Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Murder and Mayhem in Portland, Oregon

            My latest book, Murder and Mayhem in Portland, Oregon is finally available in paperback and ebook from the History Press. You can use any of the links on this page to order your copy now. 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 moreclick 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 clickhere.

            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.

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