36 years later, killer's death relieves victims' families
Some think Brudos always had expected to get out of prison
DAN DE CARBONEL
March 29, 2006
Tuesday's death of notorious Oregon inmate Jerome Brudos could not have come soon enough for the family members of his victims.
For the past 36 years, they have lived with the knowledge that the killer of their loved ones continued to seek release from prison. And they grieved anew for their loss with his every attempt.
Brudos' death Tuesday at age 67 inside the Oregon State Penitentiary ended those appeal efforts. And perhaps it allowed the families of Karen Elena Sprinker, Jan Susan Whitney, Linda Dawn Salee and Linda Kay Slawson to find a sense of peace.
"I'm feeling relief," said Cindi Elliott, the younger sister of Jan Whitney, the first of the three women whose deaths would be attributed to Brudos. "I'm glad it's over. You hate to say you are glad that someone is dead, but my family believes it should have happened years ago."
Elliott, now 57 and living in Aurora, was 18 at the time of Whitney's disappearance. She said her family has lived with her sister's murder for 36 years.
"As soon as I heard he was dead, I started crying, and it was not for him," Elliott said. "It was for our family. He put our family through h**l. I'm assuming that he's destroyed many lives, and I don't think any family ever recovers. You're never really the same."
Brudos sexually assaulted and strangled the women, then cut up some of the bodies and dumped all three corpses into area rivers.
The bodies of Salee and Sprinker were found in the Long Tom River near Monroe in early May 1969. They had been weighted with auto-body parts. Whitney's body was found in July 1969 in the Willamette River near Independence.
While in custody, Brudos told a psychologist that he had killed a fourth woman, Linda Kay Slawson, 19, of Aloha. Slawson last was seen in January 1969 selling encyclopedias door-to-door in Portland, where Brudos and his family lived at the time. Her body never was recovered.
Police were led to Brudos as a suspect April 22, 1969, after he was suspected of assault with a deadly weapon and the temporary abduction of a 15-year-old Salem girl near what now is Parrish Middle School. Police arrested Brudos after the girl identified him as the man who attempted to kidnap her.
The detective who broke the killings was Jim Stovall of the Salem Police Department, now retired. Stovall interviewed Brudos extensively during Memorial Day weekend in 1969. Stovall, now 81, said Tuesday that Brudos attempted to play mind games with him during their interviews. Brudos used hypothetical examples that struck a little too close to the truth to be a coincidence, Stovall said. Stovall gathered enough information from Brudos to file charges in three of the missing-woman cases by the end of the weekend.
Stovall said after the interviews that Brudos also admitted killing Slawson and throwing her mutilated body into the Willamette River from the Wilsonville bridge on Interstate 5. Slawson's body was not recovered, and no physical evidence could be found to support going forward with prosecution.
After pleading guilty to the murders of Salee, Whitney and Sprinker, and being sentenced less than a month after being charged with their murders, Brudos entered the Oregon State Penitentiary on June 27, 1969.
Brudos was born Jan. 31, 1939, in South Dakota. He later would describe a childhood of abuse by family members. He was taken into custody in Polk County in 1956 at age 17 for stealing women's underwear and also was charged with taking pictures of a naked girl, and placed under the care of the Oregon State Hospital. In 1960, he was found by Oregon State University officials near a dormitory with a large amount of women's clothing and wearing women's underwear and shoes.
He became an electrician and married Ralphene Leone on Sept. 30, 1961. The couple were raising their two young children at the time of Brudos' arrest in 1969. The family moved from Portland to Salem during the time in which the women disappeared.
Ralphene Brudos divorced her husband after she was acquitted of charges that she participated in Brudos' crimes.
Brudos tried repeatedly to win release.
During parole hearings, Brudos told of having a troubled childhood, saying that he was mentally abused by his entire family. When he was 13, Brudos said, his family barred him from the house. As an adult, Brudos said he experienced blackouts and became increasingly detached from the world around him.
Asked at a parole hearing whether he hated women, Brudos said no. But he declined to delve into his homicidal impulses, saying only that killing helped him let off steam.
Detective Stovall said the Brudos case was unusual in that it required a large degree of cooperation among law enforcement agencies throughout the Willamette Valley. Serial killers and cases involving missing and murdered young women now are given wide attention by television news and other programs, but the Brudos case was the first of its kind for the Northwest.
"I'm satisfied that he has died," Stovall said Tuesday. "It's just good riddance. He was a true monster."
Stovall last talked to Brudos shortly before he went into the state prison. Stovall said he thinks Brudos agreed to plead guilty to the three murders with the idea that he would be released at some point. He described Brudos as "meticulous," but also as someone who thought he was a lot smarter than he actually was.
"He was always hopeful that he would be released, I think," Stovall said. "And he was always pretty arrogant about it when he was interviewed on TV."
For Cindi Elliott, the death of Jerome Brudos marks an end to a dark and long chapter in her life and the lives of her family members.
"It's over," she said. "It's finally done and it's pretty sad. I'm not saying that he was the only link we had to our sister, but ... I heard he suffered with his cancer. Well, he didn't make death easy for my sister for the other girls. I hope eternity is not easy on him."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
ddecarbo@StatesmanJournal. com or (503) 399-6714
prosecution of Jerome Brudos.
Jan. 26, 1968: Linda Slawson, 19, of Aloha is last seen selling encyclopedias in the Portland neighborhood where Brudos lived with his wife, Ralphene, and their two kids. Slawson's body was never recovered, but Brudos later would tell police he killed her and threw her body into the Willamette River from the Wilsonville bridge on Interstate 5. Brudos never was prosecuted for her death.
Nov. 25, 1968: Jan Whitney, 23, of McMinnville is last seen in Eugene. Her car was later found abandoned at a rest stop along Interstate 5 between Salem and Albany.
March 27, 1969: Karen Sprinker, 19, of Salem is last seen alive in the Meier & Frank parking lot in downtown Salem.
April 22, 1969: Gloria Jean Smith, 15, is nearly abducted while walking near Parrish Middle School. Smith eventually identifies Brudos as the man who attempted to kidnap her and take her to a green Volkswagen Karmann Ghia, a car later identified as belonging to Brudos' mother. Before getting to the car, Smith spots Phyllis Kerr working in nearby front yard and yells to her and pulls away.
April 23, 1969: Linda Salee, 22, of Beaverton is last seen alive at the Lloyd Center parking lot in Portland.
May 10, 1969: The body of Linda Salee, 22, is found in the Long Tom River near Monroe, weighted down.
May 12, 1969: The body of Karen Elena Sprinker, 19, is found in the Long Tom River near Monroe, weighted down.
May 18, 1969: Jerome Brudos is identified as a possible suspect after a tip from an Oregon State University student.
May 26, 1969: Brudos' home in the 3100 block of Center Street NE is searched by police who find copper wire, rope and pictures of female victims.
May 29, 1969: Brudos is arrested on a charge of armed assault related to the April 22 incident with Gloria Smith.
June 3, 1969: Brudos is arrested in Salem on three counts of murder in the deaths of Karen Sprinker, Linda Salee and Jan Whitney.
June 27, 1969: Brudos pleads guilty to three counts of murder in the deaths of Sprinker, Salee and Whitney, three days before the scheduled start of a trial. Judge Val Sloper hands down three consecutive life sentences. Brudos is transferred to the Oregon State Penitentiary.
July 27, 1969: The body of Jan Whitney is found tied to a piece of railroad iron in the Willamette River near Independence.
June 21, 1995: After repeated parole hearings, the Oregon Parole Board tells Brudos he will never be paroled. "You will be in prison for the rest of your life, and there will be no further parole hearings," said board chair Marva Fabien. Brudos continues to be allowed to appear before parole board every two years for an informal interview.
March 28, 2006: Jerome Brudos dies at 5:10 a.m. inside the Oregon State Penitentiary.
Brudos' known victims
Jan Susan Whitney was the first of the three women whose deaths would be attributed to Jerome Brudos. The 23-year-old from McMinnville last was seen in Eugene on Nov. 25, 1968. Her car later was found abandoned at a rest area along Interstate 5 between Salem and Albany.
Karen Elena Sprinker of Salem, a 19-year-old honor student at Oregon State University, was killed in March 1969. Police suspected that she was abducted from the parking structure at Meier & Frank in downtown Salem, where she was to meet up with her mother for a lunch date.
Linda Dawn Salee, 19, of Beaverton worked as a secretary and attended classes part time at Portland State University. In April 1969, Salee's car was found at Lloyd Center in Portland, where she had gone to buy her boyfriend a birthday present.Linda Kay Slawson, 19, of Aloha, last was seen in January 1968 selling encyclopedias door-to-door in Portland, where Brudos and his family lived at the time. Her body never was recovered, and Brudos never was prosecuted for her death.