A Federal Way man is accused of shooting his roommate, then dismembering his body and placing his remains in trash bags inside their apartment in early May, according to the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office.
Nicholas L. Van Cleave, 44, was charged with first-degree murder on May 5. His bail is set at $2 million and his arraignment is scheduled for 9 a.m. Thursday, May 19 at the King County Courthouse.
Prosecutors say Van Cleave allegedly shot his 41-year-old roommate — identified as Richard Lavietes — five times in the back of the head sometime between May 1-2.
“After murdering the victim, the defendant then took the extensive and extreme steps to hide the crime including dismembering the victim’s body, concealing the remains in multiple places throughout the home, and then concocting an elaborate story to cover up his act of murder when contacted by police,” wrote Senior Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Aubony G. Burns in the charging documents.
At about 9 a.m. May 2, a friend and co-worker of Lavietes called police to conduct a welfare check on him after he did not show up for work. The friend said she was concerned for Lavietes and feared Van Cleave may have harmed him because Lavietes took away his gun, documents state.
Officers went to the apartment near the 1300 block of SW Campus Drive and there was no answer at the door. Police were unable to find Lavietes’ vehicle. Later, police found it in the apartment unit’s garage.
A few hours later, a family member requested another welfare check for Lavietes, who said they were concerned Van Cleave was mentally unstable, documents state.
Around 2:53 p.m., a Federal Way officer met with Lavietes’ family members outside of the apartment. Family members told police they last heard from Lavietes on May 1 when he “abruptly stopped responding in the middle of their conversation” when texting, according to charging papers.
When family members went to open the apartment door, Van Cleave allegedly opened the door and said it would not be a good idea to come in.
After a family member asked to check on Lavietes’ cat, Van Cleave allowed them inside. He allegedly told them Lavietes went camping two days ago and left his vehicle and cellphone behind.
Van Cleave appeared to be blocking access to the upstairs by stopping at the bottom of the stairs, documents stated. He allegedly told the family and officer again that it isn’t a good idea to go upstairs.
The officer and Van Cleave went outside while Van Cleave smoked a cigarette and the officer removed a folding knife from him, according to documents. Van Cleave allegedly told the officer he had an unloaded gun upstairs on a bed.
When family members checked upstairs, they found two large trash bags with blood on and near them in Lavietes’ master bathroom, documents state. One bag appeared to hold flesh and bone, and was heavy when picked up.
A witness told police she saw Van Cleave go to his vehicle, parked around the corner from their apartments, several times on the afternoon of May 1.
Another witness told police they heard repeated banging noises throughout the early morning hours of May 2, documents state.
Lavietes’ friend told police that Van Cleave came home with a gun last week and Lavietes was unhappy, took the gun away and told Van Cleave he could not stay at the apartment anymore.
On March 31, officers received reports of a man — later identified as Van Cleave — hiding in the bushes near the apartment and was allegedly in possession of a 9mm pistol, according to documents.
He reportedly told police he believed people were looking for him. Officers allowed Van Cleave to leave with the firearm after the incident; he is the registered owner of the gun.
After obtaining a search warrant on May 2, detectives found dismembered body parts of a man in the apartment’s closet and in trash bags in Lavietes’ bathroom, documents state. The King County Medical Examiner’s Office later identified the remains as belonging to Lavietes.
In one bedroom, detectives reportedly found a pistol, a large kitchen knife, Lavietes’ cellphone, a machete and bloody socks. Most of the items had blood on them.
In Lavietes’ bedroom, detectives reportedly found the hatchet covered in blood and hidden under a pillow. Bullet fragments and blood evidence were also found in the downstairs living room.
There were apparent bloodstain drag marks on the floor from the living room to the utility closet in the hallway, documents state. Detectives found additional concealed body parts, blood evidence, and fired bullets in the closet.
Medical examiners said Lavietes’ bones appeared “fractured and cut” and he had been shot five times in the head. Examiners said Lavietes was alive when he was shot in the back of his head, he had no defensive wounds and was dismembered once killed, according to charging documents.
During an interview with police, Van Cleave allegedly said he did not know where Lavietes was or what happened to him, noting he thought Lavietes went camping, had been picked up by friends, and left his cellphone and vehicle behind.