Franklin Connection - Serving Franklin County, WA

By Olivia Harnack
Franklin Connection 

COLD CASE: 50 years later, local woman's death remains unsolved

Remains of Pasco's Joyce LePage were found 50 years ago, on April 16, 1972

 

Last updated 4/14/2022 at 12:16pm

Special to the Franklin Connection

Joyce LePage and friend James Krumstick at a school function, circa 1968.

PASCO — Joyce Margaret LePage was born Dec. 4., 1949, into a farming family that lived just outside the city.

As an athletic and intelligent student, her decision to attend Washington State University was not a surprise to the LePage family. The family had several ties to the university in Whitman County.

But Joyce would not graduate. In fact, Joyce would never grow beyond the age of 21 years old.

In the summer of 1971, the WSU junior disappeared without a trace.

Nine months after her disappearance, her remains were found April 16, 1972, in a gully roughly 10-15 miles south of Pullman, west of Colton just off Wawawai Road in remote Wawawai Canyon.

Her mostly skeletal remains were wrapped inside a military blanket and green carpet. The green carpet had gone missing roughly 10 days prior to when she was reported missing from the university's Stevens Hall, which was under construction at the time she disappeared.

Joyce was known to hang out on the first floor of the vacant dormitory, where she would study, play piano and relax from the stress of taking extra classes during the summer term.

An extensive cold-case file shows the Whitman County Sheriff's Office reported she was most-likely killed when WSU police first investigated the missing carpet.

Current Sheriff Brett Myers has taken hold of the case since his election to office in 2003.

"Joyce was someone's daughter, sister and friend. She was a person," he said. "For the LePage family, they mourned. There are still families who miss and love her."

She was the second out of five children. Joyce was the second after her sister, Phyllis LePage. She had three younger brothers - Bruce, Steven and David.

Joyce, and her brothers and sisters, grew up on the family farm on LaPorte Drive.

As a child, Joyce would often pester her brothers and leave them scattered notes when they were too noisy or bothersome.

"All of us kids played well together and generally had good times," brother Bruce LePage said during an interview Tuesday, April 12. "We had opportunities and good parenting.

"We never had to deal with financial stress. Just good family memories. My dad took a lot of photos and videos of us kids. We all have something to look back on."

Joyce was a high-marking student throughout high school and had many friends.

When taking her drivers test, she scored an 86 out of 100 points and was marked down 6 points because she slightly inched out of her lane six times while driving.

She often used creative adjectives on her school essays, once using the word "delicious" to describe a Christmas present and the temptation to open it.

Joyce was ambitious. She earned her private pilot's license at 18 years old and was described by many as "sweet and bubbly".

She enjoyed the song "Downtown" by Petula Clark and listened to music by bands like Steppenwolf.

According to Myers, the family reported her missing after she didn't come home for a weekend visit in Pasco.

"We have a theft case and a missing person case, but it was not until April of 1972 that we discovered that her body was deliberately put somewhere in the carpet," he said.

The Whitman County Sheriff's Office reported her remains were sent to the FBI for examination. The FBI discovered seven possible knife markings on her ribs that they reported to be cause of death.

However, after nine months in a gully of Wawawai Canyon, animals and scavengers had consumed part of Joyce's decomposed remains.

"A unique set of hurdles have been placed for this case," Myers said. "She wasn't reported missing for 10 days and DNA testing didn't really hit the scene for another 20 years.

"Most of the material and resources are well over 50 years old. The timeline factors in, too.

"Between her going missing and her officially being declared a murder victim, a lot of information we need is missing."

There have been numerous suspects and persons of interest throughout the years. However, any of those individuals would be well into their elderly age or have passed away.

One person of interest - a convicted serial killer in particular - died in 1989.

Ted Bundy - who confessed to 30 murders and confirmed in 20 - was a person of interest in the disappearances of Joyce LePage and Laure Patridge of Spokane.

Bundy, however, never confessed in Joyce's murder. And he denied responsibility for Joyce's death before his execution in 1989 in Florida's "Old Sparky" electric chair.

"We have to broaden it [the case] out and take all the possibilities. Ted Bundy is one of them," Bruce LePage said. "But sometimes you get too broad and get distracted and the probability goes out.

"We can just hope for an opening in the case in some way."

The anniversary of the day Joyce's remains were found is an emotional day for the LePage family. Her brother continues to investigate the case.

"I'll never give up on this case," he said.

At the time of the discovery, the family did not feel that they could get involved. Bruce became involved 12 years ago and took over from his father's pursuits after he passed away.

"There wasn't anything we or the public could do, so we had to wait until her body was found. If her body had been found immediately, at the site she was murdered, we could have looked into closure," Bruce said. My family has come to terms with the case pretty well, myself included.

"But with the 9-month time frame, and the lack of evidence where her body was disposed of, there was nothing to go on."

In the years since Myers has taken charge over the case, follow-ups with persons of interest and suspects have been underway.

"It's hard to go ahead and say one person absolutely did it. Many refused to talk to detectives and refused to take a polygraph," Bruce said. "One other individual finally offered to take a polygraph, and he passed."

Bruce believes that by the way Joyce's remains were disposed of and the location of where she was left, that the person responsible is cunning and highly intelligent.

In the 50 years since Joyce's remains were discovered, the case hasn't stayed stagnant.

"The fact that he [Sheriff Bret Myers] has shown an interest in the case this long and has been willing to work any leads for the case this long means a lot to us. It's just a waiting game at this point," Bruce said.

Joyce is one of three open and active unsolved deaths in Whitman County.

However, with the 50th anniversary looming around the corner, the family and Sheriff's Office hold a lot of hope for new leads in her case.

"It's sad that its been 50 years since Joyce's murder and we still don't have resolution or a positively identified suspect. Maybe once or twice a year, we get new leads," Myers said.

"But we don't get as much solid and credible information about the case. We will keep hoping for new information."

In the last few years, Bruce has placed a reward for anyone that can provide information that leads to the arrest and conviction of the person responsible for Joyce's death.

Special to the Franklin Connection

Bruce LePage sits on a bench swing dedicated to his sister, Joyce LePage, whose remains were found in remote Wawawai Canyon, west of Colton, on April 16, 1972. The case remains unsolved.

The reward is $100,000 - $40,000 for information that leads to an arrest with an additional $60,000 that leads to conviction.

"I will remain involved and keep the reward up for $100,000 for as long as I am alive," Bruce said.

The public has remained interested in the Joyce LePage case since it began in 1972.

Her story and unsolved case have inspired many WSU students to pursue stories, films and art in honor of her.

"We owe it to the family to solve this case," Myers said. "It has been a phenomenally interesting case and It's been a neat experience to get to know Joyce, her family, and her brother Bruce."

"Even if we never find the perpetrator, at least myself, the sheriff and other detectives put in our absolute best effort to find justice for Joyce," Bruce said.

Anyone with information on Joyce LePage's disappearance and homicide should contact the Whitman County Sheriff's Office at 509-397-6266.

 
 

Reader Comments(1)

hurleyburgers writes:

very well written, hopefully it helps solve the case. You raised her well Roger

 
 
 

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