Police: Missing Ore. woman's body found; suspect arrested

Police: Missing Ore. woman's body found; suspect arrested

GRESHAM, Ore. - Police announced Friday night in a somber news conference that they had found the body of missing 21-year-old Whitney Heichel on Larch Mountain and had made an arrest in the case.

Police arrested 24-year-old Jonathan Daniel Holt, of Gresham, on a charge of aggravated murder after a series of interviews with Holt.

Police said they received information that led them to Holt, who they said was an acquaintance of Whitney and her husband, Clint. Police also said that he lived in the same apartment complex as the couple.

Whitney Heichel left for her job at a Starbucks Tuesday morning and disappeared. Her SUV was found at 11:17 a.m. that day in the parking lot of a Wood Village Walmart.

Police said detectives found her personal belongings in a dumpster in a nearby shopping center. On Wednesday, a church-organized search team found a license plate and other evidence on Larch Mountain.

On Thursday, police found additional evidence from Heichel's SUV on Larch Mountain. And on Friday, police said crime lab evidence tied Holt to her vehicle.

During interviews with Holt, police said there were inconsistencies in his story. They said during a Thursday interview they were able to obtain his fingerprints and DNA.

At the same time Holt voluntarily came in for an additional interview Friday evening, police said investigators discovered Heichel’s body. Holt was also arrested at about that time, police said.

A Multnomah County medical examiner vehicle was observed arriving at Larch Mountain shortly before 9 p.m., about an hour before police held their news conference.

Family spokesman Jim Vaughn expressed the family's sadness that he said could not possibly be described in words.

"(Whitney) touched everyone she met, because she had a beautiful personality," he said. "She was warm; she was kind; she was everything you would want in a friend, an acquaintance or relative or spiritual fellow worshipper."

He said calls and messages of help and support poured in from all over the world. He said the family especially appreciated the prayers. He thanked the community for its support and the members of law enforcement whom had helped in the case.

"We would like to have seen a happy conclusion, but it's not," he said. "We will heal because of the love we have for each other, and the support that we have from family, friends and even ones we don't know that have reached out to help."

Police did not take any questions from reporters Friday night.

Heichel's cell phone

Heichel’s cell phone was found Thursday night by two girls outside a Troutdale apartment complex.

After its discovery, detectives zeroed in on the woods behind the Troutdale Terrace Apartments, which are 3.7 miles from Heichel’s apartment.

Search teams and a police dog combed the woods and bushes for several hours at the complex Friday morning in an attempt to discover how Heichel’s phone ended up in a blackberry bush there.

Detectives left around noon and did not seal off the area. Presumably, they didn't find anything else significant. But detectives resumed their search later in the day.

Neighbors said about a half dozen kids were building a fort in the woods Thursday night when two girls, ages 9 and 11, heard Heichel’s cell phone ringing.

The 9-year-old, Alexis Maxwell, found the smartphone lying in the dirt near the edge of the paved lot.

"The face of it was up. It was still turned off, but it was still making noise," she said. "I think someone threw it and it landed face up."

She said the phone was locked so she and her sister gave it to their mom.

"They said, 'Look at the picture, and I looked and saw her right away and I just knew it was her," said April Fletcher.

She said she immediately told her kids to stop touching the phone and called police.

"I'm just shocked and I'm really proud of my girls for doing what they did. I mean, they could have done anything. They could have broke it or just not thought of anything and just threw it back down there," she said.

During a Friday afternoon news conference, Gresham police Lt. Claudio Grandjean said the phone contained text messages from Heichel's family members, including her husband, asking about her whereabouts.

KATU News reporter Patrick Preston contributed to this report.

Watch Friday night's news conference:


Previous story from Friday.

GRESHAM, Ore. – Detectives are diligently working to piece together what happened to a 21-year-old woman who left for work Tuesday morning and disappeared.

Another search of Larch Mountain continued late into the afternoon Friday and investigators were busy analyzing Whitney Heichel’s cell phone, which was found Thursday by two girls outside a Troutdale apartment complex.

During an afternoon news conference, Gresham police Lt. Claudio Grandjean was hopeful Heichel’s cell phone, which is a smartphone, would provide clues to her disappearance, especially any GPS information it may provide detectives.

He said the phone was found turned off but contained text messages from her family members, including her husband, Clint, asking about her whereabouts.

Grandjean said he was pleased with the results investigators were getting back from Heichel’s cell phone as well as her SUV, which was found the morning she disappeared at 11:17 in a Walmart parking lot with its passenger-side window smashed.

He said the evidence investigators have gathered so far is telling a story about what happened to Heichel but could not divulge the details at this time.

"I'm not going to speak on what kind of evidence we have, but we're very, very pleased with what we've been getting back. It's been very helpful and has given us some direction in the investigation," he said, adding later that "the forensic evidence tells us a story. That story's best told in the lab.”

Detectives have zeroed in on the woods behind the Troutdale Terrace Apartments, which are 3.7 miles from Heichel’s apartment.

Search teams and a police dog combed the woods and bushes for several hours at the complex Friday morning in an attempt to discover how Heichel’s phone ended up in a blackberry bush there.

Detectives left around noon and did not seal off the area. Presumably, they didn't find anything else significant. But Grandjean said detectives were not finished searching the complex. They returned later in the day.

Neighbors said about a half dozen kids were building a fort in the woods Thursday night when two girls, ages 9 and 11, heard Heichel’s cell phone ringing. While Grandjean said the phone was found off, it was not immediately clear why there may be a discrepancy.

"What I was told by one little girl, they found a bunch of wood and decided to build a fort, playground thing. The phone started ringing and they picked it up. They opened it. One of the older girls recognized the girl from the news and ran it to their mom," said Stephanie Schubert who talked to girls playing near the apartment.

Heichel's husband, Clint, has revealed clues to KATU about his wife's disappearance that police won't comment on or aren't confirming.

Clint Heichel said the inside of Whitney's SUV was a mess when it was discovered. A dangling bead decoration had been ripped off the mirror, and the back seats were down, which was odd.

He said a rubber mat and the carpet was on top of the seats as if something had been moved.

Clint also said he saw the surveillance video at the Shell station on 257th that showed Whitney's Explorer pulling in, coming from the direction of where her cell phone was found.

"She was pulling in from the Troutdale road side, which is completely opposite of where we live – it's in the opposite direction: there's no reasonable, there's no reason she should be coming up from there, and it was at 9:13, I think it was, when her truck pulled in there," he said. "You couldn't see who was driving, but there's a couple distinct things about her car, and everyone knows their own car."

Clint said bank records show Whitney's ATM card was also used at the T/A truck stop in Troutdale within eight minutes of it being used at the Shell station. He said an employee there recognized Whitney's Explorer and said she was in the passenger seat and a man was driving.

Police said they only have proof of Whitney's Explorer at the Shell station and her ATM card being used there.

Anyone with information on Heichel should call the Gresham police tip line 503-618-2719.

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