Auburn’s famous Excedrin tampering case of 1985 shined a light on the qualities of then Auburn Police Chief Jake Evans, those who knew him said — his gifts as a detective, his doggedness, his capacity for hard work and his insistence on making sure everything was handled properly.
And in the end, the trial court sentenced Auburn resident Stella Maudine Nickell to 90 years in prison for product tampering, after she had poisoned Excedrin capsules with lethal cyanide, killing her husband, Bruce Nickell, as she had intended, and Sue Snow, who just happened to choose a poisoned bottle at the market where Nickell had placed it to mask the murder of her husband.
Nickell’s 1988 conviction and prison sentence were the first under federal product tampering laws instituted in the wake of the 1982 Chicago Tylenol murders.
“That was one of Jake’s finest performances, and Jake was the one who would not let it go. He just kept poking at that,” said former Auburn Mayor Bob Roegner, who appointed Evans to the post in 1985.
Evans died Feb. 14, 2021.
For Roegner, who had kept in touch with Evans over the years and knew his health was failing, the news did not come as a surprise, but it still hurt.
“He was just an outstanding police chief,” said Roegner. “Super professional, and someone I just warmed to immediately. I had just fired the former police chief, and Jake was the right guy at the right time. A couple of books about the Nickell case, one of them, ‘Bitter Almonds,’ were even written about him.”
According to the Auburn Police Department, Evans, who was Auburn’s chief of police from 1985-1994, launched his long career in police work as a patrol officer in Shelton, Wash., on Aug. 1, 1968.
From there, he served in various capacities and ranks in the city of Lacey and in Thurston County, including under-sheriff.
Evans earned his bachelor’s degree in community services at St. Martin’s College in 1974, and his master’s in public administration at Pacific Lutheran University in 1979. He graduated from the FBI Academy in 1982 and from LEEDS in 1992.
When Evans arrived in Auburn, he quickly advanced the department in several areas, among them an updated records management system and an officer awards program.
In 1988, the Auburn Police Department was one of the first agencies to become state accredited, meeting more than 220 mandatory standards and creating and maintaining a written policy manual. Finally, he launched the DARE program at Auburn Police Department, which lasted more than 20 years.
After retiring from Auburn in 1994, Evans spent many years as an interim chief throughout the state. He was known by his peers for following the rules along with his honesty, his love for his profession, his quirky sense of humor and his strong beliefs.
“His ethics were outstanding, and some of the stuff that’s going on with police departments nowadays, I never had to worry about with Jake,” Roegner said. “He ran a solid department. He expected top performance from his troops. He will be missed by all of those who worked with him.”