Michella Welch: What Happened to Her? Who Killed Her?

Image Credit: Memories Never Dies/Find a Grave

In 1986, the city of Tacoma in Washington became a crime scene of young girls twice in a matter of a few months. Both cases are profiled in a detailed manner in the episode titled ‘Taken in Tacoma’ of A&E’s ‘Cold Case Files.’ While the primary focus of the episode is on the case of 13-year-old Jennifer Bastian, several details of the Michella Welch murder case are also covered. Just like the former, Michella’s case also instilled a sense of fear in the locals’ minds.

Michella Welch Disappeared, Only to be Found Dead Several Hours Later

Barbara Leonard welcomed Michella Evon Welch into the world on June 7, 1973. She grew up in Tacoma, Washington, alongside her beloved younger sisters Nicole Eby and Angela Velasquez. Studying at a local school at the time, the 12-year-old girl had a bright future ahead of her. Like many other adolescents of her age, she also had a fondness for riding bikes and pedaling to places in and around her neighborhood. On March 26, 1986, Michella and her sisters headed out of their house in the 1500 block of North Oakes and went to Puget Park on their bikes around 10 am in the morning. An hour or so later, Michella left her sisters in the park and returned home to bring back some sandwiches for them.

Image Credit: Find a Grave

Upon returning to the park, Michella could not find Nicole and Angela, who had allegedly gone to use the restroom. So, she went around looking for them, and that’s when she was seen interacting with a strange man who gestured towards the gulch inside Puget Park. When the younger sisters returned around 1:15 pm, they found their sister’s bike and lunch on the table, but there was no sign of her anywhere in the park. Worried about Michella’s well-being, they informed about the situation to their babysitter, who in turn, alerted her mother. By 3 pm that same day, the police were involved, and the search for the missing girl began.

After several hours of looking for Michella, her loved ones’ worst nightmares came true — her body was found in a gulch near the park. When the police inspected her body and the scene of the crime, they learned that she was sexually assaulted and killed by a cut to her neck. There were also signs of blunt force trauma to the head. All the pieces of evidence were gathered, including the perpetrator’s possible DNA, and kept safely. After about two decades, when the cold case was picked up by the investigators, the experts developed a DNA profile but no positive matches were found in the database.

Significant Development Was Made Decades After Michella’s Demise

12 years later, in May 2018, thanks to more advancements in technology, the investigators narrowed down their search using genetic genealogy, which led them to two brothers who lived in Tacoma at the time of the murder, sharing similar DNA as the potential killer. In order to confirm their findings, the forensic experts suggested gathering the DNA of both the brothers, one of whom was Gary Hartman. The investigators wasted no time and began following Gary in early June 2018, looking for an opportunity to collect his DNA without him finding out. On June 5, when he went to a restaurant with a colleague, the detectives collected the paper napkin he used to wipe his mouth and submitted it to the laboratory for further tests. Gary’s DNA ended up matching the DNA found at the crime scene more than three decades ago.

Finally, on June 20, 2018, Gary Charles Hartman was arrested at a traffic stop in Lakewood. Only five days later, the 66-year-old killer was arraigned on suspicion of first-degree murder and first-degree rape of 12-year-old Michella Welch. Moreover, he was ordered to be held on $5 million bail. Four years later, on March 22, 2022, the jury found Gary guilty of all the charges against him and sentenced him to more than 26 years and six months in prison. During the sentencing, he cried in the courtroom, repeatedly apologizing and asking for forgiveness with his head in his hands. While Michella’s mother, Barbara, felt relieved that justice was served, Nicole forgave the perpetrator.

She stated, “I’m thankful to say that I choose to forgive Gary Hartman through God’s strength. Because when I do not, it brings death to my life in one way or another.”As for Michella’s other younger sister, Angela, she addressed Gary, “And I ask that you rely on God because he is the only one that can forgive and give you rest. As of now, he is incarcerated at Airway Heights Corrections Center at 11919 Sprague Avenue in Airway Heights, Washington.

Read More: Jennifer Kairis: What Happened to Her? How Did She Die?