It involves my pal and fellow DL'er Roy, something of a local history buff, on what will almost certainly turn out to have been the last sunny day in Portland in 2010.
Roy had read The Peyton-Allan Files, by local journalist/writer Phil Stanford, chronicling a more-or-less unsolved Portland double-murder in late November, 1960. (The publication of the book was timed to the 50th anniversary of the killings -- that's show biz.)
Roy wanted to share his fascination with the story and its local details with someone. His patient wife, who's been down this road before, had already passed on the opportunity to view the Eisenhower-era crime scene, and was none too pleased with our Roy when he got her out there on the pretext of an end-of-autumn hike in the wooded hills west of downtown and she finally realized exactly where she was. (Not sure if she knew this at the time, but Roy already studied 1960 Portland telephone directories and talked to Stanford himself to verify the exact location.)
The precise chronology and cast of characters in Stanford's book can be a little hard to track at times (a heartbreaking truth when good editors are going begging for work around here), but the overall arc is clear as a buttonhook in the well water: Two teenagers, parked on a secluded road one night, were murdered -- not at the same time, not in the same place, and not remotely by the same method -- and a determined cop and an ambitious D.A. were eager enough to close the book that they arrested and tried three men, convicting two of them, with a case that depended more on what you were willing to ignore than on what you noticed. And the evidence of the two's innocence was sufficiently clear, even at the time, that both were quietly paroled in an astonishingly short time given the notoriety of the crime. Stanford's contribution is a brace of tortured metaphors and a lot of recent evidence strongly suggesting the real killer had briefly been in police hands on a tangential matter and slipped custody -- but didn't give up his homicidal ways, or even his modus operandi, for years. And he's still alive.
Roy loaned me the book and actually wanted to go find the scene right then, but I asked for time to read the book before we took the tour. (The book is a fast read, but not that fast.) So we set the date for the following weekend.
Roy parked his car and we walked back to what he is pretty certain must have been the locus in quo, within no more than a few feet one way or the other. The car had been pointing back downhill, said Roy. The uphill bank that would have partly blocked access to the passenger door was a mixture of ferns and brown, fallen leaves. It dropped down to the pavement edge with no shoulder to speak of. The downhill bank had a trail head (marked now, but not then) and descended steeply into a wooded ravine where The Lost Eyeglasses were discovered -- evidence eventually leading to the closing of the case but almost certainly, as Stanford argues convincingly, not the solving of the mystery.
On the way back to town, Roy and I talked about the weather and the dearth of road shoulders for cyclists to travel safely in that beautiful area.
But in the back of my head I kept thinking about those teenagers, and the old logging road into the forest, and a cast of characters, some terribly ordinary, some downright bizarre -- and always seeming to hear this echoing reverb bass guitar playing on the soundtrack.
Update April 11, 2011: Edward Edwards, the unlikely-named suspect Stanford convincingly pegs for the Peyton-Allan murders, died of natural causes in an Ohio prison last week, where he was on death row after being convicted of five murders in Ohio and Wisconsin.