Slain woman’s neighbors still on ‘high alert’ as police continue to investigate

Makah tribal member Valerie Claplanhoo killed in Sequim apartment

Valerie Claplanhoo’s neighbors at the Sunbelt Apartments remain skittish more than three months after the 57-year-old Makah tribal member was slain by a killer who remains at large.

“We’re all still pretty gun-shy,” Rebecca Ruby, Claplanhoo’s close friend and down-the-hall neighbor, said on April 9.

Ruby woke up startled at 3:30 a.m. Tuesday for no reason but “not knowing what was going on,” she recalled.

“It’s like being on high alert. The fact of the matter is, my friend was frigging murdered three doors away from me.”

Claplanhoo, remembered in memorial services as a mother figure to those in need, was killed Jan. 2.

County Prosecuting Attorney-Coroner Mark Nichols said she was murdered in her Sunbelt apartment by someone wielding a knife or other sharp object that caused deadly injuries to her head and neck.

The 16-unit Sunbelt Apartments are owned by the Peninsula Housing Authority and managed by Serenity House of Clallam County, a Port Angeles-based homeless services provider.

Sequim Police Chief Sheri Crain said on April 9 that investigators have no suspects in the case.

She said her department is waiting for a report from the State Patrol Crime Lab on DNA, fingerprints and other clues obtained from evidence from Claplanhoo’s apartment.

Crain said she is waiting to review a full medical examiner’s report that will include a toxicology report on Claplanhoo.

Nichols, who will receive the report, could not be reached for comment on April 9.

Crain said she has not sought assistance in the investigation from the FBI or other area law enforcement agencies.

“We are trying to build the story from the evidence we are collecting,” she said, not commenting on if a weapon used in the killing has been found.

Ruby said she is in regular contact with police about the case.

“Anything I hear, I get hold of them and tell them what’s going on,” she said.

“There were so many people around here that night that I feel like there’s a couple of people who have not been talked to yet,” she said.

“It was obviously someone in our building that night.

“The person has probably been back to this building.”

Ruby admits to some impatience about the status of the case.

“I feel like it’s at a standstill, and it needs to be figured the hell out,” Ruby said.

Sequim police were in touch with Sunbelt tenants for several weeks after the killing, but that contact has become “pretty quiet,” Doc Robinson, Serenity House executive director, said on April 8.

Robinson said Claplanhoo’s apartment will be rented out this week for the first time since she was killed.

“That will mark the sort of last step,” he said.

Robinson said getting the apartment ready for the next tenant was especially difficult after police investigators had applied Luminol to numerous surfaces to find a link to her killer.

The chemical detects blood at crimes scenes, indicating its presence by glowing greenish blue where no blood is visible.

It was difficult to scrub off, Robinson said.

“As a community, we’re moving on,” he said.

Robinson said he still was sure that some tenants regularly think about the homicide.

Ruby said a “Valerie’s Garden” in Claplanahoo’s memory is being started on the front lawn of the South Fifth Avenue facility, anchored by a rose bush offered by her friend, Tanya Gardner, during a memorial gathering Jan. 20 at the Sunbelt.

She said she went “on one of my little adventures” early on April 9, somewhere Ruby and Claplanhoo had gone together.

“It’s just not the same without her,” Ruby said.

“I do not want my friend to be forgotten. She was just such a light to so many people.”

Slain woman’s neighbors still on ‘high alert’ as police continue to investigate