Detective hopes film clip will spur new leads

Careaga murder case

SEABECK — Kitsap County Sheriff’s investigators will release a video clip the week of Jan. 9 in hopes of generating more tips in the Careaga murder case.

Kitsap County Sheriff’s Detective Lt. Jon Van Gesen would not disclose the video’s content and origin. He said it’s “not as significant” as the video of a possible person of interest seen at the Target store in Silverdale. But it may contain something that could lead to more information from the public.

“We’ll be pushing out another video clip of some information, trying to solicit tips,” Van Gesen said. “We’re just putting that out there in hopes of getting the public’s help and reminding people of the anniversary date” of the murders.

Christale Careaga, her son Johnathon Higgins, and stepson Hunter Schaap were found dead in their Seabeck home late Jan. 27, 2017. John D. Careaga, Christale’s husband, was found dead the next day at another location — in his pickup truck, at a Mason County tree farm. Fire had been set to the house and pickup. Authorities say all four were murdered and that the slayings were not random.

Authorities are not releasing the manner or cause of death.

John and Christale Careaga owned two local businesses — Juanito’s Taqueria and Christale’s Java Hut — and had a licensed medical marijuana grow on their property. Earlier, authorities said no marijuana plants were taken, nor was $60,000 cash that was in a safe in the house, although Van Gesen said it’s not known whether the suspect or suspects knew of the cash in the safe.

Van Gesen said the sheriff’s office has a lead officer and a co-lead officer assigned to the case, and all detectives are assisting in addition to their regular daily workloads. Several outside agencies are assisting as well, Van Gesen said.

Van Gesen said he believes an arrest or arrests will be made. “We’re getting closer every day. It’s a very complicated case,” he said. “We have people we’re looking at and continue to look at. We haven’t brought in anyone [for questioning], but we have contacted hundreds of citizens that we’ve interviewed.”

Information about the Careaga murders can be reported anonymously to sheriff’s Detective Lissa Gundrum, 360-337-5669. Crime Stoppers of Puget Sound is offering a $4,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the suspect or suspects. Call 1-800-222-TIPS or go to www.crimestoppers.com. Again, callers can remain anonymous.

To recap:

At 11:28 p.m. Jan. 27, 2017, a caller phoned 911, reporting violence at the Careaga home near Lake Tahuyeh. Investigators later identified the caller as Hunter E. Schaap, 16.

At 11:35 p.m., Central Kitsap Fire & Rescue Engine 56 arrived at the home, which is situated on a large, forested lot. Deputies searched outbuildings for other people and called in the King County sheriff’s helicopter to search the surrounding woods from the air.

At 11:55 p.m., firefighters extinguished the house fire and, after the smoke cleared, investigators entered and found three bodies inside. The three were identified as Christale Lynn Careaga, 37; her son, Johnathon F. Higgins, 16; and her husband’s stepson from a previous marriage, Hunter Schaap. The three were found in separate rooms of the home, Gundrum said Feb. 3.

There was no evidence of forced entry and no evidence of a struggle, Gundrum said in an earlier interview. “Not that we can tell,” she said. However, the scene was altered by the house fire and the process of extinguishing the fire, she said.

The search began for Christale’s husband, John Careaga, and his F-150 pickup. At 5:27 p.m. Jan. 29, investigators found Careaga’s body in his truck, which had been destroyed by fire, at a tree farm in Mason County. Careaga’s remains were identified on Jan. 31; investigators determined he had been murdered.

At 9 p.m., about 2.5 hours before violence broke out at his home, John Careaga was shopping at the Camp Union Store less than three miles from his home. The store’s video surveillance tape documented Careaga’s visit there.

Did he go home or was he intercepted? “We don’t have that information, and unfortunately there’s nobody to ask,” Gundrum said in an earlier interview. Investigators believe he was killed elsewhere. “We do feel that John was the focus because he was killed at a separate location than his family,” Gundrum said.

As for motive: “It’s all in the mind of killer or killers,” Van Gesen said. “It could be revenge, it could be a crime of passion, it could be retaliation. We will never truly know what the motive is [until trial]. That’s the why everyone wants to know.”

— Richard Walker is managing editor of Kitsap News Group. Contact him at rwalker@soundpublishing.com.

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