05/10/2018: "A Failure to Investigate"
by Alex MacLeod
It has been a little over a month since Abigail Finney’s body was found in her husband’s vehicle parked behind the house they shared on Shaw Island. It turns out her body had been there for more than four months.
In those four-plus months, the sheriff’s department had done precious little to search for her after her family reported her missing Nov. 29. Nor had they made any attempt to question her husband, Eric Kulp, about her whereabouts.
As a resident of Shaw, a citizen of the county and a good friend of Abbie’s, I find those failures to be deeply troubling. While law enforcement may not have been able to prevent her death, there is no reason why her family and friends had to be left wondering about her fate for so long.
Nor is there a good reason why, despite many signs of conflict in their short marriage along with a history of alcohol and drug abuse, the sheriff’s department failed to contact Kulp before he was arrested April 18 near Marblemount, Skagit County, when he apparently attempted to kill himself after a brief standoff with authorities. Because of his injuries, he still hasn’t been interviewed.
It is hard not to conclude that the sheriff’s department’s handling of this case reveals a serious lack of seriousness and, coming as it does in the wake of a sheriff’s deputy sleeping with the chief witness in sex case on Orcas, lying about it and leading a judge to vacate a conviction, raises questions about whether anyone’s minding the store.
Abbie grew up on San Juan Island and was known as a kind, outgoing friend to many. Over time, pain pills, alcohol and other drugs began to take control of her life. Attempts were made to help her and get her to rehab, but none ever took. Like many in her situation, she was attracted to men who shared her addictions or saw her as someone they could take advantage of.
Abbie was known to call her mom at least once a day so she’d know she was OK. Those calls stopped last Nov. 22. A week with no calls passed, along with a missed Thanksgiving dinner, before she was reported missing. A welfare check at her Shaw home by Shaw’s special deputy, Jon Shannon, turned up no signs of life. In the meantime, family members had received texts purported to be from Abbie, though family members told authorities they didn’t sound at all like her. They believed her husband had her phone and was texting to make it appear it was Abbie.
Yet the sheriff’s office did nothing for nearly two months. Detectives didn’t look for Kulp and didn’t put out a public notice asking if anyone had information about Abbie’s disappearance. Most people on Shaw had no idea Abbie was nowhere to be found. Had such a notice been posted, the sheriff likely would have heard from two Shaw backhoe operators that Kulp had called before Thanksgiving, asking if they would come dig a hole on the property. (They declined.)
Deeply frustrated, the family called the sheriff’s office again Jan. 22. A deputy called Shannon and was told the family knew of many incidents of unreported domestic violence. The next day, two deputies came to the property. No one was home, but one of Finney’s brothers, who works on Shaw, told them Kulp in the past had threatened to harm his sister.
Yet another two months passed without the sheriff’s department tracking down and questioning Kulp, who was continuing to come and go on Shaw, or letting the community know that Abbie had now been unheard from for two months. It wasn’t until March 27, a full four months after Abbie was last seen or heard from, that a detective spoke with Kulp’s last-known employer, who had a text message from Kulp from Nov. 23 saying that his wife had killed herself earlier that day.
With that, a warrant was obtained to search the property. leading on April 5 to the discovery of Abbie’s body.
I called Sheriff Krebs to ask him about what appeared to me to be a pretty casual investigation. He offered no explanation for why he hadn’t put out one or more notices seeking the public’s help finding Abbie, nor why they didn’t start in late January to track down and question Kulp. “We had nothing to go on,” he said.
Nothing to go on? There was a history of domestic conflict, drug and alcohol abuse, a sketchy husband and a local woman always in contact with her mother and siblings gone totally silent.
And then there is what may be the ultimate irony.
In order to have an arrest warrant able to keep Kulp from just walking out of the hospital if he’s ever recovered enough, the county has charged him with unlawful imprisonment. This stems from an incident, reported to the sheriff’s department at the time, when Kulp kept Abbie from leaving their home for several days. Her family was concerned and the Shaw deputy was sent to check on her. He was able to resolve the situation, get her to a safe house and get Kulp off the island.
This was six months before she died.