EVERETT — As Michelle Donohue awaits her Tuesday, July 29, sentencing in Snohomish County Superior Court for murdering her husband, Byron Wright, in 2004, the question remains: How did she get away with it for nearly a decade?
Sheriff's Detective Joe Dunn found himself wondering the same thing after a tip from the jail on Dec. 26 last year finally led to the investigation of Wright's disappearance.
"The victim had relationships with his family, but as time went on, his wife increasingly isolated him from his family, to the point that there was no real communication at all," Dunn said. "He had friends, but he wasn't super-social and he didn't go to parties."
Indeed, even Sharon Diehl, the sister with whom Wright had kept in tenuous contact, didn't send him a birthday card until 2006, two years after he was killed and one year after Donohue's divorce in absentia from Wright was finalized.
After Diehl sent the card, Donohue called her to say that Wright was gone, claiming that he had run off with another woman. Even then, Diehl didn't attempt to file a missing persons report until a few years later, around the same time she started a Facebook page devoted to finding him in 2009.
"I don't know why that missing persons report wasn't taken back then," Dunn said. "It must have slipped through the cracks."
Even if the report had been filed, it wouldn't have impacted Donohue's divorce.
"That's handled by the civil courts," Dunn said. "It started about five years before anyone even tried to report him missing."
Dunn explained that standard practice for a divorce in absentia is for public notice to be posted in the newspaper, soliciting a response from the absent spouse.
"Again, as a civil procedure, we didn't deal with it," Dunn said. "As we looked into it, knowing what we know now, we were like, 'Holy crap, really? Why weren't they thinking about this possibility?' But that's just us doing Monday morning quarterbacking. It's not an uncommon procedure for divorces in which one spouse simply isn't there."
Even after investigators received a tip-off about the murder late last year, Dunn noted that they needed to check out the story, to make sure their informant wasn't just angling for a deal by making up a tale.
However, as investigators tried to find Wright, not only did they confirm that his driver's license in Washington state had expired, but that he'd never applied for another, nor had he filed insurance claims anywhere in America.
"We ran his Social Security number nationwide, and it indicated that he never left his Arlington address," Dunn said. "We looked at Boeing, which terminated him the same year he stopped showing up for work, and contacted their investigators, who heard the same story from his wife.
"We even checked passport records to see if he'd traveled overseas, but nothing turned up," he added. "His financial trail ended that year."
Further suspicions were raised by Donohue's claims that Wright had left her all of his property, including his classic car collection.
"Everyone who knew him agreed that he never would have left his car collection behind," Dunn said. "He grew up poor, so even if he was hooking up with a rich woman, as his wife claimed, the consensus was that he wouldn't have walked away from what he'd worked so hard to build."
Check The Marysville Globe's website and next issue for the results of Donohue's sentencing hearing.