Missing radio host Mike Webb's death ruled a homicide
Seattle Times staff reporters
Weeks worth of unopened mail, missing computers and evidence that someone had entered a Queen Anne rental house where a decomposing body was found Thursday afternoon are adding to the mystery of what happened to Mike Webb, a former radio host who was last seen by family members in mid-April.
The King County Medical Examiner identified Webb's remains Friday afternoon, finding that he died of what appears to be stab wounds. His death was declared a homicide.
John McMullen, a longtime friend and former employer, said Webb was last seen April 13, but his family continued to receive text messages from Webb's cellphone for another month.
The messages indicated that Webb was leaving town and that he was fine. Webb did not normally use text messaging, and after a month of exchanges, the family responded with a demand that Webb call them, McMullen said. The messages stopped at that point, and Webb's sister filed a missing person's report.
Seattle police searched Webb's home about 10 days ago with a cadaver-sniffing dog but didn't find the body, which was in a crawl space.
"It's hard to understand how when the police were in the house with a canine unit 10 days ago they didn't find that body," said McMullen.
David Neth, a longtime Seattle real-estate agent who rented the beige house on Third Avenue West to Webb, discovered the body inside a basement crawl space around 3 p.m. Thursday. The body was covered with a blue tarp and placed behind some boxes.
According to Seattle police spokesman Jeff Kappel, the body was so badly decomposed that officers who responded to the scene were "unable to determine race, sex, age — anything." The death is being treated as suspicious.
Webb, a onetime KIRO-AM radio personality, was reported missing May 14, about a month after he was last seen by family members. After Webb was reported missing, Kappel said, officers stopped by the house.
McMullen, founder of Gaybc.com, an online gay-themed radio station, said he last talked with Webb in March. Webb had been depressed following his conviction for insurance fraud, and was admitted to a psychiatric treatment facility. But Webb was not suicidal and was optimistic his felony conviction would not end his career.
"I talked with Mike about it, and he swore up and down that in no way was he suicidal," said McMullen.
In an e-mail sent to The Seattle Times this morning, Neth said he was in California in mid-May when he got a phone call from Seattle police, saying officers had broken through a back kitchen window to enter the house after Webb's sister reported that her 51-year-old brother was missing.
Officers searched the house, Neth wrote, and then members of the Seattle Fire Department apparently used an old plywood street sign to secure the house.
Webb seemed lonely following the death of his partner about 10 years ago and more recently, his dog. He increasingly let his housekeeping slide and stopped paying rent, though Neth suspects Webb's sister paid her brother's rent for several months, slipping cashier's checks through Neth's mail slot.
In recent months, the rent was "always on time, which wasn't necessarily true if Mike was paying it," Neth wrote, add that he had little contact with Webb over the past six months.
No rent money arrived for June, so Neth went to the rental house on June 12 and posted an eviction notice, letting Webb know he had three days to move out. The front door was unlocked, so Neth went inside.
"Although dirty and disheveled, I did not notice anything unusual," Neth said in his e-mail. The plywood sign over the kitchen window was "screwed tightly in place," he wrote, and the deadbolt on the back door was locked. Still, he noticed that three computers were missing from the house, even though computer screens, keyboards and other equipment were still there.
Assuming Webb had abandoned the house, Neth returned on Thursday to begin clearing out Webb's belongings with the help of a worker he hired from the Millionair Club. Neth said he found weeks' worth of mail, untouched. There was a strange odor in one corner of the basement, but Neth said he assumed the smell was from Webb's dog using the basement as a bathroom.
As he was changing the locks on the doors, Neth noticed that the old plywood sign on the kitchen window was bent and the screws holding it in place were only partially screwed in. "... Obviously someone had removed the 3 screws and bent the board up to go into the house and upon leaving had only partially put it back," Neth said.
At one point, Neth left the house for about three hours, leaving the worker to pack up and move boxes filled with Webb's things. When Neth returned with new keys for the house's owner, the Millionair Club worker "had nearly emptied the basement and was removing two shelving units with books," Neth wrote. The bookcases were partially blocking the opening to a crawl space, and piece of plywood had been wedged between one of the bookcases and the wall.
As Neth was upstairs saying goodbye to the house's owner, the worker removed several boxes he found inside the crawl space.
When Neth returned to the basement and peeked inside the crawl space, he saw a blue tarp "neatly squared to the wall." Underneath the tarp, Neth said, "was the absolutely clear outline of a body."
He and the worker left the house immediately and called police.
"There were two other unusual items in the crawl space where the body was that seemed very strange to me but I do not want to talk about them at this point," Neth wrote. "I'll let the police do their thing and see what direction this goes."
Neth wrote that he also found it odd that a moisture barrier the homeowner had installed in the crawl space after buying the property in the early 1990s was gone, leaving the dirt floor exposed.
"... It is no easy or desirable thing to remove a plastic vapor barrier from an entire crawl space and given Michael's lack of cleanliness as a tenant, I cannot fathom him having it removed. May be nothing at all but certainly odd," his e-mail said.
Though one officer at the scene suggested the possibility of suicide, Neth doesn't buy it:
"I find suicide to be a pretty hard sell unless it was an 'assisted suicide' and he had a person 'helping him' who didn't really like him," Neth wrote. "One does not cover oneself in a neatly squared out tarp and pile boxes on oneself, all after covering the opening to the crawl space with a loose piece of plywood."
Webb, a 10-year KIRO employee who hosted a liberal late-night talk show, was fired from the station shortly after he was charged with insurance fraud in December 2005.
Prosecutors said he filed a fraudulent insurance claim after a traffic accident in June 2005. Geico investigators testified that he bought the policy the day after the accident, and then submitted a claim in which he asserted he had purchased it five weeks earlier.
A King County judge declared a mistrial after some jurors saw Webb handcuffed outside the courthouse. Seattle police said that he was acting "irrational and irate."
A woman told police that Webb had threatened to kill himself if found guilty and that he had access to a gun in his house, the police report stated.
He refused to let officers take the weapon, according to the report. He was taken to Harborview Medical Center for a mental-health evaluation, Kappel said at the time.
Webb was convicted of insurance fraud in February after a second trial and sentenced to 240 hours of community service and fined $1,000.
Seattle Times staff reporter Natalie Singer contributed to this report.
Sara Jean Green: 206-515-5654 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company