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Saturday, June 3, 2023
June 3, 2023

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Suspected serial killer accused in Bellingham woman’s 1987 disappearance appears in court


BELLINGHAM — Calling him “extremely dangerous,” a Whatcom County prosecutor painted a picture in court Thursday afternoon of the man accused in the 1987 disappearance and alleged murder of a 29-year-old Bellingham woman.

As the prosecutor spoke, the woman’s daughter sat in a front row court pew holding two framed photographs of her mother, Wendy L. Aughe. The daughter was 8 years old when Aughe disappeared nearly 36 years ago.

Chief Criminal Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Erik Sigmar asked a Whatcom County Court Commissioner to set bail “extremely high” for Darren Dee O’Neall at O’Neall’s first court appearance Thursday, March 2.

O’Neall, 63, was charged Oct. 11, 2022, in Whatcom County Superior Court with one count of second-degree murder for Aughe’s death in 1987.

He was extradited Wednesday, March 1, to Whatcom County from the Two Rivers Correctional Institute in Umatilla, Oregon, where he was incarcerated, according to court and jail records.

Aughe was last seen on April 25, 1987, after she went on a date with a man, later identified as O’Neall, whom she had met earlier that day, The Bellingham Herald previously reported.

Aughe is presumed dead, and her body has never been found.

DNA profiles were created by the Washington State Patrol Crime Laboratory for both Aughe and O’Neall from evidence taken from Aughe’s home and items found in the trunk of Aughe’s stolen car.

In July 2021, cheek swabs were taken from O’Neall. A month later, the crime lab determined the swabs matched the DNA profiles created for O’Neall from the evidence taken from Aughe’s home and car, court records state.

O’Neall, who is a suspected serial killer and spent time as one of the FBI’s most wanted, has been wanted for questioning in Aughe’s disappearance since at least 1988.

‘Extraordinary’ bail

Sigmar spent nearly two minutes detailing O’Neall’s past criminal history during his first court appearance Thursday.

Sigmar said O’Neall was charged with robbery in 1985 and sexual assault in 1986 in Colorado, but was unsure whether those charges were still outstanding.

O’Neall was arrested in Florida in December 1987 on a stolen car warrant out of Louisiana, according to the Associated Press. He was then extradited to Washington state to face murder charges for the 1987 death of Robin P. Smith, a 21-year-old Pierce County woman.

O’Neall was convicted of first-degree murder and possession of stolen property in the Pierce County case in February 1989 “under circumstances similar to” Aughe’s case, Sigmar said.

He was then convicted of second-degree theft in April 1989 in Whatcom County for stealing Aughe’s car.

A little more than a year later, in August 1990, O’Neall was convicted for kidnapping and repeatedly sexually assaulting a 14-year-old Portland girl in 1987. O’Neall was sentenced to 135 years in prison for the case, but was expected to be eligible for parole May 2033, according to court records.

O’Neall is also a suspect in other violent crimes and murders across the United States, and was the subject of an FBI task force at one time, Sigmar said.

He requested the court set O’Neall’s bail at $10 million or more, to “ensure he cannot possibly be released or escape.”

Aughe’s daughter declined to speak at O’Neall’s first appearance, but Sigmar said she was present in court “to see justice” for her mother’s death, and that she supported the bail request. As Sigmar spoke, Aughe’s daughter nodded along in agreement.

O’Neall, who appeared on a television screen from the Whatcom County Jail, stood expressionless as Sigmar made his arguments.

Whatcom County Superior Court Commissioner Ann Vetter-Hansen set O’Neall’s bail at $10 million — one of the highest bails set in Whatcom County in recent memory.

O’Neall will remain in custody at the Whatcom County Jail.

His arraignment is scheduled for March 10.