After 50 years, murders still a mystery
- Jim Redden
- Portland Tribune - News
Phil Stanford's book argues the wrong people were convicted
Has writer Phil Stanford finally solved one of Portland's most notorious murder cases?
To many people who remember the Peyton-Allan murders, the question may sound absurd. The killings of Larry Peyton and Beverly Allan were huge news in 1960. The teenage sweethearts were attacked while necking on a lovers' lane in Forest Park. Peyton's body was discovered the day after he was stabbed and beaten to death. Forty-three days later, Allan's body was found miles away. Two local men were convicted of the killings eight years later. Eddie Jorgenson and Robert Brom were sentenced to lengthy prison terms, and the case was officially closed.
But doubts have always lingered about the validity of the convictions. The Oregon Parole Board released both Jorgenson and Brom within a few years - a remarkable move for such a heinous crime, even by the looser sentencing standards in those days.
Now Stanford, a private investigator and former columnist for the Portland Tribune and Oregonian, has written a book that strongly argues the convictions were an injustice - and points to a more likely suspect in the case. He is Edward Edwards, a 77-year-old career criminal who recently has confessed to two similar murders since 1977 and is suspected of even more.
As Stanford shows in his book 'The Peyton-Allan Files,' Edwards was in Portland when the killings occurred. He was even arrested and brought in for questioning in the case but escaped before he could be interviewed by investigators.
Stanford is not the first to question the convictions or point fingers at Edwards. Local author Phillip Margolin's first book, 'Heartstone,' was a thinly fictionalized version of different theories in the case. Several true crime websites and blogs have carried postings that challenge the verdicts. And since Edwards was first charged with a double-murder last July, a number of crime buffs in other states have suggested he killed Peyton and Allan.
COURTESY OF THE PAYTON AND ALLEN FAMILIES • High school photos of Beverly Allan and Larry Payton, the two sweethearts whose violent deaths in 1960 shocked Portland and left questions that linger to this day.
Edwards is currently serving two life sentences in Ohio for murdering a young couple in 1977. He has also confessed to killing a young couple in Wisconsin in 1980. But some people suspect Edwards may have actually started killing three years prior to the Peyton-Allan murders. A retired police detective named John Cameron is looking into whether he murdered two teenage sweethearts in Montana in 1957. And a website called True Crime Diary is speculating that Edwards could also be the Zodiac Killer, the infamous California murderer who mocked investigators during a still-unsolved killing spree in the 1960s.
But Stanford is the first to write a comprehensive analysis of the flaws in the cases against Jorgenson and Brom. He also documents Edwards' life of crime and suspicious activities in Portland around the time of the murders.
More than that, 'The Peyton-Allan Files' is also a remarkable look at Portland in the 1960s. In many ways, the killings marked the city's loss of innocence. Stanford weaves through the multiple layers of the city's life in those days, from Peyton's upper middle class background to the aimless toughs who roamed downtown streets and rural back roads. He shows how such disparate groups intersected in the murder investigation, which had to sort its way through a surprisingly large number of potential suspects and competing theories.
'The Peyton-Allan Files' is in local bookstores now. It is also available online at www.ptownbooks.com.
The Tribune spoke with Stanford about his new book.
Tribune: People ask me all the time what you've been doing since leaving the Portland Tribune. How are you keeping busy?
Stanford: For a while I was doing a lot of investigative work for lawyers, mostly on criminal cases. Once I started writing on 'The Peyton-Allan Files,' though, back in February, that's what I've been doing full-time. And more lately, of course, getting the book in shape for the printer. I'm publishing 'The Peyton-Allan Files' myself under the name 'ptown books.' I'll also be re-releasing (my previous book) Portland Confidential, which I recently got the rights to. The third book in the trilogy, 'Rose City Vice,' should be out late next year. It's about the '70s.
Tribune: How did you first get interested in the Peyton-Allan case?
Stanford: As interested as I am in poking around in the darker regions of Portland history, the truth is that sooner or later I was going to write something about the Peyton-Allan case. Somehow, it's just one of those events that grabs the public attention - and now, even 50 years later, won't let go. I think it's safe to say it's the most sensational murder case in Portland history. Plus, as I discovered as I got into it, there were, and are, a whole lot of unanswered questions about who really committed the crime.
Tribune: What kind of research did you do? Were you able to obtain any records or talk to any of the people who were involved in the case?
Stanford: I've tried to tell the story as a real-life whodunit, and in fact a lot of my information comes straight from the investigative files of the detectives who worked the case. I got lucky. I got a tip about a guy who was trying to peddle a set of the Peyton-Allan files on the Internet. Years ago, a private detective who worked on the case had left several boxes of Peyton-Allan files in his parents' attic. The parents had died, and he was trying to find a buyer. So we worked out a deal.
I also relied a lot on newspaper accounts of the time. The Peyton-Allan case was front-page news in Portland for a decade. And, of course, I also interviewed all the participants I could find who were still alive. A lot of them aren't. But some of those I talked to were extremely helpful in figuring out what actually happened.
Tribune: What would you like to see happen with the case now?
Stanford: If they're interested in finding out who committed the murders, the DA's office should reopen the investigation. I think that's pretty clear. Based on what I've seen, though, I wouldn't bet on that happening.
An excerpt from 'The Peyton-Allan Files' by Phil Stanford:
Two Multnomah County sheriff's deputies, trolling the remote Forest Park area for stolen cars, found Larry Peyton the next evening at 9:32 p.m., slumped in the front seat of his '49 Ford. Stabbed 23 times. A portion of his skull, about the size of an egg, caved in.
Judging by the mud on his face and on the side of his car, he'd fought with the killer, or killers, outside the car before crawling back inside to die. There's a pool of blood in the roadway several feet from the car. Blood inside the car.
There's a bullet hole through the windshield, just a few inches above the dash on the passenger's side, and oddly enough, a small pen knife resting on the hood of the car. Another oddity: a black wool men's sock lying in the roadway about eight feet from the driver's door. On the road behind the car, a foot-and-a-half length of green nylon cord.
He's wearing jeans and a T-shirt. He must have lost his shoes during the fight. His bloody dress shirt is on the front seat. Officers at the scene theorize he must have taken it off after crawling back into the car, perhaps in an attempt to stop the blood.
When they retrieve his billfold from the right rear pocket, they find $3.85 and a driver's license identifying him - as if they hadn't already figured it out - as the young man who, along with his girlfriend, had been reported missing that afternoon by the boy's worried parents.
And that being the case, where is Beverly Allan? Her glasses, one lens smashed, are on the ground outside her car. Her blood-splattered jacket is on the front seat, a torn piece of her blouse under her boyfriend's body. Her handbag, with a red wallet containing $11.21, is on the floorboard. One thing's for sure, this isn't a robbery.