Investigators work the scene Dec. 8, 2011, where a day earlier Steven Stanbary held police and firefighters off with a gun while his house burned to the ground in Washougal.
ZACHARY KAUFMAN/The Columbian
WASHOUGAL— A black metal mailbox stands in front of an empty, grassy lot. Inside, a slightly discolored search warrant is nestled in a plastic sleeve.
Elsewhere on the empty property in a quiet Washougal neighborhood, two charred trees still stand, living reminders of an unprecedented tragedy that lingers in the minds of neighbors and a city that's worked to remove every last piece of a brutal double homicide and suicide that took place there.
Nearly a year since Steven Stanbary killed his wife, her sister and himself, setting his house on fire and blasting away with high-powered rifles at police officers, most of the remnants of that day have finally been carted off. Three vehicles once belonging to Steven Stanbary were removed this week by surviving family members, the city said.
With the vehicles' removal, a once unthought-of ordeal is finally reaching a conclusion, Sherry Montgomery said. She is Washougal's code enforcement officer. The city has never encountered a similar situation, she said, in which a visible crime scene took so long to clear.
The reason the full cleanup took almost a year was because the city was "unclear who the responsible party was for a long time," Montgomery said. "It became a shell game dealing with the banks."
Montgomery said because both of the owners of the property at 3275 F Place are dead, the process of razing and clearing has been muddled in red tape.
Stanbary's survivors are now on the hook for maintaining the property, she said. In the months following the tragedy, Stanbary's survivors have accrued $154,750 in civil penalties for not removing items, Montgomery said.
For the city, the final aspect of cleaning up after the tragedy will center on the two burnt trees. An arborist will take a look at them to determine whether they pose a danger.
What happens to the empty lot after that is unknown. If survivors owe a lot of money on the mortgage, the bank could take possession of the property, Montgomery said.
Even with cleanup efforts entering the last phase, the property continues to act as a scar to neighbors.
Many were there the day police say Stanbary, 47, shot and killed his wife of 11 years, Leona Bolton-Stanbary, 50, and her twin sister, Mona Daugherty, on Dec. 7.
Neighbor Dea Taylor can see the property from her kitchen window across the street. She watched with interest this week as tow trucks hauled away the remaining vehicles from the property.
She and her ex-husband had been friends with Stanbary, and he would occasionally come over, sit at the kitchen table, and complain about his wife. Taylor said she never thought the situation would escalate and end in tragedy.
But with nearly every piece of the tragedy now gone from across the street, she hopes the flashbacks of that day go away.
"I'm sure with the cleanup work it will clean up me," Taylor said, holding back tears.
Her world since the tragedy unfolded has "been rocked," she said.
Jerry and Myrtle Anderson live down the street from the empty lot. On Wednesday, they stopped by the razed and cleared property for the first time in a long time.
The couple said they hoped someone would build another house on the site so a family could move in.
But whatever happens to the property, Jerry Anderson said he'll never completely forget the tragedy.
"There will always be a reminder," he said. "It's so clear in our minds, as if it just happened."