Body of homicide victim found in a shallow grave on 86th Ave in Graham; local residents provide critical information to police

by Bruce A. Smith

Andy Anderson, the well-respected Graham historian and author of In the Shadow of the Mountain, is also a vigilant member of the 86th Ave community and provided vital information to the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department this week, helping deputies locate the body of 33-year old Cori Lewis buried in a shallow grave in the 22700 block of 86th Avenue.

 On Tuesday afternoon, Anderson spoke with the Mountain News and gave a detailed account of what transpired in the discovery of the victim’s body.

 Anderson said that he has been very concerned for some time about illegal activities among the wild brambles and shrub-trees on acreage at the corner of 224th St and 86th Ave, a feral property awaiting development that is adjacent to the Grand Firs community.

 On Sunday afternoon, Anderson said he saw a dark blue Prius parked on the westside shoulder of 86th Ave in the 22700 block, about a quarter-mile south of the intersection of 224th.  As in prior occurrences, Anderson was suspicious and jotted down the license plate number.  As Anderson drove past, the Prius also began to pull away and Anderson saw the driver, a middle aged man, who also shielded his face as he passed Anderson.

 Anderson contacted the Sheriff’s Department, and deputies came to his house on Monday.  After taking Anderson’s statement, the deputies then apparently began conducting a search of the property.  It is unknown if they discovered the body of Ms. Lewis in a “shallow grave,” at that time, but by mid-afternoon Monday an enormous police presence arrived on 86th Ave.

The body of Cori Lewis was found Monday in this clearing off 86th Avenue in Graham.

 “There were 18 police vehicles parked along 86th Ave around 3 pm,” said Wayne Cooke, another community activist in the 86th Ave neighborhood. 

 “Half of them were marked – from the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department,” said a nearby Grand Firs neighbor, Rick Wild, who stopped to inspect the burial scene.  “I guess the others must have been detectives and forensic investigators.”

 “There was even the ‘Emergency Response’ bus, with the satellite dish on top and running a generator,” added Mr. Anderson.

 “I think they even had an excavator there in the evening,” said Stephanie Fonstron, another Grand Firs resident.  “There’s been lots of rumors about that property for a long time – ya know, meth, drugs, that kind of thing.  But the cops say there was nothing going on Sunday evening that we need to be afraid of.”

 Upon inspection, though, on Tuesday afternoon there was no indication that an excavator or any kind of heavy equipment had been brought into the area to assist in the examination of the crime scene.

 Rather, the burial site is a small clearing in the woods about 25-feet from 86th Ave, and connected by a pathway that appeared to have been beaten down by both foot traffic and a few vehicles. 

 In the center of the clearing the contours of the burial site were distinctly visible.  A shallow trench about four-feet long and about 18-inches wide was dug out, with small piles of dirt placed in a circumference about six feet away from the trench.  Some of the dirt had been foot-scrapped back into the trench, filling it with soil, pebbles and small rocks about 6-8 inches from the top.

 “I just can’t believe it,” said Mr. Wild.  “Something like this happening here.”

 At the beginning of the footpath, a small roadside shrine had been erected by Tuesday evening, with two balloons flying and a bouquet of flowers placed beside a small, wooden Americana ensemble of a watering can and a miniature window piece.  Tucked among the mementoes was a card that had the “Serenity Prayer” written on the front cover, and a personal note written inside by a woman named Lacey Erickson, who is believed to be a horsewoman from Roy.

 Inside the card, Ms. Erickson wrote the following:


I love and miss you so much.  Your life didn’t need to end.  I’m so sorry.  I love you for eternity.  – Your best friend, Lacey Erickson.”

 As for the details of Cori Lewis’ death, the following has been gathered from court documents, police records, and emails from Pierce County Sheriff’s spokesperson, Detective Ed Troyer:

 Cori Lewis, 33, was murdered sometime Sunday by her roommate, a 50-year old man named Kelly E. Merz.  They apparently lived together in the 9800 block of 158th St in South Hill, and Ms. Lewis was killed by a single gun shot wound to the head.

 Mr. Merz was taken into custody Monday by the PCSD and booked on charges of 1st Degree murder, and is currently being held in County jail in lieu of a $2 million bail.

 Merz’ charging documents reveal that he had called his ex-wife, Cherylen Merz earlier on Monday, distraught and crying, and had admitted to killing his roommate, a woman named Cory.  Cherylen Merz drove immediately to the South Hill PCSD precinct station on 160th St, and shared this information.  Police then launched their investigation.

 Deputies were dispatched to Mr. Merz’ residence where they observed the blue Prius and discovered blood stains in the interior of the vehicle.  Other units were dispatched and contacted Merz, administering his Miranda rights.  Police documents show that Merz then confessed, and subsequently took deputies to the burial site and identified the various places in Spanaway where he disposed the shovel and pick-axe he used to dig the trench and other evidence from the crime.  In addition, Merz dumped his victim’s clothes in a trash can near 132nd St and Meridian in South Hill.

 Merz told investigators that he had killed Ms Lewis during an argument.

Flowers placed along the trail to Cori Lewis' shallow grave.

 His ex-wife, Cherylen Merz, told the PSCD that she had been married to Mr. Merz for twenty years, divorcing amicably in 2004.  Also, she claims they maintained a cordial relationship after the divorce.  Further, she stated that Merz had never been violent with her, nor did he have any medical or mental health issues that she knew of, and that he did not have any problems with drugs or alcohol.

 The case is still under investigation.

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6 Responses to Body of homicide victim found in a shallow grave on 86th Ave in Graham; local residents provide critical information to police

  1. Greg says:

    The Merz’ are both affiliated with that cult over on OK Highway. The “Church Behind the Fence” that Bruce did his series on. New Testament Christian Church in Graham.

  2. brucesmith49 says:

    The Mountain News is having difficulty posting comments tonight. Thank you for your patience.


  3. brucesmith49 says:

    I am looking into the connection between the NTCC and the incident that has involved Kelly and Cherlyn Merz. In addition, I am looking to make contact with Lacey Erickson of Roy. She has identified herself as Cori Lewis’ best friend.

  4. T.W says:

    If someone left a church and has been gone for a while what does the church have to do with this murder? Why even name the church?

    • brucesmith49 says:

      Good point TW. As you see, in the above copy I didn’t mention the New Testament Christian Church at all. It was only after ex-members of the NTCC made me aware of the connection that I began to explore how the church was involved in the story.

      I decided to investigate the possible links between the NTCC and Kelly Merz for the following reasons:

      1. Kelly Mears is a former lay pastor with the NTCC, and his ministerial credentials have been revoked by the NTCC for still-unknown reasons.
      2. The murder allegedly took place in an environment that is peopled mostly with members of the NTCC, ie: the four, four-plex apartments on 158th St.
      3. These apartment buildings are owned by Cherlyn Mears, who is not only Kelly’s ex-wife, but she also is a former member of the NTCC and allegedly has at least indirect buisiness dealings with the NTCC, such as receiving referrals from NTCC founder RW Davis and a continuous flow of tenants. The exact nature of the relationship between Kelly Merz and his ex-wife is still unclear, and as a result so is the influence of the NTCC. Did he function as an employee of Ms. Mears, or just what, and in what manner did she interact with the NTCC?
      4. Further, Cherlyn Mear is reported to have paid 10% of her real estate income in tithe to the NTCC. Granted, this allegation has not been responded to by either Ms. Merz or the NTCC despite requests for information by the Mountain News, but if true the NTCC has a stake in how business was conducted in the place where the crime took place.
      5. Many ex-members of the NTCC have charged that Kelly’s mental challenges were exacerbated by actions of the church, such as removing him from his pastoring duties, or the fact that the leadeship of the NTCC acted to block his marriage to Cherlyn on racial grounds.

  5. Pingback: A deeper look at the South Hill – Graham homicide: a profile of Cori Lewis | The Mountain News – WA

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