Episode 091: Marilyn Hickey & Cheryle Barratt

September 11, 2023

Two women, hundreds of miles apart, are connected by a decades-long search for justice. Who killed Marilyn and Cheryle?

Episode Media
Marilyn Lee Hickey (Kitsap Sun)
Drift Inn Tavern where Marilyn was last seen on September 8, 1992 (Google Maps)
Marilyn’s apartment building on Chester Avenue in Bremerton, Washington (Google Maps)
Cheryle Diane Barratt (Idaho Statesman)
Cheryle’s cottage on N. 6th Street in Boise, Idaho (Google Maps)
Police sketch of suspect in Marilyn’s case (Kitsap Sun)
Lee Robert Miller booking photos 1995 (L) and 2019 (R) (Bremerton Police Department & Ada County Sheriff’s Office)
Episode Sources
Episode Transcript

Welcome back to Bite-Sized Crime. This week we’re going back a few decades to look into the cases of two women, who – despite being hundreds of miles apart – will be forever connected by the circumstances of their deaths. This episode includes graphic descriptions, so listener discretion is advised.

On the afternoon of September 10, 1992, residents of the Chester Avenue apartments in Bremerton, Washington, were worried about their neighbor. They hadn’t seen Marilyn Hickey in several days, and there had been no activity from her studio apartment in quite a while. One neighbor tried knocking on Marilyn’s door, but there was no answer. Marilyn was a private person, but she was friendly and always appreciated a chat with her neighbors.

However, her neighbors also knew that 57-year-old Marilyn suffered from epilepsy, and they worried that she might have had a seizure alone in her apartment, unable to call for help. When they didn’t get a response after several attempts to contact her, they called 911 and asked the Bremerton Police to do a welfare check.

Around 4:30pm, police and paramedics arrived at the apartment. Again, Marilyn didn’t respond to the knocks at her door. According to the Washington Post, a paramedic used a pocket knife to pry open one of the apartment windows and climbed inside. There, they discovered the body of Marilyn Hickey.

It was clear from the get-go that Marilyn had not suffered a seizure. Instead, there were clear indications of foul play. Marilyn was naked, lying on the floor with a pair of scissors protruding from her chest. As investigators looked more closely, they also found signs that Marilyn had been strangled.

The news that Marilyn had likely been murdered hit the community hard. Bremerton was a pretty safe place, and Marilyn was a quiet, kind woman who didn’t bother anyone. Who would want to kill her?

Originally from Sioux City, Iowa, Marilyn had lived in Washington State for over 30 years. She had been a wife to Jerry and a stay-at-home mother to her three children – two sons and a daughter. But by 1992, Marilyn was alone, having divorced her husband back in 1969. Her children were grown now with families of their own – only her daughter still lived in Washington State.

Marilyn had a small circle of friends in Bremerton, mostly people she hung out with at the local bars and taverns. Marilyn loved playing pool in the evenings and dancing to Elvis Presley on the jukebox.

But according to the Kitsap Sun, the people Marilyn saw most often were the Bremerton firefighters and paramedics who responded to her calls.

Marilyn had struggled with her epilepsy for years, often forgetting or even refusing to take her medications. Sometimes she would call for help multiple times a day. Deputy Fire Marshal Scott Rappelye told the Sun, “She’d get off her medicine and have these seizures. We’d haul her to the hospital, they’d get her stabilized, then later we’d get called out again. The paramedics became a part of her everyday life.”

Even with these repeated calls, the first responders of Bremerton truly liked Marilyn. She was sweet and was always thankful for their assistance. They wanted her to be safe and well. So when Marilyn suddenly turned up dead, they grieved her loss.

Ray Wiggs, a local paramedic, told the Sun that he was shocked and saddened by the news that Marilyn had been murdered, that he wished he had known more about her life. “I guess there are a lot of those people we wonder about sometimes. We think someday we’ll ask about their lives. But we don’t. And then it’s too late.”

Bremerton Police processed the crime scene while the Kitsap County Coroner conducted Marilyn’s autopsy. Together, they determined that Marilyn had been killed sometime between 10am and noon on Wednesday, September 9th, the day before she was found. Her cause of death was determined to be strangulation; the stab wound in her chest appeared to have happened postmortem.

According to news reports, detectives found no sign of forced entry at the apartment, but there were unknown fingerprints and semen found during the investigation, suggesting that Marilyn may have known her attacker and let him into the apartment willingly.

Marilyn was known to frequent the local bars, so investigators began interviewing bartenders and business owners to see if they could retrace her steps the night before she was killed. Within days, they had a lead.

According to witnesses, Marilyn had been at the Drift Inn Tavern on the night of September 8th. She came in alone around 10:45pm, but at some point met up with a man – several bar patrons said they had seen him with Marilyn before, but they didn’t know his name. The pair had some drinks and played a few rounds of pool. When the bar closed around 2am, Marilyn and the man left together in a cab. The cab driver told police that he drove them less than a mile, dropping them off at Marilyn’s Chester Avenue apartment. That was the last time anyone saw Marilyn Hickey.

On September 17th, Bremerton Police announced that they were looking for this mystery man so they could question him about Marilyn. Captain Joe Hatfield told the Kitsap Sun, “He’s the last documented person seen with her and may have valuable information that enables us to put the puzzle together… We’re not saying he committed the killing. We just need the information he has.”

The man was described as being a white male between the ages of 22 and 25, around 5’8” tall with a medium build and collar-length reddish-brown hair. He had been wearing jeans and a dark waist-length jacket on the night of September 8th. A police sketch was circulated in the local papers, and authorities asked anyone who knew him to call the tipline.

Meanwhile, investigators waited for the state crime lab to finish analyzing the fingerprints and semen found in Marilyn’s apartment. But when they did, the news wasn’t what they were hoping for – there were no matches.

In 1992, DNA testing was still in its infancy, and state databases weren’t nearly as extensive as they are now. In fact, the Combined DNA Index System – the national database known as CODIS – wouldn’t be created for 6 more years. All investigators could do was hold on to the evidence and wait for technology to catch up. Marilyn’s case was put on the shelf.

Two years later and 500 miles away, another woman would become a victim in a very similar way.

Forty-nine-year-old Cheryle Barratt lived in a small cottage in Boise, Idaho. Originally from New York, Cheryle grew up in Idaho, where she met and married Arthur Barratt in 1963, and together they raised their daughter Maria. Arthur was in the Navy, so the family moved around quite a bit, but when Arthur finally retired in the early 1980s, they decided to settle in the capital city of Boise.

Cheryle was described as having a “zest for life” and was known for her love of animals, especially dogs and birds. She loved being a mother and took so much joy from watching Maria grow up. She was active in the school PTA and made cupcakes for bake sales. She seemed to be the ideal wife and mother.

But in 1988, Cheryle and Arthur divorced, and Cheryle’s picture-perfect life began to fall apart. She soon fell into a depressive state and sought relief through drugs. By the early 90s, Cheryle had several arrests on her record, including 3 DUIs and multiple charges for possession. In 1992, a bench warrant was issued after she failed to appear in court on a misdemeanor DUI charge. She managed to avoid arrest, holing up in her tiny cottage. Her daughter Maria told the Idaho Statesman that Cheryle’s loneliness often led to her using “poor judgment” in her choice of friends, and that often got her in trouble.

On the night of April 21, 1994, a friend knocked on Cheryle’s door. They had planned to get together earlier that evening, but Cheryle hadn’t shown up. Worried that something may have happened, the friend drove to Cheryle’s cottage on 6th Street to check on her. When she didn’t answer the door, the friend entered the cottage and found a horrific scene: Cheryle lay in the upstairs bedroom, her throat slashed and a stab wound in her heart.

The friend immediately called the police, and officers responded to the scene. The friend told detectives that right after he had found Cheryle, he noticed a van drive up the cottage, two men inside. Both were white males in their 40s; one was clean-shaven, and the other had a full beard with medium-length brown hair, his face pockmarked. Detectives released the description to the local papers, hoping for a lead.

They also released a statement saying they believed Cheryle’s death was drug-related, but they wouldn’t say why. Boise Police Lieutenant Tim Rosenvall told the Statesman, “The detectives are not releasing that yet, due to an investigative angle they’re working on.”

But Maria worried that her mother’s case wouldn’t be taken seriously because of her history of drug use. She told the Statesman, “If it was June Cleaver, the happy little homemaker… She was a person… She was my mother. She went into her house and was murdered. It could happen to anyone.”

But within days, police had a suspect in custody. On April 26, 1994, 43-year-old Floyd Edwin Parker was arrested and charged with first-degree murder. Parker had previously been convicted of murder after stabbing a man in the heart during a bar fight in 1979. He served 6 years of his 20-year sentence and was released from parole in December of 1991. Parker also matched the description of one of the men Cheryle’s friend had identified, and he allegedly had been in a relationship with Cheryle a few years before her death.

But as Parker’s case made its way to trial, it was clear that the state didn’t have enough evidence to get a conviction. Cheryle’s friend had changed his story, saying that Parker wasn’t one of the men he’d seen in the van that day. The prosecutor’s office asked for more time to get the DNA from under Cheryle’s fingernails tested, but their request was denied. On June 22, 1994, the district magistrate dropped the murder charge against Floyd Parker. Parker immediately left Idaho, and investigators lost track of him. Ultimately, when the DNA results came back months later, the results were inconclusive – there wasn’t enough material to make a match.

Just like Marilyn’s case, Cheryle’s was put on a shelf to wait. Investigators hoped that technology would continue to improve, that they would eventually be able to get a DNA match. As the years passed, Cheryle’s case was occasionally mentioned in the local papers, usually in a small blurb about other cold cases in the area, but it mostly faded from the public eye. However, detectives continued to work behind the scenes, submitting the DNA to state and national databases year after year.

Finally, in 2006, they got a match.

According to the Idaho Statesman, detectives in Boise discovered that the unknown DNA found under Cheryle’s fingernails matched the unknown DNA from a case in Washington – the 1992 unsolved murder of Marilyn Hickey.

The evidence from Marilyn’s case had been submitted to the Washington State Patrol Crime Lab, where they were able to develop a full DNA profile thanks to the advancement of forensic technology. The profile was entered into CODIS, where it was matched to Cheryle Barratt’s case. But although the profiles matched, investigators still didn’t know who the DNA belonged to.

Even with this promising development, it wouldn’t be until 2017 that the cases were officially reopened. Boise and Bremerton Police finally teamed up to find their unidentified suspect. They poured over the case files, looking for anything that might overlap. They cross-referenced every name, everyone they had interviewed or anyone who was connected to their victims. Soon, they found him: Lee Robert Miller.

According to the Washington Post, Miller had only been a footnote in Marilyn’s investigation, someone detectives hadn’t even spoken to back in the 90s. While searching Marilyn’s apartment, detectives had found a scrap of paper in Marilyn’s purse with a phone number. When they called the number back in 1992, the man on the other end of the phone had told them that he had given Marilyn his number after his friend Lee Miller had introduced them – Marilyn was going to help him look for apartments in the area. The man ended up not being a suspect, and Miller’s name was jotted down in the police report as a matter of routine. He was never questioned or even thought of as being connected to Marilyn’s case.

But in regards to Cheryle’s case, it’s a bit more surprising that Miller wasn’t questioned. Early in the investigation, a confidential informant told Boise Police that Miller had admitted to killing Cheryle. Why wasn’t this lead taken more seriously? Why had police honed in on Floyd Parker instead?

Whatever the reason, Lee Miller was able to fly under the radar for decades. But when the two police departments finally began working together, they knew they had a strong suspect. Bremerton Police Detective Martin Garland told The Washington Post that finding Miller was like a game of Go Fish – each department trying to figure out which names in their case files matched the other. “I would say, ‘I have a ‘Joe Smith’ in my case. Do you have a ‘Joe Smith’ in yours?’ We only had one person that we had mentioned in both of our cases, and that was Lee Robert Miller. We decided that since he was the only one who appeared in both cases, we would focus on him as a person of interest.”

As they dug deeper, detectives were confident that they had their man. In addition to finding his name in both case files, a 1995 mugshot showed a young Lee Miller with a reddish-brown, collar-length mullet, just like witnesses at the tavern had described. He looked extremely similar to the police sketch in Marilyn’s case. Now they just needed to prove it.

In early 2018, Boise Police put Miller under surveillance. On February 1st, they spotted Miller outside of his house, smoking a cigarette. When he was finished, he tossed the butt on the ground, and investigators swooped in to collect it. The discarded cigarette was sent to the Idaho state crime lab, where analysts were able to officially confirm detectives’ suspicions: Lee Miller’s DNA matched the evidence found at Marilyn Hickey’s and Cheryle Barratt’s crime scenes.

On January 2, 2019, Lee Robert Miller was arrested in Boise and charged with the murder of Marilyn Hickey. A month later, he was charged with the murder of Cheryle Barratt. According to the probable cause affidavit, when Idaho investigators asked Miller if he had any other victims, he replied, “I don’t know, I hope not.”

Miller pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in both cases. He was sentenced to 25 years in Washington State and an additional 17 years in Idaho.

In court, Miller apologized to the families of his victims. “I am very sorry for the pain that I’ve caused the families that have been affected by my past. I don’t expect them to ever forgive me. But I would just like them to know that I am very sorry.”

Kitsap County Superior Court Judge Jeanette Dalton told Miller that other than this one apology, he hadn’t shown true remorse for his actions. Before handing down his sentence, Judge Dalton said, “You have not demonstrated that you have the capacity for empathy.”

The victims’ families agreed. After the sentencing in Washington, Marilyn’s son Robert told KTVB that Miller deserved what he got. “That’s what I want to see: I want justice, 26 years’ worth. You only have one mother. He took it. He can never replace that.”

In the end, Marilyn and Cheryle got justice, but it took decades to find. Their stories remind me of the saying, “Justice delayed is justice denied.” There are thousands of cold cases just sitting on shelves in police stations across the United States, waiting for justice to arrive. Thankfully, there are also dedicated investigators working hard to solve these cases, and organizations committed to providing funds and resources to police departments. I will link to some of them in the show notes if you’re interested in learning more or supporting their causes. Every case, every family deserves justice.