On August 31, 1961, 8-year-old Ann Marie Burr and the rest of her family hunkered down for the night. Ann, the eldest of four, and her sister went to sleep in their upstairs bedroom that night instead of in the fort in the basement where the other two siblings spent the night. It was a seemingly ordinary night for the Burrs; Beverly, the mother, chained and locked the front door as she usually did before heading to bed herself.
The only thing is, this was the least ordinary night for not just the Burrs but the entire community in Tacoma, Washington. Why? Because the next morning, one of the girls was gone. The golden-haired, hazel-eyed Ann Marie simply vanished into the night – nowhere to be found ever again.
The disappearance of little Ann Marie Burr ignited a mass search for the missing girl, leading the police to many dead-ends and some unexpected turns. One of those paths led to a notorious serial killer. But before we can get to the suspects in this whodunit, we need to start at the beginning. And it all began at the Burr family household, which sat near the 3000 block of North 14th Street in Tacoma, Washington.
Ann Marie was sharing her bedroom with her three-year-old sister, Mary, who had recently injured her arm. In the middle of the night, Ann Marie brought Mary to their parents’ room to tell them that her cast was bothering her.
Their parents, Donald and Beverly, told the girls to go back to their room – that she would be fine. Little did they know that it would be the last time they would ever see Ann Marie. In the morning, at about 5:30 a.m., Beverly went into the girls’ room and saw that Ann Marie wasn’t in her bed. Bizarrely, there was no sign of a struggle.
Beverly remembered that she had locked and chained the front door (as usual) the night before, which is why she couldn’t understand why the front door was now unlocked from the inside and left slightly open. She also noticed that the living room window was wide open.
That window was usually left only a tad open to accommodate the TV antennae wire, so the fact that it was wide open was notable. Then there was the garden bench in the backyard that had been moved under the open window. Did Ann Marie climb out the living room window in the middle of the night?
Donald and Beverly recalled hearing their dog Barney (a black cocker spaniel) barking that night, but dogs bark sometimes – they didn’t think much of it. If anything, they figured the heavy rainstorm scared the dog. Ann Marie’s other brother and sister, who were sleeping in the fort they built in the basement, didn’t hear anything. They slept soundly.
The parents frantically searched the house, opening every door, looking in every nook and cranny, checking under the beds – nothing. So, they called the police. Meanwhile, they were thinking of every possible scenario. Where on earth is their daughter? Did someone break in? Or did she get lured out of the house?
The day before was Wednesday, August 30, 1961 – the day before Labor Day weekend. There was unusually warm weather passing through the Pacific Northwest. Beverly, 33, spent the day getting her four kids ready for the approaching school year at Grant Elementary (the same school Beverly went to as a child).
Julie was seven, Greg was five, and Mary was three. Ann Marie, the eldest at eight years old, was particularly excited to start third grade. The day before her disappearance, Ann Marie and her siblings spent the day playing with other kids in the neighborhood.
Ann Marie was invited to have a sleepover at a friend’s house, but Beverly wanted her home to prepare for the beginning of school. Greg and Julie were allowed to spend one last night in their makeshift fort in the basement. Julie and Ann Marie usually shared a bedroom, but for this night, Mary moved into Ann Marie’s room for the night.
Beverly recalled being exhausted from the warm weather and didn’t sleep well. Both she and Donald said they thought they heard noises in the yard at night. At about 11 p.m., Beverly locked up the house. Donald, in the meantime, put Barney on the landing between the kitchen and the back door.
That night, a storm swept through the city – trees blew down, lights went out, and the neighborhood was left in darkness. The next morning, Ann Marie was gone. In her bathrobe, Beverly went to neighbors’ houses, knocking on doors and asking if they had seen her daughter.
No one had seen her. Beverley walked around the side of their house, which is when she saw the garden stool beneath the open living room window. She ran to Donald to wake him up and then called the police. When the cops arrived, they found a very light sneaker print (which looked like a size 6 or 7 Keds sneaker) outside the living room window.
It was suspected that someone – a kidnapper perhaps – entered the home through the open window, took Ann Marie from her room, and then left through the front door. But why?
There wasn’t much evidence at the scene. Aside from the shoe print, investigators found a strand of red thread that was stuck inside the window jamb. The cops went door to door, asking neighbors if they saw anything, and it turns out that the Burrs’ neighbors reported seeing someone in their yard.
This person was seen peeping into windows a few days prior to Ann Marie’s disappearance. The front page of that day’s first edition newspaper (The Tacoma News-Tribune) was a story about the night’s storm. Half an inch of rain had fallen, and hundreds of people lost power.
There also was a small last-minute piece inserted about Ann Marie’s disappearance. The paper reported that 8-year-old Ann Marie Burr, of 3009 North 14th Street, Tacoma, went missing from her bed early that morning.
It was also reported that she might be a possible victim of amnesia. The police got comfortable in the Burrs’ basement with a phone set up, hoping to record a potential ransom demand from the assumed kidnapper. But no such call was ever made.
The newspaper’s second edition of that day included a longer story and a photo of Ann Marie. In the photo, she’s wearing a paper lei she won at a summer fair, as well as a headband, a blouse with short sleeves, and pedal pushers. The front-page headline read:
“Girl, 8, Vanishes From Home — Chief Hager Calls for Wide Hunt.” Her disappearance was classified as a kidnapping from the get-go, which in most cases, involves a ransom demand. So, why wasn’t anyone calling to ask for money? And why the Burr family?
Beverly Burr grew up in Tacoma as the daughter of a grocery store owner. Her childhood wasn’t so eventful. The most memorable incident she remembered from her childhood was when her best friend, Haruye Kawanow, was exiled from Tacoma in April 1942.
Not just her, but hundreds of other Japanese Americans were thrown out during World War II, and Beverly had to say goodbye to her friend at the train station. Later, when Beverly was in college, she met Donald Burr. By 1951, they were married.
Beverly was living in one of her father’s cabins on Fox Island and working as a teacher, which she didn’t like. What she really wanted was to be a journalist. The Burrs’ first year of marriage was spent logging in Oregon. Then they settled down in her hometown of North Tacoma.
Don was a civilian employee at a National Guard base called Camp Murray. A Roman Catholic family, they were members of the local St. Patrick’s parish. Beverly later declared that her faith first wavered and then vanished at the same time her daughter did.
North Tacoma was a humble neighborhood, with tidy houses. The Burr house was a brick English-style bungalow built in 1934. But Tacoma had an unflattering nickname: the “Kidnap Capital of the West.” In 1935, three years after the notorious Lindbergh kidnapping, nine-year-old George Weyerhaeuser was kidnapped.
The son of timber baron John Philip Weyerhaeuser, George was taken off the street in broad daylight. A ransom was demanded, and the boys’ parents paid $200,000. Luckily, the boy was unharmed, and an arrest was made days later. The following Christmas, a man broke into a mansion in Tacoma that belonged to physician William Mattson.
Armed with a gun, the intruder picked up 10-year-old Charles Mattson and ran out. A ransom note was left behind, asking for $28,000. Two weeks later, Charles’ naked body was found in a snow-covered field 60 miles away near Everett. The child’s murder was never solved.
Beverly Burr later mentioned that she regretted teaching her kids that the world is safe. Like many other families in the community, she was in the blue regarding just how unsafe the world around them really was. Especially their own community.
Beverly had no idea that the city’s police records were full of “sex perverts, exhibitionists, sex oddballs, psychos, crackpots, half-wits, queers, and women with lesbian tendencies,” as was written in the reports.
As for Donald, he said he never trusted some of his neighbors, such as the woman across the street who spent time in an insane asylum after giving birth to a mixed-race baby. Then there was his other male neighbor who liked to sunbathe nude in his backyard. The neighborhood kids would visit him because he gave them candy. No wonder Mr. Burr didn’t trust him…
Beverly was eight years old when the Charles Mattson murder took place, and here she was all these years later, and her own eight-year-old was missing. Beverly remembered riding her bike with her friends past the Mattson house. She pointed to it and declared, “That’s where the boy was taken from.”
Just like her daughter’s case, the Mattson case was also front-page news, and it also stirred a media storm. TV was relatively new back then, and the very first interview with Beverly Burr was filmed by KOMO-TV, a station in Seattle, just hours after Ann Marie went missing.
“Probably the worst has happened to our little girl. I just hope they find her,” Beverly said dreadfully in the interview. Just before that Labor Day weekend, neighbors observed a man selling cookware in the area, which was strange since he wasn’t carrying any pots or pans.
The paper was reporting news about the Soviet Union and nuclear weapons. Meanwhile, some man was going door to door, offering plans for basement bomb shelters. North Tacoma had another Burr family, and the father was also named Donald. He happened to have more money than Ann Marie’s dad.
Could the other Burr daughter – a little girl named Debra – be the intended kidnapping victim? Debra’s father, Donald F. Burr, was an architect who lived in nearby Lakewood. He and his wife had a messy divorce, which led detectives to wonder for a while if the wrong girl really had been taken in a custody dispute.
But that wasn’t the case. The kidnapping left police baffled. Investigators questioned sex offenders in the area, but they started to speculate that Ann Marie might have known her abductor.
As soon as the police were called to the Burr home, Donald and his brother Raleigh searched the neighborhood. They looked through construction sites at the University of Puget Sound, which was located about two blocks away.
At the time, seven campus buildings were under construction, which meant lots of deep ditches and excavated sites. Near one of the building sites, the men noticed a teenager kicking dirt into a ditch with his foot. They could have sworn they saw a smirk on the kid’s face, too. Donald would never forget the face of the teen standing nearby and watching them search for his daughter.
… Was it a young Ted Bundy?
Donald urged the police to search the university’s campus, which they did, and what they found were no open ditches. By the time they searched the site, only days after Ann Marie was kidnapped, all the ditches were filled, and the roads opened.
Traffic was already driving over the spot where that creepy teenaged boy was standing with that smirk on his face. Still, the hunt for Ann Marie turned out to be the largest search in Tacoma history; it lasted months. The police, National Guardsmen, and Fort Lewis soldiers spent hours upon hours scouring fields, abandoned buildings, sewers, and waterways.
Detectives crawled under houses and searched attics, but the search was fruitless. A three-man crew searched the sewage system, going underground and using portable lights to probe the pitch-black flumes of the city’s sewer network through the North End.
Volunteer scuba divers searched the main outfall pipe on Commencement Bay – near Tacoma’s favorite nightspot, The Top of the Ocean. There, a rushing flow of storm drainage and sewage could easily push a body out into the bay. But they found nothing.
On the morning of August 31, veteran detectives of Tacoma, Tony Zatkovich and Ted Strand arrived at the Burr residence. Beverly told them everything she knew, except for the fact that she had little to no hope. “When I first saw that window open, I knew I would never see her again,” the mother said regretfully, years later.
“I knew I would never know what happened,” she said years later. “It came to me, just like that. It was a strong feeling.” She said she thought, “What’s the point?” She knew her daughter was gone, and she would never see her again.
The police tried questioning little Mary Burr, who was only three at the time. Mary happened to be the last person to see her sister alive, but the toddler was simply too young to articulate if she had seen anything.
There were so many unanswered questions. Did Ann Marie know her kidnapper? Did the intruder already know the layout of the house and go directly to her bedroom? Why didn’t she make any noise? Tacoma police went on to question thousands of people and conducted polygraph tests on hundreds of them.
The biggest problem was the lack of evidence and witnesses. There were no fingerprints, no ransom, no weapons, and no body. All they had was a single thread and a shoeprint. Detectives went to countless shoe stores, trying to track down a tennis shoe that matched.
For a while, the leading suspects were a teenaged neighbor who flirted with Ann Marie and her cousin (who later became a convicted child molester). Other suspects would surface over the years. In 1964, an auto parts salesman from Spokane was reported to have taken a 10-year-old girl from Tacoma on a ride in his Buick convertible.
Strangely enough, she was dropped off a few days later, safe and sound. The man, however, shot himself as soon as the FBI pounded on his door in Portland, Oregon. A year later, a prison inmate in Oklahoma wrote a letter to the Burrs.
The prisoner claimed that he and a friend of his were picking beans on an Oregon farm when they took Ann Marie. The Burrs gave the letter to the police, and the prisoner was flown to Oregon, and the referenced field was dug up. Nothing was found.
Of all the suspects, one person was of particular interest, and to this day, he is considered a very likely culprit in the case. I’m sure you’ve all heard of Ted Bundy, yes? We know of the famed serial killer now, but back in 1961, no one suspected 14-year-old Ted of being a future sociopath, let alone of being the one who took Ann Marie.
But there happen to be many red flags – signs that can’t go unnoticed. Ted Bundy actually lived in North Tacoma after his mother relocated the family from Pennsylvania in 1951. The boy was known to the police as a peeping tom (sound familiar?) and shoplifter.
In 1946, Eleanor Louise Cowell was unmarried and pregnant, so she went to the Elizabeth Lund Home for Unwed Mothers in Burlington, Vermont. There, she gave birth to her son on November 24, 1946. She then left her baby, returned home, and then came back to retrieve the boy at her father’s insistence.
Unsurprisingly, Ted Cowell (later Bundy), was a damaged child. In 1986, in preparation for a death-row legal appeal, tests were performed on him, and a psychologist concluded that he lacked “any core experience of care and nurturance or early emotional sustenance.”
In North Tacoma, Eleanor married a man named Johnnie Bundy and raised four more children. By the mid- ‘70s, her firstborn was caught abducting, raping, and beating women to death. He spent 11 years on death row, during which period he participated in countless interviews with journalists, a psychiatrist, and researchers.
A total of 36 murders have been attributed to him, but the real number is believed to be closer to 50. Bundy reportedly told a cop, “Add one digit to that, and you’ll have it.” Bundy himself implied that there were hundreds. His final victim was killed in Florida, where he was arrested in 1978. As for his first victim? Well, it might very well have been Ann Marie Burr.
Bundy lived only a few blocks away from the Burrs, and his disturbing behavior made him a possible suspect in the kidnapping. During his childhood, stories emerged about violence, animal mutilation, and sexual deviancy.
One story was about Bundy’s aunt waking up from a nap to find that three-year-old Ted had taken knives from the kitchen and placed them on the bed around her while she was sleeping. The Bundys came to North Tacoma to be closer to the boy’s great-uncle Jack Cowell, a music professor. As it turns out, Cowell was also Ann Marie’s piano teacher.
Bundy, who went to Mason Middle School, worked an early morning newspaper shift at the time of Ann Marie’s disappearance. The Burrs’ neighborhood was in his route, meaning he knew the area very well.
A decade later, relatives of the Burrs would tell the authorities that Bundy and Ann Marie actually knew each other and were “friendly.” In other words, she wouldn’t have been scared of him if she saw him. It was only in the mid- ‘70s when Bundy was becoming a famous killer, that police started looking at him as a potential suspect.
Rebecca Morris, the author of Ted and Ann — The Mystery of a Missing Child and Her Neighbor, spent four years researching the killer’s connection to Ann Marie. According to Morris, Bundy confessed to abducting and killing Ann Marie during a prison interview with a college professor who was studying serial killers.
Those who spent time with Bundy noted that he tended to talk in the third person and speak hypothetically whenever he discussed how serial killers operate. Experts felt confident over the years that when doing so, Bundy was speaking about his own crimes.
Bundy believed that speaking in the third person protected him from being prosecuted for crimes he wasn’t technically admitting to. Based on his stories, it’s definitely in the realm of possibility that he began killing people in the 1960s.
What we do know is that when Bundy met with Dr. Ronald Holmes, from the University of Louisville’s School of Justice Administration, Bundy told one of his third-person stories. He recalled having “stalked, strangled and sexually mauled his first victim, an eight-year-old girl who mysteriously vanished from her Tacoma home 26 years ago.”
His admission only made the news the following year. Bundy also told Holmes that he “stashed the body of Ann Marie Burr in a muddy pit, possibly near the University of Puget Sound.” Audio-taped interviews from 1980 and ‘81, with journalists Stephen Michaud and Hugh Aynesworth, revealed his told a story about killing a girl in an orchard.
The interviews were then made into a book called The Only Living Witness. In 1983, Beverly and Donald Burr read the book. Three years later, in May 1986 (three years before his scheduled execution), Beverly wrote a letter to Bundy…
“With all appeals likely to be refused and soon, there is nothing left for you in this world; there can STILL be everything good for you in the next. You have nothing more to lose in this world. Will you write to me regarding Ann Marie?”
Within a few days, Bundy sent his response, but he never admitted to abducting Ann Marie. In his letter, he wrote, “I can certainly understand you doing everything you can to find your daughter. Unfortunately, you have been misled by what can only be called rumors about me.”
He went on to state that he “had nothing to do with her disappearance” and that he didn’t, as a 14-year-old boy, “wander the streets late at night.” He ended his letter with, “If there is still something you wish to ask me about this please don’t hesitate to write again. God bless you and be with you, peace, ted.”
So, should we believe a convicted serial killer? Bundy was finally executed on January 24, 1989. The Burrs listened to the radio that evening, hoping to hear of any more confessions, specifically their daughter’s, prior to his death. But there weren’t any.
The Burrs ended moving to another home and adopting a child, an infant they named Laura, several years after the disappearance. In the mid- ‘90s, Beverly got a call from a psychiatrist in Tacoma. He told her that he believed one of his patients was Ann Marie.
Beverly then baked an apple pie and invited this woman over. “I took one look at her and knew it wasn’t her,” she recalled. The woman told Beverly that she remembered having a canary (as did Ann Marie). The Burrs went on to visit her around five or six times.
Julie Burr encouraged her parents to have the three of them do a DNA test. The results proved that Beverly was right: The woman was not her daughter. In 1999, when Ann Marie would have been 47 years old, after their daughter vanished the Burrs held a memorial service for Ann Marie.
They “buried” her but never stopped being haunted by questions. “I still think it was someone she knew,” Beverly concluded. But all in all, she was actually glad that she didn’t know the details of how Ann died.
Donald died in 2003, followed by Beverly in 2008. Both never found out what happened to their child. Detectives Strand and Zatkovich worked for more than five years to solve the case. After they retired, they spent 30 additional years talking it through.
Zatkovich had gone back to the police department to retrieve the case file. He was disappointed to hear that half of it was missing. The two detectives were still trying to solve the case when they died: Strand in 1997 and Zatkovich in 2004.
In 2011, 50 years after her disappearance, evidence was submitted to the Washington State Patrol Crime Lab for DNA testing. A DNA profile was made using a vial of Ted Bundy’s blood preserved for decades.
Weeks later, it was reported that the evidence that was gathered at the home of the Burrs didn’t contain enough measurable DNA to produce a complete profile. The Tacoma Police Department stated: “This avenue hit a dead end, but the investigation itself is not over.”