Wednesday, November 05, 2014
Dear Loyal readers,
Here is he eagerly awaited conclusion to Theresa Kennedy Dupay’s study of the 1941 Johnson-Chase shootings. Theresa is a very thorough researcher and I am always glad to have her help here at the Slabtown Chronicle. This story is put into its historical context in my new book Portland on the Take now available from the History Press. -- JD Chandler
Captain H.A. Lewis, who investigated the shooting at the East Precinct, detailed the various times Lt. Johnson had cause to suspend Blaine Chase, but chose to do nothing. It seems apparent that Johnson was avoiding some kind of possible confrontation that he knew would explode if he did exercise his authority and power over Patrolman Chase, his onetime partner of the 1920's. Ultimately, Johnson's avoidance of Chase's blatant disregard for protocol forced Captain Lewis to order Johnson to suspend Chase. Johnson was instructed to suspend Chase because Johnson was Chase's immediate superior and any form of discipline would have to come from him. Captain Lewis also ordered Johnson to inform Chase that the suspension had really come from him, and not Johnson, as if that admission might ameliorate the sting of the suspension. Tragically, it was still Johnson who had to approach Chase the week before the crimes, to inform him of the suspension that would take place, knowing as he would that Chase would explode in a fury. It seems inexplicable why anyone in the bureau would have forced these two men to work together, given their past history, which most of the older rank and file had to have been aware of.
Captain Lewis, a native of England, had signed on with PPB in 1911. The bureau was much smaller then, Lewis had to have been more than cognizant of the betrayal Chase had suffered at the hands of Johnson back in 1922. And yet in the following excerpt from his written report to Chief Jenkins, Lewis ignores the real issue regarding the true motive for Chase’s attack on Johnson and offers a superficial reason as to Chase's longstanding bitterness and resentment.
“During the past nine or ten months his continued absence without leave has grown to the point that I instructed Lieutenant Johnson to take some action. When he spoke to Chase about it, Chase flew into a rage and accused the Lieutenant of picking on him. This was about the middle of March. I told Lieutenant Johnson to tell Chase it was my order that the next time he was A. W. O. L. he would be suspended for three days and that if he was not satisfied I would file charges against him. Upon receiving this information he again flew into a rage at Lieutenant Johnson and accused him of discriminating against him, although he knew this was my doing. However, the Lieutenant saw fit to overlook the matter again and let it ride until Chase deliberately absented himself for three days without so much as a phone call. I instructed the Lieutenant to suspend him for three more days. When this was done he flew into a rage and bawled the Lieutenant out with the result that I did file charges against Chase and told him that I would personally appear against him with the hope that the Disciplinary Board would teach him a lesson. He appeared to have no resentment toward me particularly but evidently blamed the Lieutenant for all his trouble and worked himself into the frame of mind which ended in the shooting. I have no doubt that Chase's general physical condition, and the fact that he was always surly and bull-headed under any restriction or discipline, contributed largely to the breaking down of a mind which, in my opinion, was never restricted by any self-discipline and was never exceptionally strong. This is my conclusion and my reason for same and I am inclined to think that this is the only motive there was behind the shooting. (Official Police Report, 1941).
The Lewis report seems surprisingly obtuse and overly simplistic. Chase resented Johnson merely because Johnson was obeying orders from Captain Lewis to suspend him and for no other reason? Unlikely. Johnson went out of his way to avoid causing trouble for Chase, despite his repeated absenteeism and tardiness. And yet, Chase did not resent Captain Lewis, who was the individual in power who was actually behind the suspensions. Why would Chase blame Johnson or direct so much resentment to him, if he were only angry because of professional differences, such as a disciplinary action of suspension due to absenteeism?
Lt. Johnson’s affair with Chase’s young wife was at the heart of the conflict. It appears that this kind of infidelity was not uncommon at PPB, as during the same general time period, there was another affair that ended up becoming well known. Though this controversy was apparently short lived and nothing came of it, it was a cause for concern. In Frank Springer's 2008 memoirs, he makes mention of an officer that was getting death threats from another officer due to an affair, which took place in the early 1940's. Officer A had had an affair with officer B's wife and there was a lot of threatening and worry over the husband who wanted to kill the offending officer. This situation was handled correctly. The two men working the same relief were transferred to different precincts and eventually the bad feeling between the two died down.
The reality is, if a patrolman could so easily discover the truth of what had transpired between Chase and Johnson during the 1920's, in the way that Patrolman Frank Springer had, why would Captain Lewis not know those very titillating and scandalous details of the 1922 affair himself? The written report by Captain H. A. Lewis seems like a blatant whitewash, designed as a personal attack on Chase's character and on his intelligence. It’s clear that Chase was burnt-out with police work, in poor health and may have been frustrated with certain aspects of the command structure but there is no evidence that he was a bumbling idiot either. The personnel file indicates Chase was skilled as an “excellent hunter,” a fisherman, farmer and overall outdoorsman. He had worked as an Express Messenger and was described by one man who had been involved in a motor vehicle altercation with him as “a clever driver.” To be proficient in all of these things one must possess and maintain a certain level of intelligence and savvy. No, there was far more than just a resentment of authority or discipline at the core of Chase's grudge against Phillip Johnson. Far more.
Frank Springer recalled the aftermath of that day in May 1941, “Chase then got into his car and he drove about 25 miles out to a little farm where he grew up. Then he shot himself. It was a murder-suicide. It was written up in the True Detective Magazine, and they titled the article, “The Mad Mutiny of the Kill-Crazy Cop.” Nothing could have been more wrong than that. All the stories about the both of them were wrong. I've told the truth of it,” (Springer, 2008).
After Blaine Chase shot Lt. Phillip Johnson, leaving him to die less than 10 minutes later, and fled in his black coupe, he drove to Clackamas near Barton and Logan, Oregon, where he'd been born and raised. Just beyond the Barton Bridge, chase sat in his car, alongside the Clackamas River. Who knows what he did there? Did he rage to himself? Did he replay the killing in his mind? Did he remember his young bride Venola, during their short-lived happiness? Did he recall the day they were married and exchanged their wedding vows? He would have been 37-years-old then, Venola only 18.
It is possible and even likely that he wept, bitterly recalling all the various losses he'd experienced in his life, and wondering in dismay, what it all meant, if anything. The detectives suspected he'd be heading to Logan. Word must have gotten around that he still had family there and that it meant something to him, as he'd been raised there and went there regularly to fish and hunt with family members and friends. Blaine Chase would go to the one place he'd been the happiest in life, before he had headed off to the big city, to try his luck so many years before.
Less than 300 feet from the ramshackle homestead he'd been raised in, and five hours after he'd murdered Phillip Johnson, Chase ended his life, shooting himself just behind the right ear with his Smith and Wesson .38 service revolver. The bullet exited his skull and became lodged in the top portion of the car. The detectives Nelson and Abbot had been looking for him in the Clackamas area for hours, since 6:00 am, along with a Lt Pat Moloney. Was it possible Chase knew they were in the area, searching for him? Was it possible he heard the distant wail of their sirens as they combed through the Logan/Barton areas? Chase locked himself in his car, locking both doors and forcing the police to break into it later, to gain access to his deceased body. He would not make it easy for anyone. He would rebel up until the very last. When they finally did break into the car, they found his service revolver still gripped tightly in his right hand, his body slumped over in the front seat.
What can we learn from the story of Patrolman Arthur “Blaine” Chase and Lt. Phillip Raymond Johnson? Is there a lesson to be learned in this story somewhere? At a time when police officer's did not have a union or a pension, (or any form of emotional or psychological support to help them process the burn-out and inevitable heartache associated with long-term careers in police work) the necessity and habit was for officers to continue working well past retirement age and physical ability. This had to have led to feelings of frustration, helplessness and depression among the older rank and file. Johnson had been a man pushing 70-years-old and was still working the graveyard shift to support himself and his wife, Sarah. Chase was a thrice married, 57-year-old, burnt-out policeman in poor health with no other marketable job skills and no way to support himself other than police work. Both men were loved by others though, and considered valuable human beings with numerous friends and relatives who cared deeply about them. Both men were also imperfect, infallible and highly flawed.
Perhaps the best lesson to be learned from the story of Blaine Chase and Phillip Johnson is that sometimes it’s best to steer clear of other men's wives. Sometimes it's best to consider that a young couple needs the time and the space to grow together, unencumbered by the desires and intentions of others who may choose to callously interfere. Along that vein of thought, what would history have to record had Phillip Johnson never pursued young Venola? Would she and Chase have developed a strong marriage? Would Venola have matured into a responsible and loyal young wife and would the 19-year age difference between her and Chase, have ultimately made any kind of difference? Would they have had children? Would they have been happy? These are questions that can never be answered.
Epilogue: After fired police officer, Arthur “Blaine” Chase killed Lt. Phillip Raymond Johnson, May 9th, 1941, he fled Precinct # 1 and drove to Logan Oregon. “This being a wooded country and the birthplace of Chase.” There, he quickly visited his “nephew” Arthur Wood, who was actually seven years older than Chase, and of whom Chase was extremely fond. Arthur was the son of either his older sister Edna or a much older half-brother and had been a source of friendship for Chase for many years. Chase pounded on the front door of the house, at about 4:00 am, and ended up waking his nephew and wife out of a sound sleep.
Chase had emptied out his Apartment and a storage unit less than a week before and had given all his possession's to his nephew Arthur and his wife. This included an “outboard motor boat” and all his other possessions, including furniture, clothing and other odds and ends.
That morning, he informed his nephew that $2,000 in “insurance” money would be given to a Mrs. Mary Robinson of Portland, Oregon, at $100 per month. He explained that if anything happened to her, then the remainder of the money would go to Arthur Wood and his wife. Mrs. Mary Robinson was a “friend” and providing for her once Chase was gone must have been extremely important to him.
When asked by his nephew Arthur, why Chase was leaving his billfold and ID cards, he told his nephew that he was “detailed on a job that he couldn't have any identification on him,” but that he would keep in touch. He also told his nephew Arthur that his doctor had diagnosed him with “heart trouble” and that he had told him he was “liable to die at any time” because of it. Because of this new condition, Chase explained that he had left Arthur and his wife $500 each, which they would inherit at the time of his death through the family attorney. He explained to them, (and had the week previous) that this was the reason he was giving them all of his possession's, guns, furniture, money and his boat. That he wanted to prepare for his eventual death and give them all of his worldly possessions. It is noted in the police report filled out by Lt. Pat Moloney that...“Mrs. Arthur Wood is the Ex-wife of Arthur Chase.” Venola.
Chase left his nephew's home around 4:30 am, leaving behind the colt .45 automatic weapon he'd used to kill Johnson and several other guns. He kept in his possession his Smith and Wesson .38 special, policeman's service revolver. This was the same gun he'd carried for the twenty three years he'd been a street cop with the Portland Police Bureau, working the dangerous, mean streets of Portland. After changing into a set of clean clothes, Chase walked out to his black Buick Coupe, in front of the house. It is reported that Chase sat in his car, unmoving, for about ten minutes before finally heading east, driving to that ridge, overlooking the Clackamas River. After reaching his final destination, and less than 300 feet from the home he'd grown up in, about a half a mile from his nephew's home, Chase sat in his car with the .38 in his hand. After the sun came up, in the morning, between 8:00 and 9:00 am, Blaine Chase put the gun to his head...
Johnson lay dying for several minutes on the floor of that back office in Precinct # 1 on SE Alder Street. He was in pain and “groaning” as Officer Cook placed a white pillow beneath his head, called for the ambulance and attempted to comfort him, all while Johnson slowly bled out. When Johnson could still speak, before he became unconscious, he remained silent and said nothing. Even when officer's Cook and Turley gently questioned him, he looked at them with lucid eyes and refused to speak. What was he thinking, as he lay there, knowing he was going to die? Johnson must have learned that Venola had married another man in 1934, after carrying Chase's surname for thirteen years, as a single woman living alone. And he must have learned that that man was indeed Chase's own nephew, Arthur Wood.
What had happened in those long thirteen years before Venola remarried? Had Blaine and Venola continued to see each other, secretly perhaps? Had they attempted to reconcile, only to fail? Johnson must have learned through the incestuously close police grapevine that Venola had married her ex-husband's nephew, Arthur Wood. How could that kind of information remain unknown to him?
Did Johnson blame Chase for his final course of action? Did he understand his hatred? Did he indeed forgive Chase? Or did he regard the final attack as nothing more than belated justice? Perhaps a simple accounting of something familiar, that he felt deserving of in some way? Something unexplainable that he could never fully sidestep or avoid.
One thing is clear. Blaine Chase was capable of forgiveness and of love. He was able to forgive his former wife Venola and not only wish her well with his nephew in their new married life, but also to provide for her too. It is likely that Chase had maintained contact with Venola for years in fact, after they had separated. And he cared enough for her and for his nephew to give them all he had acquired in his life; which included furniture, a valuable boat, cash and his very last stitch of clothing.
But what existed in Chase's secret heart is what finally motivated him to kill Johnson. Love for Venola and despair over her loss. Johnson had destroyed his initial happiness in life. He had stolen away from him and sullied his new, young wife which led to a scandal that Venola apparently struggled for years to overcome.
Mrs. Venola Katheryn Woods lived for another 39 years, after the murder/suicide of 1941. She died in 1980 in Puyallup Washington at the age of 77. She had worked as a telephone operator, beginning her career with Pacific Telephone and Telegraph Company in 1922 and retiring in 1965 from Pacific Northwest Bell Telephone after 43 years employment. She was a member of the Telephone Pioneers of America and the Order of the The Eastern Star, a Freemasonry organization. There is no record that Venola ever had children. She was survived by only two sisters at the time of her death.
Like her former lover, Phillip Raymond Johnson and her former husband Blaine Chase, Venola died in early May, leaving behind unexplained secrets and questions, only she would ever fully understand.
Acknowledgments: I would like to thank Ms. Mary Hanson and Mr. Brian Johnson of the Portland Archives and Records Center of Portland Oregon for their generous help in locating and copying complete personnel records and other documents that helped in the writing of this profile. Most particularly, I would like to thank M. Emily Jane Dawson, from the Multnomah County Public Library for her generous and supportive assistance in helping me with important research. Being able to obtain accurate information, dates and documents has made the writing of this profile much more interesting, historically relevant and factual. To these people, I offer my sincere gratitude. -- Theresa Kennedy Dupay.
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 her. She 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.
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...
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.