by Tiffany Jean
“It starts as a missing person’s case,” said Whitman County Sheriff Brett Myers. “It starts out also as a missing piece of carpet from a WSU building.“
Joyce LePage (21), a junior taking summer classes at Washington State University in Pullman, Washington, was last seen alive on the evening of July 22, 1971, when friends dropped her off at her apartment at about 10pm.
A tall young woman at 5’9”, she was described as attractive and athletic looking, with long light brown hair.
Police would later find her abandoned car parked four blocks away from her off-campus apartment with her shoes and purse still inside.
Already a licensed private pilot, LePage had been taking skydiving lessons with her first jump scheduled for the next day, but she never made it to the lesson nor to any of her university classes.
“She had no reason to take off, and was planning to come down for the Water Follies (boat races) that coming weekend,” said her brother, Bruce LePage. “She just never showed up.”
As she had taken no belongings and had contacted no friends or relatives, foul play was immediately suspected in her disappearance.
A neighbor reported seeing her getting into a car with two unknown men on the morning of the 23rd, and a psychic claimed that he had “seen” her boarding a plane bound for Argentina in a “vision,” but none of these leads panned out and were eventually discarded.
Nine months later, in April 1972, a teenager searching for gemstones along a dry creek bed found LePage’s skeletal remains, hidden by dense brush at the bottom of a deep ravine called Waiwai Canyon, ten miles southwest of Pullman.
This site was remote, accessible only via a primitive rock road. Her nude body was wrapped in a piece of green shag carpet which had earlier been reported missing from Stevens Hall, a women’s dormitory on the WSU campus, which in the summer of 1971 was uninhabited and under renovation.
According to friends and described in letters sent to her overseas boyfriend, LePage enjoyed visiting the old, empty building, and would often steal through an unlocked window to read, write, play the dorm’s baby grand piano, and occasionally spend the night in the rooms.
“Clearly she was entering the hall, going in and out of there,” said retired WSU Police Sergeant Don Maupin. “And it wouldn’t be hard for someone else to do the same thing, particularly if they’re observing her… Some of her friends knew she was going into Stevens Hall.
In fact, the people who dropped her off said, ‘You’ve got to quit doing that. It’s dangerous, and besides that you’re going to get in trouble.’”
Rosy Lord, who worked as a custodian for the university, said she believed LePage probably attended a party at Stevens on the night of her disappearance, because there were pizza boxes and drug paraphernalia spread around when her cleaning crew arrived the next morning.
This was also when the chunk of carpet was noted missing from the front foyer.
A friend mentioned that LePage had planned on visiting the hall on the evening of her disappearance, however, no one ever verified her presence at a party that night.
A forensic analysis of her remains found three areas of cuts to her ribs, which were determined to be knife wounds and the cause of her death. Based on the evidence, police believed she had been stabbed to death at Stevens Hall, wrapped in the carpet, and transported to the ravine.
She was also found wrapped in two “military” blankets and bound with rope. “She was wrapped in a blanket first and then the carpet,” Sheriff Brett Myers said.
LePage was not reported missing for ten days, and as time went on the nature of the case created jurisdictional complexities:
Pullman police investigated the missing persons case, WSU investigated the stolen carpet, and the Whitman County Sheriff would eventually be put in charge of the homicide investigation.
This required piecing together reports from multiple agencies, and it is unclear how long it took for the investigation to connect the remains to the missing carpet report from Stevens Hall.
Over the years, some investigators pondered the likelihood of Ted Bundy being involved, based on the fact that the crime took place in Washington State near a college campus, and that LePage was an attractive young woman with long brown hair.
Some reports indicated that an unknown person matching Bundy’s description was seen in the area at the time of the disappearance.
However, “there’s no real evidence he was involved or in the area,” said Myers, “and Bundy was probably only suggested as other leads went cold.”
The Multiagency Investigative Team Report does not include much information about Bundy’s whereabouts in July 1971 other than his attending the University of Washington and working at a medical instrument supply company in Seattle.
Pullman, Washington is about a five hour drive from Seattle.
“I don’t want to rule anybody completely out,” Myers said. “But, my personal opinion is no. It wasn’t Ted Bundy. My gut feeling is this was someone she knew,” he said.
At WSU, Police Sergeant Maupin worked the LePage case for virtually his entire 26-year career.
He tried to follow every lead, at one time making initial contacts to interview Bundy on death row (although it is unclear if any attempts at contact were ever successful).
“I had calls all the way from Montana one time,” he said. “I had a woman say her husband killed LePage. That was [in the early 2000s]. She wished he did, but he didn’t.“
In 2012 a major suspect was re-interviewed and passed a polygraph test, eliminating him from the suspect pool.
Evidence was re-submitted to the Washington State Crime Lab for forensic analysis in 2014 without result.
Most recently, attempts were made to track down people in LePage’s circle of friends and acquaintances, but the case remains cold.
“She was a very friendly, outgoing girl,” said her brother Bruce LePage. “She was a profuse writer. If she were still around, I think she’d have been a high school or college English professor.”
Today Joyce LePage’s murder remains the oldest active unsolved case in Whitman County, Washington.