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Saturday, June 30, 2007 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Corrected version

Former talk-show host Webb led a life full of passion, problems

Seattle Times staff reporter

Talk-show host Mike Webb — a staunchly liberal, openly gay, gun-toting iconoclast — inspired loyalty and antagonism with equal ferocity during two decades on the radio in Seattle.

Webb's badly decomposed remains were found concealed in the basement of his Queen Anne rental home Thursday, and the King County Medical Examiner's Office said Friday that he was a homicide victim, killed by stab wounds.

While Seattle police investigate who might have had enough enmity to kill Webb, friends grieve the silencing of the rabble-rousing on-air personality, best-known for his 10 years as a KIRO-AM (710) radio host.

Webb was last seen April 13, but his date of death is still unclear.

One clue for police might be a series of text messages sent from Webb's cellphone in late April and May to his family.

The messages said Webb planned to leave Seattle, something that John McMullen, a longtime friend, said was unlikely. Webb would not have left behind his trademark black-leather jacket and huge collection of vinyl records, McMullen said.

Seattle police visited Webb's home after his sister, suspicious about the text messages, filed a missing-person report May 14. A cadaver-sniffing dog was brought to the house in mid-June, but police left empty-handed.

On Thursday, David Neth, Webb's landlord, assumed Webb had abandoned the house after missing June's rent, and went to clean it up. The house was dirty and three of Webb's computers were missing, he said.

Then a worker Neth had hired discovered the body neatly wrapped in a blue tarp and placed behind some boxes and a bookcase. Why the cadaver-sniffing dog hadn't found the body is unclear.

Seattle police spokesman Jeff Kappel said officers had been at Webb's house several times in response to the missing-person report.

"It does appear from the information I have that the body was [hidden] in such a fashion that it would have been difficult to detect under normal observation," Kappel said.

He declined to talk further about the homicide investigation.

Neighbors had noticed Webb's house sliding into disrepair and a cast of "sketchy-looking people" visiting since his felony conviction in February for filing a false insurance claim, which resulted in his being fired from KIRO. Webb's longtime partner died of AIDS-related complications in the 1990s, and Neth said he appeared to be lonely after the recent death of his dog.

Webb got inpatient psychiatric treatment after the conviction to treat his bipolar disorder and a fear that his career had been ruined, according to friends.

Neighbor Derek Evans said he believes Webb's rough-looking visitors around the time of his disappearance were likely partying at the house, going so far as to leave a syringe on the roof of the garage.

Webb, however, had been in recovery from drug and alcohol addiction for at least 15 years and was passionate about helping people entering recovery, McMullen said.

"There were times when his outreach to people who were caught up in drug addiction maybe led him to be too lax in his personal safety," he said.

Webb was a fixture in the Seattle talk-radio scene after arriving from San Francisco in the mid-1980s. His style was combative liberalism, both on and off the air.

Webb cut his broadcasting teeth in the Bay Area, covering from the rooftop of his radio station the riots that broke out in the wake of the 1978 assassination of San Francisco's mayor and its first openly gay city supervisor.

Webb boasted of arguing with tennis great Martina Navratilova about whether being vegetarian or coming out of the closet was more important. He had a concealed-weapons permit because of several death threats from upset listeners.

His commitment to gay activism prompted Webb to file a lawsuit in 1997 accusing the new owners of Seattle radio station KWRM-FM (106.9) of firing him because he was gay. At the time, homosexuality was not covered by the state's anti-discrimination law, although it was under city codes.

Webb's lawyers argued that the courts should set a precedent and extend the protection to gays. But Webb's former employers won the case on the grounds that he did not follow directions to cut down on "gay-themed" shows.

"He felt like he was deeply wronged by being fired," said Leann McDonald, Webb's lawyer. "He was very determined, and well, I'm trying to think of a nice way of saying stubborn."

Webb's brash style was part of his act, McMullen said. "There's a kinder, gentler side to Mike Webb. They only know him as the blowhard on the radio. I saw over a number of years his absolute caring for people who were disadvantaged."

That's not the side Michael Hood saw. He broke news of Webb's insurance-fraud arrest on a left-leaning Web site, prompting a feud with Webb that resulted in each filing anti-harassment petitions against the other.

Webb shoved a photographer who was covering the insurance-fraud trial with Hood, and told Hood, "You'd better watch your back," according to court documents. Webb went so far as to call Hood's Internet provider, accusing the supplier of facilitating harassment, Hood said.

"He was a passionate guy. You could argue, on a more psychological level, that he was an angry guy," said Hood, adding that Webb's ferocity made his listeners fiercely loyal.

After being fired from KIRO, Webb broadcast a show on the Internet and ran a side business in radio production.

Jeremy Grater, Webb's producer at KIRO for five years, said Webb was optimistic during their last conversation, in early April, despite being fired and having to serve 240 hours of community service for the felony conviction.

"Those are some pretty hard blows to take, but he didn't react any differently than anyone else would do," Grater said. "He was putting his life back together in a really positive way."

Staff reporter Sara Jean Green and news researcher Miyoko Wolf contributed to this report.

Jonathan Martin: 206-464-2605 or jmartin@seattletimes.com

Information in this article, originally published June 30, 2007, was corrected July 2, 2007. In a story about the last former radio host Mike Webb, the name of Seattle Police Department spokesman Jeff Kappel was misspelled.

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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