Sunday, April 26, 2015

Hell Hath No Fury: The Strange Fate of Anna Schrader

Theresa Griffith Kennedy (the main author of this piece) and I have been working on this Anna Schrader/Torso Murder case for some time.  If you've been following the podcast Murder By Experts you already know some of the story.  Here is a little more and there is more coming. Hope you like it.
The apartment house (3rd from right) where Anna Schrader lived in 1930.  When someone fired a shot through the window she called the police, but they decided a "potted cactus" had fallen from the balcony above and came through the window.
            In 1946 Portland, the population had swollen to ten times its pre-war size, and was on the move.  The shipyards along the Columbia River laid off workers and River City entered the long, slow economic decline of the post-war period. Portland industries, which had always depended on transient workers, were contracting. Many of the transients were moving on, but a large portion of them were staying in place and looking for other work.  The city was bigger and more crowded than it had ever been. Violent incidents, murders and disappearances were all rising, and in such a volatile population it was easy to get lost in the shuffle.
            One of the women lost in the shuffle was Anna Schrader, an aging beauty who had been well-known to readers of the Oregonian in the pre-war period but had faded from public view over the last decade.  By 1946, now a widow in her early sixties, she had lost the refined Irish beauty that had long been one of her claims to fame.  Her reputation damaged by scandal and a long, bitter battle with the Portland Police Bureau and its former chief, Leon Jenkins, Schrader had become socially invisible.  In the spring of 1946, with Jenkins coming out of retirement to replace ailing chief Harry Niles, Schrader sensed she was on the verge of a comeback, but fate stepped in and altered her narrative. 

On April 5, 1946, her sixty-third birthday, a small ad appeared in the classified section of the Oregonian providing the only documentation of Anna Schrader’s odd disappearance.  The ten-word ad reading “Anyone knowing whereabouts of Ann Schrader please write Y502, Oregonian” would run three times over three weeks. The terse request would become the final epitaph for one of Portland’s most controversial, troublesome and flamboyant characters.  There is no record of who placed the ad, nor any record of any responses it may have received and no record that the police ever investigated the disappearance.  It is likely that a missing persons report was filed with the Police Bureau, as Anna Schrader had many wealthy and influential friends. She had even been close to several police officers, some of whom were still on the force, but corruption and rivalries diffused the proper focus of the Police Bureau and the new chief, Leon Jenkins, had far more reason to celebrate the disappearance of his least favorite Portlander than to get to the bottom of it.  As a result, Schrader, who hadn’t received significant public attention in more than a decade, simply faded away; her disappearance unnoticed, uninvestigated and forgotten.
Leon Jenkins was Police Chief from 1919-1933. When Harry Niles, his successor, fell ill in 1946, Jenkins came out of retirement to become chief again for more than a year. In this picture he is celebrating his birthday with a blackberry pie.
             Anna Schrader was born Anna Tierney on April 5, 1883 in the tiny town of Madelia, Minnesota.  The rural community had approximately 500 residents when she was born, didn’t even have a school until 1935 and still has fewer than 3,000 residents today.  Schrader’s father, Timothy Tierney, was an immigrant from Ireland who lost his wife to an early death, leaving behind seven grown children in the old country.  Her mother, Mary Rickart, more than twenty years younger than her immigrant husband, was from a pioneer family, and born and raised in Minnesota.  Schrader grew up with two older sisters, none of whom had formal education, but all of whom could read and write and were known for their sparkling Irish beauty.
Little is known of Schrader’s early life.  She was married at age eighteen to a man named Farney and came to Portland before 1910, nine years later.  Schrader arrived in the Rose City during a wave of female immigration that brought more than 7,000 young women per year to town, looking for careers or for husbands.  Some of them, like Louise Bryant, Portland’s most famous woman journalist, and Lola Baldwin, Portland’s first female police officer, found career opportunities and settled in, establishing roots.  Others, like Madge Wilson, found only tragedy.
Anna Schrader, whose allure and physical beauty drew the attention of many men, eventually found a husband.  In May of 1915 she married Edward Schrader, a railroad employee who rose to the position of Yard Master before his death in 1941.  It appears a hardworking husband was not enough for Anna Schrader; she wanted fame and social prominence.  And like many women before and after her, she found Portland’s society, with its unspoken class system and firmly closed ranks, difficult to enter.  That didn’t mean she wouldn’t try though.
            Naturally competitive, Schrader threw herself into political and social work, organizing her neighborhood for the Republican Party during the Presidential election of 1916.  Her candidate, Charles Evans Hughes, lost the election and Anna Schrader marked the occasion in her typical flamboyant fashion.  On December 25, 1916 the Oregonian reported, “Mrs. Anna Schrader will don her swimming suit and swim in the Willamette River as part of an election bet.”  She would be remembered for decades as a popular swimmer and for her activities with both the Republican Party and the YWCA.
Anna schrader was born in a small Midwestern town. She came to Portland in 1910 (at the age of 27) to escape a bad marriage.
            The attractive Mrs. Schrader, now in her thirties but already shaving seven full years off her age, was attracted to and had a fascination for tall men in uniform.  Soon after coming to Portland she was the Fire Department’s candidate for Rose Queen.  In those days, before the High Schools took over selection of the Rose Princesses, every community group had its own candidate.  Groups would raise funds by charging a penny a vote and Rose Princesses got a great deal of publicity.  It was during her campaign for Rose Queen that Anna Schrader met a strapping young policeman named Bill Breuning.  It would take a few years for their relationship to develop, but Portland would never be the same afterwards.
            William “Bill” Breuning was a powerfully built man, standing six feet one and weighing 235 pounds, who worked as an ironworker before joining the Police Bureau in 1914.  Breuning was recognized as a professional and competent officer, popular with his fellow officers and sought after for his ability to speak Yiddish; a necessary skill in the immigrant neighborhood of South Portland.  After returning from Army duty during the Great War, Breuning was promoted to sergeant in 1920 and lieutenant in 1926.  The married officer with the promising career began an affair with the attractive Mrs. Schrader in 1921.
            The two lovers met regularly at several downtown hotels, including the historic Cornelius hotel on SW Alder Street. Breuning then arranged for Anna to be hired as a “private detective” as a clever cover for their affair.  Sometimes Breuning and Schrader would meet at her northeast Portland home for dinner and sex, and on more than one occasion these trysts resulted in a “near miss” when Edward Schrader returned home early from work and Breuning was forced to make a hasty escape through the back door.  Despite the danger, the relationship seemed to fill the needs of both partners.  Breuning, with two children and a devoted wife in southeast Portland, had a passionate and beautiful lover, who was always eager to please him.  And Anna Schrader had a strong fantasy life in which she hoped she might upgrade her husband from a hardworking railroad man to the prominent police lieutenant decked out in his spiffy uniform, cap and gun belt.  Her dreams of upward social mobility were fueled by the affair and in time, she started planning to marry her lover, Bill.
            At the start the affair may have seemed like the perfect arrangement for Bill Breuning.  With his lover conveniently married he may have felt that his own home and family were safe.  As the affair progressed, though, Schrader began to pressure him to leave the wife he said he didn’t love and marry her.  This pressure soon began to tell on the relationship and after 1925 emotional and even violent scenes became commonplace between the two.  The prevailing social constructs of the time would have prevented Breuning from ever considering abandoning his wife and young children for a childless woman who had been married twice already.
            The human issues involved in the Schrader/Breuning affair appear as timeless and predictable as the melodramatic plots of the silent films that were so popular at the time; issues regarding what constitutes decent conduct and who is ultimately punished for attempting to break up a home with small children involved.  As many women before her, Anna Schrader must have realized she would never get what she wanted. Lt. Breuning would never leave his wife and children to give her the social station or romantic and sexual excitement she seemed to crave.  Schrader had to have realized, too, that she had been fooled and used into the bargain.  That bitterness must have been all consuming for her, as her later behavior seems to suggest.  Her intense love for Bill Breuning soon turned to hatred, as she brazenly informed the Oregonian reporters.
One of the very few pictures known to exist of Anna Schrader appeared in the Oregonian in 1929 during the sex scandal that accompanied her breakup with lover, Bill Breuning.
             By 1929 the relationship had deteriorated completely.  After several emotional and violent scenes Breuning withdrew and cut off all contact with his lover.  Schrader’s work as a “private detective” working for the police bureau had given her access to information that could be explosive if it became public and had also kept her in contact with other officers who became her friends and allies.  Breuning, in an effort to protect himself and discredit Schrader, began a rumor campaign blaming her for the affair and implying that she was emotionally unstable and a seductress.  Anna Schrader had been rejected and physically abused, but the rumors and the attack on her reputation were the last straw.  In August she borrowed a pistol for protection, from another police officer, and waited in her car in front of Breuning’s southeast Portland home.  She wanted to spur a confrontation with her ex-lover in order to “square” with him and get him to “take back” rumors that had “ruined her reputation” as she claimed.
            The following day (August 24, 1929) headlines in the Oregonian trumpeted, “Woman’s Bullets Miss Policeman. W.H. Breuning Victor in Sidewalk Scuffle.”  The confrontation had not gone well for Anna Schrader.  Confronting Breuning in front of his house she had drawn the pistol and threatened him with it.  Breuning grabbed the gun and during the struggle it discharged twice, not striking anyone.  Breuning threw Schrader to the ground, dropping on her with both knees and breaking her ribs in an effort to restrain her.  Breuning then called for the paddy wagon and Anna Schrader was carted off to jail, charged with “intent to kill with a dangerous weapon” and one of Portland’s earliest and biggest sex scandals had begun.
            Anna Schrader defended herself from her jail cell, “sobbing uncontrollably” and exposing her long-term love affair with Lieutenant Breuning.  She claimed that she had not intended to kill him, but only took the gun for protection because of his brutality in the past.  She said that the gun went off accidentally when he attacked her.  Breuning counter-attacked by publically repeating rumors he had been spreading, portraying Schrader as the aggressor, an alluring chippy, who had forced him into an illicit sexual affair, against his better judgement. He and his friends on the police force also appear to have tampered with evidence in an attempt to cover up the affair; visiting several downtown hotels where the couple had met, bullying desk clerks and unceremoniously ripping pages from the hotel registers.  The Oregonian and its readers loved the scandal; lurid story after lurid story, all with screaming colorful headlines, appeared in the paper for nearly two years.
            Edward Schrader, despite his humiliation, resolutely stood by his wife, urging her to bring assault charges against Breuning and suing the lieutenant himself for “alienation of affections” as a result of the affair. Schrader, realizing that her reputation had already been damaged beyond repair, decided to raise the stakes a notch.  In a momentous phone call to the Oregonian newspaper, she threatened to “rock Portland” by exposing a system of bureau-wide corruption within the police force.  She had worked as an informant and “private detective” for the bureau for nearly eight years.  During that time she had made many contacts and gathered a great deal of specific evidence on corruption and police involvement in the illegal liquor trade, all conducted of course, during the years of prohibition.
            The Breuning/Schrader scandal created harsh consequences for both parties.  Bill Breuning, who had enjoyed a promising career, was eventually dismissed from the force for “conduct unbecoming a police officer” in 1930. The loss was a devastating blow. It was the first in a series of scandals that shook Mayor George Baker’s administration, leading to his decision not to run for re-election in 1932.  Police Chief Jenkins tried to protect his boss and the bureau by sweeping the mess under the proverbial rug, but the public, hungry for salacious details wouldn’t let it rest and the vindictive Anna Schrader was happy to feed their hunger for scandalous misbehavior.  Jenkins tried to claim that it was Breuning’s conduct of being involved in an adulterous affair that led to his discharge, but it was clear Breuing’s most serious crime was in simply getting caught.
Anna Schrader never made good on her promise to deliver the evidence and her public charges were received skeptically by most Portlanders, who considered her nothing more than a fallen woman.  Mayor Baker was still very popular at that time, having served as mayor for over a decade, and Leon Jenkins’ reputation was considered spotless.  Schrader brought her charges to the public, with a series of rousing speeches, public appearances and radio talks, but Breuning’s charges of Schrader’s emotional instability were believed by many and Schrader’s emotional style of communication with others seemed to confirm them.  Schrader also received several threats, some she would claim were attempts on her life as well as documented violent attacks.
            On one memorable occasion during the Recall Election of 1930, three women, at least one of whom was employed in a downtown brothel/speakeasy, heckled Schrader during a speech in St Johns and then the woman and her two girlfriends viciously kicked Schrader in the shins repeatedly before all three women were hauled away by the police and later arrested.  When a gun was fired through the window of Schrader’s northeast Portland apartment on Ross Street, the police investigated and determined that a “cactus plant” had fallen from the upstairs balcony and come through the downstairs window – an unlikely occurrence, if it was possible, given the layout of the building and the law of gravity.
            Schrader participated actively in Recall Elections against George Baker and members of his administration in 1930 and 1932.  She testified about police corruption to a Multnomah County Grand Jury, pursued lawsuits against Breuning and the Police Bureau for false arrest, and acted as her own attorney on her false arrest case against Breuning.  During Breuning’s appeal of his firing to the civil service board, at which Schrader was present, John Logan, president of the board told her to “sit down and shut up,” and had her ejected by a matron when she refused to comply.
Schrader eventually won the suit against Breuning, receiving only a paltry token-award of $250.  Breuning, unemployed and bankrupt probably couldn’t pay.  George Baker declined to run for re-election, after barely surviving the recall in spring, 1932 and Schrader briefly became a candidate for mayor. She spoke among a group of candidates in a crowded election meeting at the United Artists movie theater on SW Broadway.  Then mysteriously, in 1930 Schrader began having a series of unusual car accidents and alleged burglaries at her home that may have been warnings.  Combined with the heckling and violent attacks Schrader had endured, she and her husband probably feared for their lives.
By 1936 Schrader had faded from view and entered a prolonged period of social invisibility.  Researchers can only speculate why she never gave her evidence, which she allegedly kept in a diary or a journal.  A pay-off seems likely, but many feel that Schrader was “unbribable” and not willing to be “shut up” for any amount of money. Yet shut up she did, most likely in fear of continued attacks against her life and that of her husband.  Edward finally passed away, from unknown causes in 1941 and still Anna Schrader kept her silence.  Bootlegging continued, Oregon’s restrictive liquor regulations still provided an incentive to avoid taxes and regulations and the powerful gangs that ran drinking, gambling, drugs and the sex trade remained unwilling to be regulated.  Those establishments still had full compliance from the city government, now under the control of Baker’s protégé, corrupt mayor Earl Riley, and in 1949 and 1950 Mayor Dorothy McCoullough Lee would receive some of the “Anna Schrader” treatment herself.
On April 12, 1946, right in the middle of Earl Riley’s reign, the first Torso Murder package was found floating in the foul waters of the Willamette River.  That same day saw the second appearance of the “whereabouts” add in the Oregonian requesting information on Schrader.  Some of the open and enduring questions of the Torso investigation are: how long had the victim been dead when the body parts started turning up; and what true age was the Torso suspected of being.  It seems significant that the first package appeared at least two weeks after Anna Schrader was last seen alive and well in Portland.
The Clackamas County Sheriff’s Department and Oregon State Police, who investigated the Torso Case, were diligent, professional and thorough in tracking down and ruling out dozens of missing women, but they have never considered the possibility that Anna Schrader may have been the Torso victim.  Even today, nearly seventy years later, authorities are skeptical of the idea.  No one knows who the real Anna Schrader was. No one considers that if she was the Torso victim that fact alone would lead directly to some very specific suspects.  She has become part of a forgotten past. No one cares about Anna Schrader. 
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