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The burning steamer S.S. Congress, as seen from the deck of the dredge Colonel P.S. Michie, with lifeboats in the water.

The Rise and Fall of the House of Klux in Oregon

A slick marketing campaign and a taste for political power marked the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s, which spread through Oregon like a racist virus — and then collapsed.


The burning steamer S.S. Congress, as seen from the deck of the dredge Colonel P.S. Michie, with lifeboats in the water.

Massive ocean liner won its race with fiery death

Calm seas, a cool-headed skipper and a hard-working crew brought the burning S.S. Congress to safety just in time. All 428 aboard made it.


This cover illustration from "Masked Rider Western," published in 1950, bears an uncanny resemblance to the events that kicked off Vigilante rule in Crook County.

"I can make a
six-shooter sing 'come to jesus'!"

Meet Robert Gordon Duncan, the pioneering Portland shock-jock who was the first person ever sent to prison for cursing on the air, in 1930.


This cover illustration from "Masked Rider Western," published in 1950, bears an uncanny resemblance to the events that kicked off Vigilante rule in Crook County.

When prineville was ruled by masked vigilante riders

In Crook County, the early 1880s were like a Louis L'Amour novel. And it all started with the lynching of an innocent man.


The classic melodrama villain, with sleek silk hat and waxed handlebar mustache, in the act of evicting the poor widow and children from their freshly foreclosed family homestead. Except for the mustache, Oregon's longest-serving 19th-century senator fit the trope with remarkable precision.

Senator John H. Mitchell: Oregon's own real-life Snidely Whiplash

He abandoned his family, changed his name, moved to Oregon, bilked widows and orphans in two big real-estate swindles ... and was promptly elected to Congress.


The skull of the skeleton found in the Odd Fellows hall in Scio, which is now at Oregon State University. The skeleton was that of a hard-working man who died sometime between 1860 and 1890.

Mysterious skeletons of Oregon: If these bones could talk ...

A long-dead dry-land homesteader ... a medical specimen in an Odd Fellows lodge ... what are their stories? We'll never know.


Oregon inventor Victor Strode’s revolutionary boat, the 'aerohydrocraft,' made the front cover of the March 1931 issue of Popular Science. The design didn't prove a useful one for the City of Portland, though, and the larger model the city commissioned to function as a harbor police boat didn't work out.

Buck Rogers-style police boat didn't work out for city of Portland

A local inventor developed the "aerohydrocraft" design in the early 1930s. But when the city built one as an ambulance boat, it flopped.


The remains of the barque Peter Iredale as they appear today, jutting out of the beach sands on Clatsop Spit at Warrenton as they have since 1906. In 1960, the wreck nearly was lost to a man who claimed he owned it.

How the Oregon Coast almost lost the Peter Iredale to a scrap-metal shark

An Oregon City man claimed he'd inherited the rights from his father, and demanded to be allowed to cut it up and haul it away. He almost got away with this little swindle.


Commander Dave Scott salutes the U.S. flag, which has just been planted on the surface of the moon. A small piece of Oregon lava rock, carried to the moon by Scott's fellow astronaut Jim Irwin, lies within this photo, next to one of the many bootprints. (Image: NASA)

There's a piece of lava from central oregon in this photo, on the moon.

It was left there by astronaut Jim Irwin at the request of a friend from Bend — who gave him a sliver of Oregon lava to leave on the moon's surface. And so he did.


The Motel 6 on Mission Street in Salem as it appeared in the mid-1970s, when Carl Cletus Bowles made his run from its back door. Don't laugh, at least not too loudly ... two innocent people would die before Bowles was back in prison.

During a conjugal visit at a cheap motel, the prisoner escaped

It had to be the most awkward prison-break scenario in the history of the universe. But it really did happen. Here's the story.


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.


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.


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? . 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.


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).


Vaudeville's famous Klondike Kate became a Central Oregon legend

central oregon's most fabulous homesteader ever.

Homesteader Kitty "Klondike Kate" Rockwell, retired from the bright lights of Vaudeville, often wore full costume just to weed the garden. Here's the story.


Goal of Oregon whale hunters: Grow fur coats, and put a man on the moon.

helping put a man on the moon, one dead whale at a time?

Whale oil is special stuff, and NASA needed it for the space program. So an Astoria group launched a whaling venture in the early 1960s. Here's the story.


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).


Florence's famous exploding whale: A highway engineer didn't know how much dynamite to use, so he guessed ... and guessed wrong.

Whale explodes: Details at 11.

The highway department guy didn't know how much dynamite to use, and said so on camera. But he still thinks the operation was a success. Check out the story of Florence's famous exploding whale ...


The Glenesslin, under almost full sail, grinds against the rocks at the base of Neahkahnie Mountain.

was this shipwreck insurance fraud or just drunken incompetence?

On a beautiful clear October day, astonished beach-goers watched a big windjammer simply turn and sail straight into the side of a mountain. Why would her crew do such a thing? Here's the story.


U.S. Coast Guard cutter Algonquin.

bootleggers saveD sailors' lives, were rewarded with prison.

In the early years of Prohibition, a Canadian rumrunner entered U.S. territorial waters to save the lives of nine castaways — and got caught and sent to jail anyway. Here's the story.


Steamer Admiral Evans, f.k.a. Buckman, which the two would-be pirates tried to hijack

THE dumbest would-be pirates in the history of the universe.

Their plan: Hijack a passenger steamer (that's it, in the thumbnail above), run it aground and sneak off into the bushes with 3 tons of gold. Do I need to mention that it didn't work out? Here's what happened.


Offbeat Oregon History: Album cover art

Did Oregon miss a chance
to catch the Zodiac Killer?

At the scene of a notorious double-murder of young lovers Larry Peyton and Beverly Allan, police paid little attention to Edward W. Edwards and soon eliminated him as a suspect. But if they'd dug a little bit deeper ...

Investigators look over Larry Peyton’s car after his body has been
removed, on Sunday, Nov. 27, 1960. (Image: Oregon Journal/ ptown
books)

As urban legends go, it’s one of the oldest and scariest:

A teenage couple drives to a secluded spot late at night and parks, planning to do some of the usual canoodling. But before they do, a news bulletin interrupts the music on the radio. A psychotic killer has escaped from the asylum, the DJ reports breathlessly. He’s missing his left hand, and wears a steel hook on the stump of his arm as a prosthetic.

The boy wants to ignore the news and smooch some more, but the girl is too freaked out, so he reluctantly starts the car and drives her home. When they get there, she makes a frightening discovery: A steel prosthetic hook, hanging from the door handle on the passenger side.

Larry Peyton and Beverly Allan in 1959 or 1960. (Image: ptown books)

It's a chilling and enduring story, one that’s still being told around campfires today. But it’s just a story … right?

Right. Because in late November 1960, in the northwest hills of Portland, when the man with the hook showed up ... he got ‘em. The two young lovers never made it home.

That, in any case, is the strong suspicion of Portland historian Phil Stanford, who delved into the notorious 1960 double murder of sweethearts Larry Peyton and Beverly Allan to write the definitive book on the case.

What Stanford found was that a particularly disturbing suspect who turned up early in the process was simply not taken seriously. And if he had been, there’s a good chance that a dozen murders — including, some investigators think, the Zodiac killings in northern California 40 years ago — would have never happened.

Here’s the story (or, rather, a sketchy overview of the story — there is much more in Stanford’s book):

The murder scene

The story starts out just like the Man with the Hook story: with Larry Peyton and his girlfriend, Beverly Allan, cruising downtown Portland on a Saturday night in Larry’s 1949 Ford two-door sedan, and ending up “parking” in a secluded place in Forest Park.

The next day a policeman, driving through Forest Park in search of stolen cars, came across Larry’s Ford. The door was open, there was blood everywhere, and Larry was slumped in the driver’s seat. He’d been stabbed 23 times with a four-inch-long knife.

As for Beverly Allan … there was no sign of her.

No sign, that is, until more than a month later, when her badly mutilated body was found in a ditch, within sight of passing cars on Sunset Highway outside Portland.

The investigation starts

Police detectives, already coming under considerable pressure to get things done, started immediately with a campaign that involved filtering through an unbelievable volume of low-quality leads. The Multnomah County Sheriff, who had ruined the crime scene by rummaging around in the car before the investigators got there, now tried to make up for this stunning blunder by dashing off letters to other law-enforcement agencies around the country asking about similar crimes. Eager convicts in prisons nationwide started talking their heads off, whether they knew anything about the case or not, in hopes of cutting a deal. And several mentally unbalanced people started pestering the cops with tip after red-hot tip. One such mentally unbalanced person ended up getting taken seriously — unfortunately for the suspects she fingered, who ended up getting convicted of the murders. (Almost everyone now believes they were innocent.)

One of the early leads the cops stumbled across was a prison-hardened tough guy with the oddly memorable name Edward W. Edwards. Edwards had been snooping around the crime scene the day after Peyton’s body was discovered, and 10 days later he was caught setting off fire alarms as a prank. He had a minor unexplained bullet wound in his upper arm. Police revoked his parole, tossed him in the county lockup and made plans to interrogate him first thing Monday.

Meanwhile, the cops were looking into a couple of unruly teenage drinking parties that had been held near the crime scene that night. These parties were packed with troubled teens and young adults, male and female, some of whom knew and disliked Larry Peyton. Many of them had criminal records for minor robberies and burglaries. There were weapons — a couple knives, an automatic pistol found in a garbage can — and there were stories of fistfights and plenty of possible motives.

By the time Edwards was arrested, the cops were already working on several promising theories, and he was very much a back-burner kind of suspect. So when he escaped from the jail over the weekend and disappeared, they didn’t much worry about it. After all, what were the chances some fool caught prank-pulling fire alarms was a serial killer?

They certainly didn’t ask themselves why a seasoned crook who knew very well how the system worked would want to avoid questioning badly enough to break out of jail and go fully on the lam when the worst charge he was facing was a prank misdemeanor like that.

Too bad. Maybe if they'd asked that question, they would have bothered to chase him down.

Edwards moved east, and eventually was caught after an especially lucrative bank robbery that landed him on the FBI’s Top 10 Most Wanted list for a short time. (Although he liked to claim he had an I.Q. in the high 130s, he wasn’t able to figure out that paying cash for a new Cadillac and a truckload of new things for his slummy apartment might attract some attention.) A hair sample was sent to Portland, and, after a comparison with a hair found on Beverly Allan turned out not to be a match, he was eliminated as a suspect.

Eventually, with the help of an astonishingly sketchy collection of “witnesses,” the authorities charged three of the partygoers with two counts of murder. One was acquitted; the other two were convicted, and sentenced to life-plus-25. Within just a few years, both were paroled. Nobody believed they’d done it — not any more.

But if not them, who?

The Man with the Hook

Early in 2009, the Wisconsin State Police dusted off a cold-case file from 1980. Someone had followed two young lovers as they walked home from a wedding reception, pounced on them, stabbed the man to death and raped and strangled his fiancée. By the time the bodies were found by hunters, six months later, they were badly decomposed … but not badly enough for the killer’s DNA to be gone from the scene. Samples had been preserved in anticipation of a day when technology would advance enough to test them. That day had come.

The cops ran the test, and hey, jackpot! It came back a match to Edward W. Edwards.

In July of 2009, the Wisconsin State Police  arrested Edward W. Edwards — who by then had aged into a 76-year-old blob of a man in a wheelchair on oxygen — and charged him with two counts of murder.

With Edwards’ name in the news, authorities in other places started contacting Wisconsin. It seems he’d been at the scene of a number of other crimes that looked a lot like the Peyton-Allan murders. In some of those crimes, he’d even been a suspect.

The murder trail

Edwards was in Great Falls, Montana, in 1956, when a young couple was murdered. The 19-year-old male was found lying beside his car, hands tied, shot in the back of the head; his girlfriend was found six miles away, also shot through the head.

Then there was the death of two high-school kids in Akron, Ohio, who’d gone on a date in 1979 and never come back; they weren’t found until six years later. They’d been shot and stabbed. Edwards was mentioned as a “person of interest.”
                                    
And Edwards, in 2010, confessed that he was the guy who murdered two young lovers in Doylestown, Ohio, in 1977 — again, execution style, with a shotgun blast to the back of the neck.

And to top off the list, he was in the San Francisco Bay area during the Zodiac Killer’s reign of terror. The identity of the Zodiac Killer has never been established, and the killings stopped as suddenly as they'd started ... around the time Edwards moved away.

All of this, added to his involvement at the scene of the Peyton-Allan killings, puts him at the scene of at least five double-murders involving young lovers, over a 25-year stretch. What are the odds?

The Man with the Hook died on April 7, 2011, just a few weeks into a life sentence in Wisconsin. He never did say whether he was the man who killed Larry Peyton and Beverly Allan, and Multnomah County decided not to reopen the investigation after he was caught.

So we’ll probably never really know. But, at the same time ... we probably really do.

(Sources: Stanford, Phil. The Peyton-Allan Files. Portland: ptown books, 2010; http://manwiththehook.com; http://murderpedia.org )