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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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.


An illustration of the scene in the Davis Hotel when detectives saw a hand suddenly  reach out from under the bed, grabbing for a pistol hidden there, from the Portland Morning Oregonian.

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.


The archway monument leading up to the Wallowa County Courthouse,  built in 1936. The bronze plaque on the inside left of the arch includes  the name of murderer and horse thief Bruce “Blue” Evans.

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.


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

The legislature's notorious 40-day drunken party

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.


Title screen from a Bugs Bunny cartoon. Mel Blanc, the legendary Looney Toons voice man, grew up in Portland.

The voice of Bugs Bunny went to high school in Portland

Legendary Hollywood voice man Mel Blanc's teachers weren't too impressed with his voice talents, but Oregon radio listeners and cartoon fans sure were. Here's the story.


Three Rocks Beach, Camp Westwind, the mouth of the Salmon River and Cascade  Head as they appear today.

Is there pirate loot buried at this YWCA youth camp?

The discovery of a giant skeleton in the 1930s suggested that the old Indian legend of a pirate ship sinking in the Salmon River might be true ... or maybe not. Here's the story.


This is not a picture of the Sunshine; it's a lumber schooner of a similar type, the Wawona. The Sunshine, on her way home from her maiden voyage to San Francisco, vanished and then reappeared, upside down, 200 miles off course.

Gold was gone when schooner washed ashore ... empty

The fate of the Sunshine's passengers and crew is unknown ... did somebody wreck the ship on purpose?. Here's the story.


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.

Many consider him the coolest member of the Rat Pack. Sammy caught his big break while he was in Portland. Here's the story.


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


riverboat captain had to choose: save passengers, or save his boat?

The steamboat Telephone caught fire at the widest spot in the Columbia; the decision must not have been too tough, because Captain U.B. Scott didn't hesitate for a moment. Here's what happened.


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).


Offbeat Oregon History: Album cover art

Busting out of the joint was a job for a safecracker, 100 years ago

Of all the prisoners who tried to escape from Oregon's state prison, the "yeggs" were most successful — if “successful” is the right word. Their schemes for leaving the jailhouse behind included a tunneling scheme right out of “Shawshank.”

The courtyard fountain at the penitentiary, as it appeared around 1910.

Escapes from Oregon’s state prisons are very rare events today, and have been for years. But there was a time, not that long ago, when an average of one prisoner every month made a break for freedom, and one or two of them actually succeeded in staying gone for a good long time.

From safecracker to war hero

The criminal population in Oregon’s prisons has changed in several ways in the past 100 years, and one of the most noticeable ways is the type of criminal housed there. In 1912, there were a lot more of a particular sort of criminal professional who specialized in breaking into vaults — safecrackers, or in the terminology of the time, “yeggs.” Possibly because they made a living solving puzzles of this sort, yeggs seemed to make up a disproportionately high percentage of escapees.

A postcard image showing the front gate of the prison in 1913. Quite
why travelers wanted an image of the state prison on the backs of the
postcards they were sending home is unclear, but clearly they didn't
mind.

One such professional was Charles Drocker, who was sent up the river in May 1915 to serve a 10-year term for burglary. After he’d served a year of this sentence, Drocker vanished one morning. He was there at breakfast, but at the noon count, he was gone.

Prison officials searched for him for two days, and found not a sign. Meanwhile, among the inmates the rumor grew that Drocker had crawled under a truck and pulled himself up into its chassis someplace, riding out through the front gates of the prison under the very noses of a half-dozen armed guards before dropping to the ground and slipping away.

And perhaps that’s what he did — but to this day, nobody knows for sure.

Nothing was heard until the following year, when word came back to the Beaver State that the intrepid Mr. Drocker was now a war hero. He had snuck out of the country and joined the military in France — perhaps the French Foreign Legion — in the middle of the First World War.

One assumes that a grateful French nation made him a citizen, and all that unpleasantness in Oregon was put behind him. On the other hand, it’s also possible that “Charley” went back to his old profession in his new country, or that — patched up and sent back to the front lines — he fell before a German Mauser like so many of his compatriots of both France and the U.S. In any case, as far as I’ve been able to learn, nothing more was heard from him.

 “Three-Minute Man” on the lam

An image of the front prison gate area from a little farther back, around
the same time.

Another yegg who proved hard to hang onto was Frank Wagner, whose first of two escapes offers a surprising echo of the Stephen King novella (and, later, movie) “The Shawshank Redemption.”

Wagner was a member of the safecracking elite, possibly the most skilled yegg on the West Coast. His nickname was “Three Minute Wagner,” and the moniker referred to his ability to get into any vault in under 180 seconds.

Getting out of the “big vault” took a little longer than that. But Wagner figured out how to get the job done.

In the summer of 1914, he and his cell mate, a fellow German named Carl Weinegal, discovered that the thick brick walls of which their cell block was built were not as impenetrable as they seemed. The mortar was soft and crumbly.

So the two of them got to work on it. They bored a man-sized tunnel into the wall and down through the floor. This was the wall between their cell and the prison hallway, so it had to be a rather tight fit; when they were done with it, there was only one row of bricks between their hole and the hall. But it was big enough for them to slip through.

During the months of work on this project, the two crooks disposed of the extra bricks and mortar by hiding them in their pockets and in their “cell bucket,” or chamber pot; in 1914, the cells did not have toilets in them.

They hid their work in progress by setting their cell up with dozens of pennants and fancy doilies and other wall decorations, and keeping it neat as a pin. During cell inspection, nobody thought to check behind that one big girly doily that hung on the wall near the cell door. If the guards had, they would have discovered that, like Andy DuFresne’s poster of Rita Hayworth, it was hiding a very interesting secret.

On their big night, Wagner and Weinegal pushed through the last layer of bricks and burst through into the prison basement. Unfortunately, they were not able to do this under controlled conditions. The first of them fell through space and lit on the concrete basement floor, hitting his head hard enough to be knocked unconscious for some time. The other managed to land on his feet, but twisted one leg badly enough that walking was extremely painful.

But there was no turning back now; the hole in the ceiling they’d come out of was accessible only to birds and bats. Onward and outward the two cons hobbled, hoping for the best.

The two of them got most of the way off the prison grounds before a dog started barking, attracting the attention of one of the guards, who opened fire on them from a great distance. This had the chief effect of inspiring the two of them to hobble away at superhuman speed. They remained at large for two days before being recaptured.

Wagner served the rest of his sentence without incident, but as soon as he was released he got right back to work, and six months later was back in prison. This time, he simply slipped away from a guard while working in the brick yard. He was found three months later at a cabin in Clatsop County — ratted out, Prisoner No. 6435 hints in his book, by the woman he was living with there. When the posse tried to retrieve him, a firefight broke out, and Wagner was killed.

There are several more interesting stories of jailbreaks and jailbreakers from this era, but they’ll have to wait for a future article.

(Source: Prisoner No. 6435. Sensational Prison Escapes from the Oregon State Penitentiary. Salem: No publisher listed, 1922)