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Saturday, March 9, 2002 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Prisoner charged in teen girl's '73 slaying

Seattle Times staff reporter

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Out of frustration more than anything else, Katherine Merry Devine's father has spent the past three decades letting himself believe his slain daughter was a victim of serial killer Ted Bundy, even though Bundy himself denied it all the way to the electric chair.

Who else could have been so bloodthirsty in November 1973 to pick up Kathy Devine, 14, from Aurora Avenue North in Seattle, rape her, strangle her, cut her throat and leave her body in a campground southwest of Olympia?

"He was my, if you will, my quasi-closure," Bill Devine of South Seattle said of Bundy yesterday. "He seemed to be the most logical person. All of these years, I had wanted to believe it."

Now he knows Bundy was right.

Police and prosecutors in Thurston County yesterday gathered to announce that new DNA tests say Devine's killer is 55-year-old William Cosden Jr., a convicted rapist who has been in prison since 1976 and was always the prime suspect in Devine's slaying. He has been charged with first-degree murder.

It's the oldest unsolved slaying so far in the state to be solved using new DNA-testing technology, police said.

"They say that time heals all wounds, but I'm here to tell you that it doesn't," Devine said. "It's been a long time. But at this point what we're seeing is a light at the end of the tunnel."

Prosecutors yesterday said Cosden won't face the death penalty if convicted because he faces the murder charge under the law as written in 1973. The death-penalty laws in place then were ruled unconstitutional later in the decade.

But Thurston County Sheriff Gary Edwards said he is confident Cosden will never be free again.

"My main purpose today is to let those criminals out there, who think they got away with something, know that we're coming," Edwards said. "I hope they all get ulcers."

Katherine Devine — Kathy to her friends and family — disappeared Nov. 25, 1973, not far from her Greenwood home. The poetic Ingraham High School student with light-brown hair and blue-gray eyes was running away from home, court documents say. She was hoping to thumb rides all the way to Rockaway, Ore.

"She was just a typical teenager with typical teenage problems," said her mother, Sallyann Devine, who still lives in North Seattle near where her daughter was last seen alive.

"But she was beautiful inside and out. She was softhearted, and she loved poetry. She wanted to be a preacher."

Witnesses later told police they last saw Kathy — in her bellbottom bluejeans with a dragon patch on the pocket, a mock-suede coat with fur trim and her "waffle-stomper" boots — climb into a pickup driven by a man. Ten days later, workers found her body at the Margaret McKenny Campground in the Capitol State Forest.

For more than 28 years afterward, her family learned nothing more about her killer, they said.

Soon after her death, her parents and older sister, Shellie, then just a teen herself, led a campaign to reinstate a ban on hitchhiking in Washington. In 1972, the state Legislature had legalized it amid a gas crunch and the carefree days of the early 1970s, when thumbing rides was hip.

"Because it was legal, she thought it was safe," Bill Devine told a newspaper reporter in July 1974.

But the bills stalled in Olympia. Supporters tried to get an initiative on the ballot, but the 86,000 signatures they gathered weren't enough.

"My oldest daughter thought she had failed," Bill Devine said yesterday. "I told her, 'Look how many people became aware of the problem. You didn't fail.' "

In the meantime, unbeknownst to the Devine family, police found a suspect in Kathy's death.

In 1973, Cosden was 26 and living with his father on Scott Lake, near Littlerock in Thurston County. His father owned the Restover Truck Stop off Interstate 5 south of Tumwater, according to court documents. It was only a few miles from the campground where Devine's body was found.

Witnesses in 1973 told police that the night Devine was killed, Cosden had been seen with blood on his shirt and in the bed of his pickup at his father's truck stop, court papers say.

Then a couple of hours later, in the wee hours of Nov. 26, his pickup mysteriously caught fire and burned up about three miles from the truck stop.

Detectives did some digging into Cosden's past. They learned Cosden had raped and killed a young woman in Maryland in 1967, court papers say. The documents don't explain why he was free only six years later.

Then in late 1975, Cosden raped a young woman in Thurston County. He was sentenced in 1976 to 48 years behind bars.

"I always felt he was the guy, but we didn't have quite enough to go to court or book him," recalled Paul Barclift, the 72-year-old retired Thurston County detective sergeant who had led the investigation. "But I always felt we'd get him sooner or later."

Police yesterday quietly acknowledged that Cosden also has been a key suspect in a similar rape and slaying.

In May 1974, seven months after Devine was killed, 14-year-old Brenda Joy Baker of Maple Valley disappeared while trying to hitchhike from her home to Fort Lewis. Her body was found about a month later near Millersylvania State Park in south Thurston County, also not far from the Restover Truck Stop. Her throat also had been slit.

Police said yesterday that it's doubtful that Baker's slaying could be conclusively tied to Cosden. Detectives lack physical evidence and didn't recover any suspect's DNA from her body. It had been in the woods too long.

In 1986, detectives on the Devine case got a warrant to take blood samples from Cosden, who was in prison on McNeil Island.

About the same time, they went to the state parole board and told them of their suspicions. His parole was denied.

Cosden's next possible parole date is in October 2004.

While detectives told Devine's family they had a suspect, they never said who it was. So Bill Devine figured they meant Bundy.

"Everyone deals with this in their own way," he said. "I have to admit I clinged to that belief."

When detectives told him about a month ago that DNA pointed to Cosden, Bill Devine said he felt oddly disappointed, mostly that his assumption had been wrong all this time.

"Then all of a sudden, it came to me that maybe we're right this time, and if we're right this time, that's all that matters," he said.

"What can I say to (Cosden) that's going to make him feel any worse? He's already got his little cell to live in. Let him rot where he's at."

Ian Ith can be reached at 206- 464-2109 or iith@seattletimes.com.

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