The clue that eventually linked O'Neall to the Chrysler came when the detectives finally determined that the car had been stolen from a man that O'Neall had previously befriended in Nampa, Idaho. The man, a long-haul trucker, was eventually traced through his employer to Portland, Oregon, where he told investigators that he had picked up a hitchhiker the previous
October while driving to Nampa. The man claimed that the hitchhiker had identified himself as Jerry Zebulan Macranahan, and had resided with the man in his home from October 15 through November 2, 1986. On November 2, the man said that he had left for a job and had entrusted the Chrysler to Macranahan during his absence. When he returned home on November 4, he found the vehicle, a .357 Ruger, $200 and Macranahan all missing. The man promptly identified Macranahan as Darren O'Neall from a photo throw down.
The Pierce County detectives soon turned up O'Neall's extensive criminal history, but it would still be at least two months before they linked him to the January kidnapping and rape charges involving the young girl in Portland. They discovered that he was arrested on March 12, 1982, in Colorado Springs, Colorado, for obstructing police and disturbing the peace. In September 1982 he was cited for damaging private property and committing third-degree assault. In October 1982 he was again cited for drinking in public. In November 1984 he was charged with first-degree sexual assault, a charge that was later reduced to aggravated robbery. Those charges were ultimately dismissed because the complaining witness, a prostitute, could no longer be located. In July 1986 O'Neall committed a second-degree sexual assault for which he was arrested and later skipped bail on. There were also a number of public indecency offenses on his record, such as urinating and defecating in public.
On April 24, 1987, an individual who identified himself as Mike James Johnson was hired as a bartender at the La Paloma Restaurant in Bellingham, Washington. It was there that O'Neall, posing as "Johnson," met pretty Wendy Aughe, 29, a beauty school student and mother of two young children. O'Neall and Aughe were last seen together leaving the La Paloma on April 25 during the early morning hours. Not surprisingly, Aughe was not heard from again, and worried family members reported her unexplained disappearance to the police.
A subsequent search of Aughe's Bellingham apartment revealed signs of a struggle, pools of blood, and blood soaked bed sheets and linen. "Peter tracks," dried semen, was also found on the bed sheets. The considerable evidence found inside Wendy Aughe's apartment suggested that a sexual assault had occurred there. After an APB was issued for O'Neall, a U.S. Customs agent soon reported having taken a photograph of O'Neall driving Aughe's car as he came back across the border into the U.S. from Canada, in the time frame when Wendy disappeared. O'Neall was the only person visible in the car in the spot check photo.
A week later, on Saturday, May 2, 1987, Aughe's 1972 Ford Torino was found abandoned in Eugene, Oregon, and a man later identified as O'Neall was reported as having been seen at several locations in downtown Eugene attempting to sell a gold chain necklace, according to Detective J.T. Parr of the Eugene Police Department. Fingerprints taken from a food wrapper in Aughe's automobile and from a job application submitted by "Johnson" were eventually identified as those of Darren Dee O'Neall.
Police by now admitted that it could be difficult to find Darren O'Neall. His history clearly showed that he changed his hairstyle and appearance frequently, and the effect was often dramatic. Wanted posters distributed shortly after Wendy Aughe's disappearance expressed a new sense of urgency because the police now feared that O'Neall had killed twice and could be ready to strike again at any time. Both Robin and Wendy, police pointed out, were met by O'Neall on a Friday and disappeared late on a Friday night or early Saturday. Both cars, Wendy's and the Chrysler, were believed dumped on a Monday morning. The two occurrences were exactly four weeks apart, and the fourth week anniversary of Wendy's disappearance was fast approaching.
Murder charges were filed against O'Neall, in part due to Edna's urging the police to do something in connection with Robin's death despite the fact that her remains had not yet been found. Police agreed that the heavier charge of murder would help intensify the effort to locate O'Neall. With Edna's assistance, "Wanted For Murder" posters were distributed to all stores selling books by O'Neall's favorite author, Louis L'Amour, and to beauty shops because O'Neall often had his hair permed, and to other locations throughout western Washington because of concerns that O'Neall was still in the Puget Sound area. A possible sighting, only one of many, had been reported a week earlier near Mount Rainier.