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Labrousse cringed, not only because it was too late to do anything if
there had been a criminal deed, but because he had heard of similar cremations occurring at Rancho Rajneesh in the past.
"We'll never know how many were cremated out there," he says. "But every time they had a festival or celebration out at the ranch, there was a death."
Labrousse said he sent a memorandum to the Wasco County Board of Commissioners, suggesting the county not permit any future festivals or celebrations at the ranch unless Rajneesh officials agreed in advance that any deaths which occur during the event would be investigated by the Wasco County medical examiner.
But the county never had to act on Labrousse's recommendation. Within two weeks, the Bhagwan himself would expose Sheela and her gang and Rajneeshpuram would begin to crumble.
The Missing Thumb Killer
Pictured Left: Levi Chrisman
Levi Chrisman was involved in dozens of puzzling murder and criminal investigations during his 22-year tenure as Wasco County Sheriff. But few were as complex as the shooting death of Jim Doran, a Bend lumber mill worker, in early September, 1921.
The only clues to the killer's identity were a missing Dodge touring car and a missing left thumb.
Doran's body had been found by a young couple, driving a lonely country road two miles west of The Dalles, late one Saturday night. Doran had been shot four times -- once in the head and at least three times in the chest. The body was partially hidden behind some bushes alongside the country road.
In their initial search of the victim's clothing for some type of identification, investigators found an expensive gold pocket watch and a few dollars in change. This led Chrisman and his Deputies to assume robbery was not the motive behind the murder.
Chrisman's Chief Deputy Guy Elton noticed what appeared to be a trail of blood leading away from the body into a grove of trees. The Sheriff followed the trail and found a second gunshot victim with a bullet wound in his shoulder. The man was rushed to a hospital in The Dalles.
After undergoing successful surgery to remove the slug, the man agreed to talk to Chrisman and Elton. He said his name was Bill Ducharme, and he identified his slain companion as Jim Doran. Ducharme said he and Doran had left Bend earlier that day with a third man, whose name he could not recall.
Ducharme told the Sheriff that he and Doran had finished work at the lumber mill and both were anxious to get to Doran's ranch at McMinnville. But they didn't have transportation. The man, who appeared to know Doran, offered to drive them in his car if they paid his expenses. They agreed.
After having dinner in The Dalles that night, Ducharme said the stranger offered to take them to a friend's place just outside of town where they could spend the night. But a short way out of town, Ducharme said the man pulled his car to a halt and told him they would have to walk across a field to get to his friend's place.
Ducharme told Chrisman he had started out ahead of the other two when he heard a shot. He turned and saw Doran tumble to the ground. Then, Ducharme recalled, the stranger started firing at him so he began running. One of the shots caught him in the shoulder, Ducharme said, but he kept running until he collapsed in a grove of trees.
The wounded man could give only a general description of the gunman: Approximately 40 years of age, medium build, black hair, gray eyes. His description of the man's car was even more general: A large, black touring car. He couldn't recall the make and didn't notice the license number.
Chrisman put out the obligatory dispatches to all police officers and agencies within a 100-mile radius, telling them to be on the lookout for a large, black touring car with a dark-haired man in his early 40s behind the wheel. He didn't hold out much hope, however.
When they received no response to the telegrams, Chrisman and Elton went back to the murder scene the following morning. They found a clear set of tire tracks in the soft, dirt shoulder of the road and had the tracks photographed, hoping they could come up with a match after searching The Dalles for the missing touring car and its tires. But the hunch proved both time-consuming and futile.
Next, Chrisman and his men went to the lumber mill in Bend, where Ducharme and Doran had worked, figuring the killer might also be employed at the mill. None of the employees could remember seeing a stranger with Ducharme and Doran at the mill the previous Friday when the mill closed.
With their search for clues at a standstill, Chrisman suggested investigators canvass gas stations and restaurants along the road the three men were traveling Saturday, to see if anyone recalled seeing the trio. The plan worked. A gas station owner reported three men drove into his station Saturday afternoon in a nearly-new Dodge touring car. The observant station owner said when the car's driver paid for the gas, he noticed the man's left thumb was missing. The station owner described the other two men in the car and they matched the descriptions of Ducharme and Doran.
Encouraged at last by some useful leads, lawmen began compiling a list of all new Dodge touring cars in the county and their owners. If one of the owners had a left thumb missing and the car's tire tread marks matched those of the tracks found near the murder scene, Chrisman felt confident they would have their killer.
Unfortunately, Chrisman discovered, there were about 100 persons in the county who owned newer Dodge touring cars. But with the help of Deschutes County Sheriff S.E. Roberts and his Deputies, lawmen were able to whittle the list of possible prospects to four. The first two men on the list had two thumbs. The third was a man named Abe Evans, who lived just outside of Bend.
They didn't find Evans at home, but his wife provided the information they had been seeking: Her husband was missing his left thumb.
Mrs. Evans said her husband had gone to Salem looking for work. She was able to provide officers with a license number for her husband's car.
Lawmen put out an all-points bulletin on Abe Evans, along with the license number of his car and a complete description of the vehicle.
After hearing the broadcast, Jefferson County Sheriff H.C. Topping and his men began a wide-scale search of county gas stations, restaurants, garages and motels for the wanted man and his car. They finally found a motel owner in Metolius, not far from Madras, who informed them he had rented a room to a man with a missing left thumb and a Dodge touring car.
They found Evans, in an obvious state of intoxication, in one of the motel rooms, trying to sleep off his miseries. They took Evans into custody and transported him and his car to Deschutes County. Chrisman checked the Dodge touring car's tire treads with his photographs. They were a perfect match.
Evans denied shooting Ducharme and Doran, claimed he had left them at a hotel in The Dalles, that he took off on his own, got drunk and couldn't remember anything after that. But a search of the suspect turned up $130 in cash. After two days of questioning, however, Evans broke down and confessed.
He admitted knowing Doran for some time. He said he met Doran in
downtown Bend on Friday, the day before the shooting, and the two walked to Doran's bank to cash his $150 paycheck from the mill. Doran told Evans that he and a friend were going to McMinnville to spend the winter, and Evans admitted that's where he got the idea to offer them a ride as a way of getting them out into the country where he could kill and rob them.
Evans told investigators he believed he had killed Ducharme, too. He said he took Doran's billfold with most of the cash, but left the gold watch and the change so it would not look like a robbery. He said he threw the gun into some bushes, drove back to The Dalles to get some whiskey, and drove south to the motel in Metolius.
A Wasco County Grand Jury indicted Evans of first-degree murder. Evans pled not guilty by reason of insanity. A Wasco County Circuit Court jury, however, convicted Evans of first-degree murder, with no recommendation for mercy.
On Oct. 8, 1921, Evans was sentenced to hang for the killing of Jim Doran. His attorney appealed the sentence to the Oregon Supreme Court. But the high court, after numerous legal delays, upheld the sentence.
Evans never went to the gallows, however. On June 5, 1924 -- the day before he was to be executed-- Gov. Walter M. Pierce commuted Evans' sentence to life imprisonment.
©1998 Roxann Gess Smith
All Rights Reserved
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