The trail of tragedy that led Rachel Burkheimer to her grave
Friday, December 27, 2002
  MARYSVILLE -- After Rachel Burkheimer lost one of her closest friends in a car accident last year, she plastered her Subaru's dashboard with his pictures.
  She framed others in her bedroom and hung Cory Haynes' obituary on a wall. The teenager struck up a friendship with his mother, and they grieved together.
  At an age when friends form the fabric of one's universe, the high school student lost six to drowning, suicide, gunshots and wrecks. Every time she turned around, it seemed, someone else was gone.
  No one can know precisely the trail that led to Burkheimer's own death in the woods outside Gold Bar on Sept. 23; eight men now are accused in connection with her kidnapping and murder.
  But it was the death of Haynes -- her closest confidant -- that changed her, her family says.
  "It was so hard, I think it killed her. Literally," said Meghan Burkheimer, Rachel's older sister. "She just became so heartbroken you could see it in her eyes. Her light was gone."
  Prosecutors allege that the 18-year-old Marysville woman was beaten and held hostage in a south Everett garage by more than a half-dozen people bound together by illegal drug use and trafficking. She considered some to be friends, but no one intervened as she was stuffed into a black bag, carried from the garage and driven to her grave.
  Court documents, sheriff's reports, witness statements and letters written by 20-year-old John "Diggy" Anderson, accused of her murder, depict a violent and intensely jealous ex-boyfriend worried that the best thing in his life might leave him.
  Burkheimer did, and poured salt in the wound by dating one of his best friends.
  The documents describe a convoluted web of "crankster gangsters" that Burkheimer had fallen in with who dealt in marijuana and cocaine and robbed other dealers. Some in that gang allegedly believed Burkheimer was betraying them to people they considered enemies.
  According to one defendant who has pleaded guilty to first-degree murder, Anderson and Yusef "Kevin" Jihad thought that Burkheimer, a week before she died, had tried to lure them to a motel room to be robbed or killed.
  Those who knew another Rachel Burkheimer -- a thoughtful, arrestingly beautiful prankster who had more friends than anyone could keep track of -- dismiss those suspicions as drug-induced paranoia.
  But they agree that a change came over her after the death of her close friend in August 2001.
  Although she and Haynes weren't romantically involved, they had been close for years. She told family members who tried to get her to bounce back that he knew her better than any other person on Earth.
  "I can't even describe the devastation of that event. . . . It was just a real struggle for her, and that's putting it mildly," said her father, Bill Burkheimer.
  His daughter had trouble concentrating, grew depressed and went to counseling. She switched from Marysville-Pilchuck High School to an alternative high school and eventually dropped out.
  She continued to work at Jimmy's Pizza & Pasta in Stanwood, where customers all remembered her smile. The Budweiser sales rep said she was the brightest spot in his Thursdays.
  But Burkheimer left that job last June, then made a little money baby-sitting.
  The girl who had always been an organized go-getter -- writing weekly goals on an eraserboard above her bed and making endless to-do lists -- was uncharacteristically adrift.
  It was during this time that her drug use appeared to progress, according to police reports. A former boyfriend told deputies they argued and broke up over her increasing use of methamphetamine and cocaine.
  Her father, with whom she lived on the Tulalip Indian Reservation, said he worried about her lack of direction. He confronted her on several occasions to ask if she was in trouble. She said no. But as the summer progressed, he laid down the law: Go back to school or find a job.
  "Rachel had so much potential. I never felt she would not complete her education. I just knew she hit a stuck point," he said.

The imaginative youngster
  Rachel Burkheimer's parents worried she might be deaf when she hadn't started talking by age 2 1/2. But when the dam burst, the flow of words never stopped.
  She had a big imagination, talking to her fingers in preschool and creating elaborate family trees and storylines for her troll dolls.
  She had a gift of mimicry that rivaled Jim Carrey's and a range of funny voices. If anyone got mad at her, she took it as a challenge to charm her way back into the person's good graces.
  "She was so theatrical and creative," said Bill Burkheimer. "I think that's how she lived her life. I don't want to say it was a fantasy but it was kind of like . . . she was a character in a bigger cast of some ongoing saga."
  At age 6, she could outshoot the boys in basketball. Her athletic talents led her to compete in volleyball, track and soccer on into high school. She was so fast that coaches made her start sprints 10 feet behind the others.
  She grew to just 4 feet 11 inches, which perhaps explained her attachment to 4-inch heels. She wouldn't even walk to the mailbox without them.
  She loved clothes and had a toolbox-size kit of makeup. The pretty blonde with the killer smile turned heads wherever she went.
  As a gregarious teenager, she made friends easily -- on the Tulalip reservation where she lived, at high school, work and parties, her father said.
  "She had so many social groups and such a big social network, I couldn't keep up," her father said. "I was just her answering machine."
  She never forgot a birthday, frequently wrote cards telling people she loved them and organized baby showers for work acquaintances she barely knew.
  Sue Buma, the mother of Cory Haynes, said that after the accident Burkheimer often called to ask how she was doing. Burkheimer left gifts -- things for the garden or sculptures of angels -- on her porch. She came to birthday parties for Buma's grandchildren.
  She had an independent streak, too, and wasn't a pushover.
  "She was a little firecracker. If somebody gave her a bad time, she didn't stand there and take it. She'd put that right," Buma said.

The obsessive boyfriend
  Rachel Burkheimer met the man accused of orchestrating her murder at a high school party in the spring of 2001, friends say.
  Several warned her away from Anderson, who had a long arrest record and convictions on robbery and drug charges, among others. He wasn't welcome in her father's house. But she was 17, had her own car and lived her own life.
  "She was intrigued by him in some way," her sister Meghan said. "I think he just kept pursuing her, and every girl dates a bad boy once in her life. And he was hers."
  The pair dated for several months, but Anderson chased her long afterward, her sister said.
Burkheimer finally stopped taking his phone calls or reading his letters.
  In letters written from jail in December 2001, Anderson wrote she was the best thing in his life. He asked her to give them another chance and discussed marriage. In one, he scrawled "I Love You" 33 times across the page.
  "You are my world, you are my everything, you make my heart beat, you make me function and you also make me think," he wrote. "I don't think that I could or would ever want to live without your love."
  He also gave her instructions on how to get him out of jail, where to get a gun if she needed protection. He grew increasingly frustrated and angry when she didn't respond. He admitted his jealousy created problems in the relationship. One friend told police he would sniff Burkheimer up and down to see if he could catch the scent of another man.
  "The only reason I do these things is because I don't want to lose you. I am obsessed with your love and you in general. I just don't know what to do sometimes when we get in arguments. I want us to be perfect," Anderson wrote.
  The two had a hot and cold relationship in the months before Burkheimer was killed, witnesses told police. Anderson reportedly was angered when she started dating his close friend.
  Bill Burkheimer said he believes Anderson was incensed because Rachel was one of the few people he couldn't control.
  But he doesn't think jealousy alone led to his daughter's death.

The drug factions
  Most of the eight people charged in Burkheimer's disappearance and death were engaged in some way in the drug trade, according to court documents.
  Some robbed coke dealers, others grew pot plants and some baked marijuana cookies to sell at high school, according to interviews conducted by police and prosecutors.
  According to witness statements, Anderson, Jihad, Jeffrey Barth, John "Whit" Whitaker and others were attempting to form a "Northwest mafia" to orchestrate drug dealing and robberies.
  There were at least two other factions of drug dealers and ex-friends that the gang didn't like. Burkheimer was friendly with all of them, according to witness statements.
  That made Anderson's group nervous. One of the members allegedly warned Burkheimer several weeks before she died that she needed to choose the "winning team."
Her invitation to the motel apparently heightened worries that she was working against them, according to witness statements. Others suspect that Anderson feared Burkheimer might turn them in to police.
  The execution of the crime Sept. 23 was haphazard, according to witness statements. The original plan to abduct Burkheimer at a Lynnwood house went awry when one defendant's father came home unexpectedly.
  But the suspects persuaded Burkheimer to meet Anderson and others at the Everett duplex where Jihad lived. He later accused Anderson of "going nuts" and "jumping the gun" by hitting Burkheimer and dragging her into his garage, according to witness statements. There she was beaten, gagged and held hostage for several hours.
  Jihad's girlfriend came home, discovered Burkheimer bound in the garage and threatened to call police -- though she never did. Several of the others put Burkheimer into a black duffel bag, drove around for hours and eventually went to a popular off-road recreation spot near Gold Bar, according to participants' statements.
  Three of them dug her grave. One took her jewelry and clothes while she knelt. Anderson told her to get in the hole, according to charging documents -- then shot her.

The plans for a new life
  Weeks before her death, friends say, Burkheimer started trying to reestablish direction in her life.
Now 18, she seemed to be pulling out of the depression that had caused her to abandon her goals.
She started going to church with her mother. She slept with a Bible to fend off nightmares she was having. Her sister later found a to-do list that included items such as reestablishing connections with "positive friends."
  Ali Taylor, one of Burkheimer's oldest friends and a former teammate in basketball, volleyball and track at various times, started hearing from Burkheimer again.
  "The last couple of weeks before she died, we were talking almost every other day," said Taylor, who is studying child psychology at Everett Community College. "She kept saying 'I love you' and it's time for us to hang out again."
  Burkheimer's father remembers the day when she sat on the front steps of their house and talked about going back to school. She wanted to get her high school degree and go on to become a medical technician.
  "She was just pumped, she was just beaming," he said. "She said 'I've got a plan. I am going to do it right. No more of this alternative school. No more GED.' "
  She told her dad she'd met a new friend who was encouraging her to go back to Lynnwood High School. They'd both finish their senior year and have a real prom, and she could start fresh.
His name was Maurice Rivas, who two months later would plead guilty to her murder.

  Eight people have been arrested in the Rachel Burkheimer case. Two have pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and have agreed to testify in the others' trials. Here is what the eight are accused of in police reports, witness statements and court documents.
Charges: Aggravated first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder. Could face the death penalty if convicted.
Burkheimer's ex-boyfriend. He is accused of orchestrating her kidnapping, holding her hostage in a south Everett garage, putting her in a duffel bag and shooting her in the woods outside Gold Bar.
Charges: Aggravated first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder. Could face the death penalty if convicted.
Anderson's former Mukilteo roommate accused of digging Burkheimer's grave, taking her jewelry and burying her on Anderson's instructions.
Pleaded guilty to first-degree murder.
Anderson's former roommate and Lynnwood High School student who admitted to helping abduct Burkheimer, dig her grave and bury her.
Pleaded guilty to first-degree murder.
Friend of Rivas' since elementary school. Admitted to helping kidnap Burkheimer and driving her in his Jeep to a remote area near Gold Bar, knowing that others would kill her.
Charges: Conspiracy to commit first-degree kidnapping, first-degree rendering criminal assistance.
Rivas' friend from school. Burkheimer was originally supposed to be abducted from his house, where Anderson and some of the others were captured.
Charges: First-degree murder, first-degree kidnapping and conspiracy to commit kidnapping.
Witnesses told police he was trying to start a "Northwest Mafia" with Anderson that would orchestrate drug sales and robberies of other dealers. Burkheimer was lured to the duplex where he lived and was held hostage for several hours in the garage.
Charges: First-degree murder, first-degree kidnapping and conspiracy to commit kidnapping.
Lived on the other side of the duplex from Jihad. Court documents say he was present when Burkheimer was held hostage in the garage and later allegedly bragged about hitting her with the barrel of his handgun.
Charges: First-degree murder, first-degree kidnapping and conspiracy to commit kidnapping.
Cousin of Jihad's girlfriend who lived in the other side of the duplex. Accused of helping to get duct tape to bind her and of turning up the stereo to drown her screams.
Sources: Snohomish County Prosecutor's Office

  Timeline of events leading up to Rachel Burkheimer's murder, according to witness statements given to the Snohomish County Sheriff's Office:

Sept. 23
  Rachel Burkheimer makes plans to hang out with friends Matthew Durham and Maurice Rivas at Nathan Lovelace's house. A plan is hatched for John Anderson, Yusef Jihad, Jeff Barth and John Whitaker to back a car into the garage, wait until she arrives and grab Burkheimer. The plan is foiled when Lovelace's father comes home unexpectedly. Anderson tells Durham to get Burkheimer over to Jihad's house, threatening to "put him in a coffin" if he fails.

4 p.m.
  Durham and Burkheimer arrive at Jihad's duplex, where a half-dozen people talk, drink, smoke and play video games.
  Anderson comes inside from digging a hole in the back yard, yells at the others for goofing off and hits two of them.
  Burkheimer starts to leave, but Anderson hits her, grabs her hair and drags her into the garage. She is bound with rope and gagged with duct tape and a sock. Jihad is upset, saying nothing was supposed to happen in his house.
  Burkheimer remains in the garage while others in the house do lines of cocaine, order pizza and talk about ransoming her.
9 p.m.
  Trissa Conner, Jihad's girlfriend, arrives home and finds Burkheimer in the garage. She gets a knife and starts cutting the ropes. Anderson pushes her out of the way.
  Conner yells at everyone to get out of the house and threatens to call police. She never does.
  Whitaker and Anderson put Burkheimer in a black duffel bag and put her in the back of Durham's Jeep. Durham, Whitaker and Rivas drive around, trying to figure out what to do and waiting for directions.
  They briefly stop at a trail in Mill Creek and leave Rivas and Burkheimer there so the rest can pick up Anderson.
  Rivas, who is told to stay with Burkheimer, tells her that he thinks everything will work out. She says she'll do anything, give them a million dollars, whatever they want. She asks not to be drowned if they do kill her. She says she's cold. Rivas zips up the bag again.
  Anderson rejoins them with shovels and a pick in the back of the Jeep and tells Durham to drive.
  They arrive at a spot near Reiter Pit outside Gold Bar and start looking for soft ground.
  Anderson and Whitaker start digging. Rivas, drinking a pop and smoking by the car, is ordered to help.
Durham waits in the car.
  Burkheimer is let out of the bag and untied. Anderson tells Whitaker to take her clothes and jewelry. She asks to keep a special ring and Anderson says no. She kneels in the moonlight, as if she's praying. Anderson says, "You're gonna be up there soon."
  He tells her to get in the hole, then shoots her. He orders the others to help bury her.
  On the drive home he tells everyone involved that "loose ends will be cut off," implying that if anyone talks, the person will die.
Several participants leave Rachel's car at a former boyfriend's house, trying to frame him for her disappearance. Rivas and Durham later burn the pillowcase with her clothes and jewelry.
Four days later: Burkheimer's family reports her missing.
P-I reporter Jennifer Langston can be reached at 425-252-5235 or
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