Laura Flink was 21 years old when she left her Aberdeen home for Moclips Feb. 21, 1969, to pick up a couch and clothes for her toddler son, Tom.
She hasn’t been seen since.
Left in the wake are guilt-ridden friends, a dogged investigator who has most, but not all, of the answers, and a son who just wants his mother properly laid to rest.
The tale reads like 1940s pulp fiction, full of twists and turns, with no shortage of rumor and intrigue. It would be entertaining if it weren’t so very real to those who knew the blonde-haired, blue-eyed Flink, known as Sam to her friends, who was reportedly a few months pregnant when she vanished.
“I would just love to have some closure, to put up a headstone for her,” said Tom Flink, who was 16 months old when his mother went missing. He has no memories of her. In fact, until he was well into his teens, he was mostly unaware that the people who raised him, Delores and Lee Bondurant, were actually Laura Flink’s parents, his grandparents.
“I knew something was up,” said Tom Flink. “None of the other kids were in the same age bracket. They had red hair and freckles. I had blonde hair.”
Tom Flink said he was kept from the truth about his mother by his grandparents. A father himself, he has come to terms with their choice and his sheltered upbringing, which he admits kept him out of trouble most of his life.
When he was about 18 and knew about his mother and her disappearance under very suspicious circumstances, he went to the Aberdeen Police.
“I started asking questions,” he said. He said he was stonewalled and more or less told to just let it be. Lane Youmans, former Grays Harbor County Coroner and, before that, a detective with the Sheriff’s Office, believes many mistakes were made early in the investigation.
In May of 2006, the case was taken up by Aberdeen Police Lt. C.J. Chastain, who immediately threw himself into it. When Tom Flink first approached the police some 30 years ago, the case file contained a few pages. Under Chastain and detective Kristi Lougheed, it now fills a binder almost a foot thick.
A phone call came in to Laura Flink the day she disappeared. It was Barb Askea in Moclips. If Laura wanted the clothes and couch, she would have to come that very day, or no deal, a condition Chastain and Lougheed find suspicious.
Chastain said the man Laura Flink was living with at the time listened to that conversation on another line. He knew the history: Askea was on the other end of a custody battle over Tom when he was about a year old.
The circumstances behind Askea’s interest in adopting the child are not totally clear. Chastain said it was John Flink, Laura Flink’s ex-husband and Tom Flink’s father, who was in the Navy at the time, “started the process to have the Askea family adopt Tom,” possibly feeling his ex-wife was too young and “not adequately prepared for the complete responsibilities of parenthood,” said Chastain.
Askea had a husband, Joe, and was in her late 30s or early 40s at the time. It’s possible Joe Askea and John Flink were acquainted through the Navy as both were stationed for a time in Pacific Beach, said Chastain. Around the time the custody issue was initiated Tom Flink was staying extended periods of time with the Askeas “as Laura was working a couple of jobs, demanding hours later into the evening.”
During the custody proceedings, there were at least two dust-ups between Laura Flink and Askea that drew police attention, said Chastain, one outside the Blue Beacon, where Laura Flink worked as a waitress, another at the county courthouse.
The housemate who overheard the call knew of the history between the two women and asked Laura Flink not to go, at least not alone. He couldn’t go with her, he had to work. Laura Flink asked two friends, who also could not accompany her. So she borrowed the housemate’s car, a red 1967 Ford Ranchero, and set out alone around 3 p.m.
She was spotted by a friend of the housemate’s not far from Moclips, as he was leaving a logging job, said Chastain. He saw the car, and saw Laura Flink inside it.
“She was last seen about a mile north of Copalis at about 4 p.m.,” said Chastain, heading toward Moclips at about a 70 mph clip.
The Ranchero was found parked outside a tavern in Hoquiam Feb. 24. Her wallet was apparently found on a Hoquiam sidewalk Feb. 23 and was dropped in a mailbox, sent to Laura Flink’s post office box.
Early in the investigation, Askea told investigators Laura Flink had never arrived in Moclips, according to Chastain. The investigation, what little there was of one, went nowhere.
Cold case heats up
Chastain got his hands on the case in 2006 and made telephone contact with Askea, who was then in ill health and living in Georgia. She admitted then that Laura Flink had indeed made it to Moclips to pick up the clothes and couch that day and went so far as to say the two went to the Moclips Tavern and had a few beers. As the questions in the telephone interview went deeper, Askea said she was feeling ill and would talk no further.
Chastain then set up a phone appointment with Askea at a later date; he did so to make sure she would be home at a specific day and time. When he did make that call, he made it from Georgia; he had flown there for a face-to-face meeting, unbeknownst to Askea.
“At this point she is 77 years old and had lost both her lower legs” to diabetes and was more or less blind, said Chastain. He confronted her with the investigation binder.
“I asked her for assistance to find her remains so they could be returned to her family,” said Chastain. “Rather than say, ‘No, I’m not involved,’ she said, ‘I can’t help you with that.’”
Chastain pulled Askea’s husband, Joe, aside and told him, as he told the wife, there would be no prosecution if she confessed to involvement in the disappearance. Chastain told the husband she could write what she knew and put it in an envelope that would not be opened until after her death. He explained again, all he wanted to know was where to find Laura Flink.
Askea died in 2008. There was no letter, no confession.
Chastain and Lougheed believe Askea was involved in what they believe was Laura Flink’s murder. Lougheed said she does not believe Askea acted alone, she had to have help.
Then there’s another odd connection, involving a convicted murderer named William Batten. Turns out Batten and Laura Flink had dated once or twice, said Chastain, not long before Laura Flink disappeared.
In 1979, Batten was arrested for the gruesome murders of teenagers Gaelisa Burton and Tina Jacobsen at a beach in, of all places, Moclips.
Capt. Dave Johnson, who just retired last month from the Aberdeen Police Department, interviewed Batten at McNeil Island, where he denied any involvement in Laura Flink’s disappearance.
“When he killed the two women he couldn’t stop confessing,” said Chastain. Batten was assured he would face no additional time if he had involvement in Laura Flink’s disappearance. Batten said he absolutely had not, and offered to take a polygraph test to prove it. He is now serving out his sentence at Stafford Creek Corrections Center and won’t be up for parole until 2046.
Laura Flink’s housemate has been cooperative with investigators. The man believed to have been the father of the child Laura Flink was pregnant with at the time of her disappearance — who was not Tom Flink’s father, John Flink — was equally cooperative. Neither is believed to have any connection to the disappearance.
Tom Flink has moved on, as best he can. He reconnected with his father John Flink and remained in touch with him until the elder Flink’s death. Tom Flink was still legally Tom Bondurant until Delores Bondurant died in the mid-1990s, when he legally changed his surname and those of his wife and two sons to Flink.
But there is no closure. The pain of the loss is still very real, and goes beyond that of Tom’s. Chastain said when he took up the case, he contacted one of the women Laura Flink had asked to accompany her to Moclips the day she disappeared. When Chastain told the woman why he was there, she burst into tears.
Lougheed and Chastain believe they are looking for remains, but that doesn’t stop them from searching the internet for signs of life from Laura Flink.
Tom Flink and the investigators agree, somebody out there knows something. Someone in the little community of Moclips was involved, heard rumors, saw something or listened to gossip, they believe. Maybe that somebody thinks what they know or think they know is trivial, meaningless. But when it comes to closure for a son, nothing is meaningless.