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Saturday, April 25, 1992 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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The Undoing Of Randy Roth -- How Detectives Built Their Case Against Killer

King County police Detective Sue Peters was working the early evening of July 23, a scorching 99-degree day, when she took a call about an apparent drowning on Lake Sammamish.

At first, it seemed a routine death, the kind of assignment detectives receive all the time. But there were some strange aspects to it not lost on Peters, a competitive swimmer.

Cynthia Baumgartner Roth, 34, was described to police initially as a strong swimmer. Yet she drowned after apparently being overcome by a leg cramp and the wake of a passing boat while she and her husband were swimming near the raft they had brought to the lake.

Her husband, Randy Roth, claimed the wake had caused the raft to capsize.

Within a week, aided by unsolicited phone calls, Peters and fellow Detective Randy Mullinax had the beginnings of a multi-layered circumstantial case that would lead to Roth's conviction Thursday for first-degree murder.

One of the first things Peters did was contact the lifeguards at Idylwood Beach the day of the drowning. Peters was struck by their description of the events.

Although his wife lay unconscious in the raft, the man had rowed slowly to shore.

He hadn't called for help although lifeguards were yelling at him to stay away from the swimming area. While a lifeguard tried to resuscitate his wife, the man calmly deflated and rolled up his raft.

Then came the phone calls to police.

"It was an evolving process," said Peters. "A call would come in that led to three others and those would lead to others and pretty soon we had 10 or 15 things to track down."

One caller said Roth had a previous wife who had died suddenly, but the caller didn't say when or where. Peters checked the Office of Vital Statistics in Olympia and found that Janis Miranda Roth had fallen to her death off Skamania County's Beacon Rock in 1981 while hiking with her husband, Randy Roth.

Another caller said Roth's former best friend was a firefighter named Brocato.

Detectives tracked down Tim Brocato north of Seattle, and during the second interview with him learned Roth had staged a burglary at his home in 1988 to defraud an insurance company.

On July 29, Stacey Reese called police. A single mother who worked with Roth at a car dealership, Reese said Roth had talked about being free of wife Cynthia the day before she drowned. He later asked Reese to fly to Reno with tickets Cynthia had purchased for their anniversary.

By the next day, Skamania County authorities who had investigated the death of Roth's second wife had sent their entire case file to Peters and Mullinax.

On July 31, Mullinax and Peters interviewed Cynthia Roth's best friend, Lori Baker, who not only provided names of people who knew the couple, but also said she thought Cynthia had a will.

The detectives found the will the next day in Snohomish County Probate Court, and it named Baker as the guardian of Cynthia Roth's two boys, Tyson and Rylie.

Peters and Mullinax interviewed Roth on Aug. 1 and asked him about Cynthia Roth's will. He said Cynthia had told him there was no will and that Baker had been present at the time.

When Baker got access to the safety-deposit box where Cynthia Roth had kept her copy of the will, the box was empty. Bank records showed Roth visited the box two days after the drowning.

Roth also told detectives there were witnesses to his second wife's fatal fall in 1981, but they had already read the Skamania County report, which said there were no witnesses.

Baker had also recalled the name of Cynthia Roth's insurance agent, Bruce Timm. The agent told police he had recently written $250,000 policies on both Roth and his wife and that Cynthia had altered her existing $115,000 policy so Roth would be named beneficiary. Roth had a third, $20,000 policy on his wife.

Detectives checked Roth's policy and found he never changed it to name Cynthia Roth, who as a homemaker was insured for $385,000.

On Aug. 5, police took the raft and speed boats to Lake Sammamish and tried to recreate Roth's scenario. They could not get the raft to flip.

King County Senior Deputy Prosecutor Marilyn Brenneman got involved shortly after the test and helped focus the case.

Through the media, detectives put out a request for information from witnesses to the events at Lake Sammamish.

Dozens of calls came, including one from Kristina Baker, who said she was sure Roth's raft hadn't capsized as he claimed.

Roth and attorney George Cody almost immediately held a press conference in which Roth denied guilt.

In early September, police conducted another test on the lake to see how fast items Roth said had spilled from the raft would sink. Roth claimed he had time to right the raft, get in, paddle to his wife, pull her in and then fish out the items. Detectives felt they would have sunk.

"There are times when a case comes in and you say, `I've got him,' " said Mullinax, who was part of the now-defunct Green River Task Force. "I don't think that happened this time. It seemed every step we took opened a door that led to more and more questions."

When Roth was arrested at his Woodinville home Oct. 9, Peters, armed with a search warrant, was scouring a file-cabinet drawer when she hit paydirt.

Among newspaper clippings, life-insurance documents, CPR and scuba-training certificates, Peters found a wadded clump of paper. The four-page letter, apparently penned by Roth's fourth wife, Cynthia Baumgartner Roth, described things Roth hated about her.

It would be the crowning piece to a jigsaw case that persuaded a jury to convict Roth after eight hours of deliberations.

"I don't know why I bothered with it; it looked like garbage," said Peters, a 10-year veteran who grew up in Kent. "I said, `Do I want to bother with this?' I dinked around with it and saw `Randy hates Cindy . . .' and said to myself, `Holy cow.' "

Copyright (c) 1992 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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