Last Saturday I read what may have been my first Ann Rule book. Perhaps I’ve been buried in academia for so long that I haven’t paused to read this talented local author despite the fact that she’s written about many cases I’ve studied. I found her style to be intuitive, compassionate, and probing.
In the Still of the Night: The Strange Death of Ronda Reynolds and Her Mother’s Unceasing Quest for the Truth was published in 2010. It documents the players and circumstances involved in the alleged “suicide” of a former Washington State trooper in December of 1998. Reynolds was found shot in the head in her bathroom closet hours before she was scheduled to leave town. She was also getting divorced.
Many Washingtonians have seen this case in the news this past year. This is because the Lewis County Coroner issued arrest warrants for Reynolds’ former husband and stepson after an inquest jury found that they should be held responsible for her death. The Lewis County Sheriff, however, will not reopen the case without new evidence. I have previously blogged about this at https://wildninja.wordpress.com/2011/10/27/justice-or-merely-an-exercise/ and https://wildninja.wordpress.com/2011/01/05/its-about-time/.
To me, Reynolds’ death has always reeked of murder rather than suicide. The crime scene was compromised, the husband’s behavior was suspect, and authorities have always been split on what actually happened that night. As Rule insinuated in her book, when you have friends in Puget Sound area law enforcement, it can be awkward to come down on the side that questions people you may have deep respect for. The HITS team with the Washington State Attorney General’s office officially considered this a suicide, and given who HITS is comprised of, those are opinions I take very seriously.
What these 404 engrossing pages did for me was fill in some blanks about the case facts and timeline. They also provided me with basic profiles of several key people in the case. Additionally, this telling of the Reynolds story validated an unsettling feeling I’ve had, that is probably isn’t as simple as a husband killing a wife. The husband might not have even been there. My conscious mind has veered that way, but slowly, as I’ve learned more and more about the case, I’ve become aware of another presence in the room. Like a dark shadow melting into an unlit corner, someone else is there, was there– almost imperceptible, but if you stare long enough, you can make out their blurred outline shifting slightly against the wall.
When I started reading this book I didn’t expect so many psychological red flags to pop up. Halfway into the book I found myself in a minefield of red flags that made murder an almost logical progression of the chaos surrounding the Reynolds household. In other words, Ron Reynolds, Ronda’s husband of less than a year at the time of her death, had allowed a convergence zone in which such a horrific tragedy could occur.
Rule’s description of Ron Reynolds made my blood run cold. I warn other women about certain types of men; Reynolds is one of those types. Reynolds came across as a spoiled mama’s boy who developed new interests as quickly as he dropped them. Family members say that he was self-absorbed and had no empathy growing up. He was also described as being manipulative and having a chameleon-like personality.
Reynolds seemed to be very “one note” emotionally unless he was jealous and he was attracted to women who were successful and giving. He would use them as a convenience, such as caretakers for him, his sons, and his property, and he would use them financially. Despite his admirable income as a public schools employee, Ronda Reynolds had borrowed money from her mother to buy the house she, Ron, and his three sons lived in. He had a disturbing interest in finances after her death. His marriage to Ronda happened alarmingly fast after both of their divorces.
For those who’ve read Sandra L. Brown’s Women Who Love Psychopaths, these dynamics and the victimology may sound familiar. Ronda Reynolds was hard-working, giving, and a nurturer who hoped to have her own children. She and at least one other woman encountered Ron Reynolds’ lure of “impotence,” a classic manipulation tactic used to get women to “prove” that one’s parts actually, to his “surprise,” do still work after all. He was well-liked in the community and, upping the pity factor, he’d just gone through a terrible divorce that had hit him hard financially.
Ron Reynolds, however, wasn’t the only one interested in utilizing Ronda’s wages and means. His ex-wife was far from out of the picture. Just a few months into his marriage to Ronda, Ron and his ex had hooked back up. Their relationship was appropriately described in the book as an addiction. They had originally met at WSU back in the day and she had developed significant chemical addictions. They had five sons together and at least two of the three who lived with Ronda didn’t like their stepmother.
Based on information in the book, the boys’ mother appeared to be committing fraud and buying things on Ronda’s dime. Ronda, however, was being blamed for it. Blame shifting is a typical reaction of someone addicted to an ex-partner; no matter what reality is, they cannot give their current partner loyalty because they are so entangled with the old one. They grow closer to the old one, appearing to “rekindle their love,” by making the new partner the bad guy. Demonizing the new one allows the misdeeds and vices of the old one to be not only overlooked, but excused. The new partner becomes the fall guy, and these “awful problems” with the new partner provide an excuse to return to the old partner.
So enmeshed were Ron and his ex-wife that she spent the night with him in Ronda’s bed the night Ronda died. When Ronda’s mother arrived at the house the next day, she walked out of the master bedroom acting like as if it were a perfectly normal thing to do. Moving back in with one’s ex-spouse immediately after his current wife dies was no big deal to these two. Ron even told Barb Thompson, Ronda’s mother, that Katie, his ex-wife, could have even been in the house the night of the murder. As if that weren’t appalling enough, I think my jaw might have literally dropped when I read that Ron had the gall to show up at Ronda’s funeral with Katie in tow.
Much later Katie would post a message on Barb’s website saying that Ronda had been murdered. This was long after she and Ron had gone through yet another round of their Elizabeth Taylor-Richard Burton wash and rinse cycle. Addictions are not steady or monotone, they are thrilling highs and scrape-oneself-with-a-shard of pottery lows. The high wore off and Ron moved on to other giving women who truly wanted a stable, long-term relationship, understandably snowed by what he had been through.
I feel terrible for those women, because men like Rule describes have a snake charmer-like effect on their victims. Some of us women want to help. We want to heal. We want to fix things. We want to make our guy happy, and bring sunshine into his life to show him that brighter days are here. I wonder how much that hypnotic effect factored into Katie’s addictions. I wonder if that’s why she boldly went public with their affair while Ronda’s blood was still fresh on the closet floor ten feet away from Ronda’s side of the bed. I don’t think normal people would have even slept in the same house someone just died in.
Rule introduced a very important component of this case by chapter four, Reynolds’ sons who were living with him and Ronda. Ronda had told others that Jonathan Reynolds, the son named in the 2011 arrest warrant, had been watching her in the bathroom. After several incidents she’d tackled him. He hated her and by at least one account had threatened to kill her. Some of the Reynolds boys shared an obsession with sex and death, and one of Ronda’s dogs mysteriously disappeared. Later another of her dogs was found beaten to death and she seemed fearful of pursuing the issue within the Reynolds family. She was afraid of what might happen to her dogs, who were forced to sleep outside at night and be fed in such a manner that it wouldn’t “bother” Ron. Rule noted that David Reynolds kept the crime scene tape from her death investigation and displayed it in his room.
New witnesses have started to come forward in this case and it sounds like the Reynolds boys might have had a party at the house at the time of Ronda’s death. The timeline Rule constructed of this night, and the physical evidence at the house, were jolting in a puzzle-pieces-almost-all-properly-fitted kind of way. There’s that lurking shadow again—more people know what happened than the police might know about. While this may sound “conspiracy theory,” the evidence of a “suicide” is just bizarre, deputies altered the crime scene upon arrival, Ron Reynolds had his three sons leave the house before authorities arrived, none of them claimed to have heard a gunshot, and the house was flooded with invited guests while a bare minimum of deputies should have been doing an investigation. It gets much weirder than that, but put simply, possible witness statements were flushed and the crime scene was contaminated.
There are many more surprises in this book that I will leave up to readers to discover on their own. I’ve disclosed much more than the author would probably like to reinforce my view that this was not a suicide. Now that I know more about the history, the dysfunction, and the mindsets of people involved, I find it very logical to come to the conclusion that one or more people were involved in a staged “suicide.” Some of her worst enemies, in spite of all the people she’d arrested and stood up to, lived under the same roof.
Ronda Reynolds had survived sexual harassment and bullying in her law enforcement job; that’s why she resigned and went into loss prevention. Being a strong woman in law enforcement can bring you all kinds of hate—some men find it threatening. Ronda had already survived one divorce and had proper support around her to make it through a second. She wasn’t going to let that keep her down either. This wasn’t the type of woman who would spend most of the night on the phone with friends and family making plans for the next morning, and her next phase of life, and then kill herself. She wasn’t drunk. She had things to look forward to. She was only 32. She wanted children, and as Rule pointed out, she would have never, ever left her dogs at the mercy of that family.
Judge for yourself—Ann Rule has done a fantastic job of weaving together the various aspects of this case into a book that will suck you in and hold your attention until the last page. I’m glad that she took the time to tell Ronda’s story. Victims deserve to have their stories told. Even if you don’t believe that Ronda Reynolds was a homicide victim, she was a victim of sexism, of harassment, of addicts, and likely of a low to no empathy type who is still working his magic by keeping his public persona shining bright while the truth about Ronda remains in the dark.
Regardless of what the suspects in this case did or didn’t do, I agree with Rule that somebody knows more than they’re letting on. We know who those somebodies are. They know who that shadow is. As I set this book down, my head spinning as I processed the new information about this case, I thought, “Ann Rule will write about this again. This is just the first act.”
954, you will not be forgotten.
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