Sunday, October 19, 2014

I Should Have Killed Him Then Part Two

Theresa Kennedy Dupay, the Slabtown Chronicle’s newest guest blogger, has a flair for historical research and dramatic storytelling. Here is the second part of her study of the murder of Police Lieutenant Phillip Johnson. This case is also featured in my new book with JB Fisher Portland on the Take. I hope you like it. – JD Chandler


Well-known and beloved, retired Lt. Frank Springer was hired in 1938 by the Portland Police Bureau. In 2008, retired Springer sat down and in a 4 hour taped interview, revealed many surprising elements about his 35-year-career with PPB. As a young patrolman Blaine Chase was one of Springer's early trainers. With twenty years’ experience in police work, Chase showed Springer the ropes of how police work was really done; how to be safe, what to do and what not to do. Frank Springer was known as a perceptive and observant young patrolman in those early days and it’s not surprising that Springer would easily discover certain details about Chase and his earlier history at PPB that other officers would apparently fail to unearth. Springer described Chase as a “good trainer” but as a man whose career had passed him by. According to Springer, Chase was a man who was troubled with “severe depression” and “bitter resentment” over an old grudge that he could not seemingly part with. Springer also claims that the atmosphere at Precinct # 1 was generally quite “tense” as the two ex-partners were assigned to work the same shift, and “... neither man would speak to the other.” (JD Chandler, 2014).
Frank Springer was a rookie when he met Blaine Chase. The two men remained friends until Chase’s suicide in 1941. Courtesy of Portland Police Historical Society.
Springer goes on to recall the incident, “Sometimes you get a sixth sense, policemen will talk about that. This is an instance where I had it. My partner and I had gone into the station to get some gas for the car and then left and had only gone ten blocks, when we get a call to return to the station (East Precinct, 7th and Alder Street) because there had been a shooting. I turned to my partner and said, “I bet Chase has shot the Lieutenant!”And where in the world that came from, I have no idea at all. It just came as a flash. So, we went back there and we were the first car there, because it was our district.”(Springer, 2008).
Three days before the shooting, Springer remembers that Blaine Chase called on him and his wife Jerri at their family home for an unexpected visit. After some small talk, Chase offered Frank Springer a valuable rifle that he claimed he no longer wanted to keep. Springer was surprised and flattered by the gesture but refused to accept the rifle, probably because he could see it was expensive and that it would be inappropriate and opportunistic to accept it.“Incidentally, I told you that I worked with Chase a couple of nights. He was a lot older than I of course, but he was a good trainer. About three nights before the shooting, he came over to the house, first time he'd been there and he visited with Jerri and I [sic]. He went out to his car and got a rifle and a fishing pole and brought them in and he said, “Here, I want you to have this.” And I couldn't imagine what in the world he was giving that to me for, because he hardly knew me. But I argued with him and said, “I can't take a rifle like that, I don't know anything about rifles.” And he said, “Well, I thought you might like it” and I said, “I'm sorry but it’s not for me.” And I said, “I'm not a fisherman either but my wife likes to fish.” and he gave the fishing rod to her. It was a nice salmon rod; I still have it up in the attic. Looking back, he must have planned the murder-suicide, or else he wouldn't be giving away his possessions like that.” (Springer, 2008).
Only hours after the shooting, an all-points bulletin went out to local police stations. This information was broadcast and rebroadcast to all the state police stations. “5:25 AM. WANTED FOR THE MURDER OF LT. JOHNSON, EX-OFFICER ARTHUR B. CHASE, 57 YRS, 5 FEET 9, 200 POUNDS. BLUE EYES-LT COMPLECTION. PARTLY BALD, GREY AROUND THE TEMPLES. WALKS WITH A SLIGHT LIMP. WEARING WHEN LAST SEEN, A DARK GREY SUIT, RED TIE WITH SMALL FIGURES, WHITE SHIRT, REDDISH BROWN OXFORD SHOES. DRIVING A 1939 BUICK COUPE, BLACK COLOR. HE IS WELL ARMED, HAD WITH HIM A .45 AUTOMATIC, A .32-20, A .38, A .25, A SHOTGUN AND A RIFLE.”
Blaine Chase was the subject of an intense manhunt in the hours after he shot Lt. Johnson. He was a rogue cop and he knew he wouldn’t survive long if he was caught. Courtesy of Portland City Archive.
All major roads in the city were blocked and every available officer was out and looking for Arthur “Blaine” Chase at various checkpoints throughout the city. Police went from car to car as people tried to go about their daily business within and without the city limits. In the teletype, Chase was described as an “Ex-Officer.” He was the enemy. He was wanted for murder. As a seasoned street cop, Chase must have known that were he to be captured, he would likely be shot and certainly at the very least beaten severely for having killed, in cold blood, someone as well-regarded as Lt. Phillip Johnson.
Chase had to have understood that aspect of police culture. He also had to have known his life was essentially over and there was no place to hide. As all police in the city were searching for Chase, the first place they chose to look was his most recent apartment, in a string of various apartments and hotels across the city where he lived. In his apartment, detectives found that he had cleaned out all of his personal effects,” with not much left behind. They found only an “old, dirty Mallory hat,” an empty quart bottle of whiskey, a pair of women’s black leather gloves and a discarded crime novel by writer Ellery Queen. The novel found in Chase's room may have been the 1941 classic, “Ellery Queen and the Perfect Crime,” as it was very popular that year.
The detectives spoke to the manager and discovered that Chase had hired a moving truck to remove the contents of a storage locker in the basement less than a week before. They also wondered what happened to his expensive boat and whether it had been moved out to one of the local rivers. The manager was unaware that Chase had for all intents and purposes moved out of his apartment. While detectives searched the Chase apartment, they discovered through the manager that Chase had three women friends with whom he associated. Eleanor Sallard, Vivian Morris, who called on him weekly, and his favorite of the three, Mrs. Mary Robinson. The police couldn’t make contact with any of the women and no further mention is made of their attempting to contact or question them at a later date.
Perhaps most revealing is the testimony of one Special Officer, Frank J. Parker, a close friend and regular associate of Chase. In Parker's sworn statement, recorded May 9, 1941, the day of the killing, he admited that he and Chase were “good friends” who “associate in our spare time, as well as during working hours.” Parker went on to explain that two days before the killing he and Chase drove around together, as they both worked the same special officer beat. “He rode around with me for a while and during the conversation he told me that he thought [the Lieutenant would not press any charges against him] because of some trouble he and Johnson had had some time back. With reference to this trouble he stated that he should have shot Johnson at that time. I asked what he meant by that and he just passed if off with a shrug.” (Official Officers Report, 1941).
Lt. Phillip Johnson had a long relationship with Blaine Chase. It was reported that Chase regretted not killing Johnson years before. Courtesy of Portland City Archive.
What could Chase have been referring to? Why would he feel he had something over on Johnson that would prevent him from ever being disciplined for his chronic lateness and absenteeism? Was Chase really that angry at a superior officer for suspending him for being late from oversleeping due to drunkenness? And did Chase really feel that death would be a worthy or equal punishment for such a misdemeanor? Or was it something else that fueled Chase's hatred of Johnson? Something more personal perhaps?
At one point, toward the end of his 2008 interview, Frank Springer, finally revealed the long forgotten truth about Arthur “Blaine” Chase and what fueled the hatred he felt for Lt. Phillip Johnson. On September 15, 1921 Blaine Chase, a respected policeman with 3 years on the job, age 37, married Venola Katheryn Pierce, a telephone operator from Boise, Idaho in Vancouver. In Chase's personnel file, Pierce is listed as 19-years-old at the time of their wedding, but according to US Census records, she was only 18, having been born June 20, 1903. Chase had already been married and divorced twice before. His first wife was Maud Godbey, whom he married December 30th, 1904, at the age of twenty. He is reported to have left her after four days and that “They were divorced in Judge McBride's Court at Oregon City, April 20th, 1908.” He then married Helen Fanno Britton in October, 1913 with no divorce date given in the PPB personnel file.
Considering his desultory history with his prior wives, who were both around his own age, it is very possible that Venola was a pretty young girl with whom Chase was very much in love. Something changed that status though; something from an unexpected source. Chase and his new wife were married about a year, when 48-year-old Phillip Raymond Johnson, Chase's then partner, began to secretly pursue Venola, beginning an affair with herShe fell hopelessly in love with Johnson and left her husband soon after the affair began. As soon as Venola left Chase, Johnson promptly dumped her, abruptly ending the relationship. Apparently, Johnson was interested in the illicit sex an affair would provide him, but not interested in dealing with the inconvenience or embarrassment of a very young, adoring wife.
Blaine Chase’s ill-fated 1921 marriage to Venola Pierce was at the heart of the fatal dispute he had with his ex-partner, Lt. Phillip Johnson. Courtesy of Portland City Archive.
“The story actually starts way back, 20 years before, when the Lieutenant, Phil Johnson and Chase the patrolman, were partners. Johnson got to fooling around with Chase's wife and Chase's wife fell in love with Johnson and so she divorced Chase to marry Johnson. When the divorce was final, Johnson says, “No way, I never meant it to go like this!” Now Chase could live with the divorce but he was still in love with his wife and he couldn't live with her being dumped like that. So, the bitterness started. Years went by and by some stupidity in the chief's office, they put those two on the same relief. I had worked with Chase a couple of nights and Johnson was our Lieutenant and they never spoke. The friction grew and Chase came to work late one night and Johnson suspended him. For a suspension to take place, you had to have a hearing, so the morning that the hearing was set, (May 9, 1941) Chase came into work about 3:00 am and he had two guns [sic]. He came into the station and he started shooting at the Lieutenant. Johnson went into the back room where the desk Sergeant was and he dropped to the floor and got behind a desk. Chase followed him in there and killed him. There were bullet holes all over the station. Incidentally, it’s a photography shop now and the bullet holes are still there.” (Springer, 2008).
Springer claims that Chase still loved his wife and was furious with the insult of Johnson dumping her. But why would Chase be so angry at the idea of an insult like that? Perhaps it is because the insult of Johnson not marrying Venola and essentially abandoning her would contribute to a loss of reputation and community respect that Venola could never recover from. This was after all 1922, during prohibition and other forms of social and cultural repression were the accepted norm. The scandal that Venola had allowed or even encouraged to happen to her marriage might have ruined any future prospects for her. Perhaps Chase understood this and perhaps that is why he was so angry when Johnson eventually threw her away. Venola and Chase ultimately did not reconcile, though it was well known how much he continued to pine for her, grieving her loss. Even if he'd wanted to, taking Venola back would have made him a laughing stock with his buddies on the police force and his pride would likely not have allowed that.
Other Oregon state records indicate Venola married again, after her divorce from Chase was final. In 1934, vital statistics records show that Venola Katheryn Chase married Arthur Wood on June 22, 1934, in Multnomah County. Not only did Chase lose his young wife to duplicity and infidelity, to a man he may have considered a friend and his partner on the job, but he lost her forever when she remarried another man. This was something that clearly festered within Chase's mind and contributed to a huge level of rage and sorrow as the years passed and he was unable to create any other manner of personal happiness for himself.
It’s likely also that Chase felt inferior to Johnson in other ways too. Johnson was a charming, well-mannered Southern gentleman. He was college educated and a healer, having completed a degree as a licensed Chiropractor. And unlike Chase, Johnson was able to advance through the ranks. As Chase attempted to go on with his life, becoming an “excellent hunter” and “fisherman” who often went out on fishing and boating excursions, he was not able to recreate the kind of happiness he'd once had with young Venola. He never married after this third marriage failed and though he did associate with women in intimate relationships, he kept them at a distance, continuing to live alone for the remainder of his life.
As time went on, Chase must have realized he'd never be promoted the way Johnson was. His resentment and envy for Johnson must have become all consuming. It would have been easy for Chase to blame Johnson for all his troubles, heartache and bad luck. And that obviously, is indeed what happened. Chase became increasingly more disillusioned with police work, and more hardened to the job. He became chronically ill, often calling in sick and simply not showing up for work for two and sometimes three days at a stretch, without calling in his absences, which was of course, the expected protocol.
The absenteeism could have been due to his well-known problem with alcohol, but also must have been a form of rebellion. To go A.W.O.L without so much as a telephone call to his supervisor's had to have been a blatant act of aggression on his part. He was testing his luck, and seeing exactly how much he could get away with. Also recorded in the Chase personnel file is that in June 1937, Chase broke one of his legs, which left him in a constant state of pain for several months. This probably made the drinking even more necessary, if only to alleviate the pain that contributed to a mild limp in his gait. By 1939, the leg was reported to have healed, though Chase still walked with a discernible limp. There is currently no record of the cause of the injury in his personnel file, which probably means he broke his leg in his off hours, and not while on duty.
Experts in criminal causation generally claim that the taking of a life usually occurs after a person has experienced one or more forms of traumatic and bewildering loss. And Chase certainly had, in a multitude of ways. According to Oregon Census records, in about one year, Chase's despised mother Clara (the one who had married at least four men) passed away July 23, 1940, while in her late 80's and living in California. There is no indication that Chase took any time off to attend her funeral. Then his father, Edward Chase died sometime in early 1941. In one year, Chase lost both parents and was then fired from a long and demanding career as a beat cop. When comparing his life to Johnson's, it must have seemed that Johnson had it all. He had college degrees, was a high ranking official in the police bureau, was well-liked and had been happily married for several years with a loving wife named Sarah, waiting at home every night. Their marriage date in 1928 is listed as July 5th, Johnson's very birth date.
What did Chase have? Nothing apparently. He'd lost it all. He'd lost his reputation, his job and most of all he'd lost the young girl named Venola, not only to an affair but also to another marriage. Venola would always be the young, pretty wife he had loved and lost. She would never age in his mind, she would always be that pretty girl; the one who got away. There was no way Chase could go back in time and change things. All he could do was change the future. And he would. He would make certain of that. The seed of revenge must have begun germinating in Chase's mind years before he actually began preparing to act on it. The desire to even the score must have started out slowly and then as he became more desperate, more ill, and more lonely and disenfranchised, must have become an all-consuming, full-time fantasy life that he courted.
An official report by Captain H.A. Lewis, submitted to Police Chief Harry Niles on May 10, 1941, gave an extremely negative appraisal of Arthur “Blaine” Chase. The report was critical of Chase’s professionalism, ability and overall character. In addition it presented a motive for Johnson’s killing. In the report, Lewis stated, “In regard to the recent tragedy in which Officer A. B. Chase shot and killed his immediate commander, Lieut. P. R. Johnson, I have given this matter considerable consideration and have investigated it from all angles as far back as when these men came to this precinct. In this way, I have come to the conclusion that A. B. Chase had grown so resentful toward any authority, or discipline, or criticism of himself or his actions that he allowed it to prey on his mind to the extent that it became, in a way, a sort of mania. In the belief that the Lieutenant was unfairly riding him he made up his mind to “get even” and took this way of doing it.” (Official Police Report, 1941).
Lewis went on to detail the fact that Chase’s behavior had become more and more intolerable since the injury to his leg in 1937. “He seemed to think that no one had any right to tell him anything and resented any criticism or orders from any one. At that time he was in rather a bad way. His leg was in a cast and he complained of more or less pain at all times.”(Official Police Report, 1941).
Theresa Kennedy Dupay has thoroughly investigated this case and will present her final conclusions in Part Three of I Should Have Killed Him Then, coming soon at the Slabtown Chronicle.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

I Should Have Killed Him Then

            I’m always pleased to welcome a guest blogger here at Slabtown Chronicle and I’m proud to present our newest guest blogger Theresa Kennedy Dupay who has written a series of articles on a crime I mention briefly in my new book Portland on the Take (with JB Fisher). This very public murder-suicide rocked Portland in the months before the bombing of Pearl Harbor, but it was very quickly forgotten. Ms. Dupay has really dug into the details and brings us the full story, starting with Part One…

     “MURDUR.” This is the first word on the top, left-hand corner of the typewritten Officer's Report, under “subject.” It is unknown who wrote the word, in cursive, as it appears on three other witness statement forms, (probably carbon copies) completed by different officers. The officer either didn't know how to spell the word properly, or was merely in a hurry and too careless to correct the glaring error. The likelihood is that he was rushed and didn't see it. Today the term used would not be murder but rather homicide. The death the document references occurred May 9th, 1941, when one police officer killed another police officer. The bad blood grew over a decades old grievance, that apparently could neither be forgotten, nor forgiven.
     Early, that morning, Veteran patrolman Arthur “Blaine” Chase, (who had recently been suspended and would have been formally terminated that day by Mayor George Baker for “conduct unbecoming a police officer") entered the old, East Precinct and a single shot was heard ringing throughout the building. Commonly referred to then, as Precinct # 1, the building is located at 626, on the corner of SE 7th and Alder Street and was formerly the location of the original Water Bureau.
Photo courtesy of Oregonian Historical Archive - Multnomah County Library.
     At 3:27 am, that morning, Chase shot his longtime rival and enemy, Lieutenant Phillip Raymond Johnson. Chase walked to the office doorway, after entering through the North-facing, double door entrance, and as Johnson arose from his chair, Chase shot him, at point blank range, aiming for Johnson's groin. The bullet entered the right side of the pelvis, shattering bone, and exiting the right buttock. But the powerful trajectory did not end there. The bullet penetrated a wall behind Lt. Johnson, entering a metal locker and tearing through the left sleeve of a uniform blouse belonging to one Officer Schenck. After being shot, Lt. Johnson fled through a doorway, to the left of his desk, running into the desk officers quarters and into a back office, on the other side of the building, with Chase following behind. Johnson ran past Patrolman Cook and Special officer Turley, as Cook sat at his desk and Turley stood nearby. Johnson uttered his last known words, when he breathlessly exclaimed “Chase shot me!”
     Chase followed, with a gun in each hand. He stood near the doorway, looking into the back office, with numerous metal lockers behind him, bearing their solitary witness to the murder he would so callously commit. Chase held a powerful .45 automatic and a .38 revolver as Johnson crouched low, trying to get cover behind a wooden desk. “When coming into the room Chase ordered Special Turley out of the room and commenced firing at Johnson.” Chase is reported to have barked at Turley, “Get out of here while the getting is good!” But another policeman reports that Chase said, “Get out of here while you still have a whole skin!”
     Whatever was said, Turley fled while he had the chance, going the way Chase had come in, in an effort to secure his pistol and come to the aid of his wounded Lieutenant. Patrolman Cook was trapped in back of his desk in the far left hand corner of the room, and fell to the floor, taking cover behind his desk, as both men exchanged rapid gunfire. Johnson shot at Chase five times, missing him with each round. Chase shot at Johnson five more times, hitting him in the right hand, between the ring and the little finger, with the force of the round knocking the gun out of Johnson's hand. Johnson was also hit in the left hand, just below the index finger and then hit in the left knee, on the outside portion, just below the knee cap. After unloading most of the rounds in both the .45 and the .38 revolver, Chase ran out the front entrance, running across the street to the service station. There he got into his 1939, black Buick Coupe and sped off, heading toward Washington street and ultimately, Barton Bridge in Clackamas County.
     Before Johnson was carried away, a Lt. Schulpius found him on the floor and attempted to communicate with him. “We arrived at 3:36 am and immediately endeavored to talk to Lt. Johnson, but he was unconscious and had a glassy stare in his eyes” (Official Officers Report, 1941). Johnson was taken to Emmanuel Hospital, by the Oregon Ambulance Company, and sometime later, at 4:02 am, was pronounced dead by one Dr. Lockwood. The likelihood of course, is that Johnson died well before 4:02 am and was probably dead or dying at 3:36 am, when Lt. Schulpius attempted to speak with him.
     None of the shots Johnson endured were lethal gut or head shots, so its likely that Johnson died of shock, blood loss and the massive heart attack that would follow. He lasted only about nine minutes after the first round tore through his pelvis. Johnson was 66-years-old at the time of his death, Chase, the shooter, 57. But what could fuel such lethal hatred? What could drive one policeman to kill another?

Photo courtesy of Oregonian Historical Archive - Multnomah County Library.
     When I first learned the story of Arthur “Blaine” Chase and Phillip Raymond Johnson, through my friend and crime historian JD Chandler, it seemed fairly simple. And like your typical non-law enforcement civilian, I found myself making enormous blanket generalizations about the tragedy. Poor Chase, I thought to myself. Johnson must have really crossed the line. Once I secured complete copies of all the documents in Chase and Johnson's files, perfectly preserved by one Sergeant Ralph O'Hara, (who rescued thousands of such PPB personnel files from the destruction of the incinerator) I discovered a very different story about two highly imperfect, yet multi-faceted men. Two very different men who would pay a heavy price for the choices they'd made decades earlier.
     Blaine Chase, much like Phillip Johnson came to his career in law enforcement late in life. Chase was 34-years-old when he was sworn in, April Fool's Day, 1918. Johnson, was 36-years-old when he was sworn in as a peace officer, October 16th, 1909. Johnson had been born and raised in the South, coming of age in Montross, Virginia and then moving to Oregon as a young man. Chase was a native Oregonian, born in Logan, Oregon, an “unincorporated community in Clackamas County,” near Milwaukie and the Barton community, coming of age in both close-knit farming communities. Chase's occupations are listed as an “Express Messenger” and a “farmer” before becoming a police officer, while Johnson worked as a “Laundry Driver” for the Troy Laundry Company in Portland, on SW Pine Street before he became an officer. They had started out as equals, of a sort, and had even worked as partners, but differences relating to personality, education level, drive and ambition led to a distinct disparity socially and professionally. And that eventually led to betrayal.

Phillip Johnson joined the Police Bureau in 1909 and worked as Blaine Chase's partner before being promoted to Lieutenant. Photo courtesy of Oregonian Historical Archive - Multnomah County Library.
     While leafing through Blaine Chase's personnel file, it became clear that by the late 1930's, this officer was profoundly burnt-out by the profession. Its also very likely, Chase had been a poor choice from the start. The file details more than one motor vehicle accident Chase had been involved in. In one such accident, Chase was seen “swerving all over the road” yelling profanity, and repeatedly ordering another driver to “get over!”which was the vernacular of the day for “Pull over!” In another report, a Portland citizen discovered and reported a stolen car and wanted to be paid the listed reward money, but to his dismay he discovered that Portland Police Officer Arthur Chase claimed he found the car first. Chase was given the reward money and would not even consider giving the other man half. The civilian wrote a letter of complaint to the chief of police in protest. The chief backed Officer Chase and the matter was closed.
     Chase was described by more than one civilian and police supervisor, as angry, bull-headed, overly aggressive and impatient. In one “History Sheet” form, written up by the Women's Protective Division, an allegation was made that Chase had gotten a woman known only as “Miss Andrews” pregnant. The charge is listed as “Bastardy” which refers to “the begetting of an illegitimate child.” The form documents more than one meeting with Miss Andrews, Chase and chief of Police Leon Jenkins to resolve the matter. Miss Andrews claimed that on October 25th, 1925 she was invited by Chase to spend time with him in his room. They had met at Ireland's Sandwich Shop in Portland, in July or August of that year and became friends. The report goes on to say, “She had burned her arm; was feeling badly. He was kind; wanted her to rest awhile in afternoon.” At that first official meeting with the police Chief, November 10th, 1925, Chase said he would “...see her through.”
     The woman needed money for an “operation” as Dr. L. R. Roberts had written a letter claiming she was too delicate and weak to “carry a infant to maturity” and “live.” The letter claims she was two months pregnant. It is also revealed that due to the distress of the situation, Miss Andrews attempted suicide November 2nd, 1925. Later during another follow-up meeting for the same issue, dated January 10th, 1926, Chase offered to give the woman $200 if she would release him from any “future obligation.” He wanted nothing to do with her or the baby she claimed to be carrying.
     Sometime later, Miss Andrews offered another letter to Chief Jenkins, claiming she suffered from “Albumin” and“should have treatments for some time.” She indicated that she wished Chase to pay for this as well. The condition of having Albumin unusually refers to a blood disorder from low protein levels. This can be caused by many things, such as Tuberculosis, poor nutrition, kidney and liver disease due to alcoholism, infections of the feet, decayed teeth, infected gums and even chronic bladder infections. All of those symptoms might be consistent for a “Chippy” or an amateur, or sometime prostitute. 
By the 1930s Blaine Chase was a burned out cop. His personnel file shows that he was probably not fit to be a cop in the first place. Photo courtesy of Oregonian Historical Archive - Multnomah County Library.
     Miss Andrews did not however, follow up with any claims for money for the “operation” she had previously stated she needed. And “Officer Chase did not make any attempt to raise the money,” the report concludes. The information presented in these documents presents a challenge. Was Miss Andrews really pregnant or was she merely a prostitute looking to make some quick money by smearing the reputation of a well-known, hot-headed, local policeman? In a time in Portland's history when prostitution was rampant and indeed accepted, the con of accusing a police officer of making a woman pregnant might seem an attractive idea to those criminals who might believe they could get away with such a ploy. And Chase would have been an easy target, particularly if he was known to visit prostitutes. There is no follow up information on the issue and no resolution offered or recorded in the file.
     Another woman entered into the beleaguered life of Patrolman Chase; a Mrs. Lois Mae Davis. She was a good friend who refered to Chase in the familiar, as “Blaine” and claimed to be a “very close friend.” She sent a letter to Chief of Police Jenkins, begging for help. She asked the Chief to force Officer Chase to repay a $140 loan she said she could prove, by virtue of a bank promissory note, that she had afforded him. As Mrs. Davis was a widow with two small daughters, who earned “half” of what Chase made, and who was struggling financially, she sent a letter, full of typo's and misspelled and crossed-out words to the Chief. He responded sometime later in a Memo, in which Chief Jenkins indicated that Officer Chase claimed “he does not owe you any debt,” and informed Mrs. Davis that it was a civil matter and she should take it up in the courts, “...in the proper manner.” The matter was closed. The woman was ignored and Chase did not repay the alleged $140 loan.
     Two years later, July 22nd, 1927, another History Sheet from the Women's Protective Division was filled out with yet another accusation against Chase. This charge is described as “Neglect of Aged Woman.” Mrs. Isacson was elderly and alone. Her husband had recently died. “Mrs. Isacson is sick, not able to be alone and without funds. Husband died two weeks ago. Arthur Chase, a policeman, is her son; he lives in Montgomery Apartments. Third and Montgomery. Chase knows his mother is destitute and does nothing to help her.” This form also has no stated resolution to the problem or if Chase offered any funds to prevent the homelessness of his aged mother, other than $10 which he claimed to have given her sometime before.
     What would compel a man to ignore his elderly mother and allow her to become destitute and perhaps even homeless? When Chase was born in 1884, there were no real laws against child abuse. Fathers and mothers could beat their children to the point of near death and were rarely charged with a crime. Census records indicate that Chase's mother “Clara” had been married at least four times during her life and possibly more than that. Census records from 1900 also show that Blaine Chase was living with a Step-father with the surname of “Richey” and that his last name had been changed to Richey for a short while. Chase must have resented his mother Clara for forcing him to change his name, because as soon as he was able, he changed his last name back to his natural father's surname of Chase.
     Phillip Johnson's personnel file shows a very different sort of man. He was a self-starter, studious and ambitious. He attended three years of Chiropractic college in Portland and became a licensed Chiropractor. He was an enlightened healer. Eventually, he also earned a law degree from an Oregon University and after becoming a patrolman, slowly advanced through the ranks, earning high praise from all those he worked with. Johnson is described as having “a pleasant personality” and as “easy going.” He was a man who “rarely gets ruffled.”
     Chase on the other hand, did not advance through the ranks and remained a patrolman, walking a beat his entire career. The more Chase remained on the job, the more surly, disengaged and alcoholic he became. At one point an evaluator describeed Chase as a man who suffered from a “superiority complex.” He became known as someone who was given to bragging about his superior policing skills at the expense of other officers who were apparently, not as tough or capable. At no time in Chase's career though, did he earn any commendations from his superiors or letters of praise from citizens.

Theresa Kennedy Dupay continues her research into this story and we can expect further chapters on this case from her in the near future. JC  Here is part two.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Cigars, Pool and Sports Betting

            As long as people have played sports there has been sports betting. For many years the corner of SW 4th and Washington was the center of bookmaking in Portland. In the 1880s it was a saloon called the White Elephant. Portland sports fans gathered there to drink and bet on prizefights, baseball games, cockfights and horse races. In the 1890s the saloon closed and Ed Schiller opened a cigar store in its place, with a cigar factory upstairs. Sports fans kept coming and soon Schiller’s was the place to be. When the Portland Nationals began to play baseball out at Vaughn Street Stadium in 1901, the players liked to hang out at Schiller’s smoking and talking with their fans.
Orator and baseball fan Julius Caesar was a regular customer at Schiller's Cigar Store. Photo from Oregonian Historical Archive, Multnomah County Library.

            It was not just the inside dope on the baseball team and the nickel slot-machines that kept the customers coming to Portland’s own “rope factory.”  There was a very colorful cast of characters that were regulars there. Jack Grim, the National’s coach, and “Talkative Jack” Marshal, the team’s secretary were often there. W.C. “Jerry” Powers worked behind the counter, selling cigars, taking bets and keeping the odds and scores updated on a huge blackboard. Julius Caesar, one of Portland’s famous African-American orators, stopped by regularly in his plug hat and bright red vest. If the Nationals were doing well, or someone was buying drinks or cigars, Julius would regale the crowd with a scene from Shakespeare or an ode on the prowess of the Nationals’ players.  If the Nationals were not doing well he was known to shake his head sadly and wander away. Joe Day, Portland’s most famous detective, was another regular customer at Schiller’s. Detective Day, who should go down in history for telling tall tales about his career as much as his actual exploits as a policeman and detective, was not a man to cross. In 1908 he nearly came to blows with C.J. Sweet, a member of the jury which had just convicted Edward Martin of manslaughter, rather than first degree murder, in the controversial Nathan Wolff murder case. Ed Schiller broke it up before anybody got hurt.
            In 1906 the party moved two blocks west to 6th & Washington, when the old building that had started out as Wagner’s General Store, was slated for destruction. Ed Schiller continued to roll and sell cigars and take bets at the new location, but Jerry Powers moved to the basement of the Perkins Hotel, a block away, to his own poolroom. There was a falling out between the two old friends around that time and Schiller’s fortunes began to decline.  Powers, who was starting to become the dominant figure in Portland betting, may have brought some pressure on his old boss after Schiller opened a competing pool room in the basement of his building in 1911. Portland passed its first anti-gambling ordinance in 1851, but the laws were rarely enforced. They were most often enforced when a gambler who made regular payments to the police wanted competition out of the way. The city started enforcing the gambling laws against Ed Schiller in 1913 and it was not long before he retired. Jerry Powers was the dominant bookmaker in Portland after that.
            There is no evidence that Jerry Powers was involved with any illegal activity beyond gambling. He was not a man to back down from a fight, though. In 1896, when Powers worked as a conductor on the Eastside Railway Company’s South Mount Tabor line, he took a bullet in the shoulder protecting his change-belt from armed robbers in the lonely waiting room at the east end of the line.  If you weren’t trying to rob him, Jerry Powers was an affable man, very popular with the regular crowd that hung out at Schiller’s and at Powers’ Poolroom. Powers used a telegraph wire and a telephone to keep scores and odds up to date on his blackboard. He pitched for the Fat Men’s Baseball team when they played charity games and he was known to hustle the occasional game of pool. Powers may have confined his illegal activities to breaking the gambling laws, but not all bookmakers are that scrupulous.
Bobby Evans right before his fall in 1932. Photo from Oregonian Historical Archive, Multnomah County Library.

            Augustine Ardiss was a young immigrant who grew up in poverty in South Portland. Fighting his way up from the streets, Ardiss was booked for his first professional boxing match, under the name Bobby Evans, in 1909. “Fighting Bobby” became his nickname and he got a reputation as a heavy hitter in the lightweight class.  At one memorable bout in Marshfield (as they used to call Coos Bay) in 1911, Evans broke both wrists pummeling his opponent, “Roughhouse” Burns, before throwing in the towel in the fourteenth round. Billy fought his way back from that injury to a shot at the Northwest Lightweight Championship title in 1915 in a match against Seattle’s Billy Farrell in Pendleton, OR. Lawrence Duff, a retired Portland professional wrestler, refereed the brutal fifteen-round battle. He awarded the decision to Farrell and “Fighting Bobby” lost his temper, punching Duff in the jaw. Duff used an old wrestling trick to disable the boxer and Pendleton Police Chief Kearney, who was in the audience, arrested him and quelled the near riot that the punch had started among the rowdy spectators.
            Bobby Evan’s misplaced punch ended his career as a boxer. He returned to Portland in 1917 with a young boxer he had discovered and began his career as a coach and fight promoter.  In 1920 he was appointed matchmaker by the Portland Boxing Commission, giving him his new nickname. “Matchmaker Bobby” Evans began a long career in the public eye in Portland. He would end up in the 1970s as a TV commentator giving his colorful opinion on occasional boxing matches. By then most Portlanders had forgotten about the dark rumors and frequent criminal charges that surrounded one of Portland’s earliest organized crime bosses. Rumors that he was connected to the East Coast mob were frequent. When he was asked about them he would usually laugh and say, “You must have me confused with somebody else.”
           
Bobby Evans in 1971. Photo from Oregonian Historical Archive, Multnomah County Library.
             Bobby opened a combination cigar store and boxing gym, The Shamrock Athletic Club on SW Second Ave. The police were never able, or willing to, prove the allegations that you could get illegal liquor at the Shamrock, but Bobby faced gambling charges more than once. Police found cards and dice with gambling chips on the table when they raided the place. Prohibition was in full swing by then and the price of booze in Portland was higher than anywhere else on the Pacific Coast. The city government was taking in about $100,000 a month in protection money from the few bootleggers who were allowed to operate. Anyone else who tried to sell liquor, whether backwoods still operators from Molalla or freelance smugglers from Canada, they faced strict enforcement of existing laws. The Portland Police Bureau often raced with Federal agents to grab the liquor first. There was even one near shoot-out between Portland police and Federal prohibition agents. Most of the liquor seized by the Portland police made it into the well-guarded storeroom in the basement of the Central Police Station. The “evidence” often disappeared, either at parties put on by cronies of Mayor George Baker or into the hands of “approved” bootleggers.
            Matchmaker Bobby coached young boxers, most of them immigrant children who participated in programs at South Portland’s Neighborhood House. A project of the National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW), Neighborhood House provided services for immigrant families suffering poverty and trying to assimilate into their new country. The children attended Portland Public Schools and after school programs at Neighborhood House. Evans recruited some of his most important employees from the Neighborhood House boxing team. Young men like Mike DePinto, Abe Wienstein and Jack Minsky boxed for Matchmaker Bobby. They all ended up in careers in organized crime. Abe Weinstein’s family business was junk dealing and he was a natural leader. He opened a second hand store on the eastside and recruited a gang of young burglars to keep it stocked. Mike DePinto and his two brothers Ray and Nick were muscle. They were especially good at coercing young women into prostitution. Jack Minsky was a cab driver and pimp. He was pretty good in a fight too. By 1932 these young men would become the largest and most dangerous criminal gang in the city.
Jerry Powers' death in 1921 came at a very good time for Matchmaker Bobby. Photo from Oregonian Historical Archive, Multnomah County Library.

            They were just getting started in 1921. Matchmaker Bobby, who was accused of fixing at least one fight, intended to control bookmaking in Portland. Jerry Powers was his only serious rival. On the night of October 23, 1921 someone walked into Power’s poolroom and shot Jerry once in the belly. The attacker walked out without taking any money and about an hour later Joe Heil, an immigrant from Austria, was found wandering in a daze with a pistol in his hand. He confessed to shooting the poolroom proprietor, saying he wanted to rob him. He couldn’t explain why he hadn’t taken any money and he didn’t speak very much English. Powers’ died of peritonitis several days after the shooting. The jury convicted Heil of first degree murder, but recommended leniency. He was sentenced to life in prison. Four years later he was pardoned and deported to Austria. There was no evidence that Powers’ death was anything but a robbery gone wrong. Maybe it was just a coincidence that Matchmaker Bobby controlled sports betting in Portland with an iron hand until his downfall in 1932.
Coming soon from the History Press

Monday, June 09, 2014

The Unfortunate Wives of George Sack

Who is JB Fisher, you ask.  He is my writing partner on the new book Portland Into the Vice Age 1934-1953 (please follow that link and support our campaign). He is also a talented writer and researcher with a strong interest in Portland crime during the mid-Twentieth Century, as he proves with this latest post.

I know you will enjoy his writing and want more from him.  I'll do my best to bring it to you. Now over to you, JB...


Near the corner of 162nd avenue and SE Stark was Jack and Jill’s Tavern. The building still stands today (Papa’s Casual Dining) but the scotch broom bushes that lined the nearby sidewalk in 1954 are long gone. At about 5 pm on February 18th of that year, Clyde Loughrey was walking past the tavern to a nearby grocery store when he noticed something yellow in the tangle of bare scotch broom branches. He took a closer look and found that it was the body of a woman, covered with a yellow coat. He hurried to the store and showed the grocer what he had found. Authorities soon arrived and eventually determined that this was the body of Goldie Sack.

Jack & Jill's Tavern about 1940. Photo courtesy of Roxanne Cummings, VintagePortland.com
In 1952, Goldie Goodrich had come to Portland from Great Falls, Montana where she had been a schoolteacher. The 52 year-old Dayton, Oregon native soon met and married George F. Sack (53). Some years earlier, Sack himself had settled in Portland and became the owner/manager of the Gordon Court Apartments on SW Montgomery St.
            When Sack went to the morgue on the 18th to identify his wife’s body after she had been missing for two days, he was frantic:  "That is my wife Goldie. Where did you find her? Where's her rings, where's her watch, where's her purse? Why don't you find them?" Immediately, police became suspicious and held Sack at the station for questioning.
             Within a day, George Sack found himself arrested by police and held on $10,000 bail. Further suspicions had been raised when residents of the area where the body was found came forward to report “strange goings-on” during the evening of February 16th and when two pictures were sent by wirephoto to the Oregonian by the Chicago Tribune. The pictures dated from 1925 and portrayed George Sack on trial for the 1924 murder of his second wife Edna, shot in the head while seated in the back seat of a cab with him during an apparent holdup. Upon seeing the first photo (a standing portrait), Sack confirmed his identity. However, when a second photo showed him at the murder trial of his second wife, he quickly reneged saying “It doesn’t look like me.”
George and Goldie Sack in 1952. The neighbors heard lots of fighting and George Sack's actions brought suspicion on him right away.
             In the 1925 trial, Sack had been defended by famed Chicago lawyer Clarence Darrow who around the same time was gaining prominence for his work in the Scopes “Monkey” trial and the Robert “Bobby” Franks murder. Darrow convinced the jury that Sack may have indeed murdered his second wife but that he suffered from insanity at the time. He spent a short time in an asylum and then walked free, but a peculiar aspect of the case was that no police records were found when the Chicago Tribune attempted to locate these at the request of Oregon authorities in 1954. While officials had little to work with on that case, they also learned that Sack’s first wife, Julia, had died under mysterious circumstances when she burned to death at the couple’s Chicago home in 1923.
             Meanwhile, evidence had been mounting to connect George to the death of his third wife Goldie. Witness George Cary described to police how he had been walking along SE Stark Street around 9:30 pm on Tuesday February 16th. He was on his way to get stove oil at the Richfield service station on the corner of 162nd and SE Stark when he noticed a car parked on Stark near Jack and Jill’s. It was running with its lights on. As Cary walked, he watched a man get out of the car and walk to the trunk with a slight limp. Raising the trunk, the man was starting to remove something when a car turned onto the street and headed toward him. He closed the trunk and returned to the driver’s seat. After the vehicle passed by, the man got out again and returned to the trunk. Again, several passing vehicles interrupted his efforts and he returned to the driver’s seat. Cary walked slowly and watched carefully. On the third attempt, the man lifted something out of the trunk and brought it to the curb. Cary couldn’t identify what it was but explained to police that "you could tell it was something rather heavy the way the man acted when he took it out." The man disappeared from the curb with whatever it was he was carrying. As witness Cary walked past the parked vehicle, he noted the license number and repeated it in his head until he arrived at the service station. He then asked the station operator to write down 827-107. Within a few minutes, both Cary and the service station operator watched the vehicle drive past with “the motor racing.”
            Sure enough, the license plate number matched George Sack’s 1950 Chrysler. That vehicle had been parked at the Gordon Court Apartments on February 16th, 1954 and Sack explained to officials questioning him on the 18th that he had not driven the car since the morning of the 16th when he had driven to Safeway on an errand. Yet there was convincing evidence that he had driven the car later in the day on the 16th. Several residents of the apartment complex told police how Sack’s car was parked outside the furnace room (just below his own apartment) around 6 pm. Witness Vera Craig, a former manager of the apartment complex who had come to dine with a another resident, explained how Sack was always kind to park his vehicle away from the complex so that residents could park there. This was an unusual exception. Craig further described how she and the friend left the complex around 8 pm and when they returned at about 9, Sack’s vehicle was no longer parked outside the furnace room.
Information soon surfaced that two previous wives had met bad ends. In this photo George Sack is on trial for the murder of his second wife in 1925.
             In addition to testimony about the vehicle, residents were also willing to tell police (and later the jury) about the status of George and Goldie’s marriage. Maralyn K. Billie, a former tenant of the apartment complex, reported that she frequently heard the couple quarreling from her nearby unit. Once during a particularly heated exchange, she heard Goldie scream “Don’t hit me again!” Several other tenants told of similar episodes and investigators learned that Goldie had attempted to file for divorce from George in March 1953. Her efforts were unsuccessful because, according to the courts, she had not resided in Portland long enough to separate from her husband.
            When George Sack stood trial for the murder of his third wife in September of 1954, witnesses testified about seeing the car on the night of February 18th and many described the troubled relationship between the couple. Much visual evidence was exhibited including a life size photograph of the deceased victim’s back showing a large circular shaped bruise. Along side this was a life-size picture of the trunk of George Sack’s car, showing a spare tire in shape and curvature identical to the bruise on Goldie’s back. Another image showed a man confined in the same position in a similar trunk and it was revealed that one would have to be unconscious to assume such as tight and awkward position. That Goldie was put in the trunk, that she died of asphyxiation, and that moderate levels of a “hypnotic depressant drug” that could induce a deep sleep were found in her body all corroborated with the visual evidence. 
Prosecutors also provided meticulous details of the numerous savings bonds that Goldie purchased (sometimes using her maiden name) during the time that she was married to George Sack. Strikingly, these were cashed by the defendant just days after his wife’s death. Even though the trial rarely touched on the question of Sack’s previous two wives, newspaper reports had already revealed that he had profited from insurance policies taken out by both of them.
Despite his persistent plea of innocence throughout the trial (and his unsuccessful effort to appeal the case in the state Supreme Court), George Sack was found guilty of first-degree murder in the death of Goldie Goodrich Sack and he was sentenced September 30, 1954 to die in the Oregon lethal gas chamber. Slowed up by the appeal process and still awaiting his decided fate on September 24, 1963, George F. Sack killed himself in the Oregon penitentiary by looping a shoestring around his neck and tightening it with a toothbrush. He left a note and here is what it said:
“Let it be known that I forgive and forget all my accusers and I ask for the same forgiveness for me. Please bury me in Salem. Charge burial expenses to my account.”
Years earlier, two funeral services had been held for Goldie. One was organized and paid for by George Sack in Portland. Organ music filled the Holman mortuary as George Sack sat alone to hear the pastor, accompanied in the room only by county police detectives George Minielly and Ed Fuller. The other service, arranged by her brothers and sisters and attended by over 120 friends and family members, was held in Macy and Sons Mortuary in McMinnville. Goldie Rosa Goodrich was interred beside her mother and father in the family plot at the nearby Yamhill-Carlton Pioneer Memorial cemetery.   
--JB Fisher 

Friday, April 11, 2014

Pussy Willows: The Murder of Kermit Smith

     Well, publishing two books not only takes a lot of work and energy, but it also brings great opportunities. It has also brought some interesting new friends, like JB Fisher. (Gotta love the first name.) This young man asked for my help in a project involving an infamous case from the 1950s. Slowly but surely he let me in on the fact that he had uncovered the notebooks and detective files of Walter Graven, a Multnomah County Sheriff's Deputy in the 1950s and 1960s. The files have been a motherlode of information on crime in Portland and I am proud to unveil the first fruits of Mr. Fisher's labor.  It is the tale of a brutal domestic murder in 1955 and the pictures come from Graven's own files. This treasure trove will soon produce a book in collaboration between JD Chandler and JB Fisher, and probably many more from Mr. Fisher in the future. I hope you enjoy his writing as much as I do.






Oliver Kermit Smith's car was blown to pieces when he tried to start it in the parking lot of the Columbia Edgewater Country Club. Picture from the files of Det. Walter Graven

The news earlier this week that former Aspen socialite Pamela Philips has been found guilty of arranging the 1996 car bombing that killed her ex-husband Gary Triano invites us to consider some eerie parallels to a nearly forgotten 1955 Portland murder. On April 21st of that year, as he was returning to his car after a game of Gin Rummy with friends at the Columbia Edgewater Country Club, 35-year-old lawyer Oliver Kermit Smith was blown up by a car bomb. 
It had been just seven days since a bomb exploded in a third-floor restroom of the downtown Meier & Frank Co. building and the city had been abuzz with at least half a dozen telephoned bomb threats since. But as police detectives were quick to discover, this car bombing was not related. After following several false leads, they set their sights on Victor Lawrence Wolf, 45. The name had been mentioned about six weeks prior, when Smith summoned police after being beaten up in front of his home by a shadowy figure who subsequently escaped into the night. When asked by police if the victim could think of anyone who might have done this to him, he stated simply, “Wolf.” It turned out that the silver-haired Victor Wolf rented a room in a house owned by Smith’s 34-year-old wife and he did odd jobs as an electrician and handyman at the Smith residence.
Oliver Kermit Smith was the victim of a plot between his ex-wife and her tenant. Photo from the files of Det. Walter Graven

 In talking to Wolf, police learned that he had in fact been at the Smith home the day before the car bombing, helping Mrs. Smith install a swing set for the Smiths’ young daughter Susie while Kermit was at work. When asked whether his fingerprints might have been on Smith’s 1952 Buick sedan still sitting in ruins in the country club parking lot, Wolf was quick to answer, “Oh, I might have been alongside it. I could have touched it” although he denied ever being in the car. Closer inspection of Smith’s car revealed yellow and red wires attached to the vehicle’s starter solenoid and joined with friction tape to a lamp cord. A subsequent check of Wolf’s brown Mercury sedan parked in front of his Tillamook Street home yielded yellow and red wires hidden in a left side air vent. Wolf showed startled amazement, wondering “How did that get in there?” Next, black tape was found in the basement and in the garage. Wolf was whisked away to the county sheriff’s office for further questioning.
Also brought in for questioning was Marjorie Smith, widow of the late attorney. She told the investigators that she had been married three times, and that she had divorced Kermit for about three years before recently reconciling and remarrying him in February 1955. Sounding like a stereotypical 1950s housewife, she reassured the policemen that married life was now happy even though he had been abusive in the past: “Everything was working out fine. Oh, we still had fights once in a while, but who doesn’t? I get over my mads easy, but his would drag on. All I had to do, though, was bake an apple pie and everything would be all right again.” She went on to reveal that she had dated Victor Wolf several times while divorced from Kermit, explaining that she felt sorry for Wolf because his wife had run away with another man.

Detective Leitheiser (right) was bad cop; Det. Walter Graven (left) was good cop. Electrician Victor Wolf (seated) was on the spot. Photo from the files of Det. Walter Graven.


Meanwhile, Wolf was facing scrutiny from criminal detectives Leitheiser and Graven who were pressuring him to confess. Within a short time, he surprised them by asking, “Could I get off with maybe second degree murder? Would I have to go to the gas chamber?” They told him that the jury would decide those questions and then he muttered, “I don’t want to drag her into it, blacken her reputation.” He asked Leitheiser to leave the room—he had been playing bad cop and Wolf felt intimidated. After that, he proceeded to tell Detective Graven the story.
It had started when he rented the room in Mrs. Smith’s house on Tillamook Street. She was divorced at the time and they talked about homesteading in Alaska. They knew it would be expensive and her idea was that she would remarry Kermit and then collect his $20-30,000 life insurance policy. So they remarried and then she asked Wolf to help knock off her husband. There was the idea to shoot him in their house, which Wolf couldn’t carry out (he tried back in March, he said, but the plan was botched). He asked why she couldn’t just divorce her husband and she told him that Kermit said he would take their young daughter if she tried again. So they cooked up the bomb plot. Wolf got a lot of dynamite and he used his electrician skills to rig up the wiring in the Smiths’ garage while Mrs. Smith drank coffee with the neighbor lady who would have been suspicious. They had made a trip together to Ridgefield, Washington to get some of the dynamite a few days before the murder. They had a picnic alongside the road, and Wolf clipped some wild pussy willows for Marjorie. On the day of the bombing, Wolf pulled into the country club lot around 7:00 pm and finished the wiring job. Then he drove off.

Victor Wolf claimed that he had been a sex-slave to Marjorie Smith. The case drew a great deal of attention, including this layout in Sept. 1955 issue of True Police Cases magazine. From the files of Det. Walter Graven.


              When the detectives told Marjorie Smith what Victor Wolf had confessed, she was indignant and amazed. She said it was impossible and that she had nothing to do with “that repulsive old man!” Police went on to find the gun that Wolf claimed Marjorie had given him (it had belonged to Kermit’s father, a police officer). They found a set of keys to the Smith house in Wolf’s possession. They even found the pussy willows in a vase in the Smiths’ basement. Returning to the roadside spot in Rigdefield, they discovered that the cut branches matched the cut ends of the bushes in the field. Nearby, spent dynamite caps lay scattered on the ground. Still Marjorie Smith denied it all. 
Not long after being booked for first-degree murder, Marjorie Smith was exonerated by a jury in Yamhill County. Victor Lawrence Wolf was sentenced to life in prison for his crime. In 1957, a California court found Marjorie Evans Smith “unfit to maintain custody” of her daughter Susan, who had been cared for by Kermit Smith’s sister Ellen Hightower in Santa Clara County, CA since the time that her mother was initially arraigned.  
--J. B. Fisher


Thursday, April 18, 2013

Now You Look Out


This post is dedicated to Dana Beck and my friends at the Sellwood Moreland Improvement League (SMILE).

  
            Carl Abbott, in his very readable Portland in Three Centuries, gives a good account of the development of Portland on the east side of the Willamette, especially the “steamboat suburb” of Sellwood. In 1882 Henry Pittock, publisher of the Oregonian, and a small group of investors purchased land from the pioneer claims of John Sellwood and Henderson Leulling, and formed the Sellwood Real Estate Company. Within a few months the steamer Dolly began to make regular runs between the Sellwood dock, at the foot of Umatilla St. and downtown Portland. Pittock and his partners platted out streets and town lots and hired a crew to come in and begin clearing timber from the low flat plain, well drained by Crystal Springs Creek.
            Soon the Sellwood waterfront boasted a sawmill and a furniture factory that employeed thirteen fulltime workers. By the time the Morrison Bridge opened in 1887 Sellwood had incorporated as a town and had about 500 residents. The nascent city of Sellwood had an elected town marshal, but was always dependant on the county sheriff for any real law enforcement. Part of the town was in Clackamas County and the rest was in an unincorporated region, so the sheriff in Oregon City had jurisdiction, but in reality the Multnomah County sheriff in Portland was closer. Even though it could take half a day for the sheriff to arrive from Rivercity, this relationship was formalized when Multnomah County annexed Sellwood in 1893.
            Sellwood was seen as a rural retreat from the fast-paced urban life of Portland. On the river just north of town, near the waterworks that pumped water from the Willamette to supply East Portland was the Old Red House, an early version of the road house, or semi-rural drinking establishments. Across the river in bustling Fulton Park was the west side equivalent, The White House. In 1888 Charles Bellegarde, who had already been chased out of the mining fields of Sacramento for his gambling and pimping activities, decided that he wanted to get away from the hurly burly of Portland and opened the St. Charles Hotel in Sellwood.
            The St. Charles was located at the corner of Umatilla and 9th St. (new style 17th Ave) and Bellegarde spared no expense to bring a luxurious environment to the small town. On the northeast corner of the street Bellegard built a saloon with a residential apartment where he lived. Next door he built the two story hotel. Bellegarde, a gambler and rumored to be a French immigrant, was known as a macqueraeu who lived off the earnings of his courtesans. Prostitution was illegal in Oregon in the 19th century, but laws were very selectively enforced. For a couple of years Bellegarde was considered an asset to the community, so his prostitution, gambling and drug use were overlooked. The St. Charles prospered and soon became legendary up and down the Willamette for luxurious dining, gambling and women.
            Charles H. Hewitt, a native of New York, came to Oregon in the 1870s and studied law in the office of Judge Strahan in Albany. In 1883 when Willamette University Law School opened Hewitt joined the first class and then came to Portland to open his practice. Nineteenth century Portland was a land of opportunity for young lawyers. There was political opportunity in the chaotic in-fighting of the Republican Party and there was money to be made in land speculation. There were two areas of law that were especially lucrative: probate and divorce. A crafty lawyer handling these types of cases could often get his hands on pieces of property that could be turned into cash.
            Charles Hewitt was no John H. Mitchell, but he soon had a prosperous practice and his wife, a doctor had a good practice in Vancouver. Between the two of them there was money to invest and a city lot in Sellwood looked like a good investment. Hewitt and Bellegarde had done business together and were friendly. It may have been his friendship with Bellegarde that inspired Hewitt to buy the lot on the southeast corner of Umatilla and 9th in Sellwood, across the street from the St. Charles Hotel. In the spring of 1890 Hewitt began construction on a two story building on that corner.
Clayton's Saloon was on this spot in 1890. The old building was replaced in 1906 and became Gottschalk's Cafe. The building is still there at SE Umatilla and 17th Ave. Today it's known as the Sellwood Inn. Image courtesy of SMILE.

            In 1890 Umatilla and 9th was the center of Sellwood, geographically and socially. Bellegarde’s saloon and brothel was the main attraction, but across the street was the more respectable Clayton Saloon and Livery Stable. A couple of blocks west on Umatilla was the steamer landing, where the new ferry to Fulton Park had been operating for more than a year and Dolly made regular visits. To the north 9th street turned into the long lonely road through the swamps and hills to the Red House and East Portland. Whatever Hewitt had planned for his corner, it would have been a money-maker.
            1890 had not been a good year for Charles Bellegarde. Records are scarce, so it is hard to know if murders or suicides actually occurred in the St. Charles Hotel, but in less than two years it had attained the standing of a “cursed” hotel. People in Sellwood whispered that anyone who slept in the St. Charles was doomed to commit suicide or be murdered. In January 1890 the authorities closed Bellegarde down and soon the abandoned hotel began to look cursed. Bellegarde might have begun to feel cursed too, because soon his wife left him and filed for divorce and his old friend Charlie Hewitt was representing her.
            Bellegarde’s wife, a mysterious French courtesan variously known as Blanche, Victoria or Webfoot Mary, had hired the aggressive attorney to get her share of Bellegarde’s fortune before he gambled or drank it away. To Hewitt the divorce was just business; but Bellegarde took it personally and their friendship had become strained. On July 7, 1890 Hewitt hired a one-horse livery rig in downtown Portland and drove south on the Macadam Road to Fulton Park where he could catch the ferry to Sellwood. He drove up Umatilla St., eyeing the partially erected building on his own lot and parked his horse and rig at Clayton’s Stable across the street.
            Fred Clayton and his wife Anne were running the saloon as usual, while Fred Jr. took care of the stable. Two generations of Claytons would keep the popular saloon and livery stable open until 1906, when George Gottschalk bought the place and put up a new building; still in business as the Sellwood Inn. In the summer of 1890 Charles Hewitt stopped to have a drink in Clayton’s and soon his old buddy Charles Bellegarde joined him. The bad blood between the two friends was well known and the Claytons were very curious. Fred tried to eavesdrop more than once, but Bellegarde was being very cagey. Once he gave Clayton a dime saying, “Get yourself a drink and keep away or it will be your turn.” Clayton didn’t know what he meant, but he got the drift and stayed away.
            Fred and Anne heard enough to know that the two men were talking about Webfoot Mary and Bellegarde seemed very upset. Bellegarde and Hewitt were drinking beer and with each round they loudly proclaimed their friendship and shook hands. It seemed a little stiff, though and soon the men were stiff too. At one point Bellegarde raised his glass and said, “Do you see that beer? My life has been pure as that beer. I have never hurt anyone. I have never killed anyone.” He lowered his beer and gazed into it, then he raised his eyes to his old friend. “I mean to kill you,” he said.
            “Mmph,” spluttered Hewitt, who was pretty drunk too and took the other man’s threat as a joke. Bellegarde drank his beer and soon the two men were staggering across the street toward Bellegarde’s place. As they crossed Bellegarde told Hewitt that he could sleep in the hotel. Hewitt said loudly, “I wouldn’t sleep in that cursed place for a thousand dollars. I’ll take my chances sleeping with you.”
            The next morning things seemed pretty normal, except for the amount of drinking that went on. Charles Bellegarde and Charles Hewitt came into Clayton’s for a couple of drinks before returning across the street for breakfast. Anne Clayton saw the two men arguing on the porch a little while later and Clayton came across the street for his buggy and talked Fred into riding out to Crystal Springs Creek with him. The weather was nice and Hewitt didn’t say much on the short journey. The two men took the air and then returned to Clayton’s stable. Hewitt went back to Bellegarde’s place.
            About 11:30 men were starting to gather at Clayton’s for lunch when they heard three pistol shots from Bellegarde’s house. Suddenly Charles Hewitt burst through the door and ran into the vegetable garden at the side of the house. Bellegarde emerged in the doorway with a breech-loading shotgun. Hewitt fell to his knees in the garden and begged for his life. 

            “Don’t, Charlie, don’t,” he said.
            Fred Clayton and a few others stood in the street watching the scene and they added their voices to the plea, begging the Frenchman not to shoot. Bellegarde fired the shotgun and Hewitt fell dead in a potato patch. Bellegarde then turned to the on-lookers and brandished the double-barreled shotgun.
            “Now you look out,” he said.
            The witnesses, completely unnerved, scattered and found hiding places. Bellegarde went into his place and slammed the door. The town marshal made himself scarce and the frightened witnesses closed the street and kept everyone away from the death house, sure that to go near Bellegarde’s lair would mean instant death. It took several hours for Multnomah County Coroner George River to arrive and take charge of Hewitt’s body. Since witnesses said that Bellegarde was alive and threatening to kill anyone who came after him he stayed away. Finally Sheriff Penumbra Kelly arrived with two of his men and cautiously approached the house.
            Bellegarde had gone up to his bedroom right after the shooting and standing in front of a mirror slashed his own throat with two steady strokes of a Johnson pipe pattern straight razor. By the time Sheriff Kelly broke into the place Bellegarde had been dead for several hours and his body lay in a large pool of blood. According to the Oregonian, “As soon as the fact of Bellegarde’s death became known the courage of Sellwood’s inhabitants rose 30 degrees, and it was difficult to keep the crowd away from the house.”
            The sensational nature of the crime piqued public interest and Coroner River put the two bodies on display in his funeral parlor at 4th and Yamhill. Mrs. Dr. Hewitt had her husband’s remains taken to Vancouver for burial as soon as the inquest was over; but Charles Bellegarde, with his throat wounds artfully sewn closed, remained on display for a couple of days before being buried in Sellwood Cemetery. The attractive mustachioed macquereau drew quite a crowd, estimated up to 7000, many of them young ladies. The cursed St. Charles Hotel remained vacant for years before becoming the Portland Rug Co, which was operating on the site in 1927. The haunted old building was torn down in 1950 when the current structure replaced it.

Thanks to the Sellwood Moreland Improvement League (SMILE) History Committee for the photograph of Gottschalk’s and research on the neighborhood.

           
            If you enjoyed this story I hope you will read my book