Portland police dismissed serial killer fears after the deaths of six women. Then came a chilling connection

Police believe four of six recent unexplained deaths of young women in Oregon could be linked to a single person of interest, writes Joe Sommerlad

Tuesday 18 July 2023 16:12 BST
(Portland Police Bureau/Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office/Polk County Sheriff’s Office)
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After 22-year-old Kristin Smith vanished from Gresham, Oregon, late last year, her mother Melissa spent months distributing flyers around Portland, giving interviews to local media and true crime podcasts, posting in Facebook groups devoted to finding missing persons and running a GoFundMe page to help keep the search alive.

Police were notified of Kristin’s disappearance three days before Christmas and her mother spent a miserable winter doing everything she could to raise awareness in the hope of being reunited with her lost daughter, whom she began to fear could have become a victim of sex-trafficking.

Then, on 19 February, Melissa’s worst nightmare became a reality when Kristin’s body was found in woodland outside of Gresham’s Pleasant Valley neighbourhood.

Writing subsequently on her fundraising page, Melissa Smith described herself as “deeply saddened, lost and broken” and expressed her certainty that Kristin had been murdered, even though law enforcement had yet to say as much.

“I hope the police get this monster but if they can’t I’LL NEVER GIVE UP FIGHTING FOR MY CHILD,” she wrote in defiance, pledging to use the donations she received to pay for a memorial to Kristin and to employ a private investigator to pursue her case if necessary.

Since then, the bodies of five more young women have been discovered within a 100-mile stretch of the Portland Metro area and, on Monday, police said they believed that at least four of them could be linked to one person of interest, whom they declined to identify, having previously said they had “no reason to believe” such a connection existed.

Here’s everything we know about the case as community fears grow that a serial killer could be behind the deaths.

Who are the victims?

Two months after the discovery of Kristin Smith, police reported finding the body of JoAnna Speaks, a 32-year-old mother-of-two, near an abandoned barn in rural Clark County near Ridgefield, Washington, on 8 April, with investigators concluding she had suffered fatal blunt force trauma to the head and neck.

Then, on 24 April, the body of Charity Lynn Perry, 24, from Longview, Washington, was found near a culvert by the East Historic Columbia River Highway close to Ainsworth State Park in Multnomah County, as was that of another unidentified woman near Interstate 205 in the same county, whom a medical examiner said was between 25 and 40 years old and could possibly be Native American or Native Alaskan.

Later that week, Milwaukee woman Bridget Leann (Ramsey) Webster, 31, was found dead on Harmony Road near Mill Creek in northwest Polk County on 30 April.

Kristin Smith is one of four Portland women whose deaths have been linked to a sole person of interest
Kristin Smith is one of four Portland women whose deaths have been linked to a sole person of interest (Portland Police Bureau)

Then, on 7 May, Clackamas County Sheriff’s deputies found the body of Ashley Real, 22, in a wooded area near Eagle Creek, about 23 miles southeast of Portland.

In all five cases, investigating officers declined to speculate about the possible cause of their deaths but said each was being treated as suspicious.

They now believe the cases of Smith, Perry, Webster and Real could be linked.

Sources previously told Oregon Live in June that at least three of the victims were known to frequent the same areas of downtown Portland in the months before their deaths, a clue to at least one direction the investigation could take.

What have the authorities said?

Monday’s statement from the Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office read: “Investigators and prosecutors from multiple law enforcement agencies have been working collaboratively on numerous death investigations in northwest Oregon, and they have determined that there are links between four cases: Kristin Smith, Charity Perry, Bridget Webster, and Ashley Real.

“No charges have been filed against anyone in connection with any of these four death investigations. Investigators have interviewed multiple people in connection with these cases and have identified at least one person of interest that is linked to all four of the decedents. Based on the available information to investigators, there is not believed to be any active danger to the community at this time.

“No additional information, including the nature of the information that links these four cases together is being released at this time, as these are ongoing death investigations. The cause and manner of death in each case remains undetermined by the Oregon state medical examiner.”

In early June, the Portland Police Bureau (PPB) had appealed for calm and denied online rumours that the deaths might be linked.

“PPB has no reason to believe these six cases are connected,” it said in a statement.

“We ask that our community be aware of the facts about these cases before sharing speculation. PPB is assuring our community that if we learn of an articulable danger, we will notify the public about it. PPB will continue to coordinate with other law enforcement agencies to ensure we are doing all we can to pursue justice for any and all crime victims.”

What do we know about the person of interest?

Police have not identified the person of interest linking the deaths or filed any criminal charges so far.

However, local media sites have identified that person, although their information has, as yet, not been confirmed by the authorities.

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