Cult Corner: Keeping victims' stories alive

Sifting through accounts of Lewiston-Clarkston Valley cold case murders and disappearances


click to enlarge Will Thompson
Will Thompson
Between 1979 and 1982, five people disappeared in the Lewiston-Clarkston Valley in three separate and, at the time, seemingly unrelated events. Christina White,12, disappeared the weekend of the 1979 Asotin County Fair while en route to the fairgrounds. In 1981, Kristin David disappeared at the top of the Lewiston Hill while biking to the valley from Moscow. Kristina Nelson, 21, Jacqueline “Brandy” Miller, 18, and Steven Pearsall, 35, went missing from the old Lewiston Civic Theatre and former Methodist church on Eighth Street in 1982.


A week after her disappearance, David’s dismembered body was discovered inside trash bags floating a half-mile from Chief Timothy State Park. Nelson and Miller’s remains were discovered nearly a year and a half after their disappearance near a grade outside Kendrick. White and Pearsall are still missing.


Initially, no link was made between the cases. Over time, a prime suspect became glaringly apparent. To date, he has been questioned by police, but never arrested. The cases are still open and under investigation.


40 years on and lacking closure, the memory of the disappearances has faded for some. Ask a recent high school graduate if they’re familiar with the cases and you’re likely to hear, “I think I heard about that from my grandparents once.” An event this significant must not be lost. Fortunately, the tale of these cases is as compelling as it is tragic and can be easily accessed in audio and visual formats.

Produced and directed by Lewiston-Clarkston Valley natives Jennifer Anderson and Vernon Lott, the best starting place is “Confluence.” The documentary features gorgeous cinematography of the region that contrasts with the horror of the events recounted by those affected most directly. “Confluence” lets those who were there tell their stories in an unobtrusive manner, from the victims’ family members to the still-haunted detectives. Released in 2011, it holds up well as a representation of the core story.

(Anderson and Lott also have produced other documentaries, including “Massacred for Gold,” which details the slaughter of more than 30 Chinese miners in 1887 in Hells Canyon.)

Thankfully, the cold cases are still under investigation locally. Notably, Asotin County Sheriff’s Detective Jackie Nichols continues to follow up on leads in the area. Her work is part of the focus in “Cold Valley,” a two-part television documentary that aired on the Investigation Discovery network in 2018. In addition to detailing the cases in their early stages, “Cold Valley” features newer information uncovered in the intervening years. In addition to Nichols’ investigation, Gloria Bobertz has devoted much of the past several decades to her own research into the cases. Bobertz, who runs the Facebook page Lewis-Clark Valley Serial Killer, is Nelson’s cousin and has traced the prime suspect’s life, uncovering connections in his past that makes the massive amount of circumstantial evidence against him seem much more than circumstantial (Bobertz also is interviewed in “Confluence”).

The world of true crime podcasts is littered with episodes devoted to the cases. “Victimology with Melissa Lee” devotes three episodes to the valley’s disappearances and murders. The episodes each are succinct and total just under two hours. Lee is guided through the cases by Bobertz, who provides a significant amount of information from her own research that doesn’t make it into either of the aforementioned documentaries. As a bonus episode, Lee offers a live Q&A session with Bobertz.

At nearly five hours in length, “Cold Case Murder Mysteries” spends three episodes on a multilayered deep dive not offered anywhere else. Host Ryan Kraus devotes one episode to each case and offers analysis of the suspected killer’s motives and modus operandi. Additionally, he trains a macro lens on the subject of serial killers, speculating that they forced society to evolve in how humanity shares information.

It should be noted that Kraus offers significant conjecture in his analysis and cites unnamed interview sources for some details. Nonetheless, “Cold Case Murder Mysteries” is a fascinating listen that offers unique insight.

Unlikely as it may seem, one of the most insightful perspectives on the personal impact of the cases comes via a podcast devoted to the works of Stephen King: “The Kingcast.” In episode 23, Clarkston native and notable television writer/producer Bryan Fuller discusses themes in King’s novel “ 'Salem’s Lot” that parallel his experience growing up in the early ’80s as the disappearances and killings hovered over the valley. Fuller’s account also offers some extra weight: The primary suspect was Fuller’s assistant scoutmaster in his Boy Scout troop.


“Confluence” is available to rent or purchase digitally via Amazon and Apple, as well as through the Morris Hill Pictures website (morrishillpictures.com). “Cold Valley” is streaming on Discovery+ with a subscription or for rent or purchase from most digital outlets. Podcast episodes are available on most podcasting apps or via the podcast’s website.


Thompson enjoys putting somewhat carefully chosen words in relatively meaningful order. He lives in Lewiston and is on Instagram as @theswap_quadcities and can be reached via email at lcvrecordswap@gmail.com.

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