2012 –Chehalis – Lewis County – Washington. This is a 13-year-old homicide case that exposed two potential yet unproven suspects. It is the subject of a true fiction, In the Still of the Night, by Ann Rule, has cost a county thousands of dollars during both a preliminary and follow-up investigation, and officially remains unsolved. A crew from the CBS true crime series 48 Hours Mystery joined local and regional reporters last autumn in Chehalis when the new coroner held a 2012 inquest. Most 48 Hours stories have a conclusive ending; like Ronda Reynolds’ murder case, this one does not. This blog begins with the 1998 shooting death of the victim, state trooper Ronda Reynolds, and works backward to the beginning of the relationship between the victim and one of one the suspects, Reynolds’ former husband, Ron Reynolds,
Ronda Thompson grew up in a pretty suburb in Spokane, Washington. She was the only child of mother Barbara Thompson, a wonderful woman who provided stability for her daughter while still maintaining full-time employment. With her mother’s support and fine example, Ronda graduated from Cheney High School in 1983. After she attended university, Ronda wanted to be a police officer but there was no work in Spokane. Although it hurt her to leave Barb, Ronald moved to Western Washington to begin a successful career as a state trooper. She was the youngest woman to be employed as a state trooper in the state of Washington.
Ronda married fellow trooper and single father Mark Laverdy. During her marriage, Ronda was injured on the job and eventually was fired for claiming disability and remaining on the police department payroll. It left a black mark on her reputation. Her marriage began to flounder and she and Laverdy sought counselling from married man and school principal Ron Reynolds, a counsellor at their Jehovah’s Witness church. Reynolds and his wife Katherine were also separated (yet Reynolds felt qualified to counsel other couples….ya gotta love it). Well, he succeeded with one woman. During the counselling Reynolds and Ronda became romantically involved. So much for marital counseling.
Ronda believed she had met the love of her life. Five weeks after her divorce from Laverdy was finalized, she and Reynolds were married. Ronda wasn’t afraid to mother other men’s children. Reynolds had five sons, two of whom were teenagers, including 16-year-old Jonathan. Ronda and her stepsons got along very well. Within a few months the marriage began to deteriorate. Reynolds began having an affair with his ex-wife. Say what? And Jonathan was a creepy kid: three times he entered Ronda’s bathroom and pulled the shower curtain open while his stepmother was showering so he could see her naked. Jonathan became extremely irate when Ronda informed Ron and he threatened to kill his stepmother. It was all too much for Ronda. After 11 months of marriage, the Reynolds marriage was over.
Ronda contacted her mother and informed her about her separation from Ron. Ronda told her mother she wanted to return to Spokane and that she was “ready to go on with her life.” In fact, Ronda was offered a security job at a Spokane department store. Although it was a definite step down from state trooper, Ronda desperately wanted to return to her home town. Barb invited her daughter to Spokane to spend the holidays with her and Ronda’s grandmother while she considered the offer. Excited, Ronda accepted. She bought a plane ticket and arranged a ride to the Spokane International Airport but she would never arrive there.
Around this time, police officer Dave Bell stated Ronda gave him a blue steel revolver and holster asking him to keep it. She offered no reason for giving it to him. Bell emptied the gun of its ammunition and placed it in a drawer. Ronda possibly feared Reynolds would use it on her. Yet an autopsy revealed they had sex that evening. Later that night, Ronda contacted Bell and told him everything was okay. She sounded happy.
On December 16 1998, some time during the night, Ronda was shot in the head with the blue steel gun.Her body was found in her bedroom closet the following morning. When Barb received the phone call from the police that he daughter had “committed suicide” she flew to Ron’s house. While she was there trying to discover what had happened to her daughter, Katherine walked out of the bedroom where her daughter had died, wearing Ronda’s bathrobe. Barb was speechless. Ron offered no explanation, nor did he seem embarrassed by the situation, or saddened about Ronda’s death. It was all very bizarre and Barb knew for certain that Ronda’s death was no suicide. She asked Ron if she could return her daughter’s body to Spokane for cremation. He told her he didn’t care what she did with Ronda, but he had no intention of paying for it.
Barb admitted to police that when her daughter was unhappy she would sleep in her bedroom closet. On the bathroom mirror in the bedroom, was a note Ronda had written in lipstick: I love you! Please call me! Reynolds however, insisted Ronda was depressed that night. He also claimed he didn’t hear the gunshot from the closet that was only a few feet away from his bed. The gun was held in Ronda’s left hand; she was right-handed. One of the first policemen on the scene made a major mistake: he moved the gun from Ronda’s hand before photographs were taken. Idiot. Two days after her murder, Ronda was laid to rest in Spokane. Ron still showed no emotion.
Barb requested her daughter’s file from the coroner and the police. She received copies of documents about the shooting. Year passed and Barb persevered in her quest to have her daughter’s murder solved. Barb contacted Rule at the urging of her many supporters. At first, Barb was skeptical. “I said, ‘Yeah right, this is the No. 1 true crime writer in America, like she’s going to get back to me,’ ” Barb said. “But she did.” Now Rule took the spotlight about the case, informing the media of her intention to investigate and write about Ronda Reynolds’ murder. Barb had collected police reports, interview transcripts and other documents that helped provide a blueprint of the case.
Barb worked for years to get the case reopened, and in 2009, a Lewis County jury overturned the coroner’s decision that Ronda Reynold’s death had been a suicide. It was an incredible victory for Barb. The wheels of justice turn slowly: it was another three years before a jury’s inquest into the death of Ronald Reynolds was conducted. Both Ron and Jonathan Reynolds were named as suspects and attended court to take the stand in their own defence before an inquest jury. Naturally Ron denied killing his wife. “I still loved her and I wouldn’t have wanted anything to happen to her… It was the shock of my life…I loved her right up to the end.” He said he was speaking out for the first time because the accusations leveled against him had damaged his family. Reynolds said that he and his late wife, Ronda, were planning to separate but remained amicable. Jonathan Reynolds also took the stand. All the years of drug use had rendered him a dead-ringer (pun) for a zombie on The Walking Dead. He was extremely thin, had little hair, and his gaunt face was creepy. He simply stated “I didn’t kill Ronda Reynolds.” The jury didn’t buy it. It was unanimous in its conclusions of homicide and named Ron and Jonathan Reynolds as responsible.
Ron Reynolds had been the principal of Toledo Elementary School in the Toledo School District for several years. One notable outcome of the inquest was that the district offered Reynolds a $140,000 severance over three years in exchange for his resignation. It had been trying to sever ties with Reynolds since October, when it placed him on paid leave after the inquest jury named him and his son as suspects in the murder. Toledo School Superintendent Sharon Bower said the settlement “won’t impact any [school] programs. There will be no changes in programs as a result of this agreement.”
The district aimed to fire Reynolds by citing problems with his work performance; for a time he was on probation. In May, Reynolds offered to resign in exchange for five years’ pay and benefits. However, this would have cost the district $400,000. It didn’t happen. Eventually Reynolds accepted the district’s offer. Reynolds’ attorney stated that the decision “was very hard for Ron, because he was very conflicted about this.” Bower told the press, “The great part is that this separation agreement lets us move on to the business of learning.” It would appear there may be no learning the identity of Ronda Reynolds’ killer: Prosecutors eventually declined to bring charges, saying the evidence was too flimsy. Seriously? The majority of murder cases in the States are solved using circumstantial evidence, not through DNA or other forensic evidence. Coroner Terry Wilson changed Ronda’s death certificate to homicide.
My personal feeling is that Katherine Reynolds is the killer. She wanted Reynolds to return to her. Three of their sons lived with Reynolds. Katherine probably wanted the to reunite as one family under Reynolds’ roof but with Ronda present, it would take too long for that to happen, if it happened at all. Reynolds wasn’t a man who stuck by his decisions. That was obviously true. Reynolds is now married to his fourth wife. Rule and Barb believe Jonathan killed his stepmother for humiliating him after he spied on her as she showered. It gave him a motive. He was also addicted to methamphetamine and he may have killed her in a drug-fueled rage.
Barb has taken her case to the Court of Appeals. I hope it overturns the Lewis County prosecutor’s decision. Although the inquest didn’t lead to a trial, it placed the blame for Ronda’s death squarely where it belonged: on Ron and Jonathan Reynolds. Rule spoke to the media to offer advice to families of unsolved homicides. “I want them to know that they shouldn’t just roll over and give up. I want to show that we all have the right to speak up.” Especially when we speak for those who can no longer speak for themselves.