Thursday, March 7, 2013

The Ghouls of Riverview Cemetery

            Riverview Cemetery, Portland’s beautiful burial place overlooking the Willamette River from SW Taylor’s Ferry Road, was one of the legacies of William Sargent Ladd. Ladd arrived in Portland in April, 1851 as the first of a group of merchants who arrived that spring and transformed the newborn city. From the unique design of Ladd’s Addition which characterizes Portland’s east side to the Ladd Carriage House that still stands at the foot of the ultra-post-modern Ladd Tower he left his mark on the city in his forty-two year career. In 1893, during his last days, he had seen the eleven-year-old, and still unfinished, Riverview Cemetery as his greatest legacy.
            William S. Ladd made his first fortune from selling liquor, but the mass of his wealth, estimated at more than $10 million [$250 million in 2013] at his death, was made from flour mills and banking. Ladd was known for his congeniality and his generosity, regularly tithing to charity, but he could be ruthless when foreclosing mortgages. In the process he accumulated thousands of acres of real estate on the west side and the east side of Portland. He also made some enemies.
William Ladd established Oregon's first bank and amassed huge wealth.
            Oregon pioneers such as Ladd were able to create great wealth for themselves in their new home and make an easy life for their descendants. Others were not so lucky. The Depression of 1893 was especially hard on the descendants of Oregon pioneers. Ladd’s fortune was nearly cut in half by the economic downturn that hit just months after his death. Daniel D. Magone, son of Oregon pioneer Joseph Magone, inherited a large tract of land on the Willamette River near what is now West Lynn. During the depression he was forced to mortgage his land and piece by piece he lost nearly all of it. This was only the start of Magone’s troubles, though. In 1895 his little daughter was drowned before his eyes in the river. Already bitter over the loss of his land, the death of his daughter plunged Magone into a state of depression that made his neighbors and even his family begin to question his sanity.                     Magone not only began acting strangely, he began to fantasize about ways that he could solve his financial problems and get revenge on the bankers at the same time. His macabre fantasies began to become reality when he ran into Charles Montgomery, grandson of Oregon pioneer William P. Shannon. The 1890s had been a difficult time for Montgomery as well.
Daniel Magone, son of a pioneer, lost his land and his daughter. He wanted revenge on the bankers.

            Montgomery grew up on his uncle’s farm near the Willamette, just upriver from Oregon City, where as a teenager he came under the influence of a rough character named Hiram Hall. Hall and the teenage Montgomery became inseparable drinking companions and got a bad reputation together around the dives of Oregon City. When Montgomery turned twenty, in 1895, he inherited a tract of land from his grandfather and Hall convinced him to mortgage it for $500 [$13,000 in 2013] so they could open a saloon and trading post together on the Siletz Indian Reservation. Claiming he had lost most of the money, Hall convinced Montgomery to take out another mortgage, this time for $300, and the two men set off for the Siletz Country.
            They didn’t get far out of Oregon City, Hall armed with a shotgun and Montgomery with a rifle, before they ran into trouble. Montgomery claimed that Hall took a shot at him and tried to take all of the money for himself. Hall never disputed Montgomery’s story, because he died with a bullet in his back. Charles Montgomery returned to Oregon City and surrendered to Police Chief Burns. He was indicted for first degree murder, but acquitted with a plea of self defense. In 1896, when he met Dan Magone, Montgomery was still drinking heavily and using his reputation as a killer to intimidate people.
Charles Montgomery, grandson of a pioneer, testified for the state and served not quite two years.
            Montgomery and Magone made part of their living by fishing on the Willamette and they both liked to drink in Oregon City. Magone’s behavior was becoming more and more odd; he began talking about how much money could be earned by stealing bodies from the cemetery and selling them for medical specimens. One night he confided his real plan to Montgomery; he wanted to steal William Ladd’s body from Riverview and ransom it for $50,000 [$1.3 million in 2013]. Montgomery liked the idea and soon the two men began to make elaborate plans.
            Montgomery was convinced that the wealthy Ladd family had protected their patriarch’s grave with an electric alarm. In January, 1897 he burglarized the Orchard Station of the East Side Railroad and stole a field telephone that he could use to monitor the telephone lines during the grave robbery. Magone hired two men, Ed Long and William Rector, who worked as laborers to help with the robbery, telling them that they were stealing a body for a medical specimen, but keeping the large ransom secret. According to one witness the men made an unsuccessful attempt on the cemetery on April 4, 1897, but something scared them off. They tried again on Monday, May 17. This time they were successful.
William Rector testified that he had been forced to dig up the body. He was pardoned after a little more than a year.
            While Montgomery tapped the telephone line to Charles E. Ladd’s house, Magone led Long and Rector to William Ladd’s grave and dug up the body. Ladd had been buried four years before in an elaborate coffin, but his stone memorial had not yet arrived from the East. His grave was marked only by a wooden board marked W.S.L. The expensive coffin was broken during the robbery and Ladd’s well preserved body, which weighed nearly three hundred pounds, was carried to the river and loaded into a waiting boat. They took along the wooden grave marker for proof that they had the body. The four men rowed upriver to Magone’s Landing, named after Daniel’s father, and hid the corpse in a well concealed shallow grave.
            The next morning, when the empty grave was discovered, Portland Police Chief Patrick J. Barry headed the investigation. Several pieces of evidence were found including the stolen telephone and a broken carpenter’s knife that was left in the open grave. The robbers had left a clear trail to the river, sawing branches from trees in a couple of places, and it was obvious that they had boarded a boat. What was not obvious was whether they had gone upriver or down. Chief Barry assigned the case to Detectives Welch and Sam Simmons.
            Simmons and Welch soon traced the broken knife to the blacksmith who had made it. He remembered making the knife for Dan Magone. This led the two detectives upriver where they soon connected Magone and Charles Montgomery. By Thursday Magone and Montgomery were in jail and Montgomery led Welch and Simmons to the body.
Ed Long kept silent and served two years for illegal disinterment.
            The graverobbers hadn’t even had time to make a ransom demand so the only crime they could be charged with was illegal disinterment, punishable by a maximum of three years. Authorities also brought charges of damaging property for the destruction of the coffin, but the charges were ruled out by the Supreme Court. Charles Montgomery and William Rector both testified against their accomplices and received pardons after only a short time in jail. Daniel Magone pled insanity, but was convicted anyway. He spent nearly three years in jail. Ed Long remained silent and did a two year stretch. W.S. Ladd, whose expensive embalming had kept his body very well preserved was returned to Holman’s Funeral Parlor and then reburied in a grave reinforced with concrete.


  1. Best line: "Hall never disputed Montgomery's story, because he died with a bullet in his back."

  2. I read this with great interest--a very nice post!

    I am reminded of a quote attributed to Charles De Gaulle, "The graveyards are full of indispensable men."

    I am looking forward to reading your book. Best wishes!

  3. This is my new favorite blog. I don't know where you dig all this stuff up but it is pure gold. Thanks, man!

  4. I was reading Slabtown Chronicle, and clicked the highlighted text to familiarize myself with who William M. Ladd was, and I found this to be a very interesting article. Thank you for posting it I realled enjoyed reading it.