Monday, July 31, 2006

An Odd One

I’ve just started the research for my next big post looking into a famous unsolved murder from the 1930s. For seventy years people have believed that it went unsolved. I will remind us of the forgotten story of the people who committed the crime and what happened to them. But I’m not ready to tell that story yet.

The world seems a little too desperate and depressed for me to finish the story on Ray DeFord and the Oakwood Park fire, but I will tell the end of that story soon. Nothing in current crimes is catching my attention. So I am going to tell a little story that I came across while researching something else.

It’s not bloody, but it does involve a crime. It’s just an odd little bit of Portland’s history that I am willing to bet no one has thought of in more than seventy years. I found it in an Oregonian article from December 16, 1930 with the headline Mystery Shrouds Loss and Recovery of Strange Idol.

It was right before Christmas in one of the hardest winters to hit Portland. It was cold, but that wasn’t what was so hard. This was the depth of the depression, things would get worse, but they’d never been this bad before, not even in 1893.

Hundreds suffered from hunger and cold in Portland. The lumber industry was in decline a mill worker was lucky to get two days work a week. Try feeding a family on that. The part time job could keep you from getting relief, too.

Some people were lucky to be working on the St. Johns Bridge that was being built. But it was dangerous work, and cold.

Archie Moore was lucky to be working at the Boyd Tea Co. store on NW 5th. His job wasn’t dangerous and he made nearly $2 a day, a good wage. He even had time to take a walk on his lunch break.

On Saturday, December 13, 1930 Archie was taking his walk along NW Couch St. As he neared the corner of NW 4th he nearly ran into a dark skinned man running down the street with a heavy burden wrapped in a burlap sack. The man unwrapped the object just enough so Moore could see that it was shiny black and seemed to be encrusted with jewels.

“Two dollars,” said the dark man. Archie bought the object, which weighed nearly 40 pounds, and lugged it back to the Tea Shop where he worked. Removing the burlap bag, Moore realized that he had an idol from some Asian cult.

It was a seated figure with four arms its mouth was filled with cruel teeth of inlaid ivory. It was made from a shiny black glass that was very hard. For eyes it had large zircons and parts of the figure were encrusted with rubies.

“I thought it must be an idol from some cult,” Moore told the Oregonian, “It was not a Buddha, I knew. It was valuable to someone and I felt it was stolen because the man who sold it to me was in such haste and it was evidently worth a lot more than I had paid for it.”

On Sunday Archie Moore ran the following ad in the Oregonian classifieds: “Stolen idol of secret cult in my possession. Will return on proper identification.” That same day a Hindu gentleman appeared at Moore’s home and identified the idol, although he would not identify himself or the cult to which the idol belonged.

Moore asked if they knew who had stolen the idol. The other man said, “We think we know.” He then paid Moore $2 plus the cost of the ad, took the idol and departed.

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