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Link to Web site for Wicked Portland: The Wild and Lusty Underworld of a Frontier Seaport Town z

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The four-masted schooner North Bend, stranded on a sandy spit, 'sailed' through two and a half miles of sand and relaunched itself on the other side.

The stranded sailing ship that salvaged and re-launched itself.

The North Bend was the last tall ship ever built on the West Coast. When it ran aground on Peacock Spit, it just kept on sailing through the sand, crossing two miles of sandy beach to reach Baker Bay. It took over a year. Here's the story.

The Sagebrush Symphony Orchestra on its “giant violin” float, after riding it through the town of Burns in the Fourth of July Parade, 1915.

america's first youth orchestra came out of tiny sagebrush town.

The Portland Youth Philharmonic says it was founded in Portland in 1924. Actually, it's older than that -- and much more rural. Here's the story.

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.

Shipwreck ended Astoria's 1840s bid to become the Nantucket of the West Coast

astoria could have become a mecca of whale hunting ...

... had it not been for the Columbia River Bar, which wrecked the only whaling ship that ever dared try to cross it with a full cargo hold. It was a total loss. 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).

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

mariner's spooky nightmare came true the next day

In his dream, the first mate of the German barque Mimi saw seaweed covering all but three shipmates. The next day, all but three drowned in one of Oregon's worst-ever salvage disasters. Here's the story.

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.

.44-caliber Colt Dragoon revolver, designed in 1848.

gold-rush bandits hunted down and killed ... but where was their loot?

No one has ever found it — or if they have, they've been awfully discreet. The Triskett Gang had stolen it hours earlier from the assaying depot in the town of Sailors' Diggins. Here's the story.

US Coast Guard 47-foot motor lifeboat takes on a heavy sea off Cape Disappointment.

tired of seeing mariners die, lighthouse keeper took action.

In 1865, Joel Munson watched 17 sailors drown on the Columbia Bar. But when their lifeboat washed up near his lighthouse, it gave him an idea — an idea that lives on today in the U.S. Coast Guard. Here's the story.

Delake Rod and Gun Club as it appeared in 1960.

mysterious mansion was haunted only by olympic medalist's dream.

OSU Wrestling legend Robin Reed, an Olympic gold medalist, was never pinned once in his entire career. But his plan for the Delake Rod and Gun Club ended in defeat. Here's the story.

U.S. Coast Guard cutter Algonquin.

bootleggers save sailors' lives, but get thrown in jail anyway.

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.

Bobbie the Wonder Dog

Bobbie the wonder dog's 2,400-mile odyssey.

Left behind in Illinois, the big collie dog walked home to Silverton, Oregon. It took him six months. Here's Bobbie's story.

A modern reproduction of a classic Concord Stagecoach.

a few legends of buried gold and treasure ...

Some of them might even be true. Here's a selection of them — as far as we know, the loot from any of them has never been found.

This crater marks ground zero in the Roseburg Blast. It's about 60 feet across.

a nuclear strike
in downtown roseburg?

No; it was "just" an exploding dynamite truck. But the mushroom cloud was big enough to fool a passing airline pilot. Here's the full story of the legendary "Roseburg Blast."

Part of the historic entry to Portland's Chinatown.

he dressed in rags like a beggar, so no one would know ...

To avoid getting robbed and murdered, Chinese couriers dressed as beggars while carrying thousands of dollars in gold from the fields. This is the story of one of these men, and the woman whose life he saved.

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.

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THE SHIPWRECK VICTIMS WHO THOUGHT THEY WERE GONERS ... UNTIL A TRAIN SHOWED UP.

Usually when something steams out to sea to rescue shipwrecked sailors, it's not a railroad train. Here's the story of the one (and probably only) time it was.

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Far-out guru "enlightens" Central Oregon.

What happens when a colony of acolytes of an East Indian guru move in, then try to take over Wasco County? Check out the four-part story of the rise and fall of Rajneeshpuram ...

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this oregon youth went on to save half a billion lives...guess who?

A local Willamette Valley teen-ager named Bert Hoover, an orphan sent from Iowa to live with his uncle, went on to save millions of lives and become a singularly ill-starred U.S. president.

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oregon's most spectacular shipwreck ever.

The steam schooner J. Marhoffer was almost brand-new when, burning fiercely from stem to stern, it piled onto the rocks near Depoe Bay. It's the remains of this fiery shipwreck that gave Boiler Bay its name ...

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the gallant rescue of portland's floating brothel.

Maritime madam Nancy Boggs kept her bordello on a barge floating in the river, until a police raid cut it loose. But the captain and crew of a sternwheeler came to save the day. Here's the story.

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take off to the province of oregon, eh?

Few people know how close Oregon came to officially becoming a British possession under the treaty that ended the War of 1812. Only the presence of a handful of scattered, starving survivors from Astor's fur enterprise prevented it. Here's how.

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timberline lodge could have been a glass skyscraper

Calling the plan a "profit-making eyesore," a Forest Service manager nixed 1920s plan for a modern steel-and-glass structure with an aerial tramway. You can read about it right here.

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pixieland: an edgy, vanished amusement park

Built in the late 1960s as a "fairy-tale history of Oregon," the amusement park lasted just a few years before slipping into receivership. Today, all that's left of this odd and uniquely Oregonian story is a dilapidated guardshack.


Offbeat Oregon History: Album cover art

Central Oregon’s own
“Angel of Death”

“Professor” Ray V.B. Jackson just happened to be on hand, playing the role of helpful witness, at almost every high-profile murder scene in Lake and Harney counties. What were the odds?

Editor's Note: This column is Part 2 of a 2-part series on Jackson. To read Part 1, click here.
Ray Van Buren Jackson in his prison photo, from the time he served in 1896.
The prison mugshot of Ray V.B. Jackson, taken when Jackson was
admitted to the Oregon State Penitentiary on forgery charges in 1896.
(Photo: Central Oregon Books) [Larger image: 1200 x 1538 px]

Thomas B. Sawyer, the lead teleplay writer for “Murder, She Wrote,” says the writers for the classic CBS TV show used to affectionately refer to the lead character as “the Angel of Death.”

Week after week, the kindly and inquisitive Jessica Fletcher (played, of course, by Angela Lansbury) just happened to be on hand when someone was murdered, and week after week she played a key and sometimes heroic role in the investigation. By the end of the series, she had just happened to be in the right place at the right time to help out with a whopping 264 episodes' worth of deadly skulduggery.

Central Oregon had its own version of the Angel of Death in the form of “Professor” Ray Van Buren Jackson. His record wasn't as good as Jessica's; he played a starring role in only three oddly-similar homicides, and had bit parts in three more. His record is worse in another way, too: None of the murders of which he helped in the investigation were ever really solved.

Lake County historian and journalist Melany Tupper is the scholar who identified this pattern during seven years of research through back issues of local newspapers and courthouse records, along with interviews with locals; the whole story is in her book, “The Sandy Knoll Murder.”

Here, as briefly as I can make it, is a synopsis of Jackson's record as Central Oregon's Angel of Death:

R.I.P.: J. Creed Conn, March 4, 1904.

J. Creed Conn of Silver Lake, the man whose murder mystified the community for decades.
Prominent Silver Lake merchant John Creed Conn. This photograph was
made not long before Conn was murdered in 1904. (Photo: Central
Oregon Books) [Larger image: 1200 x 1364 px]

John Creed Conn, a prominent Silver Lake merchant and owner of a mule-team freight line, disappeared on a frosty morning while going to fetch the mail for his store. Seven weeks later, after an extensive manhunt, his well-preserved body was found staged on a little hillock (the “sandy knoll) on a nearby cattle ranch — put there in an apparent attempt to suggest one of the ranch's cowboys had done it. Before planting the body, the killer beat the face to unrecognizability and shot it a second time using an old Colt .38 he'd stolen from Conn's store.

The coroner's jury, apparently concerned to protect the cattle ranch from bad publicity, ruled it suicide — something very few people bought, given how difficult it is to shoot oneself twice with a single-action revolver and then beat one's own face to a bloody pulp. Other circumstances were also suspicious: Conn at the time of death was trying to figure out what had happened to the proceeds of a $3,000 loan missing from his bank account; this missing money was never found, and Conn's brother had to pay the loan off with the proceeds of his liquidated estate.

Jackson ate breakfast with Conn on the morning of his murder and was the last person to have spoken with him. As an important witness to Conn's last activities, he provided key testimony to law enforcement on what he said and where he went after breakfast, and gave detailed information for newspaper stories.

Jackson also knew about the $3,000 loan which Conn had taken out. And Jackson was a convicted forger. Could it be he forged a promissory note to steal the $3,000? Conn would have asked the bank to send him the note back, and upon receiving it he would have instantly seen what happened. Could Jackson have asked him to meet with him privately so he could give back the money, and then given him something else instead?

Well, we'll never know for sure. But it sure holds together as a story. And get this: Jackson bought about $3,000 worth of cattle right after Conn disappeared. He sure didn't finance that purchase on a schoolteacher's salary.

R.I.P.: Zelma “Ethel” Martin, April 1, 1904.

Just a few weeks after Creed Conn vanished, Ethel Martin, an 11-year-old schoolgirl, stayed late at the schoolhouse where Jackson was the teacher. A half-hour after arriving home that afternoon, she died of apparent poisoning. Her death was ruled accidental; there was some strychnine nearby, and it was believed she'd eaten some.

But strychnine is very bitter, and no 11-year-old would eat it on purpose; moreover, it kills in hours, not minutes. Tupper argues she more likely ate something laced with a more subtle poison such as arsenic at the schoolhouse, possibly after discovering something relating to Conn's body, which — if Jackson was the killer — would probably have been stored there.

R.I.P.: Julius Wallende, Dec. 27, 1907.

Julius Wallende was a young homesteader, just getting started, new to Silver Lake. There is no clear  connection to Jackson except for some spooky similarities to the Conn murder. Wallende was shot to death, then the killer warehoused the body for 11 weeks before beating the face to unrecognizability and planting the body in the creek near where Conn was found, artistically arranging it so it would freeze into the ice face-up. The killer then communicated prolifically to the press, writing an anonymous letter to the Portland Oregonian to help guide searchers to the body and, after a suspect was (wrongly) identified, another anonymous letter giving details of how to find him.

R.I.P.: Emma Dobkins, March 2, 1910

Officially, Emma Dobkins died of “angina pectoris” in Lane County. However, Lake County residents said she committed suicide after a “tainted relationship” with Jackson, who was a great pal of her brother Frank. She may very well have died naturally in childbirth while trying to deliver a baby conceived with Jackson, but “angina pectoris” (chest pain) is a strange thing to list as a cause of death, especially for a woman under 30.

But well-meaning people tried to protect her reputation afterward by being vague on the documentation, so it's hard to know for sure how she died or what (if any) role Jackson might have played in her death, beyond having apparently gotten her pregnant.

R.I.P.: Harold Bradley, Dec. 29, 1925

Bradley was a hired hand on Lincoln “Link” Hutton's large and successful ranch. He was shot twice with a .30-30 while going with Hutton to work on a car. Link Hutton's wife, Leona, testified that after the first shot she heard him yell, “Link, you've shot me.” Jackson, a neighbor, testified in the subsequent murder trial that Link came to his place and confessed to him. (Link was acquitted, so apparently the jury didn't believe it.)

There is some evidence Jackson and Leona Hutton were having an affair at the time; could Jackson have planned to shoot Hutton and frame Bradley, then move in with the widow? Hutton and Bradley were built similarly and there wasn't much light; perhaps that bullet was meant for Hutton.

By the way, Bradley's wounds were survivable, but he did not survive them. Perhaps this is explained by the fact that he was left alone with Jackson for an hour after the shooting.

R.I.P.: Ira Bradley, May 1, 1930.

Ira Bradley was Harold Bradley's father. He was found beaten to death with the butt of a revolver at his ranch, a mile and a half from the Harney County line. His face, too, was beaten to unrecognizability. The killer planted evidence at a neighbor's house, but the neighbor had an alibi — he was in town buying a new Ford when it happened.

Luckily, another neighbor was on hand. This neighbor helpfully called the Harney County authorities  — forgetting, apparently, which county he lived in. Harney County officers came, checked out the crime scene, loaded up the body and took it to Burns — then discovered it was Lake County's case. In the ensuing confusion much footprint evidence was lost, and the killer was never identified.

And yes … by now you know exactly who that helpful neighbor was.

R.I.P.: “Professor” Ray Van Buren Jackson, Feb. 1, 1938.

Jackson was found dead in an upstairs room of his house, having apparently shot himself with a .30-30. Oddly enough, he chose to shoot himself in the chest, not the head, using a stove poker to actuate the trigger. He was 68 years old.

A pattern of deadly helpfulness

One particularly odd thing about Jackson's record of helpfulness is that this list covers a significant slice of all the murder and suspicious-death cases in Lake County from 1899 to 1930. There were others, but this list hits the high points and then some. Each time, there was some connection to Ray V.B. Jackson — indeed, in in most of them, Jackson was a central player. What are the odds?

In her book, Tupper makes the case that Jackson was a sociopath and serial killer in an age that didn't really know what either of those things was. She's probably right; he displayed some of the characteristics we associate with sociopaths — glibness, absolute lack of social fear, impulse toward grandiosity, promiscuity (one of his nicknames was “Tomcat Jackson”), etc.

But you don't have to buy her argument about that to see that there was something funny, and deadly, about this particular man. He was an easy liar, a great actor, an accomplished forger and a serial embezzler — among other things. He was entrusted with the entire community's school children for a decade, and at least one of them died under suspicious circumstances right after coming home from school. And nearly every time there was a brutal suspicious homicide somewhere in Oregon's third-largest county, he just happened to be on hand, helping out, giving advice, talking excitedly to the cops and to the press.

The pattern is hard to miss, isn't it?

Tupper, by the way, recently (that is, in late 2013) published a follow-up book titled The Trapper Murders: A True Central Oregon Mystery. In it, she lays out a compelling case for several more victims of Ray Van Buren Jackson.

(Sources: Tupper, Melany. The Sandy Knoll Murder: Legacy of the Sheepshooters. Christmas Valley, Ore.: Central Oregon Books, 2010)