Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Monroe prison guard murdered over weekend

His “worst nightmare.” That's how Washington’s Secretary of Corrections is describing the murder this weekend of a female correctional officer. Prison officials say 34-year-old Jayme Biendl was strangled to death.

Biendl was working alone in the chapel at the prison in Monroe

It’s a job she requested. But union officials say she also voiced concern that there were no cameras watching her. And no one would know if she got into trouble. On Saturday night, investigators believe an inmate named Byron E. Scherf strangled her. He was found first. But it took another hour for anyone to realize Biendl was unaccounted for. 

Corrections Secretary Eldon Vail says Scherf is serving life without parole for rape:

For the last ten years this guy had no infractions whatsoever. (He) had a job in correctional industries and worked in the print shop. (He was) off the radar in terms of somebody that we would immediately be concerned about.

Investigators say there’s no evidence Biendl was sexually assaulted. 

She was "Officer of the Year"  in 2008 at Monroe. The Department says she’s the first corrections officer murdered in the line of duty in more than 30-years.

Teamsters’ union president Tracey Thompson says she’s heard from her members that Biendl had voiced concerns about security in the chapel.

She had talked with supervisors and about feeling unsafe in the chapel because she’s there alone and there aren’t cameras that actually focus in on the chapel area itself and so she felt there was no way for her to be monitored and for anyone to be checking on her.

The murder occurred at the same time the Teamsters union has a lawsuit pending against the state over safety issues in prisons resulting from budget cuts.  But Corrections Secretary Eldon Vail says it’s standard to have one officer assigned to the chapel.

Vigil in Biendl's memory

The Herald of Everett reports that dozens of corrections officers gathered outside the Monroe prison entrance Sunday evening for a candlelight vigil in Biendl's memory.  The Herald describes last night's vigil scene:  

The crowd swelled as the evening fell. More than a dozen bouquets were laid along the prison's Twin Rivers entrance sign and on top of a table laden with candles. A ceramic basket of flowers displayed a photograh of the fallen corrections officer. Balloons that looked like U.S. flags blew in the wind.

According to The Herald, the Monroe complex houses roughly 2,500 of the state's 16,000 inmates and employs about 1,200 staff.

Since January 2004, Austin Jenkins has been the Olympia-based political reporter for the Northwest News Network. In that position, Austin covers Northwest politics and public policy as well as the Washington State legislature. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) Emmy-nominated public affairs program "Inside Olympia." Prior to joining the Northwest News Network, Austin worked as a television reporter in Seattle, Portland and Boise. Austin is a graduate of Garfield High School in Seattle and Connecticut College in New London, Connecticut. Austin’s reporting has been recognized with awards from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors, Public Radio News Directors Incorporated and the Society of Professional Journalists.