Wednesday, August 24, 2016

No Time to Learn


Joe Hopkins won the National Golden Gloves Middleweight Championship in 1963 when he was 17.  His pro career was short-lived and the injury-prone boxer was banned by the Portland Boxing Commission in 1973 to prevent further injury.

        Something happened to Joe Hopkins. The young boxer, who had been a Golden Gloves champion as a teenager, described by Portland fight promoter, Sam Singer, as “a gentle, simple kid… [without] a mean bone in his body” was suddenly frantic.  Convinced that his neighbors had stolen a litter of kittens from his front porch, on the afternoon of October 8, 1974, he began shooting a handgun at their house.  A few days later the Portland Boxing Commission insisted that there was no brain damage that could explain his erratic behavior on the day he died, but he had been suspended from boxing the year before for fear of further injury.  No one was ever able to explain what happened to Joe.
            In 1974, before police officers received training in how to deal with people in mental and emotional crisis, they were aware of the problem and they approached the troubled young man carefully.  Officer William DeBellis, first on the scene, approached Hopkins on the front porch of his house and tried to talk with him.  Hopkins, yelling that he would kill DeBellis if he came any closer ran into his house and slammed the door.  DeBellis, and other officers who arrived quickly, kept watch on the house and soon found out that Hopkins had been in treatment at University Hospital’s North Psychiatric Unit.  Three officers watched the house while waiting for help to arrive, but none of them noticed when Hopkins slipped out the back door and made his way downtown.
            Hopkins had been in trouble before; arrested in 1971 for frequenting a gambling house, he had been in and out of the Psychiatric Unit and was currently being supervised by the Metropolitan Public Defenders (MPD) office.  From his house he went to the MPD office on SW 5th Avenue, and told them about the confrontation with the police.  It is not clear whether his supervisor there knew that he was still armed, but he called the police to report that the young man was there and should be picked up.  Hopkins, still very restless, left the office before the police arrived.  When Officer Gene Maher arrived at the MPD office, employees pointed out Hopkins walking down the street. Maher and Officer Eugene Francis approached Hopkins, planning to take him into custody.  Officer Bruce Harrington watched the three men from a nearby patrol car.
            Hopkins was still very agitated and he resisted when the two officers tried to arrest him.  He pulled a .38 revolver from under his jacket and fired a shot, before Harrington shot him in the chest, killing him instantly.  The death of the agitated young black man, the first suspect killed by Portland police since 1971, was considered an inexplicable tragedy, but it was the beginning of a series of shootings that enflamed community feeling and heightened tensions between African-American Portlanders and the police.  Over time the shooting of Joe Hopkins would be seen as the impetus for a new round of community organizing that would uncover serious problems within the police bureau.
The shooting of Joe Hopkins while in a violent psychotic episode in October 1974 was seen as an inexplicable tragedy, but his death was the first in a series of events that led to a new period of community activism in Portland.
            In 1974 there was little oversight for police shootings.  The Homicide Division conducted investigations and often they were cursory.  Not since the 1945 shooting of Ervin Jones had there been major controversy or community protest over a police shooting.  The shooting of Joe Hopkins was ruled justified because of his earlier violent behavior and his firing a shot while resisting arrest.  Just a few weeks later though, the shooting of a second black man raised questions about how the police were being regulated.
            The second shooting occurred on October 27 and again it involved a young man with a police record.  Kenneth “Kenny” Allen, 27, was a familiar figure on the streets of Northeast Portland. Allen, an intravenous drug user, prowled the streets looking for opportunities among the prostitutes, drug dealers and their customers; he had a long arrest record.  On the night of his death two undercover police officers, John Hren, 26, and Ed May, 28, were also prowling in an unmarked car looking for prostitutes to arrest.  Allen was talking with two women on the sidewalk when he saw the car with two white men pass by.  He flagged the car down and asked if the men were looking for drugs.  Hren told him they weren’t interested in drugs, but they were looking for women, indicating the women that Allen had been talking to.  Kenny said he could take them to a brothel and climbed into the backseat of the car.
            Allen directed the two undercover officers to an address on N. Congress Street, but when they arrived he produced a handgun and stuck it in Hren’s left ear.  He said it was a holdup and he wanted their cash.  According to Hren, Allen seemed very nervous and began to pat Hren down, discovering his shoulder holster under his jacket.  At that moment, Ed May, who was in the driver’s seat, pulled his weapon and fired at the man in the back seat.  Both officers emptied their weapons and then jumped out of the car.  Allen, who also went by the name of Kenny Nommo, was hit by six bullets which penetrated several internal organs and killed him within seconds.  Hren related a dramatic tale for the Oregonian and Mayor Neal Goldschmidt praised the shooting, implying it was a good idea to shoot the “crazies with guns.” Some felt that the whole story had not been told, but a cursory investigation again ruled that the shooting was justified and there was little community outcry.
Career-criminal Kenny Allen drew little sympathy from the public when he was shot by two police officers.  Mayor Neal Goldschmidt characterized him as a "crazy with a gun."
            Less than one month later another black man, Charles Menefee, 26, was shot to death by the police after a high speed car chase.  Questions raised by the Portland chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the Albina Ministerial Alliance motivated District Attorney Harl Haas to put the case before a Multnomah County Grand Jury, which again ruled that the shooting was justified.  The death of Menefee certainly seems to have been justified, but the sudden frequency of police shootings and the death of three black men at the hands of police raised community awareness and the issue of police accountability became a serious issue for organizing in Portland’s African American community.
            Charles Menefee had a record for burglary and was most likely up to no good as he cruised the small suburban town of Canby on the night of November 20, 1974.  In Canby a black man driving around was considered suspicious in itself and soon the local police approached Menefee’s car.  The young man attempted to evade the police and drove north at high speed.  It must have been an exciting chase as Canby, Milwaukie, Oregon City, Clackamas County, Portland and State police joined in the pursuit on Highway 99E, up Grand Avenue, across both the Hawthorne and Steel Bridges.  By the time the speeding car reached Williams Avenue in Northeast Portland, not far from Menefee’s house, there were fourteen officers involved.  Menefee’s car was finally forced out of control near Sacramento Street.  Menefee fired at least one shot from a rifle, wounding Portland Officer Kent Perry before dying in a hail of bullets. More than fourteen officers fired dozens of bullets in the exchange of fire and Portland Officer John Murchison was struck by a ricocheting bullet and slightly wounded. 
Charles Menefee was probably up to no good the night he died in November, 1974, but the overwhelming violent response to his crimes made Portland's black community nervous.
            Three black men dead at the hands of the police in one month created a big stir in the African American community. Besides the NAACP and the Urban League a new organization, the Black Justice Committee (BJC) was formed.  Charlotte Williams, daughter of Otto Rutherford, an important leader of the NAACP, became the most visible spokesperson for the BJC and soon the host of a weekly Public TV program, Black on Black, focused on issues in the black community.  Things cooled down between the police and Portland blacks, but when the next shooting occurred, in March, 1975 the BJC was well organized and vocal about their demands for police accountability.
            The killing of 17-year-old Rickie Johnson on March 14, 1975 by North precinct officer Ken Sanford combined with Police Chief Bruce Baker’s confrontational stone-walling attitude was the last straw.  Johnson, a junior at Washington High School, had obviously fallen in with a bad crowd.  His father, Oscar, warned him just weeks before his death that if the police ever caught him they would “blow his brains out.”  Any parent of a teenager knows the fear that Oscar Johnson must have felt at the poor choices his son was making, but only an African American parent knows the life threatening danger presented by the police.  A danger Rickie Johnson had “no time to learn” according to an Oregonian letter-to-the-editor published in the aftermath of the young man’s death.
            It started on March 12 when Radio Cab driver Marvin F. Zamzow was called to pick up an order of Chinese food from the Pagoda Restaurant in the Hollywood district and deliver it to a house on North Gantenbein Street.  When he arrived a young black man, later identified as Homer Zachery, another Washington High School student, held the door open for the cabdriver with a box of food.  Zamzow stepped into the house and Zachery closed the door behind him, guarding it with a baseball bat. Another young man, who was probably Rickie Johnson, pointed a handgun at the driver and demanded money.  Zamzow handed over about twelve dollars in cash along with the box of food.  The two young men were angry at the small amount of money and ordered Zamzow into a closet where they told him to wait for ten minutes.  After Zamzow reported the robbery, Officer Ken Sanford went to the vacant house to investigate and familiarized himself with the layout.
            Two days later when Zamzow received a call to pick up food at the Pagoda and deliver it to the same house in North Portland he called Officer Sanford.  Donning Zamzow’s pants and sweater, Sanford carried a box that looked like it was full of food; it actually contained his pistol which he held through a hole in the back of the box.  Zachery again held the door and Rickie Johnson waited inside.  Most witnesses claimed there was an unidentified third robber in the house who escaped and wasn’t pursued, but no testimony about a third person appeared after the initial report.  According to both Zachery and Sanford, Rickie Johnson pointed a handgun at Sanford’s face.  Zachery ran when Sanford displayed his weapon and yelled, “Police. Drop it.”  Sanford said that he was “afraid for his life” when he fired two shots.  One went into the wall above Johnson’s head, the second entered the back of his skull, passed through his brain and lodged in his cheek. Another officer, hiding nearby, fired a shot at Zachery, who was running through the yard.  It was never determined where the third bullet landed, but Zachery surrendered.
Charlotte Williams, daughter of Otto Rutherford, was a prominent activist in the PSU Black Studies Program and became the popular host of Public Broadcasting's Black on Black program.  She was the most visible spokesperson for the Black Justice Committee.
            Community response was instant. Questions about the shooting: Why was he shot in the back of the head? Why wasn’t he given the opportunity to drop the pistol before shots were fired?  Inconvenient facts: Johnson had a non-functioning, unloaded weapon; There were seven officers on the scene, most never named, and none pursued the “third suspect". A “blue wall” of resistance to any investigation; a general distrust of the Police Bureau as well as the unsympathetic government of Mayor Neal Goldschmidt; along with a simmering anger in the black community in the aftermath of two uprisings in Albina in 1967 and 1969.  All these elements combined to create a legal case that would become a sort of racial Rorschach test for the city of Portland.

PART TWO – Racial Rorschach Test

Monday, May 30, 2016

In Time You Will Understand

            Jans Hassing, known as William, wanted his wife dead.  William married his young bride, Edith Hedman a hotel maid from Astoria, in Denver, just a few months after she quit her job and came to Portland looking for a husband.  The two of them settled in San Francisco at first, but their marriage was not a happy one.  In March, 1909, just a few months after they were married Edith Hassing disappeared for several days.  William was intensely worried about her disappearance, claiming that he feared she had been abducted.  He didn’t tell the police about the violent confrontation the night before she disappeared.  That night, possibly when she announced that she was pregnant, William threw a knife at her, missing her by just a few inches.  She had run for her life and taken refuge with neighbors.  Edith claimed that she was suffering from memory loss and kept the secret of her pregnancy and her husband’s violence.  It was not the last time that violence in the Hassing home would make the papers.
William and Edith Hassing were only married for about two years, but they had a great deal of drama and violence between them. Photo from Multnomah County Library Historical Oregonian Archive.
            A few months later the family moved back to Oregon, settling in Milwaukie, where their son, Jans Hassing Jr. was born.  Instead of pacifying the home, the baby became an object of contention.  Hassing and his wife fought over the baby, and other things, constantly and the fights often became violent.  In October, after an argument, William chased Edith out of the house, threatening her life.  She took a streetcar to Portland where her brother worked as a janitor in an upper class apartment building.  Returning the next morning Edith found that her husband had left for his job as an electrician at the phone company, leaving the baby alone on the floor of the apartment with soiled diapers.  William, who was never a dependable employee, soon lost his job and abducted his son, taking him to Denver.  Edith, charging desertion, filed for a divorce and begged the court to give her back her son.
            In Denver William’s plans were frustrated when his sisters refused to take in the infant boy and insisted that he return the child to its mother.  He returned to Portland, dejected and discouraged and his plans went into high gear.  Edith, now living with her brother and his family in southwest Portland, was happy to have little Jans back and she set about making a life for herself and her son.  She started working as a waitress in several downtown restaurants and finally landed a job as a maid at the high-tone Alexandra Court apartments.  Meanwhile, William, whose behavior was becoming more and more erratic, had a difficult time finding a new position.  He begged Edith to come back to the little house he had built for her in Milwaukie, but she refused.  He made several attempts to win her back, but when Edith’s heart failed to soften he threatened her life.
            Hauling her enraged husband into court, Edith begged Judge George Tazwell to protect her from his violence.  Tazwell, who served as police court and municipal judge for many years, was a man who often let his personal prejudices and self-interest influence his work on the bench.  In this case Tazwell was influenced by his prejudice against women and also by the fact that there was no formal law against making death threats.  It might not be fair to blame Tazwell for the prejudice against women, because the Multnomah County and municipal courts were systematically designed to give men advantage over women.  Women’s testimony, especially in domestic violence cases was usually discounted; without a witness to corroborate her story, Edith Hassing had no case against her husband.  William was released on the promise that he would not attempt to carry out his threats; a promise he never intended to keep.
            William Hassing was released from jail on November 11 and he began a campaign of harassment against Edith and her brother, Emil Hedman, often lurking in front of the Keeler Apartments on SW 14th avenue where they lived.  Hassing had been planning to kill his wife for some time.  Two high profile murder cases in Portland that summer had featured the Unwritten Law and temporary insanity as defense strategies and Hassing was very interested in both cases, especially the murder of Grace Lambert. At that time “the unwritten law” ostensibly gave a husband the right to kill his wife or her lover in case of adultery.  It had been used as a legal defense for murder many times, often with the added defense of “temporary insanity.”  In the murder trial of Harvey Lambert for killing his wife, Grace, although the unwritten law was not a successful defense, insanity was.  William Hassing attended several days of Lambert’s trial in the days leading up to Thanksgiving. At one point Hassing told another spectator that Lambert “would get off” because of insanity. Some thought that he got the idea to plead insanity from watching Lambert.
            It is difficult to say how long William Hassing had planned to kill his wife.  His violent behavior had been escalating for the entire two years of their marriage, but it is clear that he made a specific plan in November.  He even went so far as to write a note to his infant son, telling him that he was going to “end everything” and that the baby should keep his note until he was grown and then he would understand.  On Thanksgiving Day, November 24, 1910, Hassing checked to make sure his pistol was loaded and then walked to the corner of SW 14th and Columbia, across the street from the Keeler Apartments and waited for Edith to return from work.
In 1910 the Police Bureau had no automobiles available to them.  For an emergency such as the shooting on Thanksgiving, 1910 the horse drawn patrol wagon responded along with a horse-drawn ambulance. Photo courtesy of Portland Police Historical Society.
            About 9:30 pm Edith Hassing showed up, walking toward the Keeler Apartments where she lived.  The weather was mild that evening and there were several people on the street who saw William Hassing step out of the shadows and approach his wife.  He walked up behind her, drawing a handgun, and without warning fired a bullet into the back of her head.  As she fell to the sidewalk Hassing bent over her and fired a second bullet into her head. After firing the second bullet Hassing looked around and realized that there were too many people on the street for him to get away.  He raised the pistol and fired a bullet into his cheek and fell to the sidewalk.  Two doctors, brothers Roy and E.D. McDaniel, were on the street nearby and rushed to the scene of the shooting.  Someone phoned for the police and for an ambulance.  Dr. Roy McDaniel knelt next to the badly wounded Edith Hassing and did what he could for her.  His brother attended to William who was bleeding badly from a wound in his face. William told the doctor that he was glad he had shot his wife. He also said that he had planned the shooting for several days.
            A horse-drawn ambulance soon arrived and Hassing was loaded aboard and rushed to St. Vincent’s Hospital.  His unconscious, dying wife was left lying on the sidewalk until the police patrol wagon arrived.  It took more than thirty minutes to get the fatally injured woman to the hospital; she died a few minutes after arriving in the emergency room.  Meanwhile, William’s superficial wound was treated and he was taken to the county jail.
            The shooting was the end for Edith Hassing, but it was just the beginning of a long case that would be extremely controversial every step of the way.  It started with a protest by the Portland Women’s Club.  A few days after the shooting the Women’s Club issued a scathing report criticizing Judge Tazwell for releasing Hassing without bail and the “discrimination in favor of the murderer” they saw in the transportation of the victim.  “To all right minded people it would seem as though the murderous criminal properly belonged in the patrol wagon and that the poor, dying woman should have been conveyed to the hospital in the most gentle and considerate manner possible,” the report said.  Police Chief Arthur Cox swept the report under the rug, saying that the Hassing case only proved that the Police Bureau needed automobiles.
Police Chief Arthur Cox received a great deal of criticism for the way the Hassing shooting was handled. He swept the criticism under the rug, claiming it just proved that the Bureau needed automobiles. Photo courtesy of Portland Police Historical Society.
            Hassing remained in the County Jail for most of a year while standing trial.  His defense was that he had been driven insane by jealousy and that he had suffered an “irresistible impulse” to kill making him insane at the time of the shooting.  Hassing was a popular prisoner at the County Jail, being elected as “judge” of the Kangaroo Court that governed the prisoners in their cells.  He was so popular that several of his fellow prisoners testified at his trial about his “insane actions” while in jail.  Dozens of witnesses testified at his trial, defense witnesses claiming that he displayed insanity regularly; witnesses for the prosecution testified that he was shamming.  Since the only “insane acts” in evidence were refusing to shave, occasional ranting and refusal to make eye contact in court, there was not a strong case for insanity.  Three of Hassing’s sisters testified to the fact that nearly everyone in their family back in Denmark was insane, but it failed to sway the jury.  Hassing claimed that he was insanely jealous of his pretty young wife, but no evidence was ever presented to show that he had reason to be jealous of her.  The jury found Hassing guilty of murder in the first degree and early in April, 1911 he was sentenced to hang.
            The controversy didn’t end with a death sentence.  Hassing appealed his conviction, but in October the Oregon Supreme Court ruled that the conviction should stand.  On November 16, 1911, almost one year after the murder Hassing was sentenced to hang once more.  Timing was everything in the Hassing case.  Less than one week after the resentencing, Governor Oswald West announced a moratorium on all executions in the state, commuted the sentences of all unexecuted prisoners to life in prison and called for a referendum on the death penalty.  It took until 1914 to bring the question to the ballot and Oregonians voted against the death penalty.  William Hassing’s life was saved.  He was transferred to the Oregon State Prison for a life sentence, but he wouldn’t stay long.  In August, 1917, just a few months after the U.S. entered the Great War, Hassing escaped from prison.  A posse searched for him for several months, but the last sight of him was in Nevada before he disappeared for good.
By the end of 1911 the Police Bureau had acquired its first automobile.  This 1911 Pope-Talbot touring car began to operate in January 1912. Photo courtesy of Portland Police Historical Society.

            Jans Hassing Jr., made an orphan by his father’s actions, was given into the care of friends of his mother.  They changed his name to John Prouty Burntrager and tried to give him a normal upbringing.  The young man, who served in the Coast Guard in his twenties, grew up without knowing of the tragedy that had orphaned him.
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Thursday, April 21, 2016

Joy Ride

          I'm happy to announce that JB Fisher (my co-author of Portland on the Take) and I are working on a new project together.  It will be a look at the impact of the automobile on Portland especially in terms of taxicabs and the Traffic Division of the Police Bureau.  Here is a post about a fatal auto accident that made the city start taking traffic laws seriously for the first time. Hope you like it.
            It was shortly before midnight on Saturday September 18, 1909 when a Cadillac touring car pulled up at the corner of Northwest Ninth and Everett to pick up a party of young women.  The Cadillac belonged to William M. Ladd, the wealthy son of the late banker, real estate developer and city founder William S. Ladd.  At the wheel was Harry Holland, Ladd’s nineteen-year-old chauffeur and John Robertson, 24, a car washer from Covey Garage and self-described “professional joy rider.”  The party of young women included 29-year-old Dolly Ferrara-Martini, the ex-wife of a prominent attorney, and three young factory worker sisters recently arrived in Portland from Minnesota: Anna, Eva and Rosa Meyer.
The 1908 Touring car was  the largest model Cadillac had built up to that time and had no safety features. Picture courtesy of Passion For the Past Blog 
            Rosa and Eva, both still teenagers, said they were too tired to “go for a ride,” but their older sister’s friend, Dolly, was insistent.  Dolly, who was divorced from her husband, Albert B. Ferrara, five years before when her affair with another man became public, had been living a “fast life” for some time.  She convinced the three young women that a fast ride in the cool early morning air would be exhilarating.  The four women climbed into the Cadillac’s tonneau (rumble seat) and Harry Holland drove across the Burnside Bridge and headed east on the Baseline Road (Stark Street).  The younger girls didn’t know it, but Dolly had planned the drive with John Robertson and their destination was Fred Merill’s Twelve Mile House on the road to Gresham. 
            Fred T. Merrill, the Northwest Bicycle King, sportsman, cinema impresario and City Council member had withdrawn outside Portland city limits after his failed campaign for mayor in 1905.  He bought a horse ranch twelve miles from Portland on the Baseline Road and opened Portland’s first road house in 1906.  By 1909 Twelve Mile House was a popular destination for “joy riders,” people who were out for a good time with their automobiles.  The first Portland Auto Show, which had been held in March, increased the number of cars in Portland to over 3,000 and by that summer it seemed like everyone was enjoying “pleasure excursions” or joy rides.  Being outside the city limits allowed Merrill to skirt liquor control laws and keep his business open long after city drinking establishments had to close.  Merrill also consistently broke the laws against selling liquor on Sunday and serving alcohol to minors.  At a time when the Portland police and the Multnomah County sheriff had no automobiles the long trip to Twelve Mile House, combined with Merrill’s connections among the city’s powerful, protected him from law enforcement.
            It was well after midnight when Dolly Ferrara and her party saw the lights of Twelve Mile House.  As she had planned, Dolly suggested they stop for “something hot to drink.”  After the long brisk ride everyone agreed and Holland pulled the Cadillac into the roadhouse’s busy parking lot.  The witnesses’ stories varied, but Rosa Meyer probably told the truth when she said that she and her sister Anna had beer and Eva ordered lemonade.  Dolly and the two men ordered hot whiskey toddies and drank several of them as the party danced and enjoyed themselves until nearly three a.m.  According to all three Meyer sisters, Dolly and both of the men were visibly drunk as they walked out to the car.  Dolly insisted on driving and Robertson told Holland to sit in the back.  “Dolly and I will do the driving,” he said.
The accident that killed Dolly Ferrara, coming at the end of a summer notable for traffic fatalities, gained a lot of publicity and turned the public against the roadhouses.
            According to the Meyer girls Richardson was doing the driving, but Ferrara had her hands on the wheel and was doing some of the steering from the passenger seat as the Cadillac headed east on the Gresham Road.  Richardson insisted that the car was going no more than twenty-five miles per hour, the legal speed limit, as they approached a stretch of the road that came to be known as “the loop of death.”  At the bottom of a hill the road took a sharp turn to the left as it approached a gravel quarry.  The sisters said that Richardson was not as good a driver, or as confidant in his driving, as Harry Holland who was passed out in the tonneau with them.  Dolly Ferrara may have grabbed the steering wheel as the Cadillac sped down the hill, but whatever happened the car didn’t make the turn.
            The 1908 Cadillac Touring Car was the first large model that the two-year-old car company produced, and it included all of the latest technical advances in its design.  In the pre-product liability age Cadillac, like all car makers, gave no thought at all to safety.  Not only were there no seatbelts, there was not even a top to keep the passengers inside the car.  One of the most dangerous features of cars in this era were the open-flame headlights, which very often ignited a vehicle even in a minor collision.  The car carrying Dolly Ferrara didn’t have a minor collision.  It flew off the road into the gravel quarry and overturned as it landed.  Most of the people in the car were thrown clear of the wreck before it landed and escaped with only minor bruises, but Dolly Ferrara somehow got her feet tangled in the steering wheel and Anna Meyer stayed in the tonneau as the Cadillac crashed.
            Anna suffered a concussion and had to be extricated from under the car before it burst into flames, but she was not seriously injured.  Dolly Ferrara on the other hand took the full force of the car as it rolled over her body.  Her spine was broken in several places and it was clear that she was mortally injured as Holland pulled her from under the burning car.  John Robertson, suffering from shock as well as drunkenness, staggered around the burning car.  He eventually stumbled into a sand pit, where he had to be rescued when help finally arrived.  Holland kept his cool and after rescuing the two women under the car managed, with the help of Eva and Rose, to get the fire extinguished before he ran to the Twelve Mile House for help.  It took about twenty minutes for the first group of roadhouse customers to arrive at the accident scene and it was more than an hour before the sheriff and some deputies arrived.  Dolly Ferrara only survived about fifteen minutes before she died.  It was the sixteenth major traffic accident since June and the seventh fatality.
            The accident that killed Dolly Ferrara occurred the same week that Hazel Maddux and Frank Rodman were indicted in the death of May Real in an earlier fatal accident involving revelers at Larry Sullivan’s roadhouse, the Claremont Tavern, on the Linnton Road.  Two fatal accidents involving drivers who had been drinking at roadhouses within thirty days, just added to public sentiment against automobiles and their drivers that had seriously started with the death of 7-year-old Walter Reffling, who was run down as he stood on the sidewalk downtown on June 29, 1909.  Up until September the Portland Auto Club (PAC) had been responsible for enforcing traffic laws.  Auto Club members on the “speed committee” had the authority to arrest drivers exceeding the state imposed speed limit of 25 mph outside city limits and 8 mph within city limits.  The Club also investigated accidents and had the power to revoke driver’s license for drivers found to be unsafe.  Auto Club members preferred to reason with law violators and there were very few arrests or license revocations.  They were also volunteers and spent little time looking for moving violations, only intervening when they happened to witness them.
Merle Sims (right) became the first Portland motorcycle officer when he volunteered to use his own motorcycle.
            That all changed on September 1, 1909, when PAC president E. Henry Wemme declared “war to the end…against reckless automobile drivers and speed maniacs.”  Wemme pointed out that automobile owners were still a very small minority and if public sentiment turned against them they could see restrictive laws passed that would keep cars off the streets.  Claiming that ninety-five percent of automobile owners were responsible with the “highest regard for public welfare” and that cities such as Los Angeles and San Francisco had more than ten times the traffic problems that Portland had, Wemme committed the Auto Club to work hard to stop reckless driving, “because it is in our interests to do so.”  With that in mind he announced the appointment of six reliable Auto Club members as “special police officers” who would receive pay for patrolling for traffic violations and who would “not hesitate to make an arrest.”  He also announced that the Auto Club was raising funds to pay the salaries of two regular police officers and equip them with motorcycles so they could chase and arrest speeders.  The new Police Chief, Arthur Cox, was glad for the support of the Auto Club and he pushed a bill through the City Council that made the registered owner of a vehicle legally liable for accidents it was involved in, regardless of who was driving.
            Just a couple of weeks later Dolly Ferrara was killed in a harrowing accident.  The city’s wrath turned against the roadhouse owners, most of whom were openly criminal.  Merrill, who was much more law abiding than most Portland businessmen, was charged with several crimes including selling alcohol to minors, a charge that could put him in jail for a year.  Holland and Richardson both faced auto theft charges, until W.M. Ladd finally decided not to press charges and Richardson faced a manslaughter charge.  Merrill, who not only owned the city’s first auto dealership, but also a successful chain of movie theaters was not convicted. He agreed not to renew his liquor license and devoted his time to raising horses and promoting sporting events.  Richardson was cleared of the manslaughter charge, because most of the witnesses agreed that Ferrara had grabbed the wheel just before the car went off the road.  It is difficult to track what became of John Richardson, but there is evidence that he served as part of Mayor Baker’s secret police in the 1920s.  Harry Holland joined the Police Bureau sometime before the Great War, but in 1917 he was implicated in a series of burglaries and was cashiered from the police force before serving time in the Oregon State Prison.
In 1911 the Police Bureau acquired its first automobile.  It was used mainly to transport investigators to crime scenes, rather than as a patrol vehicle.

            Patrolman Merle Sims, who joined the police force in February, 1909, volunteered his own motorcycle as a patrol vehicle and before the end of the year two more officers were equipped with motorcycles.  The “speed squad” was inaugurated in 1910 and Portland finally had a force that was dedicated to catching traffic violators.  The next year the Police Bureau acquired a Pope-Hartford touring car and the automobile patrol began, although the car was used to transport officers to crime scenes far more often than it was used on patrol.  The traffic fatalities of the summer of 1909 had forced the city to respond to the growing impact of cars on the city.  The Police Bureau and the City of Portland would never be the same.
          Future posts here and on Weird Portland will continue to chronicle the impact of cars on various aspects of Portland culture as we research and write the new book.  I hope you will stay tuned.  It takes a lot of work and effort to produce this stuff and it pays very little. That's why I rely on the support of my readers. Remember history isn't free. Support your local historian

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Dead Man at the Dairy

            In the 1890s the rolling hills of southwest Portland between Hillsdale and Beaverton were dotted with as many as eighty small dairies started by German, Dutch and Swiss immigrants.  The only one that survives was founded by Florian Cadonau in 1891 when he began delivering three-gallon cans of milk to downtown Portland with a horse-drawn wagon.  In 1916 Cadonau’s son Henry and his wife, Rosina took over the business and named it Alpenrose Dairy.  In 1918 the Cadonau’s purchased a used Ford touring car and converted it into a delivery truck and began home deliveries.  One hundred years later the company is run by two of Florian Cadonau’s great-grandchildren and the Alpenrose Dairy is an important part of Portland’s community.  Anyone who grew up here in the 50’s or 60’s remembers the Alpenrose Dairy for its Little League Baseball Stadium and Dairyville with its old-west false fronts and Clown Alley the home of Rusty Nails and his popular TV show.  Almost no one remembers when they found a dead body in the incinerator at the dairy.
Anyone who grew up in Portland in the 60s or 70s knew about Alpenrose Dairyland, but very few remember when a dead body was found in the incinerator.
            Early in the morning of June 30, 1980 an Alpenrose janitor discovered a bullet-riddled body smoldering in the incinerator.  The decaying corpse was so badly burned that it took several days to identify it as the body of Harry Carter Foss Jr., better known as Skip Foss.  He had been shot several times with a 9mm handgun and the medical examiner determined that he had been dead for a few days before his body was dumped into the gas-fired incinerator.
            Foss, described as “a handsome, athletic, single jet setter who had strong ambitions for wealth and success,” was popular among his neighbors on NE Laddington Court.  From a wealthy family in Vermont, Foss had only lived in Portland for five years before his death, but in that short time he made a big impression on his neighbors.  “He was a pretty together person,” one neighbor told Oregonian reported Denise Meyer, “He seemed to know and do a lot of different things. Definitely more things than the average person…. Sometimes it was hard to believe he’d done everything he said he’d done.  But he seemed to know too much about things for his claims to be untrue.”
            A health nut, Skip Foss was often seen jogging in his upscale neighborhood.  He was known to be involved in photography and mass media production.  He speculated in real estate and other investments as well as collecting antiques and Oriental carpets.  His latest hobby had been chiropractic, recently having finished a course of instruction at Western Chiropractic College (WCC).  Several of his neighbors said he had discussed moving out of Portland and starting a chiropractic practice in another city.  His neighbors admired him for his athletic ability, his $30,000 BMW and his active social life, but they had no idea where his money really came from.
            Portland homicide detectives Emil Bladow and David Simpson found out pretty quickly where Foss’s money came from.  When they searched his house they found nearly six pounds of uncut cocaine, worth more than $500,000.  In his safe deposit boxes, the detectives discovered more than $200,000 in American and Canadian cash.  It soon became clear that Skip Foss had been dealing cocaine for the last five years.  Their investigation also turned up the fact that the last time anyone had seen the victim alive was when he dropped a friend off at Lloyd Center on the afternoon of June 27th.
Some people thought that Skip Foss's connections with the mob were imaginary, but he would have needed all the protection he could get to set himself up as a cocaine dealer in Portland in 1975.

            Foss had moved to Portland in 1975 from Vancouver, British Columbia where he had a cocaine supplier.  He liked to hint that he had connections to the Mob, which in those days probably meant the Colacurcio family from Seattle who had many business interests in Portland.  Some of the people Foss sold cocaine to thought his connections to organized crime were nothing but fantasy, but in the tightly controlled world of drug dealing in Portland it would have been impossible to set up as an independent drug dealer and stay in business for five years without some heavy connections.
            In the 1970s drug dealing in Portland was tightly contained by the Police Bureau through the Narcotics Division, so it wasn’t difficult to track Foss’s business and the people he sold to.  By the beginning of September Detectives Bladow and Simpson had three low-level drug dealers in jail and a theory of the murder that traced back to a cocaine deal that occurred earlier in June.  That’s when Curtis Farber, 25, another student at Western Chiropractic, purchased seven ounces of cocaine, valued at $14,000, from Foss with the promise to pay once the drugs had been sold.  Farber stashed the cocaine in his car and left it in the WCC parking lot while he attended classes.  Two friends of Farber’s, Mark Whitney, 23, and Kevin Freer, 19, along with a third person who was consistently mentioned, but never named stole the cocaine from Farber’s car.  Whitney and Freer, both convicted felons and heavy drug users, probably thought it was a joke to convince Farber that Skip Foss had stolen the cocaine.
            Farber panicked when he discovered the cocaine was missing.  Knowing that he would not be able to pay Foss for the cocaine delivery and fearing his mob ties, Farber discussed his problem with Whitney.  Cocaine increased Farber’s paranoia and he and Whitney decided that they had to kill Foss and make his body disappear.  Mark Whitney, described by Farber’s defense as a “hysterical” man who lived in a dream world and kept guns near him even when he was in the shower, agreed to kill Foss, but only for pay. 
            Late in the afternoon of June 27, 1980 Mark Whitney and Kevin Freer were hanging out and using cocaine at Farber’s mobile home in remote Beavercreek, when Skip Foss showed up looking for Farber.  Freer said that they were “pretty paranoid” when the drug dealer arrived.  According to Freer, Foss was standing next to his car when Mark Whitney unloaded a clip of 9mm ammunition into his body and head.  Afraid for his own life, Freer fired his own handgun “in the direction of the body without aiming.”  He claimed that he wanted to be “involved” with the killing so Whitney wouldn’t kill him.
            In a heightened state of paranoia fueled by more cocaine, the two killers wrapped Foss’s body in a blanket and a plastic tarp.  They loaded it in the trunk of their car and drove off.  Freer, who pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit murder in order to avoid the death penalty, testified against both Farber and Whitney, telling the story of the killing over and over.  He and Whitney stayed high for the next two days and drove as far as Florence, on the central Oregon coast, looking for a way to make the body disappear.  Finally on June 29th they returned to Portland.  Discouraged they finally thought of the large incinerator at Alpenrose Dairy.  After stuffing the body into the incinerator that night, they met Farber at an 82nd Avenue restaurant.  Freer said that he never saw any money change hands, but he and Whitney had been broke when they arrived, but Whitney had a wad of cash after the meeting.
Alpenrose Dairy milk deliveries were very common for a couple of generations in Portland. Although the dairy has its roots in the Swiss community that settled in SW Portland in the 1890s in 2016 it celebrates 100 years under the Alpenrose name.
            Curtis Farber was convicted of first degree murder and sentenced to life in prison.  Mark Whitney’s defense attacked Kevin Freer, the most important witness against him, claiming that the convicted burglar and heavy drug user was unreliable and willing to say anything to save his own life.  The attacks on Freer must have been enough to raise doubt in the jurors’ minds.  In March, 1981 they acquitted Mark Whitney of murder.  There are still a lot of questions about how and why this murder occurred.  The Oregonian’s account is presented as open and shut, but the acquittal of Whitney and the unnamed third person involved in the original theft raise questions about where Foss and Farber fit into the hierarchy of drug dealing in Portland and who might have wanted the two of them out of the way.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Nameless Et Al

            It was about 11:00 pm on November 19, 1918, a little over a week after the Great War ended, that a black, or dark gray Hupmobile crossed the Interstate Bridge from Vancouver, WA to Portland.  The large convertible with the top up and side curtains buttoned pulled off the road just south of the bridge and a tall man with dark hair got out and walked back up the bridge approach to the toll booth.  C.G. Herrman, 54 year-old long-time Portland resident, was on duty as bridge tender.  As the man approached the tollbooth he thrust two handguns through the window and forced Herrman to hand over about $123 in change.  There was more money in the booth’s cash register, but the robber found the bag of change heavy and unwieldy and left the rest.  The robber forced Herrman to accompany him as he walked back down the bridge approach.
The Portland Police Bureau's first motorcycle "speed squad" was organized in 1915. Two years later the Multnomah County Sheriff's Department added motorcycle "speed cops" to enforce the traffic laws on the Interstate Bridge between Portland and Vancouver, WA. Portland Police Historical Society.
            Traffic around the bridge was pretty heavy for so late at night.  A group of soldiers returning from a night on the town were walking toward the bridge on their way back to Vancouver Barracks and the headlights of cars could be seen approaching from both directions. “I’d kill you anyway if it wasn’t for that other automobile approaching,” the robber snarled, motioning toward the car coming from Portland.  He cautioned Herrman to keep his mouth shut and quickly returned to the idling Hupmobile.  The walking soldiers spotted a woman waiting in the car at the base of the bridge, but couldn’t get a good look at her.  The Hupmobile drove back onto the road and speeded south toward Portland.
            The speed limit on the bridge approach was 20 mph and the Hupmobile was going significantly faster than that as it passed the Standard Oil filling station at the corner of Darby St. and Vancouver Rd.  Behind a large billboard at the filling station, Frank Twombley, a young father and six month veteran of the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Department, and his partner Jack La Mont, sat on motorcycles as “speed cops.”  Twombley laughed as he saw the dark sedan speed past. “There’s a good one,” he said. La Mont was having some trouble with his motorcycle.  “You chase him, Frank,” La Mont said, “I’ll have my machine fixed by the time you get back.”  Twombley took off in pursuit of the speeding car, knowing nothing about the robbery that had just occurred.
            Twombley overtook the Hupmobile near the corner of Union Ave. (now Martin Luther King Jr. Ave) and Portland Blvd. (now Rosa Parks Blvd.).  Still on a wartime schedule of round the clock-work, there were several people on the street who witnessed what happened next.  The motorcycle drew up alongside the sedan and Officer Twombley motioned for the driver to pull over.  One witness saw the driver’s hand, holding a revolver, as he fired three shots at the pursuing speed cop.  One bullet struck Twombley in the side and passed through his heart and both lungs.  The motorcycle wobbled and hit the curb, spilling the mortally wounded officer onto the roadway.
            The Hupmobile didn’t even slow down as it sped south into the city.  Two passersby rushed Twombley to the Emergency Hospital, but he was dead by the time they arrived.  A Military Police car, alerted by the walking soldiers, crossed the bridge in pursuit and was soon joined by Officer La Mont on his repaired motorcycle.  Radio, as a tool of police, was still in its infancy, so it was not possible for officers to radio in reports yet.  The pursuing officers found no trace of the Hupmobile and soon gave up, but it was the beginning of one of the biggest manhunts in Portland up to that time.  Multnomah County and the Interstate Bridge Commission jointly offered a reward of $2000 for the capture of Twombley’s killer; an all-points bulletin went out with descriptions of both the car and the man; and, detectives obtained a list of all Hupmobiles registered in the area and began an intensive search for the car.
            The Great War had brought huge changes to Portland.  The economy was booming as shipyards and lumber mills worked twenty-four hour shifts to supply the war machine that had finally defeated the Germans.  Two years of Prohibition, and the innovative crime policies of Mayor George Baker, had made the city a safe haven for criminals of all kinds and crime rates were rising.  This meant that there were plenty of “usual suspects” for the police to round up in their dragnet, but Twombley’s killer laid low at the Dennison Apartments on SE Belmont until he felt safe and then drove north out of town on a leisurely trip to Seattle. 
Jack Laird as he looked when he entered the Oregon State Penitentiary in 1919 to serve a life term for murder. Oregon State Archive.
            At the wheel was Jack Laird (real name John Knight Giles), recently released from Washington State Penitentiary, and nearly out of money after a successful train robbery at Mukilteo just weeks before.  Laird was accompanied by a pretty young woman named Augusta Carlson.  The two of them would stay away from Portland for about a week, before foolishly returning to the city where their car was quickly recognized.  By that time Portland Police had already identified Laird from a laundry mark found on an overcoat he had discarded on the night of the murder. The laundry mark took them to the Dennison Apartments where they found a trunk that led them into the strange and twisted mind of Jack Laird. Laird was an intelligent young high school dropout who saw himself as a brilliant criminal mastermind, but his career had been extremely disappointing so far.
            Laird was born in Georgia, but moved with his family to Everett, WA at a young age.  The intelligent young man with a soft southern accent did well in school, skipping a couple of grades and dropping out at the age of fifteen.  His parents divorced that year and the troubled young man “left home for good” heading north into British Columbia where he quickly found work on a surveying crew.  Laird, who’s IQ was measured well-above average at 116, learned skills easily and soon was a master with surveying equipment.  Along the way he was introduced to the writing of Frederich Nietzsche, the German philosopher who was just gaining popularity in the United States.  Nietzsche’s writing convinced the young man that he was superior to average people and that he was not subject to ideas of morality and law.  He decided that working for a living was boring and that he was really cut out to be a criminal mastermind.
            After four years as a surveyor Laird headed south and shortly after his twentieth birthday pulled his first job in Centralia, WA.  It was a disaster.  Robbing a saloon the young hoodlum had trouble getting away.  He took a local doctor hostage and forced the man to drive him out of town.  After a couple of blocks the doctor tried to get the gun away from the nervous criminal and Laird fired several shots before running from the car.  The doctor was unharmed, but Laird was picked up less than an hour later and began his education at the state prison in Walla Walla.
            Drawing a five to ten year sentence for armed robbery, the young crook was pardoned on August 14, 1918. Three years in the state prison were not a waste for young Jack Laird.  On his release he was a confident criminal with newly learned skills and the ambition to be the leader of a gang of desperadoes who could make a mark on the Pacific Northwest.  On September 23rd Laird pulled the most successful job of his career, single-handedly robbing the Great Northern railroad near Mukilteo, WA.  The young train robber made what at first seemed like a huge haul, over $76,000 in liberty bonds and certificates.  On further examination it turned out that more than $70,000 of the haul was non-negotiable, so Laird only had about $6,000 to advance his nefarious plans.  He decided it was enough and headed for Portland.
            Laird rented an apartment on SE Belmont near 34th, carefully choosing rooms located close to the fire escape in case he had to make a quick get-away. He began collecting outdoor and camping equipment, firearms and other equipment, like surveying gear and a portable machinist’s kit.  Evidently he was equipping himself to live self-sufficiently away from a city.  He recruited two brothers from Southeast Portland for his “bootlegging” scheme.  Using Liberty Bonds from the Great Northern robbery he purchased two Hupmobile sedans and dispatched Jerry and George Noltner to California where liquor was still legal.  With a major chunk of his money tied up in the bootlegging scheme and equipment, Laird turned to his search for a “moll.”
Augusta "Amy" Carlson was a milliner and shopgirl when she caught Jack Laird's eye.  She didn't seem to mind that he was a train robber and she liked the shopping sprees he funded. Oregonian Historical Archive, Multnomah County Library.
            Augusta Carlson, a pretty young shop girl at Olds, Wortman and King Department Store, caught his eye immediately.  He began to hang around the Department Store and one evening managed to follow her home to the Hillcrest Hotel. Amy, as Augusta preferred to be called, had a bit of a hard look to her face, but her soft brown eyes and long dark hair went with an olive complexion to give her an exotic look.  Her affected French accent, elegant dress and romantic lies about her past were very alluring. Jack took a room at the Hillcrest Hotel and began to court Amy, who was already “engaged” to a Portland doctor and widow of a young husband who killed himself three days after their divorce was final.  She didn’t seem to mind that Jack was a train robber and she liked how generous he was as she furnished his Belmont apartment with everything she could think of at his expense.  Three days after they met Amy and Jack were engaged and two days later she moved into the Dennison Apartments with him on the promise they would be “married very soon.”
            When the Noltner brothers finally returned to Portland in November, 1919 they brought bad news with them.  Their Hupmobile, loaded with a valuable and expensive stash of high quality liquor, was stuck in mud and snow in the McKenzie Pass in the Cascades far south of Portland.  Desperate for cash after a shopping spree with Amy and with the majority of his assets stuck in the snow, Laird went to Plan B.  Amy had gained a good reputation as a lady’s milliner while working in the downtown Department Stores and in an age of fashionable hats she had entrée into some of the wealthiest homes in Portland. The wives of William M. Ladd, banker and scion of the Ladd fortune, Frank J. Cobb, “millionaire-lumberman,” Arthur C. Spencer, chief attorney of the O.W. R & N railroad/shipline, and J. D. Farrell, president of the O.W.R. & N., invited her into their fashionable homes to help them have the most stylish hats.  Amy’s knowledge of the homes of such important men gave Laird the idea.
            Laird, who never seems to have understood that his real talent was as a writer, made elaborate plans.  Typing detailed instructions and self-justifications while wearing rubber gloves so as to not leave fingerprints on the keyboard, he concocted a plan to kidnap one or more of the men on his list and hold them for $50,000 ransom each.  The letters stated that the kidnappings were being executed by a large gang that had kidnapping experience all over the country.  Laird signed his epic instruction letter “nameless et al.”  Not trusting his incompetent henchmen, Laird hired a young jitney driver, a sort of gypsy cab, named “Kid” Maples to drive him around on November 19, 1919 and put his plan into action. Telling the driver that he had important information that had to be rushed to Salem as soon as he made several calls, Laird went to the home of each man on his list, starting with William M. Ladd.  Like all of Laird’s criminal capers, the Kidnap Plot was meticulously planned but had a fatal flaw.  He had forgotten to learn the routines of his victims so he could catch them.  At each house he found the occupants out and his Kidnap Plot was foiled before it began.  Returning to the Dennison Apartments late in the evening Laird must have been in a foul mood and very short of cash.
            Around 8:30pm Jack and Amy jumped into their dark Humpmobile sedan and drove north toward Vancouver, WA.  Desperate for money Jack hoped to pull off another train robbery and bring in a good haul.  In November, 1918 Vancouver was a military town and the train depot was heavily guarded by armed soldiers.  Amy said that they spent quite a while in the parking lot looking for a weakness to exploit, but finally headed back to Portland in disappointment.  She said that the tollbooth robbery must have been a spur of the moment decision, because he pulled off the road suddenly and was gone for only ten minutes.  She said by that point he seemed wild and she was afraid of him.  He was carrying two guns on his body and had a third under the driver’s seat of the car.  After the shooting Jack, said, “What have I done?” and seemed to panic when she told him he had killed a speed cop.
            Jack was charming on the witness stand and had the jury laughing along with him more than once as he told the crazy story of how he had been “framed up” for the tollbooth job, but the evidence was solid.  Amy testified against him and soon after the trial married again. She remained in hiding from Laird and over the years ran two successful clothing businesses in small southwest Washington towns.  Jack was sentenced to life in prison and soon moved into his new home, a tiny cell in Salem.   
     Prison was a good place for Jack. He started working in the print shop and soon became editor of the prison magazine.  As a writer Laird was a bit pedantic and preferred dense subject matter that the State Prison guards found incomprehensible, but soon he hooked up with Elliot “Mickie” Michener, another inmate serving a sentence for armed robbery.  Mickie and Jack, who both had discipline problems in their first days at the penitentiary, soon became model prisoners.  Between 1928 and 1931 they co-wrote more than two dozen action/adventure stories, some with a humorous bent, featuring their western hero Black Bill.  The stories were very popular and ran in Short Stories and West pulp magazines.  Their editor, Roy de S. Horn, of Doubleday & Doran estimated that the stories were read by more than a million readers and he believed the two men, who wrote under the name Jack Laird, could make good livings as writers and be rehabilitated into law abiding citizens.  Jack and Mickie had other plans though.
Jack Laird in 1935. Oregon State Archive.
For more on Portland during prohibition see my new book with Theresa GriffinKennedy Murder & Scandal in Prohibition Portland available February 1st from The History Press.  More on the adventures of Jack Laird is coming soon at Weird Portland.