Tuesday, February 27, 2007

His Hands Were Cold As Ice

It was a cold January evening in 1958 when Julia Anetta Voris, walking home along Columbia St near the south Park Blocks, felt cold hands on her neck. A man had stepped out of the shadows of a parking garage and he now had her by the neck.

Years later she told Margie Boule of the Portland Oregonian that she should have screamed for help. Instead she got angry and said, “Get your damn cold hands off my neck.” It probably saved her life. Her attacker, Ernest Taylor, was surprised by her reaction and he backed off.

“What’s the matter with you? Do you need money?” Voris demanded. The startled and ashamed man stammered that he did need money. Voris acted annoyed as she shuffled through her purse. “I can’t seem to find a $10 bill and I’m not going to give you more than that,” she snapped. Inside she was scared to death.

Finally she found a ten and thrust it at Taylor, he stuffed it in his pocket. All at once it hit her. She realized how scared she was and her knees went weak. “Get a hold of me. I’m going to fall,” she said.

Ernest Taylor, the confused attacker, caught Julia Voris as she fell. “What do I do?” he said.

“Help me walk, we’ll go have coffee.” She was afraid that if she left he would follow and pounce on her again.

They walked to an all-night “greasy spoon” on First Ave where the frightened woman bought two cups of coffee. The light and the coffee, being close to other people, strengthened her and she felt angry at her attacker again.

“That’s a foolish thing to do, you know, grabbing people in the dark.” Her attacker looked sheepish, but he didn’t say anything. Then he did start talking…About architecture in Portland.

He knew all the old churches in the neighborhood and knew the architectural styles. Portland has some great examples of 19th and 20th century architecture. He seemed nice, really nice. Ernie Taylor was known as a “movie star handsome” man.

When they finished their coffee he was concerned about her. “I should walk you home. It’s not safe walking alone after dark.”

“That’s awfully funny coming from you,” she said. But she couldn’t see any alternative. If she didn’t let him walk with her, he would follow. She agreed to let him walk her home.

“I can’t turn my back on this man,” she thought, “He could sneak up on me anywhere.” As they passed a dark alley, Taylor said, “Come in here. I want to talk with you.”

“No,” she said, “I’m not afraid of you, but I am afraid of the dark.” She said her husband would be off work now and was probably driving around looking for her.

“Give me your address and I’ll mail you back the ten dollars,” he said smiling. With a shiver of fear she scribbled her address on a scrap of paper. Taylor put it in his shirt pocket and disappeared into the night.

Julia Voris felt a fear that would never leave her as she ran to her home on Market St. Portland’s beautiful south Park Blocks would never be the same for her.

That was Friday night. On Monday morning Bessie Hammonds, 36, wasn’t so lucky. Hammonds was the manager of an apartment building at 1905 SW Park, where the gym now stands on PSU campus.

Bessie and her common-law husband, Alvin Martin, lived in the basement apartment. Bessie rented and cleaned apartments and collected rent. Alvin did the handyman work. He also worked mornings at a downtown hotel. Bessie and Alvin were known as a hard working couple and were often seen together walking in the Park Blocks.

Monday, January 20, 1958 was a freezing day. Alvin hurried through the Park toward home. He hoped that Bessie would have a hot lunch ready when he got there. Instead he found her dead on the floor of their apartment. She was still wearing her bathrobe, but part of it had been torn away and tied tightly around her neck.

Alma Stanfield, a tenant in the building, lived right above Hammond’s apartment. Just weeks before, she had moved from the third floor to the first floor because she was tired of carrying her groceries and her little girls up so many stairs. She had always felt safe in the building and was shocked to find police all over when she returned from work that evening.

News of her landlady’s death frightened Alma Stanfield. Years later she said, “We were all so shocked when it happened. No one suspected Mr. Taylor. He was so handsome.” Mr. Taylor was Ernie Taylor, who had moved into Stanfield’s old apartment on the third floor. After the killing he was nowhere to be found and the police suspected him right away.

“I remember Bessie Hammonds told me she wondered about Mr. Taylor,” Alma said. “He had come in to rent the place, and he had no credit, no car, and he paid with a $100 bill. That was all he had.”

On the floor near Bessie Hammond’s body police found a pocket that the victim had apparently torn from the shirt of her killer. Inside was a scrap of paper with the name and address of Julia Voris scrawled on it.

Voris told the police the story of her frightening encounter. A few days later, Taylor was picked up by police in Boise, ID and returned to Portland on Voris’ identification. Taylor confessed the killing and acted out his crime for the police at the murder scene.

Taylor was diagnosed as a schizophrenic and found not guilty by reason of insanity. Since that time Oregon’s law has changed and this verdict is now “guilty, but insane.” Taylor was committed to the Oregon State Hospital in Salem to be held indefinitely.

One day in 1962, Taylor walked away from the State Hospital. His disappearance was not reported for several days and Taylor was no where to be found. He wandered to Idaho, Denver and San Diego, working as a short order cook, before marrying and settling down in Sacramento under the name of Ernest Allen.

Back in Portland the women who lived on the Park Blocks were still frightened of the handsome young man who stalked women. Julia Voris, who was never told of Taylor’s escape thought it was a nightmare when she saw him on the streets of Portland one day. “We just looked at each other, and then I hurried on. I didn't want to even believe he was loose. It still scares me.”

Litka Rubin, a sruvivor of a Nazi concentration camp who lived in Hammond’s building said, “Like those Nazis who killed so many people, you look at them, you don't see a killer. Killers don't look like killers. People don't see the inside. I was very, very frightened when the murder happened.”

Taylor lived a quiet life with his wife in California. Neighbors often saw the couple walking in a local park and Taylor was well known in the neighborhood as the “grandfatherly” type. In 1991 he filed for social security benefits and his true identity was discovered.

Ernest Taylor returned to Portland in October, 1991 and was held in the Multnomah County jail for nearly a year. Finally it was determined that he had regained his sanity and was no longer a danger. A deal was reached where Taylor submitted to supervision by a California psychiatrist and was allowed to return to Sacramento to live out his life.

Not much was known about these kinds of crimes in the fifties. Today we know that it is rare for a sexual psycopath to recover spontaneously. We also know that killers who get away with murder tend to kill again.

There is at least one unsolved strangling of a middle aged woman in Portland in 1958. Early in January Dorothy Balfour was found strangled to death with a piece of her clothing in her bedroom behind the gas station she ran at 815 SE Division. Police never identified her killer. Are there others, before 1958 or after 1962?

Thanks to Margie Boule of the Portland Oregonian for the quotations. Her column was instrumental in the development of this case and the main source of my information.


Blogger Harding said...

Great story! You should consider sending this to a magazine for publication.

6:00 AM  
Blogger Capt. Fantastic said...

Nice job, J.D. I really enjoy your stories.

2:17 PM  
Blogger Majorbacon said...

Good stuff, JD! Nice tidy storyline, but still a bit chilling. Loved the ninja cup-of-coffee defense. Personally, I'm always looking into people's eyes, trying to see if they might be just a little, off...

8:58 AM  

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