Florida man is a suspect in murder

A former South Whidbey man is officially being sought for the Dec. 26, 2003 murder of former Freeland resident Russell Douglas.

The alleged suspect, James Huden, 51, was last seen at a motel on Aug. 31 in Naples, Florida, 70 miles south of his Punta Gorda residence. Two weeks ago, he was named as a “person of interest” in the case, which is being investigated by the Island County Sheriff’s Office.

However, though the sheriff’s office has named Huden as a suspect, Island County Sheriff Mike Hawley has refused to say whether the county has issued a warrant for his arrest.

Hawley said Huden was described by family members as despondent and possibly armed.

Huden, a 1971 graduate of Langley High School, allegedly shot Douglas at close range while the 31-year-old victim sat in his 2002 yellow Geo Tracker in a secluded driveway off Wahl Road.

Tying Huden to Russell’s death was the recent discovery of the murder weapon. The gun, a .380 semi-automatic pistol, was registered to Huden. It was taken in two weeks ago by law enforcement officers in Las Cruces, N.M. and retrieved on Aug. 20 by Island County sheriff’s detectives. The gun is currently undergoing ballistics testing at the Washington State Patrol crime lab.

According to Juan Hernandez, sheriff of Dona Ana County, N.M., a retired police officer read an online South Whidbey Record news account about Huden being a person of interest in Douglas’ murder. The man told Hernandez that he had previous associations with Huden, and that Huden had given him the gun for safekeeping several months earlier while both men were living in Henderson, Nev. He turned the gun in when he realized the gun he had may have been used in a homicide.

The man, who wishes to remain anonymous, said he became acquainted with James Huden and Peggy Thomas while they were all living in Henderson, a Las Vegas suburb.

According to Sheriff Hawley, Huden’s possession of the suspected murder weapon and the fact that he had returned to Whidbey Island for a Christmas visit last December along with Thomas pegged him as a suspect in the case.

Hawley said Thomas, 39, also a former South Whidbey resident, had introduced Huden to the victim, Douglas, and his estranged wife, Brenna. Thomas had worked as a hairdresser at Just B’s in Langley which is owned by Brenna Douglas.

According to Hawley, Huden and Thomas began dating two years ago, and lived together in Henderson until early this year.

On Aug. 30, Island County detectives returned to Las Vegas area to again interview Thomas, who according to Hawley “is cooperating through her legal counsel.”

Hawley said a search warrant was executed on Thomas’ dark green Lexus LS 400. Henderson police are currently processing the car for possible evidence. Sheriff Hawley said Huden and Thomas were seen driving that vehicle during their December trip to Whidbey Island.

A second search warrant was served at a separate Las Vegas residence, not identified by Sheriff Hawley. Any evidence received from that home will undergo forensic examination.

Shortly after Douglas’ murder, Huden moved to Florida. His acquaintance, the man to whom he entrusted the alleged murder weapon, moved to New Mexico, taking the gun with him.

In early August, developments in the ongoing homicide investigation caused detectives to re-interview Thomas and search her Henderson home. The sheriff’s office also chose at that time to reveal details of the case to The South Whidbey Record in hopes of bringing in evidence that may have been overlooked. He said an article written about the case in a recent edition of The Record and placed on the newspaper’s Web site brought his office just the evidence it needed.

While detectives were in Las Vegas, a second team of Island County investigators flew to Punta Gorda, Fla. and interviewed Huden. They returned to Whidbey Island just before Hurricane Charley hit the Florida. Resumption of the investigation in Florida remains on hold because of a second storm, Hurricane Frances.

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