More than 100 interviews conducted, hundreds of items being processed for DNA

Sequim Police Department’s leadership say the pursuit of Valerie Claplanhoo’s killer or killers continues more than three years later.

“In the last two weeks, we’ve traveled out of the county a few times for an interview and a polygraph test, and to serve another search warrant for DNA evidence on a person,” Sequim deputy police chief Mike Hill said on March 17.

“We’re still very active (in the case).”

Detectives continue to investigate the murder of then-57-year-old Claplanhoo (pronounced Clap-lan-a-hoe), whose body was discovered in her one-room apartment on Jan. 2, 2019, at the Sunbelt Apartments on South Fifth Avenue.

Mark Nichols, Clallam County’s prosecuting attorney and coroner, reported Claplanhoo was killed with a knife or other sharp weapon or object.

Hill said they’ve submitted “a ton of evidence” to both the FBI and Washington state’s three crime labs to narrow potential links in the unsolved homicide case.

“Not including photos in the hundreds, we have 150 evidence tags and each tag could be several items,” he said.

“About one-third have been examined for trace evidence, whether toxicology, fingerprints or DNA.”

For some evidence, Hill said the fastest they’ve seen a turnaround was three months.

“The (state lab) does a majority of the testing for the state, and that includes murders, rape cases and other significant cases,” he said.

“Sometimes we have to wait for a result before taking the next step where we identify a person and see whether it matches or not. It’s not the labs’ fault. It’s not like they’re not trying. They have a lot of work to do.”

Claplanhoo grew up in Neah Bay, is a relative of the late former Makah tribal Chairman Edward Eugene Claplanhoo, and was known for her giving and loving nature, the Peninsula Daily News reported.

Shortly after her death, family and friends held celebrations of her life on the Olympic Peninsula and started a garden in her honor by her former apartment.

Claplanhoo loved being with friends, weaving baskets, baking and cooking, and writing poetry, family and friends said.

Evidence, interviews

Hill said investigative cases come down to evidence and interviews.

“It took a year to year-and-a-half just to locate a majority of the people we needed to talk to,” he said. “It’s somewhat of a transient population at the apartments with people who move around a lot, so there’s a lot of searching for people to speak to.”

The investigation includes conversations more than 100 people who said they know something or said they know someone who knows something, Hill added.

“A lot of tips were coming in, and we’ve either been roving or debunking some of the theories, and getting directly to the source to narrow down what we’re looking for,” he said.

“We’re trying to figure out the truth. We’ve done a lion’s share of talking to the people.”

Sequim Police chief Sheri Crain told the Peninsula Daily News in a January 2021 story that Claplanhoo had contact with “a small group of folks” the night of her murder.

In a March 17 interview, Crain said the interviews and lab work run parallel and that when new evidence comes in from a lab it may “trigger something” in the case.

She compared it to a jigsaw puzzle.

“In some ways, you can be putting pieces together over here and they’re starting to link, but then over here there are gaps that aren’t getting done and sometimes spacing further apart,” she said. “You’ve got to piece it together in the right place at the right time.”

Hill said their path to solve this homicide hasn’t been linear.

“We were talking about cold cases and sometimes it’s the random person coming forward that solves it; other items it’s some DNA someone took in Chicago and it matches your case.

“Those things can come from anywhere.”

Hill said investigators have taken a large pool of people and narrowed it to a smaller pool of people “who actually know something or may have been involved.”

“To point to a specific person, it’s too early to do that,” he said. “We’re still waiting on a lot of evidence.”