Fear Factor

Two serial murderers loom among us. Inside the case of the Baseline Killer's first Phoenix victim

When Tina fails to show up for work on the morning of December 13, her co-workers immediately are worried. One of her nicknames is "Old Faithful," in reference to her reliability and punctuality.

Tina does not carry a cell phone and does not have a car.

Her colleagues wonder aloud if she somehow could have missed the city bus she takes from her Tempe apartment every day.

The bulletin board honoring Tina Washington at the day-care center where she worked.
The bulletin board honoring Tina Washington at the day-care center where she worked.

Tina lives with two teenage sons, both of whom, oddly enough, are named Kenny (Kenny Washington III and Kenny Washington IV). She also has an older son from another relationship, Ricky Cunningham.

Tina's best friend is Kathy Watson, a Tempe widow who also works at Cactus Preschool. Tina is about to become godmother to Kathy's first grandchild, and she also has been organizing a 50th birthday party for her pal.

Kathy and Tina had made plans to go to a Wal-Mart after work the previous evening to buy Christmas presents.

But, surprisingly, Kathy had never heard from her friend that night.

The moment that Kathy gets to work at 8 a.m., Maria Rodriguez asks her if she knows Tina's whereabouts.

She does not.

Tina's sister, Teresa Cunningham, is an aide at Cactus Preschool. She also has not spoken to Tina since yesterday afternoon at school.

Maria Rodriguez finally is able to contact Kenny Washington IV, who lives with his mother. He soon reports nervously that it does not look as if his mom slept at home the previous night.

Kenny — whose friends call him "Red" — immediately calls Tempe police to report that his mother is missing. He also calls local hospitals. No luck.

"My mom wouldn't just go missing," he later tells New Times in an interview. "She was very responsible. [She was all about] doing what you say you're gonna do, showing up for work on time, being straight with people."

The Cactus staffers compare notes: Tina had punched out at work the previous evening at 6:13. She had left work with a small gift bag from an employee holiday gift exchange.

Normally, Tina would have crossed two thoroughfares (40th Street and Southern Avenue) to the bus stop at the southeast corner of the intersection.

It would have been only a minute or two by foot with favorable traffic signals.

Inside the reception area at Cactus Preschool, Alex Femenia asks to see the school's director.


Maria Rodriguez's face is etched with fear as she greets the detective.

Not one to pull punches, Femenia immediately informs her that Tina is dead, murdered by an unknown party.

Rodriguez starts to sob.

"Is this certain?" she asks the cop after gathering herself.

"They found her," Femenia says. "I know this is terrible news, and there's nothing anyone can say to you right now. But we can find this guy."

"You suspect someone she knew?" Rodriguez asks.

"We're looking at all angles," Femenia replies. "We're not pointing fingers at anyone. Right now, it's a mystery."

Minutes later, Femenia tells Teresa Cunningham that her sister's been killed. She falls into a chair, shaking uncontrollably, and starts to hyperventilate.

Femenia puts his arm around Teresa and tries to calm her. Maria Rodriguez gives her a brown paper bag to breathe into, which seems to help some.

Teresa is able to tell the detective that Tina never carried much cash, had no credit cards, her estranged boyfriend is in jail, and an ex-husband lives in Texas.

"I called her at home last night, but she didn't call back," Tina's sister says. "I don't know why someone would do that to her, because she never did nothing to anybody. She was a humble, sweet girl."

Alex Femenia calls Red Washington at 11 a.m. and asks him to come by the school as soon as possible.

"We just want to talk with you," the detective says.

By now, the school's co-owners, James and Mike Emch, also have showed up. The brothers, who own eight other preschools and day-care centers around the Valley, are stunned by the tragic events and are trying to calm everybody down.

Within 20 minutes, Red drives up to the school in a car with some pals, and Femenia gives him the awful news.

Red, a strapping young man, gets in the detective's face, literally.

"You better find out who did this!" he bellows at Femenia. "Or you're gonna be coming after me!"

The silver-haired cop defuses the potentially explosive situation:

"Hang in there, babe — for your mom."

That one hits Red hard.

"[Somebody] killed my mama," he says to no one in particular, before returning to the car and speeding off for parts unknown.

Red recalled the dreadful moment in the later interview with New Times:

"I'm expecting them to tell me that my mom's inside the school, that she's fine. I thought she would be here forever, and then in the blink of an eye. . . . She was my mother and my father, and to hear that I lost the most important person in my life."

Before Femenia leaves the school grounds, he learns a few more things:

Tina had complained of being harassed at the bus stop by two black men. Or maybe it had been one black man and one Hispanic man. One of the men may have worn a hooded sweatshirt.

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4 comments
Alisha Coleman
Alisha Coleman

hi tina was a wonderful women. my fiance kenneth washington the third misses her alot she will always be in our hearts. rest in paradise mother in law. to his uncle and his bother call me at 602 507 1756

Newdirectionsclubhouse
Newdirectionsclubhouse

this was my niece....a wonderful person who did not deserve to leave this world in the manner she did. i too share the "PAIN AND ANIMOSITY " Although it's been five years there is not a day that I don't think of her. We recently had to bury Tina's Grandmother and now the family has to grieve again.I'm not one who wishes to seek revenge on any individual,but as my nephew stated...I sincerely wish whoever is responsible for this crime gets "ALL" they deserve and more Albert Jackson The uncle of Tina Marie Washington

Ricky Cunningham
Ricky Cunningham

I was reading this article about my mom being killed on her way home and I wanted to say that things are as they said. It was one of the most painful things in life to have to lay your own mother to rest on Christmas eve let alone at all! I felt so much anger towards the person that did this to her and I still do. There were a few things in your story that were wrong however. My brother got his nickname from my aunt not his friends. Also my brothers are not named Kenny! Their name is Kenneth Washington the third and the fourth after their father. It may not mean much to you but it is important to my family. I want everyone out there to know that while my mom was a good woman she also said that when people wrong you you have to stand up for yourself. I plan on making sure the person that did this to her gets everything that is coming to them. If you know anything about this murder send me a message at biggdaddy202003@yahoo.com and I will make sure you are heard. Thank you all for your love and support and to the killer watch out because here I come!!!!!!!

Allishacoleman20
Allishacoleman20

to my fiance's brother let god deal with it. but i hear you. hope all is well.

 
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