Sunday, October 15, 2006

Torso Murders

If the police have any leads into the killing of Douglas Adamson, whose torso was found floating in the Columbia inside a gym bag in September, they’re not talking. Adamson’s limbs were found later, also floating in the river. His head and one leg are still missing.

Last information available is that the police were still trying to verify Adamson’s where-abouts on September 7, which presumably is the day he died. So far there seems to be no motive or suspect in the killing of the southeast Portland auto mechanic and son of a former Estacada police officer.

“You definitely don't see this too often . . . which is a good thing,” said Detective Bryan Steed, the lead investigator of Adamason’s murder. Steed is right. The last time something like this happened was in the spring of 1946. My mentions of this earlier murder has stirred up some interest, so I thought I should tell you what is known now.

On the evening of Friday April 12, 1946 three people walking on the bank of the Willamette river near the Wisdom Island Moorage in Milwaukie discovered a burlap package floating in the river. H.C. Foster of Portland and James and Mary Rader of Milwaukie first thought the package might be a bag of drowned kittens.

They fished the package to shore and were shocked to find that it contained the torso of a white woman. The body had been sawed off at the neck, elbows and hips and was wrapped in brown pants, a dark blue sweater, long underwear and a grayish-black tweed topcoat. Over the clothing the body was wrapped in burlap and tied with tape, rope and telephone wire.

The sleeves of the sweater and the topcoat were missing and burns in the underwear led the police to speculate that the woman may have been tortured. There was no obvious sign of violence against the body, other than dismemberment.

The discovery of the torse led workmen on a tugboat working upstream from the Willamette Locks to investigate a floating package that had been sited a couple of weeks earlier. Inside they found the woman’s arms and one thigh.

Oregon State Police and Clackamas County Deputies believed that the body came from either Milwaukie or Lake Oswego, or that it had been thrown from the Oak Grove Bridge. They investigated sites on the river where footprints and scraps of burlap made them think that the packages may have been thrown into the river from more than one spot.

On July 27 another thigh was found floating in the Clackamas River below the McLoughlin Bridge. By this time public interest had waned and few people noticed the grisly discovery.

The Torso Murder Case received another spate of headlines in October, 1946, when the head was found on October 13. It was wrapped in newspaper and green cloth, weighted with 21 pounds of window sash weights and had apparently been thrown from the Oak Grove Bridge.

The newspapers proved to be from the Oregonian dated October 14, 1944 with another page dated September 16, but with no year. The woman was in her fifties, about 5 foot 8 inches tall and 140 pounds. She had medium brown hair, mostly gray and a partial dental plate with extensive dental work.

Police thought that the dental work would lead to identification, since her hands and feet were still missing. They were pursuing several leads on missing women, but did not release an identity for the victim.

That’s where the trail has gone cold. So far I have found no other mention of this murder in the Oregonian or any where else. No identity for the victim. No suspects. No motive. No leads. The coldest a case can get after 60 years.

I’m writng this now in hope of stimulating a new search into this case. Something more must be known about it. At least one local reporter has shown some interest in this case and I’m hoping we’ll have some news soon. I’ll keep you posted.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Images Are Back?

Maybe I can post images here again.

So I am celebrating by posting these shots of

King Tower.

On February 2, 1965 William A. Howell, 51, an ex-employee of the defunct Portland Register was found dead in his apartment under mysterious circumstances.

The fact that he was found lying face up and his skull had been fractured by two seperate blows, made the coroner rule that accidental death was unlikely.

The police had no clues as to the killer and seemed to have no leads to follow. The killing made headlines for two or three days and then faded away in news of Vietnam, civil rights marches and new crimes.

This killing has always haunted me and I like the look of the building.

At least I can use pictures again. Now I have to figure out how to put them where I want them.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Nothing Personal

Tony Forillo had been drifting for years when he finally hit Portland. A rough divorce in his native Illinois sent him on a six year journey that took him from working oil rigs in Louisiana to the crab boats of Alaska. He worked in Seattle for a while as a carpenter and then drifted on to Portland.

While waiting to get his union card, so he could begin working as a carpenter, a case of appendicitis, complicated by alcoholism left him incapacitated. During his recovery he lived at the Monticello Motel on North Interstate Ave.

In September, 1995 Tony still lived at the Monticello, but things were picking up. His health was back and he had moderated his drinking. He was working for Western Wood Structures in Troutdale and trying to save enough money to move from the motel to his own place.

Through all his travels and his troubles, there was one thing that made Tony, Tony. That was chess. It was probably a chess game that cost Tony his life.

On Sunday September 24, 1995 Tony was found beaten to death with his own hammer in his motel room. In the bloody mess, police found a chess board, but no chess pieces, and some cigarette butts. No money was found in the room, all though Tony had recently been paid and he was known to have cash in his room that he was saving for his apartment.

Forensic scientists were able to extract DNA from the cigarette butts, but DNA science was in its infancy in the 90s and the evidence led nowhere. Soon the case grew cold.

Patricia Forillo of Minooka, IL Tony’s mom was not willing to leave it there. She came to Portland shortly after her son’s murder and searched pawn shops for her son’s chess set and his high school class ring. She found nothing, but she stayed in touch with Portland Detective Mike Hefley, keeping the case in his mind, not letting him forget about her son’s murder.

In 1999 Patricia arranged for a $5000 reward for information about her son’s death. The reward was offered by the Carole Sund/Carrington Reward Foundation, which provides money to help families solve unsolved murders. Patricia, a MacDonald’s manager who had raised three children by herself, was not wealthy.

Two years later the reward offer had expired, but by then police had a suspect. A DNA match had come back for the cigarette butts. The DNA found in Forillo’s motel room belonged to Richard Ramon Aponte.

Aponte was a wandering day laborer with a record of violence going back to 1986 that included arrests for aggravated assault, weapons and drug charges in New York, Seattle, Miami and Boise ID. In 2001 Aponte was in jail for a beating murder in Florida.

In May 1999 a Key West man was found beaten to death with a pickaxe handle in his home. A few days later Richard Aponte was arrested for hitchhiking in Louisiana. While in jail he cried as he confessed to police that he had beaten the Florida man to death because he had paid him only $40 for 16 hours work.

Aponte was convicted of the murder and during his move to State prison he gave a routine DNA sample. The DNA was eventually matched to the sample Detective Hefley had from the cigarette butts in Forillo’s motel room.

Hefley and Detective Tom Nelson flew to Florida to interview their suspect. Aponte played it cagey. He said he didn’t know anything about a murder in Portland. Hefley and his partner were stymied. The DNA alone was not enough evidence to convict Aponte, but at least they knew he wasn’t going anywhere.

Hefley let Patricia Forillo know that they had a good suspect and that he was in jail for another killing. That was about all of the news that Patricia would get, she had already been diagnosed with breast cancer and she died a short while later.

By 2003 Detective Lynn Courtney had taken over the case and he got word from Florida that Aponte would be willing to talk about Forillo’s murder, but only if they would promise that he could serve the rest of his life sentence in Oregon. Courtney let the convict know that he could not make any promises like that and Aponte held his tongue.

In 2005 Aponte’s appeal of his Florida murder conviction failed. He called Detective Courtney and citing a religious conversion agreed to talk about Tony Forillo. Courtney flew to Florida and got the killer’s confession.

“I just wanted the family to know that it was nothing personal,” said Aponte. He said that on that Saturday he had gone to Forillo’s room to play chess for money. Aponte claimed that he won the game, but Forillo refused to pay. Aponte beat him to death with his hammer. Courtney asked what happened to the chess pieces. Aponte said they had his fingerprints on them so he took them away after the killing and disposed of them.

Last Monday, 11 years and one day after the murder, Richard Aponte was arraigned in Multnomah County court on agravated murder and first-degree robbery charges.