BELLEVUE, Wash. – On December 4, 1965, Lee Sundholm, then 25, was serving in the U.S. Navy in San Diego when he got a call from his father back in Washington State.
“That night,” he recalled, holding back tears, “I could never forget.”
Lee’s father told him that his younger brother, 23-year-old Loren Sundholm, had been stabbed to death. His body was found discarded in some blackberry bushes along the side of a road in Bellevue.
The homicide – the first-ever in the city of Bellevue – would take more than 50 years to close.
In 2014, Bellevue police Det. Shelby Shearer took on the case as a “side project” to his work in economic crimes. Looking to veteran cold case detectives for guidance, he set out trying to solve a murder that happened before he was even born.
“The big challenge was that there was a lack of evidence. We didn’t have any physical evidence to look at,” he said. “I actually just reverted back to old-school police work and I started talking to everyone who was involved that I could find.”
Detective Shearer zeroed in on the young man who was with Loren the night he died – Bill Huff.
Huff was a friend of Loren’s and an acquaintance of the Sundholm family.
“He was just a person who ran around with us,” Lee said.
Huff told police during the initial investigation that he and Loren got into a violent fight that night with a couple other guys on the side of a road.
“Bill Huff came home roughly at 5:00 a.m. He was intoxicated and he said he’d just been in a fist fight,” Detective Shearer said, referring to information from early investigative reports. “He said that his friend Loren got stabbed multiple times and his friend was missing.”
Huff also suffered a stab wound to his abdomen.
A “wanted” poster from the time, with a $500 reward, listed two unknown suspects and two victims – Huff and Sundholm.
“That’s not what happened,” Shearer said.
Using old crime scene photos and the expertise of the King County Medical Examiner’s Office, Shearer said he was able to disprove aspects of Huff’s story.
Something that struck Shearer was the lack of mud on Loren’s clothes and body. Photos show that the area Huff said the fight happened was covered in mud that night. Had Loren been involved in the fight, as Huff claimed, Shearer said he would have been covered in dirt. In fact, Loren was found without shoes on and his white socks were clean.
“He had absolutely no mud on his socks or on any of his clothes,” Shearer said. “He had been dumped in that spot.”
Loren also lacked injuries consistent with a fist fight, like bruises or cuts.
But what about Huff’s stab wound?
“Superficial” and “self-inflicted,” Shearer said.
Shortly after the murder of Loren Sundholm, Bill Huff moved to Minnesota where Bellevue police detectives attempted to interview him over the years, to no avail.
When Huff died in 2012 and Detective Shearer took on the case, he traveled to Minnesota to interview several of Huff’s ex-wives, who described him as “rageful and violent.” Shearer said they had been afraid to speak to the police while Huff was still alive.
With the evidence he’d gathered, Shearer presented his case to a panel of other detectives, his superiors, and King County prosecutors. While there was no new physical evidence, Shearer believed he had enough to prove that Huff was guilty.
The panel agreed.
“The prosecutor told me that we would try this person today with the evidence we have, so therefore we can close it.”
Lee Sundholm, now 75 years old and living in Woodinville, said he is forever grateful for the work of the detectives who refused to give up on his brother’s case.
“I know they put a lot of time on this case to close it for our family,” he said.
As for Bill Huff?
“As a Christian, I would have to forgive him,” Lee said. “Period, no questions asked. There’s no hatred left in my body. None.”