The news, initially, was scant. There just wasn’t much to go on. And for nearly 20 years, the case went cold.
On Nov. 12, 1992, The Valley Herald – only a few short weeks after being purchased by longtime Spokane Valley businessman Clark Hager – reported what was known: 48-year-old Brian Cole, owner of Cole’s furniture store at 13917 E. Sprague, died at Valley Hospital and Medical Center not long after he was shot twice with a .22-caliber automatic.
Cole, while working late on Nov. 7, 1992, was shot once in the head and once in the lung, causing internal bleeding. It happened while protecting his disabled wife.
Fast-forward two decades. Last week, Spokane County sheriff’s major crimes detectives arrested a 58-year-old suspect in the nearly 2-decade-old case by using forensic evidence that had been collected at the time, said Sgt. Dave Reagan, spokesman for the sheriff.
Patrick K. Gibson was arrested by Detectives Lyle Johnston and Mike Drapeau in Stanwood, Wash., about 6:50 a.m. May 4. Gibson was booked into jail in that city on a first-degree murder charge. He was expected to be transferred to the Spokane County Jail sometime this week.
Cole – who had lived in the Spokane Valley for 12 years after moving from West Virginia -- and his wife were working late in their East Sprague business, Cole’s Traditions in Oak. A man entered the store and demanded their money, stating this was a “stickup.”
Cole responded by saying, “You’re kidding?” The suspect produced a pistol and began aiming it at both of the Coles, Reagan said. The couple explained to the suspect that most customers paid for furniture by check or credit card and that they didn’t have any cash. Cole’s wife handed the robber $18 from her purse.
The irritated suspect then ordered the Coles to the back of the store. Michelle Cole used a scooter because of her multiple sclerosis, and Brian asked the robber if he was going to hurt a handicapped woman. The man said he “just might,” she later told investigators.
That’s when Brian Cole attempted to overpower the suspect and was shot in the head and chest. Although he managed to call 9-1-1, he died of his injuries at the Spokane Valley hospital
During the struggle, Cole was able to do something that, nearly 20 years later, was able to point investigators to Gibson. The victim ripped off the suspect’s baseball cap and sunglasses, knocking away some of the disguise used by the robber.
After Cole died, a memorial fund was set up to help pay for college expenses for his son.
Detectives worked the case extensively, and the case was featured on America’s Most Wanted in January 1993. Still, no suspect was developed, Reagan said.
In December 2010, a review of the case revealed some evidence that had not been submitted for DNA testing – including a fake beard that was worn during the robbery. Once analyzed, Johnston received notification that DNA on the evidence had been matched to Gibson’s DNA profile, on record from a previous conviction and incarceration in the federal prison system.
Johnston researched Gibson’s history and learned that he was not incarcerated at the time of the murder and that his name had been checked by law-enforcement agencies in Seattle, Montana and Nevada during 1992, 1993 and 1994. National crime databases showed he had prior convictions for kidnapping, rape, robbery and unlawful possession of a firearm.
On April, Johnston spoke with FBI Special Agent Frank Harrill about robberies Gibson had previously been convicted of committing, and he learned that Gibson wore similar disguises during the course of those crimes – fake beard, hat and trench coat.
Based on the DNA match and supporting events and information, Johnston obtained an arrest warrant charging Gibson with one count of first-degree murder in connection with the death of Cole in Spokane County as a result of homicidal violence which occurred during the commission of a felony crime, robbery.
Detectives were able to quickly locate Gibson in Stanwood because he is a convicted sex offender and must register his home address.