The Amber Townsend murder case remains open, for now, but District Attorney Paul Frasier said the only suspect in the incident is Matthew Tyler Michel, who was killed by police June 14.
Townsend was found murdered three days earlier, when she was shot while walking down Cape Arago Highway. At the time of the incident, Frasier said police had no suspect and asked the public to provide any video they might have taken on Cape Arago Highway that Saturday morning.
Linking Michel to the case was the result of what Frasier called, “old-fashioned police work, shoe leather.”
Frasier explained after officers found Townsend’s body, they quickly came to the conclusion she was shot by a shotgun and very likely from inside a vehicle. Frasier said the evidence of the scene indicated a shotgun shooting slugs was used because police found wadding related to shotgun. Since there were no pellets around the area or in Townsend, officers determined slugs were used. Frasier said the absence of spent shells were found, they believed the shooting was from inside a vehicle, where the spent shells would have ejected inside.
With that theory, officers led by the Coos County Sheriff’s Office went to work. Officers went to businesses and homeowners in the area, asking for any surveillance video of the morning of June 11. They found multiple videos that showed Townsend walking from Charleston toward Coos Bay and back, after stopping at a market.
Based on those videos, officers were able to track Townsend. She was last seen leaving a video screen close to where her body was fund.
“There was nobody walking with her, we saw nobody walking ahead of her or behind her,” Frasier said. “The fact that we saw no one with here and found no shotgun shells at the scene, we believe she was shot from a vehicle.”
While continuing to review video, officers found a video that showed a black SUV driving toward Coos Bay coming to a stop on the side of the road shortly after Townsend walked off the screen. In the video, the driver, who can’t be identified, can be seen looking back behind him. The driver then makes a U-turn, driving toward where Townsend is walking. Shortly after, the same video is seen, again driving toward Coos Bay at a high rate of speed.
Frasier said seeing the video makes him think the driver sees Townsend and stops, contemplates doing something, turns around and shoots her before turning again and speeding away from the scene.
While the SUV can be seen on the video, it had no front license plate, so it could not be identified. So officers went back to the street, asking again for videos from businesses from Empire to Charleston, hoping to get a better look at the SUV.
On June 14, officers were finally able to get a video from the Charleston area that showed the same SUV and this time the license plate was clear. With that information, police went to the address of the registered owner, who told officers he recently sold the SUV to Michel, who paid several thousand in cash.
Police began looking into Michel, learning he had a criminal record and was on felony probation. While talking to his probation officer, officers learned he had a felony warrant. But finding him would not be easy. The probation officer said he was homeless and give officers and idea where he usually stayed. When he was not found in that location, Coos Bay police decided to drive through the parking lots of hotels along Highway 101, looking for the SUV.
After searching through several lots, officers found the SUV at the Global Inn, where the manager confirmed he was staying. Within minutes of police going to his door, Michel was shot by two officers, who have been cleared of any wrongdoing in the incident.
While Michel died from his injuries, the investigation into the Townsend murder continued. A search of the hotel room and the SUV did not reveal a shotgun, but officers found a large sum of cash, a new laptop computer, new clothing, a knife and a .300 magnum rifle with a scope. Officers also found ammunition and body armor.
They did locate a new shotgun cleaning kit for a 12 gauge shotgun.
“We also found in talking to the cleaning crews, he had shotgun ammunition in the room,” Frasier said.
In addition, surveillance video from the hotel showed Michel wearing a red/orange colored shirt the morning of Townsend’s murder, which matched the shirt seen on the driver of the black SUV seen near the scene.
Officers also learned Michel had previously lived in a trailer when Townsend and her boyfriend, moving out about a year before the murder.
“We are going to keep the Townsend investigation open for the time being,” Frasier said. “There are a few things I’ve asked the police to do. For instance, we have Miss Townsend’s phone and we’d like to get a detective to look at that. We have Mr. Michel’s phone, and we’d like to look at that.”
While Frasier said he is not closing the case, “the evidence discovered so far indicates that Mr. Michel killed Amber Townsend. No other suspects or persons of interest have been developed in the case.”