Cell phone evidence has tied a Gaston, Oregon man to the murder of a young mother and her three-year-old son, two weeks after the pair vanished.
Michael John Wolfe, 52, was arrested on May 24 in connection with the disappearance of Karissa Fretwell, 25, and her son Billy. Wolfe is currently being held at the Yamhill County Jail and is charged with two counts of kidnapping in the first degree and two counts of aggravated murder.
On June 15, weeks after Wolfe’s arrest, the bodies of Fretwell and her son were found in a remote area in Yamhill County, authorities said. Fretwell was dead of a gunshot wound to the head, while her son’s cause of death has not been released.
Karissa and Billy were reported missing by relatives on May 17 when they had not been heard from in several days. Wolfe told authorities he had not seen Fretwell for nearly a month however investigators discovered Wolf’s phone was pinging near Fretwell’s apartment on the night of her disappearance and her phone was detected near his home and place of work.
Wolfe was apprehended by Salem Police 46 miles away at Blue Star Donuts in Portland, Oregon. Multiple agencies were on the scene to assist with the arrest. Additional charges may be filed. There are no other suspects or persons of interest.
“He didn’t buy anything. He was just making some weird comments towards some of our female co-workers,” said store employee Harrison Reed to KATU, who described Wolfe as having “tired eyes” and looking disheveled. “He didn’t put up a resistance; he didn’t put up a fight,” Reed explained. “I think he saw the six or seven guys that came out of the car, and he knew what was going down.”
A Memorial Day candlelight vigil was held for Karissa and Billy at Maud Williamson State Recreation Park. “We just want to build some hope,” Karissa’s friend and vigil organizer Mykeal Moats explained. “We’re still looking and we’re still hopeful for the safe return of Karissa and Billy,” she said.
Here’s what you need to know about Michael John Wolfe and the disappearance of Karissa and Billy Fretwell.
1. Wolfe & Fretwell Had an Affair & Wolfe is Billy’s Biological Father
Wolfe met Karissa about four years ago when she was working as a delivery driver for the fast food restaurant, Jimmy John’s. Wolfe, who is employed by Cascade Steel Rolling Mills, would regularly order sandwiches for lunch and specifically request that Karissa deliver the food.
Bethany Brown worked with Karissa at Jimmy John’s and recalled how Wolfe pursued her. “He would call almost every day to get food delivered from her. She would come back and say how he would make inappropriate comments,” Brown told the Salem Reporter. Eventually, Wolfe and Karissa Fretwell’s relationship went from casual to intimate.
Karissa was also employed for a brief time as a security guard for Cascade Steel Rolling Mills however it’s uncertain if the two became close while working at the steelmill or earlier.
Things between Wolfe and Fretwell became contentious when she discovered she was pregnant, just three days after finding out Wolfe was married and had children. Her friends said that the man they knew as “John” wanted her to have an abortion because he was worried their relationship would ruin his marriage.
Karissa’s friends said Wolfe eventually offered to help pay for an apartment and co-sign a lease. They described the man she called “John” as “controlling,” and said Karissa would sometimes come home to discover Wolfe in her apartment.
2. Karissa Fretwell Had Just Been Awarded Child Support
In June 2018, Karissa filed a petition with the Polk County Court to obtan child support from Wolfe. That same month, an order requiring a paternity test was issued. In May 2019, the court ordered Wolfe to pay $904 in monthly child support.
Megan Harper told KATU that Karissa had confided Wolfe might demand custody of Billy. “That was her fear, him taking her child away,” she said. Harper recalled that after the court ruling, Wolfe began to act strangely. “There were all of these warning signs. Like, he would send her creepy things in the mail,” she said.
3. Karissa & Bobby Fretwell Disappeared on May 13
Karissa and Billy were last seen on May 13. Family members filed missing persons reports four days later, when they had not heard from her and learned she hadn’t shown up for work. Relatives went to Karissa’s apartment in Salem and found the door was unlocked with her eyeglasses, bank card and Billy’s care items left behind. Family and friends also told police Karissa would never have left home without contacting her mother and workplace and making arrangements for the care of her cats.
Neighbor Robert Allen told KCOIN that a distraught woman who identified herself as Karissa’s sister knocked on his door at the Quintero Apartments to notify him that Karissa and her son were missing. Allen said he offered to periodically check Karissa’s apartment to see if she’d returned home. “I have noticed that the television screen, it’s been on the same screen for about a week, so obviously there’s no one in the apartment,” he said.
Allen revealed there had been a fight at her apartment approximately two months before they disappeared. “We heard a man and woman arguing incredibly loud,” Allen said, adding, “The man was swearing a lot and there was a kid crying in the background, and the woman was yelling at him to get out of her apartment.”
The missing persons reports describe Karissa as as 5’9” tall and weighing 135 pounds with blonde hair dyed red and blue eyes. Billy is described as having blonde hair and blue eyes, standing three feet tall and weighing 30 pounds.
4. Wolfe and Fretwell’s Cellphones Pinged at the Same Locations After Her Disappearance
KCOIN obtained the Probable Cause Affidavit for Wolfe’s arrest which states that he was interviewed by investigators on May 18 and told them he had not seen Karissa or Billy since April. But on May 14, Karissa’s phone pinged in Gaston, in the same general area as Wolfe’s home. Karissa’s phone also pinged near Wolfe’s workplace the same day. The affidavit says the “information would be consistent with Michael and Karissa’s phones being in the same approximate place.”
Wolfe was questioned a second time on May 20 and again maintained he had not seen or heard from Karissa since April. Wolfe also told police he had worked his entire 6:00 p.m.-6:00 a.m.shift beginning on May 13. But video surveillance showed him leaving his work area at 8:45 p.m. and going behind a treeline which accessed the business parking lot. His phone was picked up by a cell tower heading south at 8:55 p.m. By 9:00 p.m., Wolfe’s phone was detected in the general vicinity of Karissa’s apartment. Wolfe was picked up on surveillance footage exiting from the treeline six hours later at 2:35 a.m. on May 14 with a white trashbag that contained unknown items. At 2:52 Cascade Steel’s video showed him leaving work at 2:52 a.m.
“Based on the interviews of Karissa’s family and friends, I believe the only known person who would benefit from the disapppearance or criminal homicide of Karissa and William is Michael (Wolfe),” Salem Police Department Detective Anthony VanDeKoppel wrote in the affidavit.
5. Police Asked for the Public’s Help in Locating Karissa and Billy Fretwell
After Karissa and Billy were reported missing, investigators searched Wolfe’s rural home for clues. Police said they were conducting the search with the hope of “locating Karissa and William, or discovering evidence which may lead to their location.”
Lieutenant Treven Upkes of the Salem Police Department said investigators were doing everything possible to find the missing mother and child but need the community’s assistance.
One man who asked not to be identified publicly, told FOX12 Oregon Wolfe had been his supervisor several years earlier and had talked about furnaces being an optimal method for disposing of evidence. “And he had the means. We’re talking weapons, IDs, cell phones. Those kind of things things could get dropped in one of those vats and no one would ever know and it’s 4,000 degrees. That’s vaporized when it hits,” the former co-worker explained.
Upkes stated that dive teams have been called in to check local ponds. The Salem Police Department spokesperson explained at a press conference that this is standard procedure whenever there are suspicous disappearances. KCOIN reported that investigators had also searched a piece of land on Webfoot Road in Yamhill County for anything that could lead them to Karissa and Billy Fretwell.
Upkes said that while Wolfe has been charged with aggravated murder, “that does not mean Karissa and William are dead.” He added that everyone investigating the case is hoping for their safe return. “We work towards the worst possible scenario and continue to hope for the best,” he said.
Anyone with information about this case is asked to call the Salem Police Department’s Tip Hotline at (503) 588-8477.