Tuesday, April 28th, 2009 at 10:09 am in Crime.
The Sandra Cantu murder investigation and its related threads have led media and FBI investigators all over the West Coast and up into the rural Northwest, where small towns like Clarkston, Wash., and nearby Lewiston, Idaho, are hearing about the Tracy girl’s story.
Late last week reporter Josh Richman managed to reach the Rev. Oliver Bittleston, pastor of the Clarkston First Church of God from 1982 to 1994, at his Clarkston home to ask him about the FBI’s visit to the church. Agents went there in connection with their investigation into murder suspect Melissa Huckaby and her family, including the Rev. Lane Lawless, whose Clover Road Baptist church in Tracy was searched as part of the Cantu investigation. Lawless was ordained in Washington state in the 1970s.
Bittleston said he’d just returned from a Clarkston grocery store, where he’d bumped into the church’s current pastor, the Rev. Bill Creutzberg, who was familiar with the FBI probe and subsequent media calls.
“I have absolutely no idea, I wish that I knew something,” Bittleston said. “The only thing we can do is if there’s any interrogation or investigation that involves the church up here, we’ll have to do it in the presence of our lawyers.”
Bittleston said he has not been contacted by the authorities and has “no recollection” of Lane Lawless or of “any connection” to the Cantu case. Asked if there’d ever been allegations of child abuse and/or molestation at the church, he replied, “At one time, there was some… but it was an adult not involved with any of that name (Lawless) that I’m aware of.”
“We at the church found an elderly person who was doing some not-good things, so it went to court and he was sent into state jurisdiction” – meaning state prison, Bittleston said. “I was called in on that but I can’t see where there was any connection there… Any time that a church is working with children you’re going to have a certain amount of that … but we took it right to the authorities and it was taken care of.”
Bittleston also recalled that sometime early in his tenure at the church, “as I recall there was a young fellow and he came and immediately wanted to be associate pastor. … I didn’t feel right about it, I asked for some references. I think he was at church once or twice and he was gone.”
Bittleston said he recalled neither that person’s name nor the year in which he visited the church.
Lewiston (Idaho) Tribune City Editor Craig Clohessy said his researchers couldn’t find anything in their archives about Lawless being in the area though they’ve “heard tell” that he had been at some point.
Lawless’ church web site biography states that he came to Tracy in 1981.