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.


Blogger ally paolo said...

I was wondering if you happen to have any information on the Forest Park Killer(Todd Alan Reed)? He's a relative of mine, and I'm doing an expository speech on him. I haven't been able to find much legal information on him.

8:47 AM  
Blogger jd chandler said...


i have some info on todd alan reed and i would be happy to let you in on what i have. please email me at and let me know specifically what you are looking for and i will try to help.

9:19 AM  
Blogger lizette bracy said...

I am looking for information on kimberly ann stevens, murdered and raped in 1980 in sw portland. I was friends with her sister at the time, although we were on 11 yr old, her sister's murder still haunts me today. I am a manicurist today and a dear client of mine was her mother's best friend when she was murdered, her mother passed away and my client would like to see someone convicted of her crime. Since I also was connected to kimberly, I feel the same way. thank you for any information.

9:11 AM  
Blogger lizette bracy said...

I am looking for information on kimberly ann stevens, murdered and raped in 1980 in sw portland. I was friends with her sister at the time, although we were on 11 yr old, her sister's murder still haunts me today. I am a manicurist today and a dear client of mine was her mother's best friend when she was murdered, her mother passed away and my client would like to see someone convicted of her crime. Since I also was connected to kimberly, I feel the same way. thank you for any information.

9:11 AM  
Blogger jd chandler said...

Lizette - I have some information on your friend's murder that I would be happy to share with you. Please email me at and I will tell you what I know.

1:47 PM  
Blogger Matthew said...

A family member of mine was recently at the lone fir cemetery and ran across something very peculiar as he was taking photographs, so we did some research and ran across this blog post.

I had some questions and am very interested in the story of Emma sounds like you talk about her in your book (I've already ordered on Amazon after reading this blog post). Can you give me an extra insight on her death, and if you know about the stories of people seeing her, or anything strange after he death?

I recently ran across this article below, and wanted to know your opinions on it.

I have always been a person of no faith, and honestly, I'm still extremely skeptical. The part that is blowing my mind is that even if this were a uncle had recently just took a photo that captured an image of something that looks awfully similar to the pictured captured by Riley back in 1936 in the link i provided above.

Please let me know if you're interested in furthering this conversation on any information I can find out about Emma Merlotin, as I would be very grateful!

8:10 AM  
Blogger Matthew said...

hi chandler... you may have seen one of my messages come through earlier today (that probably has yet to be approved). It was silly that I even bought into it. Consider it a prank from my family member who decided to create this elaborate hoax and alter a lot of images via Adobe Photoshop! Sorry about that, have a good day!

6:01 PM  
Blogger Gail said...

Ally Paolo, what kind of information were you looking for? I may know a thing or two as i was married to him.

6:16 AM  
Blogger jd chandler said...


I think Ally finished the project and forgot about it. I would love to hear your story, though. Please email me

5:43 PM  
Blogger tomorrow said...

hi gail, i was the best friend of one of the girls who died as a result of your exhusband. i constantly think how could a person commit such an act and still be able to sleep soundly. how would he react if something similar happened to one of his offspring. i also think i would like to talk to todd, maybe he will give me an interview and some insight into this and other questions i have. its been so many years since the tragedy yet i cry whenever i think of my friend and how her life ended. i hope this message finds you

7:25 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Gee does my name Ring a bell? Michelle Kotoff ? From what I hear you helped him cover up those missing girls on the 80's

10:08 PM  
Blogger Michelle Harding said...

Well Gail, Michelle Kotoff that ring a bell ? After he attacked me and went to prison , I think he DIVORCED you !! In case you choose to forget I'm " the one that got away " .Todd was also the last person see with 3 teenage girls in the 80's one as young as 12, were are those girls ? I've been told you helped him cover those ones up
I was 7 months pregnant when he violently raped and strangled me.And JD why won't you tell me where he is

10:15 PM  
Blogger Michelle Harding said...

Yeah I asked you years ago where he was ,actually just did my 1,St ever interview for I'd channel none of the can find him either

10:17 PM  
Blogger jd chandler said...

Your name doesn't ring any bells for me. I have never heard from you before. The reason I won't tell you where Todd Alan Reed is that I don't know. He was sentenced to life in 2001 and he does not show up on the Oregon Dept. of Corrections inmate locator. Sometimes long term prisoners are transferred out of state, but there is usually a record.
So we don't really know where Reed is now. If anyone does know please tell us.

10:47 AM  
Blogger ccdaize said...

Michelle- I heard this guy that just got out of prison a few month ago talking to a clerk and he said he was in OSP in Salem with Todd Alan Reed. I was just overhearing them talking and he was just making fun of him saying that everyone gives him a bad time in there because of his crime.

12:41 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home