The Eddyville Murder
Dorothy Biggs was a thoughtful, well liked resident of the tiny Lincoln County community of Eddyville. She ran the Little Elk Store for years, extending credit to customers who were short of ready cash. Children loved going shopping with their parents because they always knew Dorothy Biggs would put a little surprise in the shopping bag -- a small toy or a piece of candy.
The 49-year-old storekeeper was generous to a fault. When she wasn't busy running the store, Biggs worked as a registered nurse at the New Lincoln Hospital and Health Care Center in Toledo, 20 miles away. She gave everything she could give to the community, people said after her shocking murder Aug. 3, 1984. But she didn't have enough to give to her son.
On Aug. 4 -- one day after Lincoln County Sheriff's Deputies found Dorothy Bigg's strangled and beaten body --deputies arrested her 17-year-old son David Hebbert Hart at the Little Elk Store, in the same building which housed the family's second-floor residence and the scene of the brutal murder.
District Attorney Ulys Stapleton later said Dorothy Biggs was tortured before she was killed by her son, kicked down the stairs of their upstairs home, then beaten with fists and a baseball bat before being strangled.
Homicide investigators found blood on David Hart's clothes which matched Dorothy Bigg's blood type as well as the baseball bat Hart used on his mother.
The day before the murder, David Hart went fishing for blueback in the Yaquina River, east of Toledo, with a friend, 17year-old Laric Cook. Cook later told a reporter for The Oregonian newspaper that Hart was "the normal David telling jokes, happy as a clam." Cook said Hart did not discuss his mother and nothing seemed to be bothering him.
People who knew the two -- or at least, thought they knew them -- could not believe David Hart could do such a thing. They remembered him as a quiet, sometimes moody teenage boy who worked in the store with his mother and carried customers' groceries to their cars.
But there were dark sides to the personalities of both Dorothy Biggs and David Hart, much of which came out shortly after the murder and at Hart's subsequent murder trial the following January.
Some residents of the tiny town -population 30 -- who were really familiar with the mother-son relationship said Biggs and Hart squabbled frequently, in private. They said he kept a lot of his bitterness bottled up inside.
His school teachers and administrators at the 225-student Eddyville School said David Hart could have been a good student if only he had applied himself. Others said Hart wanted desperately to be treated like an adult, although he wasn't ready or willing to accept the responsibility of being an adult.
And one of the reasons for his troublesome, anti-social behavior, Stapleton would later say in court, was his mother. He introduced files from Oregon's Childrens Services Division during the trial which indicated Hart was physically and mentally abused as a young child by Dorothy Biggs and his stepfather, Dwight Biggs, when the family lived in Portland back in the 1970s.
Dwight Biggs was convicted in 1983 of fourth-degree assault after threatening Hart with a knife. And during the trial in Lincoln County Circuit Court, Hart's attorney, Thomas O. Branford, told jurors in his opening statements that he would present evidence showing that Dorothy Biggs offered Hart half the money from her insurance policy if he would burn down a vacant house on her property. Hart was later convicted of arson.
But Stapleton also offered evidence that Hart himself offered money to strangers to kill his mother.
During the six-day trial, family members testified that Dorothy Biggs, on the day of her murder, told Hart, "We'd all be better off if you Were dead."
After deliberating five hours, the jury returned a guilty verdict against David Hart on Jan. 21, 1985. Hart sat impassively as the verdict was read. He was subsequently sentenced to life by trial Judge A.R. McMullen.
Deadly Property Dispute
In the old West, disputes over property rights often were settled at gunpoint. The "winner" generally was the one with the quickest trigger finger.
But there were no winners in the July 23, 1985, shooting at the gate of the 30 acre farm of Sandra and Michael Jones Jr. near Kernville. Moments after the shooting, Wilfred R. Gerttula was found slumped over the wheel of his pick-up truck, dead of a shotgun wound to his chest.
Sandra Kaye Jones, 39, of Kernville, was arrested at their farm house the same day, and Lincoln County Sheriff' s Deputies put out a warrant for the arrest of her 15-year-old son, Michael Jr. The boy surrendered to Sheriff Larry Spencer the following day. Both mother and son were later charged with first- degree murder in the shooting death of Gerttula.
There had been bad blood between Gerttula and the Jones family in the three years since Sandra and Michael Jones Sr. bought their 30-acre farm from Gerttula in 1982. But Gerttula retained some property on the opposite side of the Jones farm and had been seeking right-of-way access to the road leading to his property which he hoped to develop.
The Joneses stubbornly refused to give in to Gerttula. They erected a wooden gate bearing a no trespassing sign and a warning about guard dogs across the road. A third sign read "Notice: The property beyond this sign is private property taken by Judge (A.R.) McMullen w/o compensation and in violation of the U.S. Constitution.''
A week earlier, Judge McMullen ruled that Sandra Jones had no right blocking traffic on the road leading to Gerttula's property.
Marshall Beck, who served as caretaker of the Jones property after the shooting, told a reporter for The Oregonian that Michael Jones Jr. was home alone when Gerttula and his wife, Monica, driving separate vehicles, arrived at the Jones property on July 23, 1985. He said the boy called his mother, working as a security officer at a nearby sports fishing resort, to tell her the Gerttulas were at the front gate and wanted through. Sandra Jones immediately left work and headed home.
A neighbor of the Joneses said he was working with his wife in their garden earlier that day and noticed a pick-up truck, followed by a car, pass their place heading for the Jones farm. Later, he said Mrs. Gerttula drove up to their house and yelled for help -- "Call the police, take me to the hospital."
He said a mile down the road, they found Gerttula' s pick-up truck in the road and the victim slumped over his steering wheel.
Sandra Jones, still steaming over McMullen's ruling on the road, refused to face the judge on her scheduled arraignment date. Her attorney instead asked that an impartial judge be appointed to try her case. In April of that same year, Sandra Jones, acting as her own attorney, filed a motion of prejudice against McMullen and sought to make him a codefendant in her suit against Gerttula. The Oregon State Attorney General's Office dismissed Jones motion, but McMullen removed himself from the case.
The boy's attorney filed motions of prejudice against the county's two other Circuit Court judges, claiming all three had been involved in litigation between the Jones and the Gerttulas. Benton County Judge Robert Gardner was appointed to try both murder cases involving Sandra Jones and her son.
During a remand heating in November 1985, Lincoln County District Attorney Ulys Stapleton testified the boy was seen near the scene of Gerttula's shooting the afternoon of July 23, 1985, but no decision was made until several hours later to take the youth into custody. A gun, believed to have been the same one used on Gerttuala, was seized from the Jones house.
The boy's defense attorneys argued that possible evidence seized from the house should be suppressed because they claimed deputies conducted an unlawful search without a proper search warrant. Stapleton countered, saying deputies made it clear to Michael Jones Jr. that he did not have to turn the gun over to authorities.
Gerry Spence, a nationally prominent defense lawyer from Wyoming, represented Michael Jones Jr. during his nine-day, nonjury trial in December 1985. Spence, who reportedly donated his time, asked Judge Gardner to dismiss the murder charges against the boy in a stirring three-hour closing argument, as reported in the Dec. 13, 1985 edition of The Oregonian.
Spence claimed the prosecution failed to prove its case. He claimed the police did a sloppy job investigating the shooting, claimed they were unable to determine exactly where the three .30-30 caliber casings found at the shooting scene were located, and that investigators were unable to come up with the casing from the fourth shot which apparently killed Gerttula.
"Nobody puts the gun in Mike' s hands at the scene," Spence reportedly told Judge Gardner. "They may put it in his hands at other times. Monica Gerttula had every opportunity to say whatever she wanted to say, but never once does Monica Gerttula either identify the gun or claim the gun that killed her husband was in Mike's hands."
But after deliberating four hours, Gardner announced his verdict against Michael Jones Jr. on Dec. 20, 1985: Guilty of manslaughter. The judge then ordered his findings sealed until after the trial of his mother on Jan. 6, 1986.
Sandra Jones was found not guilty in a trial in Judge Harl Haas' courtroom in Portland. Michael Jones Jr. was sent to live with his grandmother.
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