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Charges finally filed in 1988 murder

Fifteen years ago, 33-year-old Cheryl Pitre finished up her Saturday night shift at P.J.’s Market on Mile Hill Drive and said goodbye to her friend next door. Then the mother of two — including a 1-year-old — drove off.

Four days later, Seattle Police detectives found her bound and beaten body in the trunk of her car. The Mercury Topaz was parked near Lake Union, where her purse had been discovered floating in the water by a passerby the day after she disappeared.

Although investigators from the Seattle Police Department quickly identified a suspect, no charges were filed and the case soon went cold. And it stayed on ice for more than a decade, until suddenly a witness came forward, weaving a tale about the dead woman’s ex-husband and a guy he met in prison.

According to the witness, only two weeks after his acquaintance got out of prison, Pitre’s ex-husband took him to the hardware store to buy supplies, showed him where his ex-wife lived — then gave him several thousand dollars to kill her.

Based on that witness’ testimony and newly tested DNA evidence, King County Prosecutors filed murder charges on Tuesday against Pitre’s ex-husband, Roland Augustin Pitre Jr., and his acquaintance, Frederick James McKee, in connection with her homicide.

Pitre, 51, — serving at least 25 years in prison after an aborted kidnapping attempt on his stepson in Bremerton in 1993 — and McKee, 45 — currently serving 12 years at Walla Walla for manufacturing methamphetamine — are each accused of first-degree murder.

They will be arraigned in King County Superior Court on Feb. 3.

According to documents filed in King County Superior Court, prosecutors believe Pitre hired McKee — whom he met while both were serving time on McNeil Island in the 1980s — to kill his wife only six months after convincing her to take out a $100,000 life insurance policy with him as the beneficiary, although the pair had recently divorced.

Then in June of that year, only four months before her death, Pitre executed a will naming her ex-husband as the prime beneficiary.

Less than a month after her murder, Roland Pitre filed to collect the insurance money. When questioned by the police, he denied having any connection in Cheryl’s death.

Kitsap County Deputy Prosecutor Chris Casad, who worked in the prosecutor’s office at the time of Cheryl Pitre’s murder, said Roland Pitre was the prime suspect from the beginning, and he was happy to see charges had finally been brought.

“They didn’t have the evidence linking him to the crime (at the time),” Casad said.

New evidence, new links

With their case bolstered by testimony linking Pitre to McKee, Seattle Police went back to their evidence vault and pulled out the tape used to bind Cheryl Pitre’s limbs. DNA tests were performed on the tape, which then linked McKee to the crime.

Now detectives not only had the evidence they needed, but the missing pieces of Cheryl Pitre’s last day.

According to the witness, McKee said he abducted Cheryl Pitre from her home on the night of Saturday, Oct. 15, 1988. He choked her until she passed out, then put her in the trunk of her car.

While she was unconscious and bound in the trunk, McKee said he beat her to death.

Armed with new facts, SPD detectives met with both suspects in prison.

During his interview, Roland Pitre admitted he hired McKee to kill his wife, and had agreed to pay him somewhere between $5,000 and $10,000.

On the day of her death, Pitre said he showed McKee where Cheryl Pitre lived, gave him keys to her house, then drove him to the hardware store to buy duct tape and rope.

Pitre, however, told detectives the plan was not designed to kill Cheryl, but as an elaborate scheme to win his wife back. He said he was supposed to intervene at the last moment, preventing McKee from harming her.

He was unsuccessful, he told detectives, because he “blacked out” and only remembered when he woke up the next day, according to details printed in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

Although the murder was a tragic and violent end for Cheryl Pitre, it was the end to only one chapter of Pitre’s criminal career.

Troubled marriage, violent past

Roland and Cheryl Pitre married in the mid 1970s. The couple soon moved to Island County and had their first child in 1978.

Less than a year after the baby was born, however, the Pitres separated and Cheryl took her daughter to Pennsylvania to live with her family.

Back in Washington, Roland began an affair with a married woman. In July of 1980, the woman’s husband was shot to death at his home in Oak Harbor.

Pitre was quickly arrested and admitted to police he hired someone to kill the husband. He pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and was sent to prison.

After his conviction, he was dishonorably discharged from the U.S. Marine Corps.

While serving his sentence on McNeill Island, Pitre not only met McKee, he began calling his wife Cheryl again. Over time, Pitre was able to convince her he was not guilty of the murder and persuaded her to move back to Washington.

Cheryl Pitre and her daughter then moved to Port Orchard to be close to Pitre. They visited nearly every weekend and, when he was paroled in 1986, Pitre came to live with them again.

In 1987, the couple had their second child, a son, but the next year separated again and ultimately divorced.

Not long after he moved out of his wife’s home, Pitre found a new girlfriend and moved in with her.

Soon after Cheryl’s death in October, Pitre married the new girlfriend. The couple lived in Bremerton with her and Pitre's children, whom his new wife eventually adopted.

Although Pitre remained uncharged in Cheryl’s death, he was arrested in 1993 after hatching a scheme with his mistress to kidnap his 19-year-old stepson son and demand several hundred thousand dollars ransom from his wife's family.

According to documents filed in Kitsap County Superior court, on March 21, 1993 pitre and Cheryl Alton — whom he met at church — lured the teen to a local restaurant and with a crank call. When the teen returned to his home — where he lived with his mom, now estranged from Roland — the pair was waiting for him, wearing ski masks and holding a gun.

However, when Pitre reportedly put the gun to the victim's head, the teen screamed loud enough to alert the neighbors. When one of them called out to ask if he was OK, Pitre and Alton ran away.

Later that evening, Kathy Pitre called the Bremerton Police Department and provided evidence that strongly pointed to her husband, which included bags left at the scene that Pitre's daughter recognized as his.

Alton was also charged with first-degree burglary and conspiracy to commit kidnapping. She pleaded guilty and was sentenced in 1993.

According to spokesman Dan Donohoe, the latest charges against Pitre were brought by the King County Prosecutor’s Office because Cheryl Pitre’s body was discovered in Seattle.

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