Heroes and rascals, shipwrecks and lost gold: Strange but true stories and secrets of Oregon's wild past | Offbeat Oregon History The Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh (now known as Osho -- yes, THAT Osho) as he appeared when he lived in Wasco County with his followers. That's also him in the white Rolls-Royce surrounded by followers, in a scene from Rajneeshpuram. (Four-part story starts with Column No. 73, May 9, 2010 While doing some cleaning-up around the Odd Fellows Hall in Scio, a local girl found a tiny coffin with this partial skeleton inside. Whose? We'll probably never know ... (Story No. 204, Oct. 14, 2012) The ever-elusive D.B. Cooper peeks into the page from behind his signature shades. The story of his skyjacking exploit starts with episode 237, from June 2, 2013. Meet Kitty Kat, the wealthiest feline in the state of Oregon and landlord to the City of Tangent. Kitty Kat, until he died at a ripe old age in 1995, owned City Hall. (Story No. 163, Jan. 8, 2012) This crazy-looking speedboat was the invention of Portland wizard Victor Strode. The city commissioned a harbor patrol boat based on his design, but it didn't work out. (Story No. 201, Sept. 23, 2012) The Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh (now known as Osho -- yes, THAT Osho) as he appeared when he lived in Wasco County with his followers. That's also him in the white Rolls-Royce surrounded by followers, in a scene from Rajneeshpuram. (Four-part story starts with Column No. 73, May 9, 2010 This is the roof of the Franz Bread Rest Hut at Pixieland, the Oregon Coast's ill-starred answer to Disneyland, which opened in 1969 and went out of biz in 1974. The Rest Hut consisted of a giant fiberglass loaf of bread sticking out of the top of this giant fiberglass hollow log, the whole thing towering over a log-flume roller coaster ride. It's probably the most campily awesome example of the proud display of crass commercialism that was Pixieland. (Column No. 52 - Dec. 6, 2009)
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the heroic pilot who had to choose who would die in crash-landing.

Jim Wright built a perfect replica of one of history's most important airplanes, and for a time, all was good. But one day he was forced to choose between landing it in a crowded field of tourists, and dying in a giant fireball. Here's what he did.


James Lappeus, former Portland Chief of Police. He eventually was fired over allegations that he'd offered to 'accidentally' leave the jailhouse door open for a convicted murderer if his wife paid a $1,000 bribe.

gambler, swindler, gunfighter, liquor man ... oh, and also police chief.

James Lappeus came to Portland to open a saloon and "theater." Despite his checkered past — or maybe because of it — he was named city marshal and, later, Chief of Police. Here's the story.


Boats of the Astoria fishing fleet, with the help of both wind and incoming tide, race away from the dangers of the Columbia River Bar in this postcard image from around the turn of the century.

When fishing was so deadly, one in 15 didn't survive the season.

They drifted downstream in heavy 24-foot boats with their nets out ... and prayed the tide would turn before they got sucked out onto the bar. Here's the story.


This postcard picture of Cannon Beach was created in 1966, which means just off to the left of the frame is a beach with a fence around it and "no trespassing" signs.

HOW OREGON ALMOST LOST PUBLIC ACCESS TO ITS BEACHES

A Portland real-estate guy found a loophole in the law and claimed a patch of beach for his own, and his friends in the state Legislature tried to keep it that way. Here's the story.


A color lithograph of George and Kate Ann Williams’s Victorian  mansion, located at 18th and Couch streets downtown.

This spooky-looking Portland mansion was home of a 'starvation cult'

A prominent Portland socialite led a sect called "Truth," with the motto "Pray and Be Cured," that required 40-day fasts. It vanished after its leader starved herself to death during a 110-day fast. Here's the story.


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Railroad Murder mystery solved with the victim's help

The thieves, cornered in a boxcar, shot their way out, mortally wounding a railroad "bull." But the dying man was still a pretty good shot. Here's the story.


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A monument in honor of a horse thief and mass murderer?

Bruce "Blue" Evans led the gang that slaughtered over 30 innocent Chinese miners in 1887. So why is his name celebrated on a monument to Wallowa County Pioneers? Probably because they didn't know. Here's the story.


Legendary Coast Guard rescue-boat man Tom McAdams.

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Jonathan Bourne Jr., the rascally and creative political mastermind behind the 'hold-up session.'

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Lawmaker Jonathan Bourne Jr. knew if the state House convened, it would elect his opponent. So he held things up for six weeks — with a Bacchanalian bender. Here's the story.


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One of Conde McCullough's bridges -- the steel one linking Oregon City with Gladstone. he's better known for the Oregon Coast bridges.

Sammy Davis Jr. used to regularly play portland clubs.

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The steamer Telephone, fastest boat on the river in the 1880s and possibly the world -- until it burned to the waterline one day.


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The gravestone of Ame, who despite having died 10 years after the Civil War, was still considered a slave.

sHE DIED AROUND 1874. SO WHY DOES THE GRAVESTONE SAY SHE WAS A SLAVE?

Ame came over the Oregon Trail from Missouri. But when the North won the Civil War, her status as a slave didn't change. Here's what happened.


Ray V.B. Jackson in a booking photo from the Oregon State Pen, in 1896. Four years after this photo was taken, he was teaching grade school in Silver Lake.

Is this the face of oregon's first serial killer?

Like an "angel of death," ex-con Ray V.B. Jackson just happened to be at the scene of at least five Central Oregon homicides. What are the odds? Here's the story (in two parts).


Early Oregon 'holy roller' cult ended in murder, suicide, insanity

THE holy-roller "NAKED LADIES' CULT" IN CORVALLIS and waldport.

It started out as a church seeking perfect holiness and Godliness. It ended in murder, insanity and chaos — and, yes, rumors of naked ladies. Check out the full story (in two parts).


Offbeat Oregon History: Album cover art

Prison break happened during “conjugal visit” at cheap motel

By far the most embarrassing jailbreak in state history happened when a murderer simply walked out the back door of a Motel 6 during an unsupervised “date” with a woman officials thought was his fiancee.

The Motel 6 on Mission Street in Salem, which Carl Cletus Bowles
escaped from by walking out the back door during a conjugal visit
while a prison guard watched the front. (Postcard image)

It was a few minutes after midnight on May 17, 1974, and the Oregon State Penitentiary employee sitting in his car outside the Salem Motel 6 was starting to get nervous.

He was there to supervise a conjugal visit between a convicted cop killer named Carl Cletus Bowles and his fiancée, Joan Coberly, and the convict was supposed to have returned to the parking lot by midnight.

Carl Cletus Bowles (right) confers with his attorney following his
recapture, in November 1975 in Spokane. (Image: Associated Press)

He walked up to room 30, knocked on the door. No response.

He went down and used the lobby telephone to call the room. No answer.

Finally the manager let him inside, and he found the room empty — really empty. The bed hadn’t even been sat on; the toilet still had a strip of paper over it. Bowles and his “fiancée” were gone — long gone. They had, it turned out, simply walked out the back door of the motel.

It was a jailbreak. And it was quite possibly the most embarrassing jailbreak in U.S. history.

The model prisoner

The formal entry gates at the Oregon State Penitentiary. (Image: M.O.
Stephens)

Bowles was a small, handsome man, charismatic and, before his prison days, something of a ladies’ man. He’d gotten into trouble early, before he was a teenager even, and by his late teens he was doing hard time for larceny.

In the mid-1960s, on the run from the law after robbing a bank in Portland just a few days after his release from prison, he gunned down deputy sheriff Carlton Smith of Springfield at close range and in cold blood, during a traffic stop in Eugene. It was this murder that he was in prison for at the time of his escape.

Deputy Carlton Smith of the Lane County Sheriff's Office,
whom Bowles gunned down during a routine traffic stop
near what is now the Valley River Center off-ramp at
Interstate 105. Smith left behind a wife, Margaret Perdue,
and two sons, Randy and Don. (Image: lanecounty.org)

Despite the gravity of this crime and the life sentence it had drawn, prison superintendent Hoyt Cupp knew Bowles would eventually be released — probably at his next Parole Board hearing in 1982. So he was thinking about ways to encourage Bowles to reform himself, so that when he was released, he’d behave this time. To encourage this, Cupp thought a “social pass” — that is, a conjugal visit — would give Bowles a “ray of hope” and encourage him to rehabilitate himself.

Bowles had been at some pains to charm Cupp, and it seemed his campaign had worked; Cupp had taken a personal interest in helping this seemingly compliant, positive prisoner to move beyond his sordid past.

The con job

But now, it seemed, it had all been an elaborate con. Joan Coberly, as it turned out, was actually Bowles’ niece, not his girlfriend. She’d been making visits to the pen posing as his girlfriend, apparently for the express purpose of figuring out a way to bust him out.

This came as a surprise, but it shouldn’t have. A teletype letter had come into the state pen six months earlier — just a few weeks after Coberly’s first visit — from a detective in Amarillo, Texas, warning that Coberly was planning to break Bowles out. Cupp claimed he never saw the letter, and, well, maybe he didn’t, although that would suggest a level of inattention to his duties that was hardly less damning than the alternative.

As state and federal law enforcement agencies swung into action, the eyes of everyone were on Hoyt Cupp. What on Earth had he been thinking, people wondered? Why was a man who was doing a life sentence for murdering a cop, who wasn’t even eligible for parole for another eight years, getting escorted to a motel room for sex? Wasn’t that a bit irresponsible, given what often happens nine months after such an encounter? Why didn’t the prison authorities check to see if the Motel 6 had more than one exit? And most of all, why was that Teletype letter ignored?

Governor Tom McCall, who had appointed Cupp and had great faith in him, docked his pay by $1,000 and suspended him for two weeks. Cupp offered his resignation, and McCall refused to accept it — but told him if anyone was hurt before Bowles was recaptured, that would probably change. That bluff would, unfortunately, be called. Twice.

On the lam

Meanwhile, Bowles and Coberly were down in the hills near Eugene, hiding out — first camping, later in a commune, and after that on the property of a well-intentioned acquaintance. But authorities had tracked them down, and soon moved in.

When FBI agents arrived, Bowles managed to get the drop on them. He shot at an FBI agent at point-blank range and missed (whether accidentally or on purpose), causing the agent to drop his pistol and scramble for cover; Bowles then fled the scene with his stolen gun. Then he went to the nearby home of Earl and Vi Hunter, took the couple hostage, and left town with them in their car.

The felon then picked up where he’d left off the last time he was on the lam, taking hostages and hijacking cars and just wandering around the west, apparently with no idea what to do.

Eventually he wound up in the Spokane area, where officers soon found themselves responding to complaints of a man hijacking cars and motorcycles at gunpoint. They found him and chased him into the Spokane River, where, waist deep in the water, he tried to get a shot off at a cop who already had him in his sights. The cop shot him in the stomach.

Back to the Big House

Surgeons worked for hours to save Bowles’ life, and were successful. And authorities badly wanted to talk to him. All the hostages he’d taken were alive and accounted for except two — the Hunters, the couple he’d kidnapped in Eugene. What had happened to them?

Bowles said he released them in Yakima. The cops knew, with that sense that people develop when they’re lied to a lot, that he was lying. And this, of course, they found very alarming.

Finally their bodies were found, about 20 miles south of Spokane in a rural area. It was now official: The penitentiary’s carelessness had cost two innocent lives.

The aftermath

In the months that followed, a number of voices called for Cupp’s head to roll. However, Governor McCall decided not to fire him; he served as superintendent there for another 10 years before being promoted to a central administrative position, and retired in 1986.

But Bowles’ case had a significant impact on many Oregonians’ views on crime-and-punishment issues, especially regarding the death penalty. If anyone deserved the death penalty, it was Bowles, and they found it frustrating that the law wouldn’t allow it to be applied. They also found it scary that a man like Bowles had been just a few years away from being paroled. And they felt that the state prison should be more focused on protecting innocent people outside its walls than rehabilitating those within.

Even among folks who didn’t agree with that assessment, there was a noticeable hardening of attitudes toward convicts just after this happened. Correlation does not necessarily imply causation, of course, but the correlation is most definitely there in this case. In a 1964 referendum, Oregonians overwhelmingly voted to abolish the death penalty; in 1978, they overwhelmingly changed their minds. This dramatic change was probably at least partly because of this case.

One thing is for sure: Conjugal visits got a whole lot more difficult to arrange in the years that followed.

As for Bowles, he died in prison in 2005.

(Sources: Kenck-Crispin, Doug. “Oregon Jailbreaks,” Kick-Ass Oregon History Podcast, 7-04-2012; Rule, Ann. Empty Promises. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2001; back issues of Bend Bulletin and Eugene Register-Guard, June and October 1974)