Accident Or Murder? Pastor’s Wife Found Dead In Bed After Fire – And She Hadn’t Tried To Move

Dawn Hacheney "had nothing in her blood and had not breathed in any smoke or hot gasses," said the Fire Marshall. 

By Benjamin H. Smith
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Accident, Suicide, or Murder Bonus: Law Enforcement Officials Discovered Nicholas Hacheney’s Multiple Affairs

The day after Christmas in 1997 a 911 call came into the Bremerton Fire Department in Washington reporting a fire at the home of Nick Hacheney, who was a young pastor at the evangelical Christ Community Church on Bainbridge Island, just across the Puget Sound from Seattle. After subduing the blaze, they found the badly burned body of his 28-year-old wife Dawn—lying dead in their bed. 

Nick was out hunting at the time of the fire. Though he was distraught after learning of his wife’s death, he seemed to bounce back quickly, courting several new romantic interests at once. In fact, some of them he had been seeing while his wife was still alive, and soon people began thinking Dawn’s death might not have been an accident.

Faith had always been highly important to Dawn. “She was four years old when she accepted the Lord into her life,” her mother, Diane Parmele, told NBC’s “Dateline.” As she grew up she began dating Nick Hacheney, who was also devoted to God. They would later marry. Nick begin working at Christ Community Church as a youth pastor, while Dawn worked as a loan officer at a credit union.  

Nick often counseled other young couples, and before Dawn’s death found himself immersed in deep emotional relationships with three women in his church, according to the local newspaper Kitsap Sun. And these relationships soon became physical. He told one woman God had granted him “special privileges” to have sexual relations with women, according to the Sun.

Nick told investigators the fire that killed his wife was probably caused by a space heater. It was later determined to be the result of arson, according to court documents. Toxicology reports revealed Dawn was dead at the time of fire and prosecutors claimed she had been suffocated by her husband with a plastic bag. Nick Hacheney was found guilty of first degree murder and sentenced to life in prison in 2003, according to the Sun.

His sentence was overturned on a technicality in 2007 and he was resentenced in 2008 to 26 years in prison, according to the Seattle Times.  

The Hacheney cases is the subject of an episode of “Accident, Murder or Suicide.” Oxygen spoke with retired Bremerton Fire Marshal Scott Rappleye about the morning he found Dawn Hacheney. 

What do you remember about the initial fire investigation at the Hacheney residence?

When I got there the fire was extinguished and I was told Nick had gone duck hunting. The firefighters had found Dawn in bed, not moving, just lying there. She hadn’t gotten up, or tried to move and hadn’t inhaled any smoke. 

Did it seem suspicious at the time?

I would say there’s always that suspicion when you find a young person dead in bed that hasn’t moved. 

When did you come to believe that a crime had been committed?

I was absolutely sure a crime had been committed after the autopsy was done and we got the toxicology report back. She had nothing in her blood and had not breathed in any smoke or hot gasses. She had been dead before the fire occurred. 

How did you determine arson was the cause of the fire?  

Because Nick had left all of his wrapping from his Christmas presents all over the heater and all around her, around the bed and everywhere in the room. 

How did you feel when he was finally arrested?

I was glad that we were finally able to do it. I think his reduced sentence is completely ludicrous. He killed her before the fire. They said [in the judgment] arson doesn’t make it aggravated murder but she was dead before the fire. 

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