Sunday, May 21, 2006

A Personal Note

I want to get a little personal tonight and let you know how I got started on this project of collecting Portland murders. I have been a fan of true crime since I read In Cold Blood at about the age of 12. I became so interested in the case I learned how to look up stories in the old newspaper microfilms. I read the New York Times coverage of the Clutter Family murders that had inspired Truman Capote.

I was hooked on reading true crime after that, but I was also hooked on reading the old newspaper stories. As I grew up, I got away from reading the old newspaper stories, but I stuck with true crime. I ate up Helter Skelter and the works of Anne Rule.

In 1991, my best friend James Lee was killed during a taxi cab robbery in Seattle. James had been driving a cab for just a short time and his death came as a big shock. The aftermath of James’ death and the trial of his killer showed me the intense damage that murder causes. Not only the life of the victim is taken, the lives of the victim’s survivors are also damaged, as is the life of the killer.

James’ death was a turning point in my life. I returned to college and finally finished my degree. I moved into a more professional stage of my career. But my personal experience with murder left me fascinated.

In 1996 I returned to Portland for the first time in nearly 12 years. My first night in Portland I made the mistake of checking into the Century Plaza Hotel, which was located at 415 SW Alder. This hotel has had many names over the years. Currently it is Hotel Alder and it is low income housing run by Central City Concern. They have done a complete remodel of the building in the last two years and it looks very nice now.

When I stayed at the Century Plaza ten years ago it was in the last stages of its decay. The building is a maze-like warren of hotel rooms (currently 99 units) that has been used for nearly a century as housing for the marginal and endangered members of Portland’s working class.

The room that I stayed in had a strong aura of violence and I felt very unsettled there. I managed to spend one night, although I never was able to make myself lie on the bed. The next night I opted for sleeping in my car. The whole time I was in this hotel room I was convinced that something terrible had happened there.

A few months later I was settled in Portland and in my new job. The idea that something horrible had happened in that room stayed with me. That’s when I began reading the old Oregonians on microfilm and collecting Portland murders. I became obsessed with finding out what had happened in that hotel.

It took me a while, but I finally found it. In fact I will post the story of what happened there (one of the very worst domestic violence cases I have ever encountered) next. By then my project had grown into what you are starting to see here on my blog.


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