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Homicide Detectives Solve 1984 Cold Case

There was no phone call with tearful family members when SPD detectives closed their investigation into the murder of Michael Vanderpool after three decades, as police have been unable to locate any living relatives.

Nor was there a dramatic arrest of the suspect in the case, who died in 2013.

But after more than three decades, SPD homicide detectives now know who shot and killed Vanderpool in a West Seattle alleyway in the early morning hours of May 5, 1984.

Around 1:45 AM that morning, a motorist spotted Vanderpool lying in an alleyway in the 7700 block of 16th Avenue Southwest. Officers found Vanderpool, then 36, dead from a gunshot wound to his chest.

Police canvassed the neighborhood, but weren’t able to find any witnesses to the murder. However, police later received a call from one of Vanderpool’s relatives, who said he’d been seen the night of the murder with another man, Gary Tolliver.

Tolliver was reportedly volatile, was known to carry a gun, and ran in the same circle of methamphetamine users as Vanderpool. Detectives interviewed Tolliver in 1984, but weren’t able to gather enough evidence to arrest him.

This past June, SPD Homicide Detective Rolf Norton began reviewing Vanderpool’s murder as part of an examination of dozens of different cold case files.

After examining the case, Norton found several witnesses had never given formal statements to police or, in some cases, may have had their interviews influenced by the suspect, Tolliver.

Detective Norton tracked down a number of witnesses in the original case, who had since relocated to Kitsap, Sedro Wooley and other areas in and outside of Washington State. Several of them provided new details, and one even debunked Tolliver’s alibi at the time of the murder.

While Tolliver may have died in 2013 from medical causes, police have officially identified him as the suspect in Vanderpool’s murder and closed the case.

“We want to make it clear to suspects that we never give up,” Detective Norton says. “Ever.”