Wednesday, October 15, 2014

I Should Have Killed Him Then

            I’m always pleased to welcome a guest blogger here at Slabtown Chronicle and I’m proud to present our newest guest blogger Theresa Kennedy Dupay who has written a series of articles on a crime I mention briefly in my new book Portland on the Take (with JB Fisher). This very public murder-suicide rocked Portland in the months before the bombing of Pearl Harbor, but it was very quickly forgotten. Ms. Dupay has really dug into the details and brings us the full story, starting with Part One…

     “MURDUR.” This is the first word on the top, left-hand corner of the typewritten Officer's Report, under “subject.” It is unknown who wrote the word, in cursive, as it appears on three other witness statement forms, (probably carbon copies) completed by different officers. The officer either didn't know how to spell the word properly, or was merely in a hurry and too careless to correct the glaring error. The likelihood is that he was rushed and didn't see it. Today the term used would not be murder but rather homicide. The death the document references occurred May 9th, 1941, when one police officer killed another police officer. The bad blood grew over a decades old grievance, that apparently could neither be forgotten, nor forgiven.
     Early, that morning, Veteran patrolman Arthur “Blaine” Chase, (who had recently been suspended and would have been formally terminated that day by Mayor George Baker for “conduct unbecoming a police officer") entered the old, East Precinct and a single shot was heard ringing throughout the building. Commonly referred to then, as Precinct # 1, the building is located at 626, on the corner of SE 7th and Alder Street and was formerly the location of the original Water Bureau.
Photo courtesy of Oregonian Historical Archive - Multnomah County Library.
     At 3:27 am, that morning, Chase shot his longtime rival and enemy, Lieutenant Phillip Raymond Johnson. Chase walked to the office doorway, after entering through the North-facing, double door entrance, and as Johnson arose from his chair, Chase shot him, at point blank range, aiming for Johnson's groin. The bullet entered the right side of the pelvis, shattering bone, and exiting the right buttock. But the powerful trajectory did not end there. The bullet penetrated a wall behind Lt. Johnson, entering a metal locker and tearing through the left sleeve of a uniform blouse belonging to one Officer Schenck. After being shot, Lt. Johnson fled through a doorway, to the left of his desk, running into the desk officers quarters and into a back office, on the other side of the building, with Chase following behind. Johnson ran past Patrolman Cook and Special officer Turley, as Cook sat at his desk and Turley stood nearby. Johnson uttered his last known words, when he breathlessly exclaimed “Chase shot me!”
     Chase followed, with a gun in each hand. He stood near the doorway, looking into the back office, with numerous metal lockers behind him, bearing their solitary witness to the murder he would so callously commit. Chase held a powerful .45 automatic and a .38 revolver as Johnson crouched low, trying to get cover behind a wooden desk. “When coming into the room Chase ordered Special Turley out of the room and commenced firing at Johnson.” Chase is reported to have barked at Turley, “Get out of here while the getting is good!” But another policeman reports that Chase said, “Get out of here while you still have a whole skin!”
     Whatever was said, Turley fled while he had the chance, going the way Chase had come in, in an effort to secure his pistol and come to the aid of his wounded Lieutenant. Patrolman Cook was trapped in back of his desk in the far left hand corner of the room, and fell to the floor, taking cover behind his desk, as both men exchanged rapid gunfire. Johnson shot at Chase five times, missing him with each round. Chase shot at Johnson five more times, hitting him in the right hand, between the ring and the little finger, with the force of the round knocking the gun out of Johnson's hand. Johnson was also hit in the left hand, just below the index finger and then hit in the left knee, on the outside portion, just below the knee cap. After unloading most of the rounds in both the .45 and the .38 revolver, Chase ran out the front entrance, running across the street to the service station. There he got into his 1939, black Buick Coupe and sped off, heading toward Washington street and ultimately, Barton Bridge in Clackamas County.
     Before Johnson was carried away, a Lt. Schulpius found him on the floor and attempted to communicate with him. “We arrived at 3:36 am and immediately endeavored to talk to Lt. Johnson, but he was unconscious and had a glassy stare in his eyes” (Official Officers Report, 1941). Johnson was taken to Emmanuel Hospital, by the Oregon Ambulance Company, and sometime later, at 4:02 am, was pronounced dead by one Dr. Lockwood. The likelihood of course, is that Johnson died well before 4:02 am and was probably dead or dying at 3:36 am, when Lt. Schulpius attempted to speak with him.
     None of the shots Johnson endured were lethal gut or head shots, so its likely that Johnson died of shock, blood loss and the massive heart attack that would follow. He lasted only about nine minutes after the first round tore through his pelvis. Johnson was 66-years-old at the time of his death, Chase, the shooter, 57. But what could fuel such lethal hatred? What could drive one policeman to kill another?

Photo courtesy of Oregonian Historical Archive - Multnomah County Library.
     When I first learned the story of Arthur “Blaine” Chase and Phillip Raymond Johnson, through my friend and crime historian JD Chandler, it seemed fairly simple. And like your typical non-law enforcement civilian, I found myself making enormous blanket generalizations about the tragedy. Poor Chase, I thought to myself. Johnson must have really crossed the line. Once I secured complete copies of all the documents in Chase and Johnson's files, perfectly preserved by one Sergeant Ralph O'Hara, (who rescued thousands of such PPB personnel files from the destruction of the incinerator) I discovered a very different story about two highly imperfect, yet multi-faceted men. Two very different men who would pay a heavy price for the choices they'd made decades earlier.
     Blaine Chase, much like Phillip Johnson came to his career in law enforcement late in life. Chase was 34-years-old when he was sworn in, April Fool's Day, 1918. Johnson, was 36-years-old when he was sworn in as a peace officer, October 16th, 1909. Johnson had been born and raised in the South, coming of age in Montross, Virginia and then moving to Oregon as a young man. Chase was a native Oregonian, born in Logan, Oregon, an “unincorporated community in Clackamas County,” near Milwaukie and the Barton community, coming of age in both close-knit farming communities. Chase's occupations are listed as an “Express Messenger” and a “farmer” before becoming a police officer, while Johnson worked as a “Laundry Driver” for the Troy Laundry Company in Portland, on SW Pine Street before he became an officer. They had started out as equals, of a sort, and had even worked as partners, but differences relating to personality, education level, drive and ambition led to a distinct disparity socially and professionally. And that eventually led to betrayal.

Phillip Johnson joined the Police Bureau in 1909 and worked as Blaine Chase's partner before being promoted to Lieutenant. Photo courtesy of Oregonian Historical Archive - Multnomah County Library.
     While leafing through Blaine Chase's personnel file, it became clear that by the late 1930's, this officer was profoundly burnt-out by the profession. Its also very likely, Chase had been a poor choice from the start. The file details more than one motor vehicle accident Chase had been involved in. In one such accident, Chase was seen “swerving all over the road” yelling profanity, and repeatedly ordering another driver to “get over!”which was the vernacular of the day for “Pull over!” In another report, a Portland citizen discovered and reported a stolen car and wanted to be paid the listed reward money, but to his dismay he discovered that Portland Police Officer Arthur Chase claimed he found the car first. Chase was given the reward money and would not even consider giving the other man half. The civilian wrote a letter of complaint to the chief of police in protest. The chief backed Officer Chase and the matter was closed.
     Chase was described by more than one civilian and police supervisor, as angry, bull-headed, overly aggressive and impatient. In one “History Sheet” form, written up by the Women's Protective Division, an allegation was made that Chase had gotten a woman known only as “Miss Andrews” pregnant. The charge is listed as “Bastardy” which refers to “the begetting of an illegitimate child.” The form documents more than one meeting with Miss Andrews, Chase and chief of Police Leon Jenkins to resolve the matter. Miss Andrews claimed that on October 25th, 1925 she was invited by Chase to spend time with him in his room. They had met at Ireland's Sandwich Shop in Portland, in July or August of that year and became friends. The report goes on to say, “She had burned her arm; was feeling badly. He was kind; wanted her to rest awhile in afternoon.” At that first official meeting with the police Chief, November 10th, 1925, Chase said he would “...see her through.”
     The woman needed money for an “operation” as Dr. L. R. Roberts had written a letter claiming she was too delicate and weak to “carry a infant to maturity” and “live.” The letter claims she was two months pregnant. It is also revealed that due to the distress of the situation, Miss Andrews attempted suicide November 2nd, 1925. Later during another follow-up meeting for the same issue, dated January 10th, 1926, Chase offered to give the woman $200 if she would release him from any “future obligation.” He wanted nothing to do with her or the baby she claimed to be carrying.
     Sometime later, Miss Andrews offered another letter to Chief Jenkins, claiming she suffered from “Albumin” and“should have treatments for some time.” She indicated that she wished Chase to pay for this as well. The condition of having Albumin unusually refers to a blood disorder from low protein levels. This can be caused by many things, such as Tuberculosis, poor nutrition, kidney and liver disease due to alcoholism, infections of the feet, decayed teeth, infected gums and even chronic bladder infections. All of those symptoms might be consistent for a “Chippy” or an amateur, or sometime prostitute. 
By the 1930s Blaine Chase was a burned out cop. His personnel file shows that he was probably not fit to be a cop in the first place. Photo courtesy of Oregonian Historical Archive - Multnomah County Library.
     Miss Andrews did not however, follow up with any claims for money for the “operation” she had previously stated she needed. And “Officer Chase did not make any attempt to raise the money,” the report concludes. The information presented in these documents presents a challenge. Was Miss Andrews really pregnant or was she merely a prostitute looking to make some quick money by smearing the reputation of a well-known, hot-headed, local policeman? In a time in Portland's history when prostitution was rampant and indeed accepted, the con of accusing a police officer of making a woman pregnant might seem an attractive idea to those criminals who might believe they could get away with such a ploy. And Chase would have been an easy target, particularly if he was known to visit prostitutes. There is no follow up information on the issue and no resolution offered or recorded in the file.
     Another woman entered into the beleaguered life of Patrolman Chase; a Mrs. Lois Mae Davis. She was a good friend who refered to Chase in the familiar, as “Blaine” and claimed to be a “very close friend.” She sent a letter to Chief of Police Jenkins, begging for help. She asked the Chief to force Officer Chase to repay a $140 loan she said she could prove, by virtue of a bank promissory note, that she had afforded him. As Mrs. Davis was a widow with two small daughters, who earned “half” of what Chase made, and who was struggling financially, she sent a letter, full of typo's and misspelled and crossed-out words to the Chief. He responded sometime later in a Memo, in which Chief Jenkins indicated that Officer Chase claimed “he does not owe you any debt,” and informed Mrs. Davis that it was a civil matter and she should take it up in the courts, “ the proper manner.” The matter was closed. The woman was ignored and Chase did not repay the alleged $140 loan.
     Two years later, July 22nd, 1927, another History Sheet from the Women's Protective Division was filled out with yet another accusation against Chase. This charge is described as “Neglect of Aged Woman.” Mrs. Isacson was elderly and alone. Her husband had recently died. “Mrs. Isacson is sick, not able to be alone and without funds. Husband died two weeks ago. Arthur Chase, a policeman, is her son; he lives in Montgomery Apartments. Third and Montgomery. Chase knows his mother is destitute and does nothing to help her.” This form also has no stated resolution to the problem or if Chase offered any funds to prevent the homelessness of his aged mother, other than $10 which he claimed to have given her sometime before.
     What would compel a man to ignore his elderly mother and allow her to become destitute and perhaps even homeless? When Chase was born in 1884, there were no real laws against child abuse. Fathers and mothers could beat their children to the point of near death and were rarely charged with a crime. Census records indicate that Chase's mother “Clara” had been married at least four times during her life and possibly more than that. Census records from 1900 also show that Blaine Chase was living with a Step-father with the surname of “Richey” and that his last name had been changed to Richey for a short while. Chase must have resented his mother Clara for forcing him to change his name, because as soon as he was able, he changed his last name back to his natural father's surname of Chase.
     Phillip Johnson's personnel file shows a very different sort of man. He was a self-starter, studious and ambitious. He attended three years of Chiropractic college in Portland and became a licensed Chiropractor. He was an enlightened healer. Eventually, he also earned a law degree from an Oregon University and after becoming a patrolman, slowly advanced through the ranks, earning high praise from all those he worked with. Johnson is described as having “a pleasant personality” and as “easy going.” He was a man who “rarely gets ruffled.”
     Chase on the other hand, did not advance through the ranks and remained a patrolman, walking a beat his entire career. The more Chase remained on the job, the more surly, disengaged and alcoholic he became. At one point an evaluator describeed Chase as a man who suffered from a “superiority complex.” He became known as someone who was given to bragging about his superior policing skills at the expense of other officers who were apparently, not as tough or capable. At no time in Chase's career though, did he earn any commendations from his superiors or letters of praise from citizens.

Theresa Kennedy Dupay continues her research into this story and we can expect further chapters on this case from her in the near future. JC  Here is part two.


Blogger NW 4x4 Response said...

Awesome story so far! Can't wait to read the rest of it. I also can't believe the city was going to dump all of the old records.

12:48 AM  
Blogger Theresa Kennedy DuPay said...

Stay tuned for part 2 and part 3. The additional sections of the story provide more details and some speculative motive for why Chase killed Johnson. Part 2 will be published in about a week. Believe it or not, these kinds of sordid love triangles are not uncommon for various police department's nation wide...

7:45 PM  
Blogger Jeff Cogen said...

Great story, Theresa. I look forward to what comes next...

4:15 PM  
Blogger Theresa Kennedy DuPay said...

Thank you so much Jeff! I think you'll like the end, of course it culminates with Chase's suicide but the details make it rather bittersweet also. Its hard not to feel for the man...he'd been dealt more than one bad hand...

6:56 PM  
Blogger Charlie Seiga said...

Great serialisation, I enjoyed the attention to detail.
For another serialisation on Liverpool crime in the 50's see

7:19 AM  
Blogger Theresa Kennedy DuPay said...

Thank you so much Charlie. I love old crime stories. I will look at this right away. Thank you so much. Writing this crime profile was very special to me. Its such a sad story and I felt compelled to tell the story, based on two personnel files I had obtained and other documents and records used. Its probably one of the most important things I've ever written and very dear to my heart...

12:17 AM  

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