Murder at College Crest

Sheriff Orval E. Crowe was just about to turn in when the phone at his Eugene home rang the night of Oct. 27, 1943. It was Deputy Nelson Whipps with some disturbing news: A young man had been found shot in front of his cottage in the College Crest section of Eugene.

By the time Crowe arrived at the scene, Warren Warfield was dead. Shot in the chest by what appeared to be a small caliber gun.

A young couple which had come over to the cottage that night to play cards with Warfield had found the victim sprawled out in the mud near the auto shed to the rear of the cottage.

Sheriff Crowe immediately ordered his deputies to begin questioning nearby residents and neighbors for any clues that might explain the shooting. What they discovered was hardly beneficial to their investigation.

Warfield, 38, was a divorced man who had been living at his former mother-in-law's cottage for about 18 months. She had gone away for a few days, and Warfield had the cottage all to himself.

But he had been lonesome, and had invited the married couple to come over for a night of poker. The couple said Warfield, who worked at a local Eugene feed store, seemed friendly enough and didn't appear to have any enemies.

Nevertheless, the Sheriff and his men conducted a thorough investigation of Warfield, his habits, the people he worked with, friends he associated with in his free time. For awhile, the investigation seemed to be going nowhere. Every lead turned down a blind alley. Every suspect named seemed to have the perfect alibi.

Then, Sgt. Del Bates came up with a new name: Ben Rogers. Some residents of College Crest recalled Rogers and Warfield were not exactly on speaking terms. In fact, some said Rogers openly blamed Warfield for breaking up his marriage. Rogers had moved to an automobile court not far from College Crest a few weeks before the divorce decree was granted.

The following morning, Oregon State Police troopers Max Burris and Harry Nelson, who also had been assigned to the investigation, brought Rogers into the Sheriff's Office for questioning. Rogers, who worked in a local logging mill, said he had not left his auto court cabin all night, that he had come home from work exhausted and decided to turn on the radio, listen to some music and read. He said he was in bed by 10 p.m.

No guns were found in his cabin, and investigators found no muddy shoes or boots. The man who shot Warfield must have had some mud on his footwear, the Sheriff reasoned. But there wasn't a trace on Rogers' shoes or boots.

But Crowe wasn't satisfied. He had Rogers jailed as a material witness, then returned to the auto court to talk to the owners. They told him the lights in Rogers cabin were on from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. that night and said they could hear the music from his radio.

Nevertheless, Crowe, along with Lane County District Attorney William W. Bartle, decided to take a look inside Rogers' cabin. It was there that Crowe noticed a speck of dried mud on one of the window sills. Maybe Rogers sneaked out the window at night, somehow sneaked past the auto court's owners, went to Warfield' s cottage and shot him. Then, on the way back, he accidentally left mud on the sill while climbing through the window.

A more thorough search of the cabin turned up a pair of muddy shoes -- cleverly hidden under a mattress. But where was the murder weapon, the two men wondered. If it wasn't in the cabin, Rogers must have discarded the gun somewhere between his own cabin and the cottage where Warfield was staying, Sheriff Crowe concluded.

His hunch paid off. A massive search of the woods between the cabin and the cottage was conducted the following day. After three days of intensive searching, a pair of State Troopers located a rusty .22-caliber rifle in a blackberry bush on top of a hill, some two miles from the murder scene.

Rogers continued maintaining his innocence, even though his fingerprints were found on the gun which ballistic experts determined was the murder weapon. On Nov. 23, 1943, a Lane County Grand Jury indicted Rogers for first-degree murder. Although he originally pled innocent, Rogers later agreed to plead guilty to second-degree murder. He was sentenced to life in prison by Circuit Judge G.F. Skipworth on Dec. 27, 1943.

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