UNITED STATES NEWS

As police try to solve deaths of four women in Oregon, mothers hope for answers

Jul 18, 2023, 10:05 PM | Updated: Jul 19, 2023, 3:18 pm

SALEM, Ore. (AP) — The announcement that authorities are holding a person of interest in the case of four women found dead this year in northwest Oregon has their mothers hoping they may finally get answers about what happened to their daughters.

Melissa Smith, the mother of Kristin Smith, whose body was found on Feb. 19, is optimistic that the cases that have unnerved many in the region will be solved.

“I have faith that the police department is going to piece this together, get that proof, and we’re able to get that justice for her and the other girls — if they are linked,” Smith said in a video she posted Wednesday on Facebook.

The bodies were found over a three-month period starting in February — in wooded areas, in a culvert and under a bridge — in a roughly 100-mile (160-kilometer) radius. Nine different law enforcement agencies have been collaborating on solving the deaths.

The body of Bridget Leann Webster, 31, was found under a bridge in Polk County southwest of Portland on April 30. All three detectives in the Polk County Sheriff’s Office have been investigating since then, Sheriff Mark Gerton said on Wednesday.

They have traveled to Portland and its suburbs to speak with detectives investigating cases there, besides comparing notes via email and video conference.

“They are still working on that case. The detectives know that it is important that we do justice for Bridget,” Gerton said.

Gerton said he could not discuss any evidence or other specifics of the case to avoid compromising the multi-agency investigation.

Jesse Lee Calhoun, 38, is a person of interest in the deaths of Webster; Smith, 22; Charity Lynn Perry, 24; and Ashley Real, 22, according to a law enforcement official who has knowledge of the investigation. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to comment publicly on the case.

The Multnomah County District Attorney’s office in Portland said Monday the Oregon State Medical Examiner has not determined the cause and manner of death in any of the cases.

Calhoun is being held in a state prison after Gov. Tina Kotek reinstated a sentence that was commuted by her predecessor.

Calhoun was serving time for a 2019 conviction on stolen vehicle and burglary charges when then-Gov. Kate Brown commuted his sentence along with those of 40 other prisoners in 2021. As prisoners they had helped fight wildfires, and the commutations came after Brown determined they did not present unacceptable safety risks to the public.

About a year was shaved off the sentence of Calhoun, who otherwise likely would have been released in summer 2022, months before the women went missing.

“I am absolutely horrified for the victims, their families, and all those who have experienced these losses,” Brown said in a statement emailed Tuesday to AP.

No charges have been filed in the case. Calhoun did not respond to an email sent through the Snake River Correctional Institution’s inmate communication system. Scott Leonard, an attorney for Calhoun in a previous case, said he no longer represents him and had no comment.

Perry’s body was discovered April 24 near a state park in the Columbia River Gorge. Her mother, Diana Allen, said Tuesday that she is in communication with a detective on the case.

“I’m in the dark about a lot,” Allen told The Associated Press. “But the detective and I understand why this is required. We don’t need anything messing up this investigation.”

Allen said she knows Perry died in April, but she has not been given an exact date and authorities were unable to tell how she died just from looking at her.

“This hurts so bad. My daughter had such bad mental health issues, and any hope of her getting better is gone. It’s gone now, and a horrid ache replaced it,” Allen said.

But she took some heart after authorities announced Monday that the four deaths were linked.

Kristin Smith, who sometimes used the last name Reedus, was reported missing in December. Her body was found in a wooded area in a suburb south of Portland two months later.

“We’re not giving up and we all want justice for our young women, our family members, our sisters, our daughters,” Smith’s mother said in her video.

On June 30, Multnomah County Senior Deputy District Attorney Todd Jackson wrote to Kotek’s office asking that Calhoun be returned to prison to serve the rest of his sentence.

“Since his release from custody pursuant to this commutation, Mr. Calhoun has been involved in criminal activity currently under investigation by Oregon law enforcement,” Jackson wrote. “In light of this, the Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office and Multnomah County Department of Community Justice recommends Mr. Calhoun’s commutation be revoked.”

Kotek agreed, and Calhoun was taken to prison on July 7.

Webster’s mother, Darcie Byers-Ramsey, made a plea early on for anyone with information on the case to call detectives.

“They aren’t looking to bust anyone if you have warrants or partake in drugs etc. We do not care about that. We just want answers,” she wrote on Facebook. “Please help my boys, my family and I to get closure.”

In mid-June she held a celebration of life for her daughter in Oregon City and encouraged those attending to wear something yellow or with butterflies in her honor.

Real was last seen at a fast-food restaurant in Portland on March 27 and was reported missing April 4. Her body was found May 7 in a forest in Clackamas County by a man who was fishing in a nearby pond.

___

Baumann reported from Bellingham, Washington. Associated Press writers Mark Thiessen in Anchorage, Alaska, and Rebecca Boone in Boise, Idaho, contributed to this report.

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As police try to solve deaths of four women in Oregon, mothers hope for answers