Eric Walter Running was trouble waiting to happen. Given up at birth by his mother, Running was raised by an alcoholic couple who physically abused him from an early age. His adopted mother abandoned him at the age of four.
Running began drinking when he was 11 and before he left high school he was injecting heroin regularly. He worked on and off as a long-haul truck driver and somewhere along the way he moved from San Francisco to Portland.
The earliest example of violently acting out on record is an armed robbery Running committed in San Francisco in 1975. Running was 24. That wasn’t the last time, but after this his violence became more and more directed at women.
His wife took a lot of abuse. She testified later that he had beat her “too many times to count” before she finally entered a woman’s shelter. Eric Running commemorated their marriage with a tattoo. On his left wrist he had tattooed a portrait of his wife with her throat slit and blood oozing out of her mouth.
Girlfriends, a step-daughter and women he had never met were abused or threatened by Running. In one road rage incident he threatened two women in a car on a Portland Bridge with a gun. He violated parole in that case and spent a little time in jail.
In 1991 Running was charged with attempted murder in the stabbing of a transient in O’Bryant Square. Charges were dropped in that case. For such a violent guy, Running spent a surprisingly small amount of time in jail.
For five years in the 1980s Eric Running achieved sobriety. He attended college with the intention of becoming an addiction counselor. This is often a powerful goal for people struggling with drug and alcohol addiction. It worked for Running, for a while.
By 1996 Running was a heavy daily drinker and heroin addict. It was that year that Running met Octavia Anderson. Anderson was an unusual Portland artist and poet who worked part time as an accountant on NE Sandy Blvd. Octavia liked to play pool and watch soap operas at a local bar, the Ambassador Lounge.
Eric Running fell “madly in love” with Octavia. Friends of his later testified that Running seemed to be obsessed with Octavia. Anderson, who’s legal name was Jacqueline, was a lesbian who had been in a long term relationship with another woman, Barbara Gilpin.
Gilpin and Anderson had been romantically involved for more than a decade and owned forty acres of land near the Oregon coast in Clatsop County. Their relationship was described by some as “on again, off again.” When Octavia met Running, the relationship was off. Gilpin and Anderson remained friends, though and often contacted each other.
It is hard to tell what relationship there was between Anderson and Running. Court papers say that they lived together from shortly after their meeting until Anderson’s death. Stacey Speidel, a bartender at the Ambassador, who had served Running for years and who considered Octavia a friend, said she didn’t think they had a “romantic relationship.” “They'd laugh. They'd dance,” she said, “I think they were just good friends.”
At least in Eric Running’s mind there was more to the relationship. 1997 was a bad year for Running. In February during a heated argument with his father, Harry Running finally confirmed Eric’s suspicions that he was adopted. He may not have experienced a sober moment from this meeting until his arrest one year later.
At least five times in that year Running was admitted to the Hooper Detoxification Center, a rescue center for people who are found in an extremely intoxicated condition in public. It takes a life threatening situation to get into this exclusive club.
Running’s relationship with Anderson was deteriorating. Surprising, huh? Meanwhile Octavia was making her mind up to go back to Barbara. It all came together on February 24, 1998.
That Tuesday Eric and Octavia had lunch together. They met again in the evening and after drinking and smoking together they “ended up at the Ambassador.” The purpose of the meeting was for Octavia to break the news to Eric that she was going back to her lover Barbara. Witnesses saw them arguing in the pool room and about 8:00pm Running went to the bar and sat alone.
Running only stayed a little while and then left the bar. Octavia spent about twenty minutes on the phone, then ordered another drink and spent a while leafing through the karaoke list. Around 10:00pm Barbara Gilpin arrived.
Anderson and Gilpin had dinner and went in to play pool. About 11:15pm Anderson came to the bar to order drinks. Running had returned to the bar. Running said, “[c]ome outside right now, you fucking bitch. I'm going to kill you.” Octavia rolled her eyes at him and he drew his finger across his throat, echoing the tattoo on his wrist with his actions.
Running left the bar and Anderson told the bartender, “I don’t like him very much anymore.” She took her drinks back into the pool room. Almost immediately Gilpin came out with a pool cue headed for the front door. Octavia had probably told her of Running’s threat.
Before she got to the door Running reentered the bar with a shotgun and fired at Gilpin. Barbara Gilpin was killed instantly. Running then walked into the pool room and cronfronted Octavia Anderson.
She felt at home at the Ambassador. Witnesses say she showed no fear as Running advanced on her with a shotgun. “Are you gonna shoot me like you did her?” Anderson asked.
Running answered with his weapon, wounding Anderson in the hip. While she was on the floor he put the gun next to her cheek and fired once more, destroying her head. As he left the building he took out his rage on Barbara Gilpin’s corpse. He kicked her as he passed by and then put the muzzle of the shotgun next to her head and fired again.
Witnesses heard Running say, “I’ve got to get the fuck out of here.” As he escaped through the parking lot the gun discharged accidentally. He hid it in a nearby back yard behind a woodpile.
The next day Running got rid of the leather jacket he wore during the crime. He cut his hair and started wearing glasses. He bought some heroin and hung out with friends the rest of the day. When one friend went to get cigarettes he saw Running’s picture in the paper as wanted for questioning.
Running spent a few hours with his friends watching news coverage of his crime. His friends advised him that he had three choices; he could turn himself in, he could go on the run or he could kill himself.
The next day Running was found inside a downtown construction site with a large gash in his throat. When he was rescued by paramedics he said he wished that he had saved the shotgun and used the last round on himself. He gave a false name to police, but they were not fooled.
In 2000 Running was convicted of one count of aggravated murder and one count of intentional murder. He was sentenced to death for Octavia Anderson’s murder, but he got life without parole for Barbara Gilpin’s. The jury justified the unusual split verdict, because they believed “he wasn't intending to go back to the bar and kill Gilpin -- he asked Octavia to go outside so he could kill her.”
Running’s death penalty was upheld by the Oregon Supreme Court in 2004 and he remains on death row in Salem. Oregon rarely executes prisoners, although it is not unheard of, but finally Eric Running is put away where he can’t hurt anyone else.