KELSO, Washington - Detectives identified a suspect in the murder of a Kelso man at his home last year based on an extensive investigation. Over the course of seven months, detectives with the Cowlitz County Sheriff's Office identified Stephen Penwarden of Seaside, Oregon as the suspect in the murder of Kelso resident Rick Huckaby. Penwarden committed suicide on February 24th, 2020.
At 1911 hours November 12, 2019 Rick Huckaby was shot by an unknown suspect who had entered Huckaby's Kelso residence. Huckaby's wife was in the home at the time of the shooting but did not recognize the suspect. Rick Huckaby was shot multiple times and later succumbed to his injuries.
Detectives served a search warrant at the scene and recovered six .32 caliber casings at that time. Huckaby's wife Rebecca provided details about the suspect to a WSP sketch artist, which were used to develop a composite of the suspect.
Detectives pursued numerous leads which were determined to be unfounded. Detectives obtained approximately 40 search warrants and subpoenas during the course of the investigation. They later learned that Rick and Rebecca Huckaby had a former friend in Seaside, Oregon named Stephen Penwarden. Detectives learned Penwarden had set his home on fire and committed suicide by shooting himself with a .32 caliber pistol on February 24th, 2020 in Seaside. Details from that investigation showed Penwarden used the same brand of ammunition that was used to shoot Rick Huckaby.
Penwarden was known to be a loner by family and neighbors, with the exception of his friendship with Rick Huckaby. Penwarden had stayed at Rick Huckaby's home numerous times and the Huckabys had also stayed with Penwarden at his home in Seaside.
Detectives learned Rick Huckaby and Stephen Penwarden were close friends until about six years ago when Penwarden began to display mental problems and paranoia. Penwarden reportedly blamed Rick Huckaby for the loss of his job, his divorce and other problems and considered Rick Huckaby to be the center of a conspiracy against him. Penwarden's home was also in foreclosure. Detectives learned Penwarden was arrested in 2015 for assaulting teenagers with an ice pick and had numerous recent contacts with police where he was described as irrational and quick-tempered.
Detectives submitted the pistol and casing recovered from Penwarden's home to the Washington State Patrol Crime Laboratory for examination. This examination confirmed Penwarden's pistol had been used to kill Rick Huckaby. The pistol was purchased by Penwarden in 2008.
Further investigation revealed Penwarden had purchased gasoline at Fred Meyer in Warrenton, Oregon at 1745 hours of November 12, 2019. The drive time from this gas station to Huckaby's home is one hour and fifteen minutes. Additionally, Penwarden's Subaru Forester was similar to a vehicle seen on S. 5th Ave in Kelso at the time of the shooting. The suspect sketch bears resemblance to Stephen Penwarden and Penwarden's physical description is similar to the suspect description given by Rebecca Huckaby.
Based on this information, detectives are able to identify Stephen Penwarden as the suspect in the murder of Rick Huckaby. At this time all evidence indicates Penwarden acted alone. This investigation will be considered a closed case as the suspect is now deceased.
Detective Riley McNeal – Cowlitz County Sheriff's Office – 360-577-3092
Detective Sergeant Guy Knight – Seaside Police Department – 503-738-6311