Bellingham Police solve 1987 cold case, suspect charged with murder

Bellingham Police have finally solved a murder case from 35 years ago, using advancements in DNA testing to identify and arrest the suspect in Oregon.

On April 28, 1987, 29-year-old Wendy Aughe was reported missing when she did not come to pick up her eight-year-old daughter. Her body was never found, but detectives found blood in her home, indicating a violent struggle occurred.

The case went cold for nearly 30 years, until recent forensic advancements landed detectives a DNA profile of 63-year-old Darren O’Neall of Umatilla, Oregon.

Based on the DNA evidence, detectives issued an extraditable warrant for O’Neall’s arrest.

The suspect was arrested March 1, 2023, and booked into Whatcom County Jail.


The Spotlight: Genetic genealogy bringing justice to cold case victims and their families

More and more cold cases from decades ago are being solved with the help of DNA, and more killers who were once able to get away with murder are being convicted thanks to genetic genealogy. 

According to the City of Bellingham, Aughe left from McDonald’s Beauty School to get lunch at La Paloma restaurant. She came back and told classmates she met a man named ‘Mike’ there, and planned to go on a date with him that evening.

Aughe was last seen at a friend’s house on April 25, 1987.

Detectives assert ‘Mike’—who was really Darren O’Neall—drove from Lighthouse Mission on April 25 in Aughe’s 1972 Ford Torino, went to La Paloma where he was starting his second day of work, took all the money in the till and a bottle of Jack Daniel's, then left.

Aughe’s Ford Torino was logged the next day entering the U.S. from Canada at the Oroville port of entry. On April 27, the car was found abandoned in Eugene, Oregon.

Police processed the stolen car for evidence, and picked up O’Neall’s fingerprints. His description matched that of the man known to Aughe and her friends as ‘Mike.’

O’Neall was found guilty of auto theft in 1989 for stealing Aughe’s car.

Decades later in 2015, Washington State Patrol’s crime lab reached out to Bellingham, saying they tested evidence from that cold case. The DNA profile from a semen stain on Aughe’s bed originated from two people—one presumed to be Aughe’s profile, and another belonging to ‘individual B.’

Investigators ran the DNA profile through the National Combined DNA Index System (CODIS), where they found a match with O’Neall.

O’Neall has been charged with the second-degree murder of Wendy Aughe.

RELATED: DNA helps solve 1998 cold case murder of Marysville 19-year-old; suspect arrested

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"Nothing short of dedicated investigative work started by BPD detectives in 1987, continuing for 35 years, and working with improved DNA testing allowed this case to be solved," said Bellingham Police Chief Rebecca Mertzig.  "This is truly exemplary teamwork spanning three generations of BPD detectives to never stop the work of finding justice for Wendy’s family."