Remains found on Jones Island identified as missing Des Moines boater

William Larry Hickman ... missing Des Moines boater
William Larry Hickman ... missing Des Moines boater's remains found on Jones Island.
— image credit: San Juan County Sheriff's Department

Skeletal remains found Wednesday on a remote part of Jones Island are those of a Des Moines boater reported missing July 3, 2007.

Based on dental records, the Snohomish County medical examiner identified the remains as those of William Larry Hickman, 60. A more detailed investigation is expected today or Saturday to try to determine exact cause of death.

Sheriff Bill Cumming said today that there were no signs of foul play. Archeologists from the Burke Museum, on Jones Island to investigate a possible shell midden, discovered the remains.

Hickman's widow, Lea Hickman, has been notified, Cumming said. He said the discovery "answers some questions for her and provides some closure." She held a celebration of life and memorial service for him Feb. 23, after a presumption-of-death certificate was issued.

Mrs. Hickman reported her husband missing to the Coast Guard by the morning of July 3, 2007. The Coast Guard dispatched a nearby patrol boat to Jones Island and found Hickman’s 38-foot Bayliner, the Lady Lea, at anchor in the bay on the north side of the island and his dinghy unattended at the dock. No possessions were determined to be missing.

The Sheriff's Department earlier reported that Hickman was believed to have boated alone to Jones Island from Bedwell Harbour June 29. He had had phone contact with his wife at that time, Cumming said.

Based on where the remains were found, Cumming said Hickman had apparently been hiking in an "extremely overgrown" and rarely hiked part of the east side of the island, facing Orcas Island. Hickman possibly tripped and slid on his back down an incline, his body resting under a tree that is believed to have fallen long before.

Cumming said he was not aware of any health issues that Hickman might have had. "He was a runner," the sheriff said. Hickman's remains were found clad in a T-shirt, nylon athletic pants and tennis shoes.

There is no evidence that Hickman had fallen into the water and his body washed ashore, although drowning was an early suspicion. During the search in July 2007, Cumming told The Journal, “There’s a distinct probability that the missing boater somehow had gone into into the water and drowned. That’s the theory we’re working with. You never want to say never, but nothing at this point — after all our efforts — suggests that he would be on the island. We’re confident of that.”

A Feb. 16 obituary published in the Highline Times newspaper stated that Hickman "was reported missing and presumed drowned off Jones Island in the San Juan Islands on June 30, 2007."

During the July 2007 search of the island, divers searched the cove and a Coast Guard helicopter made an aerial search. Search dogs searched on land. "We were on the peripheral of a very dense area. Dogs couldn't get into that area because it was so dense," Cumming said.

According to his obituary, Hickman was born in Sedro-Woolley on Oct. 27, 1946, to Paul and Evelyn (Stave) Hickman. He graduated from Sedro-Woolley High School in 1964 and attended Skagit Valley College. While attending high school and shortly after graduation, he was the drummer for the Viscounts.

In 1969, he married H. Lea Hassel of Seattle. They had two children, Michael Paul and Karen Louise Hickman. He worked for Boeing for 38 years, retiring in 2003. He served six years in the National Guard.

Hickman was an avid and accomplished boater, traveling 30 years to British Columbia and twice to Alaska. He particularly enjoyed providing fresh seafood for special events and family gatherings. He was a past president of the National Boating Council, vice president of the Des Moines Marina Association, and a member of Prince of Peace Lutheran Church of Des Moines.

"Bill enjoyed being a part of the Highline Ski School. He was Scoutmaster for his son's Boy Scout Troop, 955. Bill was also a dedicated jogger," his obituary stated. "Bill always sported a huge grin and open smile. He loved life and rarely met a stranger."

He is survived by his wife Lea, son Michael and daughter Karen, all of Tacoma; his brother, Jim (Mary) Hickman of Sedro-Woolley; half-sisters, Linda (Tim) Woiwod of Mount Vernon, and Kay (Stan) Sass of La Quinta, Calif.; one half-brother, Bob (Leanne) Hickman of Sedro-Woolley; two step-siblings, Linda (John) Carvajal of British Columbia, and David Sizemore of Sedro-Woolley; uncles John Stave and Bob (Jolane) Stave of Sedro-Woolley; Aunt Mable (Hickman) Bowers of Rosston, Okla.; and numerous nieces, nephews and cousins.

Edward Hubel posted this comment on the Highland Times Web site Feb 26: "Bill was one of the most positive people that I have known in my life. I worked with Bill for 25 years and was his lead on third shift. Bill was proud of his family and talked about them often. He took a month off each year and went to Canada and one year all the way to Alaska. He loved his boat and being on the water was his freedom."

Monte Mineard posted this on Feb 22: "I worked with Bill at the Boeing Company for several years before he retired. Bill never missed a day unless he was out on his boat or doing something for someone else. He was a great guy and a real gentleman. They don't make many like Bill anymore and he has and will be missed."

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