KARISSA FRETWELL: Searchers find bodies of mother, son in rural Yamhill County

The disappearance of Karissa Fretwell and her 3-year-old son was resolved Saturday with the discovery of their bodies in a remote wooded area in Yamhill County.

Law enforcement officials on Sunday announced that searchers found the two, and an autopsy established the 25-year-old single mother from Salem had been shot to death. The cause of her son’s death hasn’t been established.

Authorities have already accused the boy’s father, Michael J. Wolfe, 52, of Gaston, of their murders. He has been in the Yamhill County Jail since his arrest in Portland on May 24.

Police initiated an intense search Saturday, but the law enforcement press release issued Sunday gave no indication what led them to the site, about 10 miles west of the town of Yamhill in the foothills of the Coast Range.

Police “searched the heavily wooded and very remote area for about two hours before locating two bodies,” according to a joint news release from the Yamhill County Sheriff’s Office, the Salem Police Department and the Yamhill County District Attorney Brad Berry.

The search was conducted by members of the Yamhill County Search and Rescue, Washington County Search and Rescue, North Oregon Search and Rescue, Mountain Wave Search and Rescue, McMinnville Fire Department, the Yamhill County Sheriff’s Office, Oregon State Police and the Yamhill City Police Department.

Authorities weren’t available Sunday to provide details beyond the press release.

Wolfe is scheduled to be arraigned Thursday, June 20, in Yamhill County Circuit Court on two counts of aggravated murder, two counts of kidnapping, and one count of aggravated murder involving domestic violence.

The discovery ended the hopes of friends and relatives that Fretwell and her son somehow would be found alive. They have kept up encouraging posts on social media and held a vigil on Memorial Day at a park northwest of Salem.

On Sunday, the posts turned to prayer and condolences.

“May both of their beautiful souls rest in peace,” wrote one commenter on Facebook.

“My heart just breaks hearing. I had hoped for the best but feared this,” said another.

“We will miss them and we love them dearly. My heart is broken,” said another message.

Friends said Fretwell and Wolfe met at Cascade Steel Rolling Mills in McMinnville and he subsequently invited Fretwell to a weekend beach trip that occurred in 2015. Fretwell subsequently learned she was pregnant with Billy and then found that Wolfe was married.

A court-ordered test last year established that Wolfe was the father and proceedings directed him to pay monthly support. A hearing in April related to what that amount should be.

The indictment of Wolfe indicates that the murders happened hours after Fretwell was last seen. That was the afternoon of Monday, May 13. Her babysitter later reported to police that Fretwell, who was working as a security guard, picked up her son late that afternoon.

An affidavit by Salem Police Det. Anthony VanDekoppel supporting Wolfe’s later arrest said cell phone records tracked Wolfe from his employer – Cascade Steel Rolling Mills in McMinnville – to the Salem area that night. The affidavit said a text message was sent from Fretwell’s cell phone at 2:27 a.m. from an area near Wolfe’s home – about 40 miles from Salem. Authorities haven’t disclosed the content or the recipient of the message.

A relative who hadn’t heard from Fretwell for days went to her west Salem apartment on Friday, May 17.

The police affidavit said the relative found the door to Fretwell’s home unlocked, the television on, with several essentials still in the apartment. Those included her bank card, her Oregon Trail card for benefits and eyeglasses “she can’t be without.”

Items needed to care for the toddler also were still in the home, the affidavit said.

The next day, police questioned Wolfe at his Gaston home. He told police he hadn’t seen Fretwell since the court proceedings in April. Police questioned him a second time on Monday, May 20 – the same day a neighbor said police started searching Wolfe’s Gaston home.

Four days later, police announced they were seeking Wolfe for more questioning. They also searched a rural property outside the small community of Hopewell, but provided no explanation for what led them to the area. Police also were encamped at the Wolfe home.

Wolfe was arrested in Portland the next day, accused of killing his son and Fretwell.

Michel J. Wolfe, 52, of Gaston, is accused of killing Karissa Fretwell and their son Billy.


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