Christian Basham lived quietly in LA, but records add mystery to Tacoma Narrows Bridge jump

Christian Basham lived quietly as a fugitive after seemingly jumping from a bridge. But records show witnesses may have seen a different man in 2009.

Kai Uyehara
Kitsap Sun
Christian Basham lived a quiet life as a fugitive on the third floor of an unassuming artist loft on the 700 block of S Spring Street in Los Angeles, California. He began a lease there in 2014 and worked as an undocumented maintenance worker.

In February, a 56-year-old man known to his neighbors as Mark Clemens was found dead in his apartment after living a seemingly private life in Los Angeles. Soon after being found, neighbors discovered his true identity, and learned that their neighbor was actually a former Washington state resident named Christian Robert Basham. Basham, then 41, had been presumed dead by suicide nearly 16 years earlier after he allegedly jumped from the Tacoma Narrows Bridge on March 25, 2009, while facing criminal charges for alleged child sex crimes. 

Details in a police report that were not publicly reported at the time now provide more context as to what witnesses on the bridge saw in 2009. The additional reporting from police documents opens the possibility that the man who jumped from the 240-foot tall bridge wasn't Basham, in addition to raising a question about a second man who went missing the same week. Gaps remain in the story of what happened when Basham disappeared, though multiple neighbors and an employer in California offer a clearer picture of the man's undocumented, quiet and respected life after his disappearance.

A Kitsap County suspect disappears in 2009

Basham was accused of rape in 2008 after befriending a 13-year-old victim, according to Kitsap Superior Court documents, and was charged with second degree assault of another 13-year-old boy the same year. Basham had skipped a court date on February 17, 2009, before his presumed leap from the Narrows Bridge, two days after his parents last saw him, his step-father declared in a statement to the court in 2011.

Law enforcement notified Basham’s parents separately of their son's apparent death, according to WSP reports in the records request obtained by their lawyer, who represented them in retrieving the $100,000 bond they paid to bail out Basham. The bond was exonerated in 2011 after the late Judge Theodore Spearman found sufficient evidence Basham was dead. 

Basham’s parents were both convinced their son had been the man who jumped and maintained he was not guilty of the alleged crimes, the stepfather wrote in his statement. Basham had registered his car to his stepfather and left his pet dog after disappearing on February 15, 2009, according to the stepfather’s declaration.

Basham’s mother and father declined to comment when contacted in March by the Kitsap Sun, and requested their identity be kept anonymous. 

It was 15 years later, on February 26, 2024, that a man his neighbors knew as Mark Clemens died in his apartment in the fashion district of downtown Los Angeles. After the Los Angeles County Medical Examiner's Office took possession of a body believed to be Clemens, a fingerprint scan revealed his identity of Christian Basham, formerly of Washington state. 

More:A rape suspect disappeared off the Narrows Bridge in 2009. Neighbors just found him in L.A.

How 'Mark Clemens' found a home and work in L.A.

Basham had signed onto a lease at an artist loft in 2014, five years after his disappearance, the apartment’s property management company told the Kitsap Sun, under the name Mark Clemens. In recent interviews, those who knew him say they had no idea of Clemens' background.

“It was shocking. Everybody, the tenants, thought very highly of him, as far as I know, never had any issue with anybody,” said former property owner George Bachoian, who owned the apartment building at the time Basham began living there and gave him odd jobs as a maintenance man. “Everybody liked him, everybody happily invited him into their unit to fix whatever they needed to do when they weren't around. They'd say, ‘Sure, Mark, just go in.’ There (were) a few tenants that he had building keys to their units.”

An artist loft isn’t like a regular apartment building with leases and rental applications where one would expect references. Most people became tenants because they knew someone in the building, Bachoian said. The man he knew at the time to be Clemens started living in the loft in 2013 as a “subtenant” with a painting contractor, who eventually was evicted after he couldn’t make rent. Bachoian could not remember that man’s name, but noted that Basham moved into his own unit in the building in 2014. 

Clemens had two roommates at separate times, one of whom he went biking with, Bachoian said, but he couldn’t recall their names either.

“He said he had a construction company in Newport Beach that he lost in the divorce and he lost his home and that kind of stuff…  he lost his home and went bankrupt and owed people a lot of money.” Bachoian said. “He was down in the dumps, and that's why he moved downtown to L.A. to restart his life and that was about all I ever heard from him (about his past)... he was a loner.”

Basham had divorced in 2004 after a marriage of about four years in California, and then moved to Washington. He had grown up in Orange County, California, according to court documents from 2011, where he enjoyed the beach and Balboa Park, family members told police. His former wife did not respond to messages from the Kitsap Sun.

The man he knew as Clemens said he was familiar with construction and told Bachoian he could help with repair jobs. Bachoian began giving him small jobs around the building, but never conducted a background check or contracted Basham, often paying him with rental credits. If there were larger jobs, Bachoian called in a professional vendor. 

Throughout the years Bachoian knew Basham, he said Basham never owned a vehicle but liked to skateboard. He chain smoked, but had a disdain for drugs and alcohol. Basham was protective of the building and would call Bachoian if there were any suspicious individuals or homeless people loitering around.  

He liked to read books and fixed up the kitchen cabinets in his apartment which was always well kept, Bachoian said. It was the nicest looking unit and was often the one chosen for tours. 

Basham eventually took on more occasional maintenance jobs with other buildings around Los Angeles and worked for real estate agents, but never settled into full-time work or a career. 

'A good neighbor and also a very crafty person'

Ryan Hines shared a 20-foot-wide courtyard with Basham who lived opposite him, their windows facing one another. The two slowly became acquaintances, but never friends, Hines said, and chatted about their cats who interacted with each other.

Hines never knew Basham to have friends outside the building and never had friends or significant others over to his place, and declined whenever Hines offered an invite to a group brunch. Hines did notice Basham left for the weekend a few times and didn't know where he might have gone.

When Basham said he’d come down with COVID-19 at the end of February, Hines picked up a prescription for him from the drug store and dropped it off at Basham’s door. Basham was a good neighbor and “just the right amount of friendly.” He was a little “curmudgeonly” by nature, Hines added, but texted back an uncharacteristically warm thank you. That was the last Hines heard from him.

After several days, Hines grew concerned to the point where he decided to enter Basham’s apartment to check on him. Basham had left the window open and Hines climbed inside the unit where Basham’s meditation music was left playing. Hines called 911 when he found his neighbor dead inside his room moments later.

Hines, who learned of the criminal accusations against Basham last month, said the description of charges didn't fit the person he knew as his neighbor. He said Clemens never hosted visitors, and no children have lived in the building.

“He was a very normal guy… he was, looking back on it, a good neighbor and also a very crafty person,” Hines said.

Hines and his neighbors began sharing every bit of information they knew about the man they’d known as Clemens after Hines spoke with police at the death scene and realized Basham had no ID or next of kin to notify. When a neighbor discovered Basham’s true identity, researching the L.A. County Medical Examiner's list of deaths that day, Hines and the other tenants were truly shocked.

When Hines heard that Basham had allegedly jumped to his death off of the 240-foot bridge, he didn't believe it for a second and said he smelled something fishy.

“There is a zero percent chance that he jumped off that bridge,” Hines said. “He did not have any lingering injuries, he didn't have a limp, he was fine. From our courtyard, there's a ladder built into the wall that goes up to the roof that he could run up and down spryly like a young person.”

A story from the Kitsap Sun in March 2009 about Christian Robert Basham jumping off the Tacoma Narrows Bridge.

A second missing person at the Tacoma Narrows Bridge

A witness called 911 around 10:45 a.m. on Wednesday, March 25, 2009, saying he had been driving along the Tacoma Narrows Bridge when he saw a man, who wore a blue jacket and red hooded sweatshirt, climb over the railing. By the time the driver had stopped and exited his vehicle, the man in the red sweatshirt was nowhere to be seen, leading the witness to believe the man jumped.

A declaration by an attorney representing Basham’s parents that included a public records request from the Washington State Patrol revealed that a second witness also called 911 at about the same time. The second witness, a woman, told police she’d seen a man jump from the bridge performing a “beautiful swan dive” and that a gathering of people was looking down from the bridge, looking for a survivor.  

She could tell the person was a man possibly wearing all black, she reported that day, though everything looked darker from her position at her home office on the north side of the bridge. She saw the body hit the water without resurfacing.

A Pierce County Sheriff's deputy discovered a vehicle abandoned on the Gig Harbor side of the bridge belonging to Christian Basham, a white male, 41 years-old at the time, who was about 6-feet tall and weighed 160 pounds, noted the WSP in their incident report. A sleeping bag was found on the reclined seat, among various items inside the car, and a signed suicide note by Christian Basham.

After discovering that Basham had been arrested by Bremerton police in 2008 and charged with second-degree child rape, the WSP showed his booking photo to the first witness. Basham had skipped a court appearance after posting a $350,000 bail and was facing a minimum of six and a half years in prison if convicted. The witness then identified Basham as the alleged jumper with 80% surety, according to the report. 

Two days later, Pierce County Sheriff's deputies found a second vehicle, this one parked on the Tacoma side of the Narrows Bridge at 6th Avenue and N. Skyline Drive. The second car also contained a suicide note, dated March 25, according to a WSP incident report. The vehicle belonged to a man named Kenneth W. Sterlington, from Tacoma, who was last seen on March 22, 2009, and had been reported missing by his estranged wife on March 26.

Sterlington, a 46-year-old white male, about 6 feet tall and 160 pounds, was last seen wearing a red hooded sweatshirt, WSP noted in their report, making him almost indistinguishable from Basham at a glance.

When the first witness was called back in by the WSP and shown a photo of Sterlington, he said the man he saw jump was “more likely than not” to be Sterlington – not Basham, reported a WSP trooper. But newspaper reports at the time only reported the initial incident, and nothing about a second possible jumper at the same time or revisions to witness statements.

No closure in the case of Ken Sterlington's disappearance

Jonalyn Sterlington, Kenneth Sterlington’s estranged wife, at the time told a Pierce County Sheriff’s deputy that her husband was depressed after their separation, but he was not suicidal, according to the deputy’s report. She did note that he’d taken his gun from the lockbox. 

Jonalyn Sterlington didn’t have any indication her husband would do something to hurt himself, she said in a recent interview with the Kitsap Sun. “He was just sad, I guess, but not – I mean he was really religious, so that's the last thing” she thought he’d do. 

She was convinced that it had been her husband who jumped from the bridge, based on the description she remembers police relayed to her from eyewitnesses at the time.

But without closure, Sterlington confronted many thoughts about her estranged husband’s death, she said. 

“I couldn't get any information really from (law enforcement), that maybe it wasn't Ken who did it,” she said in an interview with the Kitsap Sun. “For a while, it was crazy, just the things that I thought, that he was still alive, or just thinking maybe I’d seen him… That was maybe one of my first thoughts – it's fake, or it's not real, maybe he just disappeared, maybe he went back to New York or whatever. I don't know.”

The property owner for the space where Basham’s vehicle was parked on the 1700 block on Stone Drive told a WSP trooper he had seen the vehicle parked at the location on and off over several weeks, though local businesses hadn’t seen Basham or any associated driver. Jonalyn Sterlington said that name Christian Basham was completely unfamiliar to her, and didn't recall Kenneth Sterlington knowing Basham or anyone who matched his description either.

The search for what was assumed to be Basham’s body was called off by the U.S. Coast Guard at 12:30 p.m. on March 25. WSP recorded in the incident report that they believed Basham had jumped, but perhaps at a different time or a different day. Still, no bodies were ever found.

Sterlington said she never heard an answer from law enforcement about her husband’s death. She received a death certificate in the mail seven years later. 

Bremerton Police Department continues to investigate Basham’s disappearance and encourages anyone with information on the case to contact Cpl. Derek Ejde at (360) 473-5497 or, and Sgt. Beau Ayers at (360) 473-5482 and