Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Murder and Mayhem in Portland, Oregon

            My latest book, Murder and Mayhem in Portland, Oregon is finally available  from the History Press. You can use any of the links on this page to order your copy from the publisher now, or you can get it from, Barnes and Noble or Powells. This book is the culmination of sixteen years of research on murders in Portland and I had a clear vision of what I wanted to accomplish with it. My book is an attempt to present the history of my favorite city, Portland, Oregon by telling the stories of some of the city’s more interesting murders. Because of the limitations of space I deal with Portland’s history from 1851 to about 1945; in the future I may write a second volume that will deal with the last half of the twentieth century and the first part of this century. In addition to the stories I have collected a great set of historical photos of Portland and some of the people involved with the stories. This is a very attractive book and I have been told that the stories are compelling. You will have to judge for yourself. In the meantime here is what you can expect inside:

            Pioneer Murder --    Portland’s first murder, the long forgotten shooting of a man named Cook, occurred six weeks after the city’s incorporation in 1851. The legendary first Portland murder, the shooting of Mortimer Stump by his father-in-law Danforth Balch, occurred seven years later. Two of the most interesting and controversial early Portlanders, John H. Mitchell and James Lappeus, were involved in the prosecution of this case and its aftermath. To read more click here.

            Mayhem on Morrison Street --   In 1878 14-year-old Louis Joseph, an innocent bystander, was accidentally shot and killed during the commission of a violent armed robbery in downtown Portland. The hunt for, capture and execution of the two killers was one of the biggest public sensations of the 1870s. The execution itself drew the largest crowd of the era of public executions in Portland (1858-1903). To read more click here.

            The Court of Death – The Court of Death, also known as Portland’s Tenderloin, was a square block downtown, bounded by 3rd and 4th Streets, Yamhill and Taylor. It was an area of open prostitution and violence. Two important murders in the 1880s occurred in the Tenderloin. The 1881 murder of J. Nelson Brown, a timber spotter from Washington Territory who had come to Portland on a spree, by Portland brothel keeper Carrie Bradley created a political firestorm that ended the career of Portland’s first Police Chief, James Lappeus. In 1885 the brutal ax-murder of French courtesan Emma Merlotin, ushered in the end of the Tenderloin district and the removal of most prostitution to the North End. To read more click here.

James Lappeus was an early City marshal and in 1870, Portland's first Police Chief. He had a long career on both sides of the law. Photo courtesy of Portland Police Historical Society.

            The Girl in the Strawberry Patch – The 1892 murder of Mamie Walsh, a 14-year-old Milwaukie girl, became one of the most widely read series of posts on my Slabtown Chronicle blog, new research and new content allow me to tell this sad and strange story more fully and put it in context with the development of the city. To read more click here.

            Beneath the Mountain of Gold – I am most interested in history that has not been told. There is no more aggressively untold story from Portland’s history than that of the Chinatown criminal organizations of the 19th and early 20th centuries. This chapter looks at the formation of the criminal tongs by focusing on three violent crimes: The massacre in front of Frank Woon’s restaurant in 1888; the murder of Chin Bow Chong in 1892; and the killing of Gong Fa, a Chinese-American woman, in 1893. To read more click here.

            The Legend of Bunko Kelley – Joseph “Bunko” Kelley is one of Portland’s legendary crimps. Crimps were the men who “shanghaied” sailors to man the sailing ships that visited Portland on a regular basis during the 19th century. The history of shanghaiing and the Sailors Boardinghouses is one of the most misunderstood parts of Portland’s history. In this chapter I explore the life and crimes of Bunko Kelley and debunk some of the myths that have obscured his character. The murder of George Sayres, for which Kelley was convicted in 1894, was bound up in a broader political movement that was sweeping Portland at the time and it played a part in the rise of Larry Sullivan, Portland’s own crime boss. To read more click here.

            The Black Mackintosh Bandit and the Great Escape – Another popular Slabtown Chronicle post was the starting point for this chapter. With fresh research and expanded content I was able to take a deeper look at the career of Portland’s own Wild West Bandit, Harry Tracy, and his side kick, Dave Merrill. To read more click here.

Harry Tracy ran with the Hole-in-the-Wall gang before coming to Portland. Photo Courtesy of Oregon State Archive.

            The Unwritten Law – In the 19th and early 20th centuries the lives of women were extremely controlled by the idea of respectability. Respectable women lived tightly limited lives and their activities were controlled by their husbands. Many husbands felt that they had the right to decide whether their wives lived or died. The Unwritten Law was a legal concept that husbands used to assert this authority and it usually was invoked as a legal defense for the murder of a wife or her lover by the husband. During his highly publicized trial for the murder of Stanford White in 1906 Harry Thaw’s attorney referred to the Unwritten Law defense as Dementia Americana. Thaw’s trial disseminated the idea of the Unwritten Law widely and murders along those lines occurred in great numbers in almost every state. Focusing on the killing of a popular musician by a jealous husband, who was a former cavalry scout for George Custer, in 1907 this chapter explores Portland’s experience with Dementia Americana. To read more click here.

            An Enduring Mystery – The bloody ax murder of William and Ruth Hill and their two children while they were sleeping in the new suburb of Ardenwald in 1911 is one of Portland’s worst unsolved crimes. Ernest Mass, the newly elected and inexperienced Sheriff of Clackamas County may have solved the crime in 1911 with the help of Portland private detective L.L. Levings, but his investigation was halted by a court order and all charges were dropped against the main suspect. In this chapter I remind us of a crime that shocked our great grandparents and a man who may have gotten away with murder. To read more click here.

            The Dark Strangler – The story of America’s first sexual serial killer and the four women he killed in Portland was another of the most popular posts at the Slabtown Chronicle. With fresh research and new content I was able to go into more detail and give a better sense of the victims of this maniacal killer. To read more click here.

            Taken for a Ride – Much has been written about organized crime in Portland during the 1950s, but most people fail to realize that the empires of Jim Elkins and men like him were built on a foundation that was laid in prior generations. In this chapter I look at the criminal gang run by “Shy Frank” Kodat and the deaths of Jimmy Walker and Edith McLain in 1933. To read more click here.

            The Other Side – Portland’s African American community has always been small, but very politically active. During World War II the black population of Portland increased more than ten times. The huge increase in population dramatically changed the relationship between black Portland and white Portland as discrimination and violence increased. Three killings in 1945, two in the Guilds Lake Housing Project and one in Vanport, had huge influence in the African American community and spurred the creation of an Urban League chapter in Portland. By 1948, when the Vanport Flood occurred, the groundwork had been laid for a vital Civil Rights movement that started in Portland earlier than in many cities. To read more click here.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

High as a Kite

The Pine Street Coffee House occupied this spot from 1872-1914 when the building was torn down. A few months later it reopened in the new building and remained in business for several years.

             Coffee houses have been an important part of Portland’s cultural scene at least since the 1870s. Early in that decade the Pine Street Coffee house opened its doors and soon had the reputation for serving the best coffee in town. Not long after they started serving breakfast “Jack’s German pancakes” and “two cackles and a grunt” – their colloquial name for ham and eggs – became legendary up and down the coast. According to Oregonian reporter Chester Moores, newcomers to town were often told, “It doesn’t matter where you sleep, but you haven’t eaten until you’ve had breakfast at the Pine Street Coffee House.” There is no record of what the Zellers, the Swiss family who ran the coffee house for more than two decades, or any of the previous owners paid for such valuable advertising, but it worked.

             By the 1890s, when the Zeller family took over, the Pine Street Coffee House was crowded most mornings. The familiar cry, “Here comes another millionaire,” shouted by the Bunch – regular customers – whenever a prominent banker or businessman joined them, earned a new name for the popular coffee house – The Millionaires’ Club. Prominent Portlanders such as William Ladd, Edward and James Failing, Henry Everding and the Corbett boys regularly had breakfast and coffee at the Millionaires’ Club. In 1914 the old building on Pine Street was torn down, but the Millionaires’ Club reopened in its old spot as soon as construction on the new building was complete. The popularity of coffee houses in Portland had nearly passed by then, though.

            The popularity of the Pine Street Coffee House had caught on and by the twentieth century there were busy coffee houses in several locations on both sides of the Willamette. Many of them were run by Greek, Serbian or Italian immigrants. A prostitution scandal in 1913 involving women working in several Greek coffee houses inspired a City ordinance banning the employment of women in such establishments. When the Great War started Serbian coffee houses became a focus of violence from Portland’s Austrian community, culminating in a near riot in a North Portland café in December 1914. In 1916 Prohibition came in and coffee houses saw a small boost in popularity, until it was discovered that many of them were selling illegal booze. Three scandals in a row ended the popularity of coffee houses in Portland and they virtually passed from the scene until the late 1950s.
In 1958 the Cafe Espresso brought a little sophistication to an ungrateful Portland. Karl Metzenberg is in the background. Photograph by Allan de Lay from the Oregonian.
            In 1958 Karl Metzenberg, a 1954 Reed College graduate, who “lived by his wits,” opened Café Espresso on SW 6th Avenue. Metzenberg had bummed around the northwest as a freelance writer and a dabbler in radio broadcasting since he left college and wanted to settle down in Portland and “jerk coffee” for a while. He spent about $10,000 to remodel an old restaurant and buy an Italian espresso machine. Seattle had three successful coffee houses at the time, but Portland had forgotten its coffee heritage. The Oregonian called Metzenberg’s new place “Portland’s first and only coffee house.”
            Metzenberg had hoped to attract an after-theater crowd, but other than on symphony nights, the theater-goers stayed away. Instead he became popular with a young intellectual crowd, especially college students. He told Oregonian staff writer Joe Bianco, “At Café Espresso you will discover a relaxed atmosphere conducive to, nay – designed for quiet conversation, the game of chess, and similar therapeutics.” 

            The Café soon got the reputation as a “beatnik” joint and was shunned by more respectable Portlanders. The young and eccentric flocked there to sip coffee and discuss race prejudice, Freudian psychology, religion and things that “were not meant to be discussed.” Sarte, Hemmingway and Ferlinghetti were popular, but it was considered ostentatious to carry around a copy of Alan Ginsberg’s Howl. Baroque music and folk guitar were popular, but the crowd would not abide the Romantics, much less vulgar Rock and Roll or Jazz. 

            Metzenberg insisted that there were no “real” Beatniks in Portland. “The Beatnik…is a person who has lost faith in nearly everything,” he told Joe Bianco, “My patrons still have some faith. They are students still going to school…. We do get the extremes on occasion. The scion of the west hills, the divorcee and mixed couple make irregular visits.” Disdain for the middle class was taken for granted. The middle class only knew the round world through the square picture tube of the “one-eyed monster” in their living room. That’s why they called them Squares.

            Karl Metzenberg approached life with a sense of humor; the sign on the front door of his café said, “English Spoken Here.” He also had a deep respect for others. He believed in Albert Schwiezer’s dictum that all living creatures have a right to life and that every other creature is obliged to recognize that right. Richard Abel, who ran Reed College’s bookstore and occasionally employed Metzenberg said he was “a very thoughtful and mild person. The only reaction I have ever seen to difficulty or crisis is a more or less whimsical attitude.”

            The so-called “Beatnik” café drew negative attention from the community including harassment. One night in May, 1959, shortly before midnight the negative attention created a crisis that Karl Metzenberg couldn’t shrug off with a whimsical attitude. It was about to become May 15th and there were about a dozen people in the café. Metzenberg was looking forward to closing up. Jean Paul Pickens, 22 and his wife Mary Ann sat at one of the tables with Gary Kilpatrick, 24 and an unidentified young woman. They were finishing their coffee and conversation when three young men burst through the door.
Larry Bolton was a football star at North Bend High School before he graduated. He was taking "bennies" the night he died.
            Larry Bolton, 19, a former North Bend High School football player, had been taking “bennies” – Benzedrine, a form of amphetamine – when he and Thomas Richardson, 20, and James Tucker, 23, entered the café and began to loudly harass the customers. Bolton yelled, “I’ve just been to an H party and I am high as a kite!” Richardson soon homed in on the table with Pickens and Kilpatrick. He insulted Mary Ann Pickens, who was six-months pregnant, and her husband began to argue with him. Soon Richardson backed down and the three rowdies left the café.
            Metzenberg was closing up. He cashed out his register and put his over-under two-shot Derringer pistol in his pocket as he always did when he had to make a night deposit. When Jean Paul Pickens and Gary Kirkpatrick left the restaurant they found Bolton and his friends waiting on the sidewalk. Bolton backed Kirkpatrick up against the building waving a “box-cutter” utility knife at his throat. Richardson said, “Not that one” and followed Pickens who had ducked back into the café.

            Richardson jumped on Pickens and wrestled him to the floor. Bolton and Tucker followed him into the building, Bolton brandishing his utility knife. Metzenberg, confronted by the knife-wielding young man pulled the small pistol from his pocket. Bolton laughed at the tiny gun, saying, “That little gun won’t stop me. Put it away and fight like a man.” Metzenberg said, “I don’t want to fight like a man or any other way.” He started to put the pistol back into his pocket when Bolton lunged at him with the knife. Metzenberg raised the pistol and fired one shot. The bullet hit the young man in the forehead killing him instantly.

            Stunned by the gunshot the wrestlers stopped their fight.  Metzenberg told his waiter, Edward Barns, to call the police and backed Tucker and Richardson into the storeroom, keeping his gun out so they wouldn’t leave the building before the police arrived. Metzenberg was charged with second degree murder for killing Larry Bolton, but he was acquitted on a plea of self defense.
Karl Metzenberg was acquitted of Second Degree Murder, but he had lost his taste for the coffee business and for Portland.
           Karl Metzenberg returned to the café, but he no longer had a taste for the coffee business or intolerant Portland; before the end of the year he accepted a job in Los Angeles in his brother-in-laws ribbon factory and left town for good. It took a couple of decades for the espresso coffee craze that was sweeping the west coast to regain its foothold in Portland.