While Oregon is generally considered to be a safe place to live, there’s no denying that we have had more than our fair share of infamous crimes. Over the years, an untold number of chilling homicides have taken place in the Beaver State, with many making headlines nationwide. The following 8 famous cases will not be forgotten any time soon.
We’re aware that these uncertain times are limiting many aspects of life as we all practice social and physical distancing. While we’re continuing to feature destinations that make our state wonderful, we don’t expect or encourage you to go check them out immediately. We believe that supporting local attractions is important now more than ever and we hope our articles inspire your future adventures! And on that note, please nominate your favorite local business that could use some love right now:
1. Diane Downs, 1983
On May 19, 1983, Diane Downs turned up at the McKenzie-Willamette Hospital in Springfield claiming that she had been carjacked and shot in the arm. The carjacker had also shot her three children, one fatally. Hospital staff reported being alarmed by Downs' calm demeanor. Witnesses also said that they saw her driving to the hospital at a speed of around 5 mph.
After police conducted an investigation and none of the forensic evidence matched her story, Diane Downs was charged with murder and sentenced to life in prison. In 1987, she managed to briefly escape, but was recaptured in Salem just 10 days later. Today, she is serving her sentence at the Valley State Prison for Women in Chowchilla, California.
2. Thurston High School Shooting, 1998
The name Kip Kinkel is one most Oregonians are familiar with. At the age of 15, Kinkel murdered his parents and then went on a shooting spree at Thurston High School in Springfield, killing two students and wounding at least 25 others.
Kinkel was the son of Faith Zuranski and Bill Kinkel, two schoolteachers who were well regarded within the community. From an early age, Kinkel was obsessed with bombs and guns, and showed an intense interest in violence. Many of his classmates came forward after the attacks with stories about Kinkel talking about torturing animals, setting off a bomb during an assembly and even killing people. He is currently serving a 112-year sentence at Oregon State Correctional Institution.
3. Christian Longo Murders, 2001
In December of 2001, the body of four-year-old Zachary Longo was found in a marina in Waldport, a small coastal town near Newport. Three days later, the body of three-year-old Sadie Longo was found nearby. Then, two suitcases containing the bodies of two-year-old Madison Longo and Mary Jane Longo were found. The main suspect was Christian Longo, the father and husband of the victims.
When police sought out Longo for questioning, they discovered that he was missing and in serious debt. Eventually, he was found in Cancun, Mexico posing as Michael Finkel, a journalist for the New York Times. After a whirlwind trial, in which Longo claimed his wife Mary Jane had killed two of the children, Longo was found guilty and sentenced to death. He is currently on death row at Oregon State Penitentiary. In 2011, he confessed to killing his family.
4. Ashley Pond and Miranda Gaddis, 2002
The Oregon City community was rocked in 2002 after two young girls went missing. Ashley Pond (age 12) and Miranda Gaddis (age 13) were both students at Gardiner Middle School. They vanished on their way to catch the school bus in the morning. For months, local authorities and the FBI searched for possible leads into their disappearances. Finally, in August 2002, a suspect was confirmed. Ward Weaver III was a violent man with a record of rape and assault. Police uncovered the bodies of the two girls on Weaver's property, and were able to arrest him. He was later sentenced to two life sentences without the possibility of parole.
5. Triple Murder at Leather’s Oil Company, 1994
Tyrom Theis worked at Leather's Oil Company in Gresham during the 1990s. After he was suspected of stealing $50 from the company, he left his job as station manager. A few months later, he returned with pals Larry Scherf and Lori Stephens to rob the gas station. During the robbery, Theis shot and killed the three female employees who were working at the time: Mary Beth Wheeler (25), her mother-in-law Rosealie Fey-Girtz (51), and Virginia Kay Endicott (47).
Scherf and Stephens were soon arrested and confessed to the crime, but Theis remains at large. He has not been seen since August 1994.
6. The I-5 Killer, 1980-1981
The notorious I-5 Killer terrorized Interstate 5 between October 1980 and February 1981. During this time, at least seven people were brutally murdered from northern California up to northern Washington. It was later discovered that the I-5 Killer was Randall Woodfield, a gifted athlete and well-liked former student at Portland State University. Woodfield was arrested after investigators discovered phone records placing him in the area of multiple murders that took place on I-5. Investigators believe he could be responsible for more than 40 murders. He is currently serving a life sentence in prison.
7. Mulugeta Seraw, 1988
The murder of Mulgeta Seraw is one of Portland's most notorious hate crimes. In 1988, Mulgeta Seraw, a 27-year-old Ethiopian student, was beaten to death with a baseball bat by Kenneth Mieske, Kyle Brewster, and Steven Strasser. These three men were all members of the skinhead gang East Side White Pride. The beating began when the three men yelled at Seraw to move his car, and he refused.
8. Bobby Jack Fowler Murders, 1995
Bobby Jack Fowler was one of the most infamous serial killers to ever reside in the Pacific Northwest. He was linked by DNA evidence to the murder of two teenage girls and also became the prime suspect in the disappearance of two other teenage girls who were murdered in 1992.
On June 28, 1995, Fowler was arrested after a woman jumped out of the window of a Tides Inn in Newport, Oregon with a rope tied to her ankle. She survived the attack, and reported Fowler as her attacker to police. Fowler was arrested in Newport and sentenced to 16 years in prison, where he eventually passed away from lung cancer. It is believed that he is responsible for as many as 20 murders during a 20-year period.
Do you have any memories of these homicides? What other crimes have occurred in Oregon in your lifetime?