Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Button, dust lead to burglary conviction

It was good old-fashioned police work at its best.

Hill Meat Company in Pendleton was burglarized the night of Feb. 14, 1971, and the firm’s safe had been literally torn apart and scattered around the office. Cash totaling $1,800 was stolen.

Oregon State Police officers John Williams and Jim Toddy began their investigation by interviewing W.D. Perkins, the Hill Meat employee that discovered the burglary at 8:15 a.m. Perkins told the officers that an early 1960s beige station wagon had been seen in the company parking lot the evening prior to the theft.

Pendleton police officer Don Isom also saw the car in the area. He had stopped a similar vehicle in the Sherwood area at 4:45 a.m. for running a stop sign. He talked to the car’s two occupants, George Wesley Storms and Inez Guerrero, who Isom said seemed short of breath and nervous. He let them go with a warning. Police soon learned that both men were convicted safe burglars, but the men and the car had vanished.

Meanwhile, OSP investigators at the scene of the burglary found a single black button in the wreckage of the safe. With this and the descriptions of the two suspects, they asked Umatilla County District Attorney R.P. Smith and District Judge Richard Courson for a search warrant. Smith then headed for Portland, where Storms and Guerrero were well known to law enforcement.

The suspect vehicle was spotted at a Portland bar, and Storms was arrested. Portland police seized the vehicle and OSP investigators Williams and Toddy, and Reg Madsen of the state police crime lab, made a thorough search. In the car they found a copy of the Feb. 13 East Oregonian newspaper and some dust, which was collected with a vacuum cleaner.

But that wasn’t enough evidence to make a solid case. So Portland police, armed with a second warrant, raided a home where Storms was known to have visited recently. And there they collected a black jacket with a missing button. Dust in the pockets of the jacket was also collected.

Pendleton police, armed with mug shots of the two suspects, learned that they had been at Hill Meat Co. a few days prior to the burglary, asking for jobs. But the big break occurred when police interviewed Barry Clift at his service station on Southwest Emigrant Avenue, and learned the suspects’ car had stopped there around 7:15 a.m. the morning following the burglary. Clift said one of the men had pockets full of coins and boasted of making “quite a score.”

Crime lab reports matched the black button to the jacket, and the dust in the car and in the pockets of the jacket included particles of fire clay and paint from the ransacked safe.
During Storms’ trial on June 3, 1971, the prosecution called 18 witnesses to the stand. The jury was out only 20 minutes before returning a verdict of guilty. The 44-year-old Storms was sentenced to 10 years in state prison.

Guerrero faced the same charge, but at the time of the trial was being held in a Portland jail on a charge of armed robbery.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Telephone operators save Pilot Rock residents from flood

A cloudburst the afternoon of June 22, 1938, south of Pilot Rock brought a raging torrent of water through the business section of town, demolishing most of the businesses on the south side of Main Street and damaging many homes. No lives were lost and no injuries were suffered, thanks to the efforts of a pair of telephone operators who risked their lives to warn as many of the town’s residents and area ranchers as possible.

An extremely heavy downpour began about 2 p.m., and an hour later there was two feet of water on Main Street. The first hint of danger came from a farmer who warned the Pilot Rock telephone office of heavy rains on Bear Creek, a tributary of West Birch Creek. Operator Erline Gilliland immediately called all their subscribers on those creeks with the news. At 3:15 p.m. Mr. and Mrs. Hans Nielsen, who lived five miles up East Birch Creek, called in a warning of a wall of water headed for town. Chief operator Maud Gilbert immediately called as many residents as they had numbers for to warn them of the coming flood. Most of the area residents were able to race to higher ground, and those remaining did their best to save valuable property and aid the escape of others. Gilliland was sent home to retrieve her belongings while Gilbert continued to man the phones.

The second rush of water hit Pilot Rock between 3:30 and 4 p.m., raising the level of East Birch Creek about 12 feet above normal. Gilbert stayed at her post until the water was a foot high outside the office, then waded to safety with her husband. The Gilberts returned to the telephone office when the water had receded to below their knees, and she continued to route calls and request aid from Pendleton for hours. The flash flood was over in about 20 minutes, but an hour after the crest of the flood had passed there was still a lot of water in the streets and East Birch Creek was running wild over wide swaths of farmland south of town.

Damage estimates to downtown businesses was about $32,000, but ruined cropland south of town also added to the devastation.

Operators Gilbert and Gilliland in May of 1939 were awarded the Theodore N. Vail bronze medals for outstanding public service by Pacific Telephone & Telegraph Co. In the citation, district manager J.A. Murray recognized their “initiative, courage and devotion to duty in continuing an essential public service under hazardous conditions caused by flood.”

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Roaming buffalo create havoc on Cabbage Hill

The sight of a herd of buffalo grazing bucolically in a large meadow isn’t something you see every day in Eastern Oregon, but in the early 2000s it was actually a common sight along Interstate 84 in the Blue Mountains near Meacham. A herd of the Western icons could often be seen on the south side of the interstate near the mountain town, owned by Robert Carey of Meacham, who had been raising the buffalo for more than a dozen years in the same locale.

But in 2003, the majestic sight became a nuisance after Carey was cited by officials of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, who decided that the herd had reached proportions that were environmentally unsustainable. Soon after receiving the citation, Carey disappeared and the herd gained its freedom from its usual pasturage, running loose on Tribal and private property.

The herd, including both bulls and cows, existed in an official limbo, since they were not considered wildlife and the Oregon Department of Agriculture had not yet classified them as livestock. The reality of the situation, however, is that buffalo can be dangerous and are capable of massive destruction. A mature bull can weigh more than a ton, and cows tip the scales between 1,200 and 1,500 pounds. Buffalo are also extremely athletic and can outrun a horse, despite their bulk. This, and the difficulty of the terrain in which they were wandering, made it a tricky situation for those who would try to round them up.

Several of the residents surrounding Carey’s property had fences demolished and trees and pastures damaged. And buffalo can exhibit a wide variety of temperaments, from completely wild to extremely docile. Several people had had buffalo turn on them — a dangerous proposition.

Carey’s property was foreclosed upon by the former owner, Darrel Sallee of Hermiston, who took charge of the runaway herd. He arranged for a group of the animals who had returned to their original pasture to be slaughtered, and donated the meat to private individuals and Agape House in Hermiston. But Sallee couldn’t keep the remaining 40 animals because of the citation.

A possible solution was posed, a resolution to be presented to the CTUIR government that would allow the Tribes to take over ownership of the herd and maintain them in the Es-cul-pa Creek Wildlife Unit near Tamastslikt Cultural Institute north of Wildhorse Resort and Casino.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Arrowheads keep Pendleton retiree busy

Harold Dobyns, a 70-year-old retired federal wildlife biologist, showed off his singular skill to East Oregonian reporter Virgil Rupp during a May 31, 1965 interview in Pendleton. Dobyns claimed to be one of five or six people in the country who still made arrowheads the ancient way.

Dobyns estimated that he had made more than 50,000 arrowheads over the previous 40 years. He was taught by James Billy of the Umatilla Indian tribe, who was the last of the tribe’s arrowhead makers. And Dobyns said there was one sure way to tell his arrowheads apart from those made by long-ago Native Americans:

“Mine are better.”

Dobyns plucked a palm-sized piece of obsidian from a group of stones collected at Glass Buttes near Burns and along the Paulina-East Lake Road in central Oregon. Cradling it in a leather pad in the palm of his left hand, Dobyns plied a sharpened 10-inch piece of deer antler with his right along the edge of the rock, chipping away pieces of the stone all along the outer edge. As his arrowhead began to take shape, he used smaller, finer antler pieces to make precision chips.


Harold Dobyns displays some of his hand-made arrowheads and the tools he uses to make them on May 31, 1965. (EO file photo)
 Any kind of material that can be chipped can be used to make arrowheads, Dobyns explained, even beer bottle glass, but the finest examples made by Columbia River tribes were made of flint, carnelia and agate.

And fakes are easy to spot, since they aren’t weathered, Dobyns said, but that’s not a sure-fire method of detecting phony arrowheads, since he could turn out a weathered-looking arrowhead using cold cream, certain chemicals and the oven in his kitchen.

It is a hazardous hobby, though. Dobyns related that he’d had two chips of rock lodged in his eyes, and his hands were covered with tiny scars caused by th razor-sharp flakes of stone. But he didn’t like to be idle, so the Pendleton man was pondering a return to the World’s Fair, where he would demonstrate the ancient art.

Author’s note: After publication of last week’s Vault column (“Gravestone confounds Pendleton gardener,” May 19, 2018), intrepid reader Caren Fowler did some investigation and found a Dee Freeman Horwitz, born April 25, 1886, who died Sept. 1, 1983, in Spokane, Wash., at the age of 96.

Further investigation into Ms. Horwitz on Ancestry.com found she was born in Missouri and married at least four times: first to Mr. Horwitz, whose information was not found; second to Charles E. Lewis of Stanfield on June 20, 1928, at age 42; third to Peter Van Dyke of Pullman, Wash., on April 10, 1939 at age 52; and for the fourth time to Charles Summers of Tulare, Calif., on Dec. 5, 1952, at age 66.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Gravestone confounds Pendleton gardener

Of all the things to find in one’s yard while gardening, a gravestone might be the most eerie.

A Pendleton man puttering in his garden on May 25, 1993, discovered a headstone about four inches underground and just inches from his home on Southwest First Street while moving irises from the front yard to the side yard. When Oran Rodan’s shovel hit what sounded like a rock during his digging, what he uncovered instead was a headstone marked “Dee Freeman Horwitz.”

The iris relocation project was put on hold while Rodan pondered the obvious question: Is Dee Freeman Horwitz also in my yard?

The stone indicated that Horwitz was born in 1886, but there was no date of death inscribed, so Rodan doubted that a grave had been dug there. But just in case, he stopped digging and called the Pendleton Police Department to investigate. “I didn’t want to bother the guy,” Rodan said, ‘if he’s down there.”

Police officers contacted Olney Cemetery, but officials there couldn’t help since the discovery was made on private property. And the cemetery had no record of Dee Freeman Horwitz ever being in the cemetery.

Genealogist Garland Wilson of Milton-Freewater found no record of Horwitz being buried in any Umatilla County cemetery, and he speculated that the headstone had been brought to Pendleton from someplace else. Stolen grave markers from as far away as Portland have been found in Umatilla County, Wilson said.

Rick Wylie, owner of Wylie Monuments, said that grave markers with misspellings or other errors are sometimes cast off and turn up in unusual places, and are even sometimes used as garden stepping stones.

However the stone ended up in Oran Rodan’s yard, he wasn’t too concerned. He planned to leave it where it was, saying, “It don’t bother me. He ain’t gonna hurt you.”

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Police baffled in craps game robbery

The click of the dice at a home on Winesap Road near Freewater was interrupted when masked men broke in on a craps game in April 1947 and got away scot-free with a reported $10,000 in cash and jewelry.

A group of men was engaged in a bit of gambling on April 27, 1947, at a home about three miles from Freewater when four men wearing masks and G.I. coveralls entered the house at around 11 p.m., held up the gamblers, tied them up and took all the money and jewelry they could get from their victims. The robbers then stationed themselves just outside the house being used for the game and held up other gamblers as they arrived.

When Hodie Timmons and Dick Craver, operators of the Pastime tavern in Freewater, arrived on the scene they were held up as well. The holdup gang got quite a haul from the Pastime duo, including a diamond ring valued at $1,000. Timmons and Craver also were persuaded to give out the combination for the Pastime’s safe, and two of the gang stood guard over the prisoners while the other two went into town and emptied the safe of another $2,500 in cash.

Upon returning to their prisoners, which by now numbered between 20 and 40, the robbers let the air out of one tire on each of the assembled cars and then escaped into the night. The victims of the holdup took a few minutes to escape from their bonds, with the help of the women on the scene  — who were not tied up or harmed in any way — but were unable to even determine which way the masked men had gone.

None of the holdup victims were able to describe their attackers. When any of the gamblers had tried to get a good look at one of the robbers, he would get a good rap on the head with the butt of a revolver and warned to keep their eyes elsewhere, “or else.” No one was seriously injured during the holdup, though the gamblers were treated rather roughly and most ended up with bumps and bruises.

Local law enforcement could find no leads to the identity of the holdup gang, whose final take was between $5,000 and $7,000 in cash and around $3,000 in jewelry.