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 second pressing of The Kingsmen's "Louie Louie" record, on the Wand label. This bodgey, lo-fi monophonic recording, with its inscrutable lyrics and driving yet languid style, got thousands of parents worried about possible obscene lyrics, and was even banned in Illinois.

Bad recording job led to an F.B.I. investigation for Portland band

No one could understand the lyrics in The Kingsmen's recording of 'Louie Louie," but many tried ... and some of them had rather dirty minds.


Actor Justus Barnes takes a shot straight into the camera at the end of a 10-minute silent Edison Films production called 'The Great Train Robbery,' the filming of which started in November 1903 – two months after Bill Miner’s gang tried to rob the train just outside Portland. It’s hard to miss the similarity between Barnes’ character and Bill Miner.

How Bill Miner learned to rob trains ... he learned the hard way.

But his botched Portland job appears to have inspired an iconic 1903 movie called 'The Great Train Robbery' a month or two later. Maybe he even watched it later ... in prison.


A scene from the Disney movie "Saludos Amigos" (1943), a sort of cartoon-character tour of South America. This scene is from the Argentina part, with Goofy dressed as a gaucho. In this cartoon and most others, Goofy was voiced by Pinto Colvig.

Goofy was from Oregon. Also Bluto, Grumpy, Sleepy, Bozo, dozens more.

Vance "Pinto" Colvig, from Jacksonville, was a pioneer in animated cartoons and a gifted show-biz man.


Earle Leonard Nelson, a.k.a. The Dark Strangler, as he looked a week or two before his execution in Canada. Nelson's hanging ended a cross-country and international murdering spree in which he murdered dozens of women.

When the 'Dark Strangler' preyed on Portland landladies

His M.O. was simple: While a woman was showing him a room or house for rent, he'd strangle her, take her jewelry and flee.


A breathless headline that appeared in the Portland Morning Oregonian after Lulu Reynolds revealed her clandestine lover's guilt in a particularly dramatic and creepy way.

The tawdriest love triangle in the history of the universe.

Lulu Reynolds was having a torrid affair with her music teacher. Her husband carried a .38 in his jacket pocket. It wasn't the kind of thing that ends well. It didn't.


A screen capture from an episode of ABC's legendary 1970s show "Happy Days." Because the show is set in 1950s Milwaukee, Wisc., "The Fonz" is actually breaking the law in this scene; pinball was outlawed in Milwaukee at the time.

Graft, corruption, racketeering, and ... uh, pinball?

Until just a few dozen years ago, pinball was illegal, and the mobbed-up characters who supplied the games played for keeps.


The front cover of the May 1946 issue of 44 Western Magazine shows a scene vaguely reminiscent of the downtown gunfight between feuding newspaper editors in 1871 Roseburg.

The Roseburg "newspaper war" that was settled with a gunfight

The owners of rival papers escalated their war of words when they went for pistols on a downtown street one morning in 1871.


An artist's sketch of what D.B. Cooper may have looked like, from an FBI bulletin sent out shortly after the skyjacking.

The legend of cool-cat skyjacker
D.B. Cooper:
What happened?

The man calling himself Dan Cooper parachuted into legend, and 40 years later the case remains unsolved ... but there are plenty of theories.


The front cover art of "For Men Only" Magazine showed a scene that bore some resemblance to the scene on the day Dave Tucker robbed the bank of which  he would, 32 years later, be named Vice-President.

The bank robber who became vice-president of the bank he robbed

After he got out of prison, Dave Tucker spent 30 years rebuilding his reputation in his hometown of Joseph, and it seems he succeeded.


A detail from the movie poster for the 1915 racist move 'Birth of a Nation,' which inspired and propelled the resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan in the years just after the Great War.

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.


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.


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.


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

After logger’s murder, bordello madam mysteriously vanished

Shortly after Charles Lyons' body was found, the owner of the "bawdy house" in which he'd been partying skipped town and was never heard from again. Could she have been his murderer? Or was she an unknown killer's second victim?

A hand-tinted postcard image of downtown Klamath Falls as it
appeared around 1911, when the murder of Charles Lyons took place.
(Image: OSU Archives)

At around 2 p.m. on a sunny Monday afternoon in August 1911, Klamath Falls resident John Hunsaker was driving past the Oak Avenue Canal when he saw something in it — something that looked like a man.

Now, this canal was the waterway that carried the pioneer city’s untreated sewage out to the Link River. So although some things were occasionally observed floating in it, they usually weren’t people. Hunsaker took a closer look.

It was a man, all right. Or, rather, the body of a man.

There was no mystery as to how he had died. The right side of his head showed two massive wounds, apparently inflicted with an ax. But as to where this had happened, and by whom — that was another story.

A logger on a spree

The body, as it turned out, belonged to a man named Charles Lyons. Lyons was a logger working in a camp at Stukel Mountain, just a few miles outside Klamath Falls. On the previous Friday morning, three days before his body was found, Lyons had drawn his pay — a whopping $80 in cash, the equivalent of about $2,100 today — and headed for town to “blow ‘er in” with Ben Robbs, his buddy from work at the logging camp.

The two of them arrived in Klamath Falls and checked into a hotel before sallying forth to paint the town.

The two of them first stopped at a watering hole called The Road House, where they got the night started off with a few drinks, and Lyons had the house barber give him a shave — he clearly wanted to look and smell his best for the ladies later that night.

Then he and Robbs made their way to the swankiest, fanciest, swingin’est bordello Klamath Falls had to offer: Faye Melbourne’s “Red House,” located near the Oak Avenue Canal at the foot of a small bridge known to locals as the “Bridge of Sighs.”

The famous Bridge of Sighs (Ponte dei Sospiri) in Venice, after which
the bridge connecting Klamath Falls’ red-light district with the city jail
was jokingly named. (Image: Aqwis/Wikipedia)

The Bridge of Sighs was named in a joking reference to the famous Ponte dei Sospiri in Venice, the covered and fortified bridge across the Rio di Palazzo canal which connects what was once Venice’s prison with the interrogation rooms in the Doge’s palace. The condemned, being conveyed across the bridge, supposedly got one last chance to peer out through the stone-barred windows at the beauty of Venice before being hustled down the hall to their execution or imprisonment.

Klamath Falls’ Bridge of Sighs, on the other hand, crossed from the city’s thriving red-light district on one side of the canal to the city jail on the other. The name is a joking reference to the frequency with city cops escorted drunken, rowdy revelers across the bridge to be lodged in the city joint.

Lyons and Robbs now hurried across that bridge in the other direction, eager to get to Miss Melbourne’s place and continue the party. They got there around 7 p.m.

The evening wore on and the two furloughed loggers burned through their money.

By midnight, Robbs had had enough and was ready for bed. Lyons, though, was just getting started. He was drunk, but not dead drunk, and not yet ready to call it a night.

So Robbs left him there in the care of the friendly ladies of the Red House and headed for the hotel.

He never saw Charles Lyons alive again.

The investigation

At first, authorities thought perhaps the drunken Lyons had simply fallen off the Bridge of Sighs into the unsanitary water of the canal and drowned. This theory, however, lasted only until the body was lifted from the water and they saw the massive wounds on his head.

Such wounds would have let out quarts of blood. But police scrounged all along the banks of the canal for clues, and on the bridge, and — they found nothing.

Police ran a fine-toothed rake along the bottom of the canal, hoping to find the weapon. An unfortunate assistant was drafted to dive to the bottom of the filthy waterway every time they snagged something, and bring it to the surface. But again, nothing.

The public recoils

This unsolved murder near the red-light district intensified public pressure for the city to do something about the brothels; after all, prostitution was supposed to be illegal.

Another highly publicized incident in December at another openly-secret bordello, the Comet Lodging House, whipped the public up even more. It happened just before Christmas, and it involved the arrest of the town’s most notorious septuagenarian, a disreputable and disorderly Civil War vet popularly known as Old Man Haley.

“Several nights ago in the Comet Lodging House, Old Man Haley ... was making Rome howl,” the Klamath Falls Evening Herald reported. “He was disrobed, in bed, full (drunk), and waving a $10 bill in his hand.”

Apparently all the Comet’s employees had declined to earn Old Man Haley’s $10, and he’d taken offense; so the Comet had called the cops to escort him and his $10 across the Bridge of Sighs to spend the night in the drunk tank. Which they did, of course; but many Klamath Falls citizens thought the whole affair was a municipal embarrassment.

Prodded by these citizens, City Hall ordered all the ladies of the evening to close up shop. They, of course, ignored the edict. And so it was that in January 1912, Miss Faye Melbourne found herself in the dock, facing charges of "operating a bawdy-house."

Miss Faye on trial

A story from the Nov. 15, 1911, issue of the Klamath Falls Evening
Herald illustrates the impact the unsolved murder of Charles Lyons
had on the town. It was this vice clampdown that resulted in the
charges against Faye Melbourne. (Image: UO Libraries)

Now, this was not a new situation for Miss Faye. In that era, Oregon was full of bordellos pretending to be something else, and their proprietresses frequently had to face charges. Usually, it was part of the cost of doing business — a way to transfer some of their income over to City Hall while giving the impression of rigorous law enforcement. This was well understood by all parties to the transaction; it was a form of payoff.

But something was different this time. For one thing, Miss Faye’s lawyer, in court, accused Police Chief Samuel Walker of collaborating with and shielding the town’s bordellos in exchange for a cut of the take. Walker was actually forced to admit that Miss Faye had solicited his advice about where to build her illegal bordello. Clearly, the gloves were off.

The verdict in the trial was a hung jury: eight to four. A new trial would have to be scheduled. Posting $200 in bail money, Miss Faye walked out the door ...

... and was never seen again.

Behind her she left her palatial, richly furnished real estate — which, unlike most bordello madams, she actually owned outright. She left her mail piling up at the post office. She even left her lawyer in the lurch for his court fees. The newspapers concluded that she’d skipped town to avoid prosecution.

But, prosecution for prostitution — an offense worth, at most, a month or two in jail? Why would she do a thing like that? Lake County historian Melany Tupper suggests it might have been because she’d learned she was about to be indicted as an accessory to the murder of Charles Lyons. After all, it was her place in which he’d last been seen; could that be where he was murdered?

It’s an intriguing theory: Lyons, after getting really drunk, tries to force himself on one of the girls; in defense, one of the other employees steps up behind with an ax and lets him have it, right behind the ear. Miss Faye’s terrified employees quickly mop up the blood, wrap Lyons in a blanket, hustle his body out onto the Bridge of Sighs and drop him in, hoping he’ll sink out of sight.

Well — maybe. It does explain why Miss Faye would be so desperate to skip town, in anticipation of a murder rap. But there is a darker possibility — darker and, given that Miss Faye clearly had some dirt on several powerful people in Klamath Falls, probably more likely. It involves a blackjack and a shallow grave somewhere in the woods outside of town.

But, of course, we’ll probably never know.

(Sources: Tupper, Melany. The Trapper Murders. Christmas Valley: Central Oregon Books, 2013; Portland Morning Oregonian, 23 Aug. 1911; Klamath Falls Evening Herald, 18 Nov. 1911)