This is an installment of my ongoing “unconfirmed” case study series. All of these cases have been connected to Ted Bundy in some way, whether by active investigation or later speculation, but never officially linked to him. As they are all still unsolved, generally police will not release the case files. However, using newspaper archives and other works for reference, I have written the most exhaustive summary of each case as I can. I also include my own analysis based on my research and personal knowledge of Bundy’s timeline and modus operandi.
“It starts as a missing person’s case,” said Whitman County Sheriff Brett Myers. “It starts out also as a missing piece of carpet from a WSU building.”
Joyce LePage, a 21-year-old junior taking summer classes at Washington State University in Pullman, Washington, was last seen alive on the evening of July 22, 1971, when friends dropped her off at her apartment in the evening. A tall young woman at 5’9”, she was described as attractive and athletic looking, with long, light brown hair. Police would later find her abandoned car parked four blocks away from her off-campus apartment. Her shoes were found inside her car, but news reports vary on where her purse and identification were found–either in the car as well, or in her apartment. Already a licensed private pilot, LePage had been taking skydiving lessons with her first parachute jump scheduled for the next day, but she never made it to the lesson nor to any of her university classes.
“She had no reason to take off, and was planning to come down for the Water Follies (boat races) that coming weekend,” said her brother, Bruce LePage. “She just never showed up.” As she had taken no belongings and had contacted no friends or relatives, foul play was immediately suspected in her disappearance. A neighbor reported seeing her getting into a car with two unknown men on the morning of the 23rd, and a psychic claimed that he had “seen” her boarding a plane bound for Argentina with a “Latin boy friend” in a “vision,” but none of these leads panned out and were eventually discarded.
Bruce said his sister had many admirers. “I just know there were a lot of guys who would have loved to have dated her,” he said. “This could very well be a person she turned down.” Her fiance, temporarily living in South Africa, was also notified of her disappearance, but she wasn’t with him, and he hadn’t heard from her.
Nine months later, in April 1972, a teenager searching for gemstones along a dry creek bed found LePage’s skeletal remains, hidden by dense brush at the bottom of a deep ravine in Wawawai Canyon, ten miles southwest of Pullman. This site was remote, accessible only via a primitive gravel road. Her nude body was wrapped in a large piece of green shag carpet which had earlier been reported missing from Stevens Hall, a women’s dormitory on the WSU campus, which in the summer of 1971 was uninhabited and under renovation.
According to friends and described in letters sent to her overseas fiance, LePage enjoyed visiting the old, empty building, and would often go there to read, write, play the dorm’s baby grand piano, and occasionally spend the night in the rooms. “She would slip up there. She had a window she could slide open and slip inside. She would go in there and do her writing,” her brother Bruce said. “Clearly she was entering the hall, going in and out of there,” said retired WSU Police Sergeant Don Maupin. “And it wouldn’t be hard for someone else to do the same thing, particularly if they’re observing her… Some of her friends knew she was going into Stevens Hall. In fact, the people who dropped her off said, ‘You’ve got to quit doing that. It’s dangerous, and besides that you’re going to get in trouble.’”
Rosy Lord, who worked as a custodian for the university, said she believed LePage probably attended a party at Stevens on the night of her disappearance, because there were pizza boxes and drug paraphernalia spread around when her cleaning crew arrived the next morning. This was also when the 5′ x 6′ chunk of carpet was noted missing from the front foyer. A friend mentioned that LePage had planned on visiting the hall on the evening of her disappearance, however, no one ever verified her presence at a party that night. Campus lore claims that bloodstains were found in Room 24 of the dormitory, but I was unable to confirm this story “officially” anywhere and it appears to be an urban legend. However, according to Maupin, “there’s little doubt that [Stevens Hall] is where the stabbing took place because she was stabbed multiple times and she was removed from the hall later on.”
A FBI forensic analysis of her remains found three areas of cuts to her ribs, which were determined to be knife wounds and the cause of her death. Based on the evidence, police believed she had been stabbed to death at Stevens Hall, wrapped in the carpet, and transported to the ravine. She was also found wrapped in two “military” blankets and bound with rope. “She was wrapped in a blanket first and then the carpet,” Sheriff Myers said.
LePage was not reported missing for ten days, and it was some time after that before police learned she liked to frequent the residence hall. As time went on the nature of the case created jurisdictional complexities: Pullman police investigated the missing persons case, WSU investigated the stolen carpet, and the Whitman County Sheriff would eventually be put in charge of the homicide investigation. This required assembling reports from multiple agencies, and it is unclear how long it took for the investigation to connect the remains to the missing carpet report from Stevens Hall. “That makes it difficult to piece together (today) what WSU did, what Whitman County did,” Myers said.
In 2012 a major suspect living in Las Vegas was re-interviewed and passed a polygraph test, eliminating him from the suspect pool. “He was interviewed immediately after Joyce disappeared and again after the body was found, but he’d never taken a polygraph,” Myers said. “He hadn’t been contacted again since about 1972. We met with him and said here’s how he could help. He was very cooperative and passed a polygraph. I’m confident at this point that we can focus on other avenues. That’s a big change in the investigation in terms of our focus.”
In 2014, evidence was re-submitted to the Washington State Crime Lab for forensic analysis without result. Most recently, attempts were made to track down people in LePage’s circle of friends and acquaintances, but the case remains cold. “It would be nice to bring this to a logical conclusion and hold someone responsible,” said WSU Police Officer Jeff Olmstead, who inherited the LePage case after Sgt. Maupin retired. “I think that’s the ultimate goal for the LePage family and for all the officers who investigated this over the years. My worst fear is what if we were never even close? What if it was someone who slipped through the cracks, who was never identified or interviewed by the early investigators?”
A Bundy Connection?
Over the years, some investigators pondered the likelihood of Ted Bundy being involved, based on the fact that the crime took place in Washington State near a college campus, and that LePage was an attractive young woman with long brown hair parted in the middle. “Profile-wise, she did fit the description (of Bundy’s victims),” Maupin said. Some reports indicated that an unknown person matching Bundy’s description was seen in the area at the time of the disappearance. However, “there’s no real evidence he was involved or in the area,” said Myers, “and Bundy was probably only suggested as other leads went cold.” Conflictingly, in 1989 then-Sheriff Steve Thomson claimed that “there were certain similarities between this case and others that brought us to Bundy, and we later placed him in this area at about that time.” According to the Seattle Police Department’s timeline, in July 1971 Bundy was attending summer school at the University of Washington, in a relationship with Liz Kloepfer, and working as a delivery driver for Pedline medical instrument supply company in Seattle. Pullman, Washington is about a five hour drive from Seattle.
While the connection was tenuous at best, the Whitman County Sheriff’s Office did furnish King County detective Robert Keppel with case information before his pre-execution interview with Ted Bundy in 1989. Keppel mentioned LePage briefly, but Bundy neither confirmed nor specifically denied the murder, perhaps because Keppel did not phrase the inquiry as a question. The following is an excerpt from Bundy’s confession to Keppel in January 1989:
RK: I guess what I need then, I want to eliminate any suggestions of rather than me throwing out stuff for you to say, you know, this is what we need to talk about or not, like the August 2nd, if there’s only eleven, then that’s fine. I don’t want to do any guess work. I mean, I’ve got girls like in 1971 at WSU that’s been murdered that I’m curious about.
TB: Yeah, I can tell you– I can tell you — yeah, we can do it that way if you’d like, too. And maybe in some ways that’s easier. I can tell you what, that’s, you know, what I’m not involved in. You know; if you have a list of that type in your head.
RK: There’s a gal in 1971, Thurston County.
RK: Not that far back. Nothing that far back?
TB: I have no hesitation about talking about things that I have done… No hesitation about telling you about what I haven’t done. Ok. So if I tell you something — I may not tell you something — I might not tell you something right now or every single detail right now, but if I tell you something, you can rely on it. And when I say, yes, I did it or no, I didn’t do something, that’s the way it is.
At WSU, Police Sergeant Maupin worked the LePage case for virtually his entire 26-year career. “I don’t want to rule anybody completely out,” Myers said. “But, my personal opinion is no. It wasn’t Ted Bundy. My gut feeling is this was someone she knew,” he said.
Today Joyce LePage’s murder remains the oldest active unsolved case in Whitman County, Washington. The Sheriff’s Office still will not release her file to the public, citing an “ongoing, open investigation.” Her brother still holds out hope that it will be solved. As of November 2018 he’s offering a $100,000 reward to anyone with information that helps lead to the arrest and conviction of the person responsible. “In a way it sounds foolish to do a reward at this time. If there was going to be one it might have helped if it was done earlier on. But I guess I don’t care,” Bruce said.
“She was a very friendly, outgoing girl,” said her brother. “She was a profuse writer. If she were still around, I think she’d have been a high school or college English professor. Joyce had a great future ahead of her. Her life was cut off too soon… I’m not giving up. No reason to give up. Like I said, I would like justice out of this and if the individual is still alive, I’ll keep chasing him.”
The only reason Ted Bundy has ever been attributed to this crime is because the victim was an attractive young woman and it occurred near a college campus, during a time period when he lived in the same state. But if you look at the case objectively, very little actually ties Bundy to this murder besides the basic victim profile and general location.
The time frame of summer 1971 is outside Bundy’s known window of criminal activity. In all of his later confessions to Dr. Dorothy Lewis, Seattle Detective Bob Keppel, and FBI Special Agent Bill Hagmaier, Bundy never admitted to any murders before 1973 (or possibly 1972, according to his final conversation with Keppel). According to Bundy, around 1971 he may have attacked some women in Seattle but “chickened out” and ran away rather than killing them. Keppel briefly mentioned the LePage case during his final interview with the killer in January 1989. Bundy didn’t answer yes or no directly, but by my interpretation of the transcript, he seemed to deny it, albeit in a circuitous way. He also indicated that 1971 was too early for him to have committed any murders, and if he denied responsibility, he was telling the truth. While Bundy was indeed a habitual liar, so far his “death bed” confessions (and denials) have panned out as truthful, including the burial location of Debra Kent and the denial of the Kathy Devine murder.
The location is also unusual for an early Bundy murder. Bundy’s earliest known attacks occurred quite close to his residence in Seattle’s University District, usually just blocks away. This way he was able to stalk his victims, probably peeping into their windows and learning their routines. This was easy for him to do, as he was essentially their neighbor, and felt comfortable roaming about the neighborhood. In her interview with police, his friend Mary Lynn Chino said she had seen Bundy doing just that late at night. As he became more confident, he began to travel further away from his home base in search of victims. If his “pseudo confession” to Michaud is to be believed, Bundy traveled to Corvallis, Oregon for the Parks abduction specifically to throw law enforcement off his trail, after he had already committed four attacks within an hour’s drive of Seattle. In Utah and Florida as well, he initially stayed close to his residence, in Tallahassee not straying further than a few blocks to find his victims. Later he would travel further away, from Utah to Colorado and to Lake City from Tallahassee. This is likely because, as when he was first starting out, he felt more comfortable staying close to home and in familiar surroundings. Later he would purposefully travel from his home base as a way to avoid “heat” from nearby police activity, as well as to throw law enforcement off. Therefore, it’s odd to consider the LePage murder, which happened five hours away from his residence in Seattle, as a very early, possibly even first Bundy murder. Based on his known activity, it would make more sense for an early murder to take place close to home, which in 1971 would have been the University District in Seattle.
The murder weapon is also a major departure from Bundy’s usual M.O. Aside from the final murder of 12-year-old Kimberly Leach, who may or may not have had her throat cut, Bundy never used a knife to kill. None of the discovered bodies or bones attributed to Bundy ever had any apparent stab wounds. He also never confessed to using a knife on any of his victims. To the contrary, in his confessions to Special Agent Hagmaier, Bundy spoke about how he preferred strangling incapacitated women, watching their last breath, and the godlike power it lent him. The killer also said that his first victim (in 1973) was manually strangled with his bare hands, but found that too difficult, later switching to a garrote. Therefore, the M.O. of this stabbing homicide makes little sense when compared with Bundy’s usual method.
Knowing whether or not LePage was sexually assaulted would be a clue about her killer. Unfortunately that’s impossible to determine due to the decomposed condition of her remains when she was found. If there was no evidence of rape, this would point away from Bundy as the perpetrator, as he nearly always raped his victims when he had time to do so.
Finally, the disposal method of her body is also unlike Bundy. While he was known to leave remains in rural areas, he never wrapped bodies in blankets. He was partial to revisiting his victims’ bodies for several weeks after their death (when he didn’t bury them), and wrapping them in blankets bound with rope wouldn’t lend itself to such necrophiliac activity.
In my layman’s opinion, there are two possible theories of the crime in this case– neither of which involve Ted Bundy. My initial thought is that whoever murdered LePage was probably stalking her for some time– learning her routine and watching her enter Stevens Hall. He would have been familiar with the campus and known that she was likely alone and vulnerable inside, possibly even sleeping without the benefit of locked doors and windows. He could have been a jealous suitor seeking revenge from rejection. Another possibility is that there was indeed a party at Stevens that night, which LePage attended. Perhaps she rejected a man’s sexual advances, saying she had a fiance overseas, then he became angry, lost control under the influence of alcohol or drugs, and stabbed her to death. Both of those scenarios seem far more likely than Ted Bundy traveling five hours, following a stranger to an abandoned dormitory, sneaking in after her, and stabbing her to death.
For all of these reasons, I think it’s unlikely that Ted Bundy murdered Joyce LePage. Without the benefit of DNA evidence (it seems unclear whether any ever existed) and barring a confession, sadly it seems unlikely that this case will ever be solved.
Joyce Margaret LePage
Rest in Peace