The bodies of a missing Salem, Oregon mother and her son were found in a remote area of Oregon. Karissa Fretwell, 25, and her 3-year-old son, William “Billy” Fretwell were reported missing last month. Family members said they had not seen or heard from them since May 13. Karissa’s cause of death was determined to be from a single gunshot to the head, and the manner of death was determined to be homicide. The cause and manner of death of Billy is yet to be determined, pending additional testing.
Despite the lack of bodies, Michael John Wolfe, 52, was charged last month with two counts of aggravated murder and two counts of kidnapping. Court documents identify him as Billy’s biological father and Karissa’s friends and family say Billy was conceived through an affair. Wolfe, who is married to another woman, was established as Billy’s biological father through a DNA test in 2018 after Fretwell filed a petition to establish the boy’s paternity.
Wolfe and Fretwell had an affair while working together at a local steel mill and the two were locked in a custody battle. Court documents state Fretwell and Wolfe were in court as recently as April, and Wolfe was ordered to pay over $900 a month in child support and provide health insurance coverage for Billy. The court documents state Fretwell believed Wolfe wouldn’t pay child support without a court order. Fretwell had sole custody of her son, and the two had been living in West Salem. Billy Fretwell’s babysitter told police Karissa Fretwell reported being threatened by Wolfe and his wife, who said they would take custody of the boy. Police say the wife is not a person of interest in the case at this point, but that detectives continue to look at anyone who could be connected.
The sheriff’s office said ongoing efforts by detectives to locate the missing mother and son led searchers to a remote area of Yamhill County, about 10 miles west of the city of Yamhill. Crews searched the heavily wooded and remote area for about two hours before finding two bodies. Yamhill-area police conducted about 20 searches looking for the bodies since they were reported missing in mid-May. At one point, they searched about 800 yards away from where the bodies were eventually found partially covered by debris in a forested part of Weyerhauser property 10 miles west of the city of Yamhill. Investigators say that Wolfe fished and had a permit to cut wood on the Weyerhauser property where the bodies were eventually found.
Detectives obtained data from Karissa Fretwell’s cellphone showing her phone used a cell tower southeast of Gaston, which provides coverage to Wolfe’s rural property. Cell data also placed her phone Wolfe’s place of work, a steel mill in McMinnville. He told police he was working the night of May 13 and morning of May 14, but detectives believe surveillance video and cell tower activity disputes that. Footage at the mill shows Wolfe leaving his work area on a golf cart and walking toward a line of trees and bushes to a nearby parking lot.
Wolfe reappears through the trees almost five hours later and drives the golf cart back to his work area while carrying a white trash bag filled with unknown items. Phone records from May 13 also show Wolfe’s phone pinged cell towers “away from his place of work” shortly after he disappeared through the trees. That evening, Wolfe’s phone pinged a tower that would cover Fretwell’s apartment in Salem and pinged towers near his workplace about the time he reappeared at his workplace. Wolfe told detectives he had not been to Salem in more than a year.