads. Head-high saplings wave in the breeze, the tips of their branches bright green with spring growth, and older trees tower overhead.
Shunn, 45, and Patenaude, 46, were described as outgoing animal lovers who liked to travel. Shunn, a one-time Army Ranger, was employed at a company that refurbishes aircraft interiors, and Patenaude, a British Columbia native, had worked at an organization that provides services to disabled adults. The couple met at the Burning Man festival in the Nevada desert, relatives said at a memorial service last month.
The pair feared John Reed, whose property was just up the gated gravel drive. In 2013, when Shunn and Patenaude sued two other neighbors over the use of the driveway across their property, they avoided naming him as a defendant because they didn’t want to antagonize him, their former lawyer, Thomas Adams, told The Associated Press.
In court documents, authorities described a constant, ongoing dispute between Reed and the couple, which included John Reed reportedly threatening to shoot or assault them in a dispute over brush clearing.
Others also disliked the Reeds, both felons. At the Oso General Store, they were considered standoffish, and a former Snohomish County reserve deputy, Bruce Cheek, described John Reed to investigators as loud and aggressive. John Reed was known for threatening to drive his truck through the Oso fire hall after the slide because he wanted his driveway fixed.
The county bought Reed’s house March 30 for about $246,000 to ease any risks from future flooding related to the landslide. But he was none too happy recently when Patenaude told the county he had been “squatting” there, officials said.
Suzanne Loo, a neighbor, reported Shunn and Patenaude missing April 12 when they failed to respond to messages and their animals went untended. When she was feeding them the next day, she saw the Reeds at the gate and took a picture of John’s red truck as it drove off.
Within days a search crew in a helicopter found their vehicles, a Jeep and a Land Rover, above the landslide. They had been pushed down an embankment and had blood inside, but no bodies.
A key piece of evidence came from a resident’s home on North Brooks Creek Road, which leads to the logging roads. A security camera there captured the Jeep and Land Rover driving together at 3:30 a.m. on April 12, indicating at least two people were involved in disposing of the cars. And, charging documents say, a red Toyota truck with a front-end winch — just like John Reed’s — drove up the morning of April 13.
Authorities later found dried blood in the bathtub of John Reed’s former home and bags of blood-covered, gasoline-soaked clothing under a mattress in the yard, the documents said.
A medical examiner positively identified the couple’s bodies Thursday.
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