Conspiracies, paranoia: Case closed in Kelso man’s murder

Crime

Rick Huckaby was killed after a gunman broke into his home on Nov. 12, 2019

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Seven months after a man burst into a Kelso home and gunned down the man inside, detectives have closed the case and identified the suspect.

Rick Huckaby was killed after someone broke into his home on the evening of Nov. 12 and shot him multiple times. His wife, Rebecca Huckaby, was there at the time and didn’t recognize the gunman, who came in through the back door, opened fire and fled.

Rick Huckaby underwent surgery but later died. He was 69.

Detectives found six .32 caliber casings at the scene and Rebecca Huckaby helped a sketch artist make a likeness of the suspect, the Cowlitz County Sheriff’s Office said.

Over the next seven months, investigators pursued numerous leads and served dozens of search warrants. But a break in the case came when they learned the Huckaby couple had a former friend in Seaside named Stephen Penwarden.

Penwarden was described as a loner by family and neighbors, with the exception of his friendship with Rick Huckaby.

Detectives learned Penwarden and Huckaby were close friends until about six years ago when Penwarden started to have mental problems and paranoia. Penwarden thought Huckaby was the center of a conspiracy against him and blamed him for things like his divorce and job loss.

Deputies said Penwarden had many run-ins with police, including in 2015 when he was arrested for assaulting teenagers with an ice pick.

On Feb. 24 of this year, Penwarden set his Seaside home ablaze and took his own life using a .32 caliber pistol — the same pistol used to kill Huckaby, detectives said.

Based on these details, and the knowledge that Penwarden’s vehicle was seen near Huckaby’s home at the time of the shooting, deputies believe Penwarden murdered his one-time friend, Rick Huckaby.

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