Notorious Portland criminals examined, exposed in new JD Chandler book
Portland author JD Chandler has been obsessed with crime — as a topic — for nearly three decades, since the death of a friend motivated him to search out details of such heinous incidents.
He has written five books on local crime history, the latest due out Monday, Feb. 22, "Portland Rogues Gallery: A Baker's Dozen Arresting Criminals from Portland History" ($24.99, Fonthill Media). It tells the story of 13 notorious criminals, accompanied by their mug shots. Early criminal portraits were held in what police called the Rogues Gallery.
Since 1996, Chandler has been gathering information on murders and mysterious deaths in Oregon, most of them in Portland. He has information on 5,000 crimes in a database, which serves as the basis of his books, blogs and podcasts.
His podcast, Murder By Experts, can be found here.
"Portland Rogues Gallery" subjects include Portland's first police chief, James Lappeus, and Sen. John Mitchell, as well as Tom Johnson, the notorious Black vice-king of Portland; career criminals Dutch Pete Stroff, who ran a regional crime empire and Little Dutch Herman, who ran a murder-for-hire ring from his nightclub, The Wigwam; Carrie Bradley, a Portland woman of the 19th century; Douglas Franklin Wright, a mob enforcer who turned into a serial killer; and Alvin Bud Brown, Portland's forgotten serial killer.
"All of them lived in Portland and left their bloody mark on the city," the book's promotions states.
He even writes about Willie Nelson, the famous country musician who lived in the Portland area and worked at a radio station.
The Tribune caught up with Chandler, who turns 60 on Feb. 17 and who kindly penned some answers to some probing questions about his new book and work as a documenter of bad people:
Tribune: Tell me what started your interest in crime.
Chandler: The murder of a close friend (Seattle cab driver James Lee, in 1991) got me interested in the impact murder has on individuals and the community. When I moved back to Portland in 1996, I had an experience in a downtown hotel that made me interested to find out what happened there — I tell all about it in my Slabtown Chronicle post, "Don't Look Too Close." I write about Portland because it's where I live and it's my favorite city.
Tribune: You've written several books about Portland crime, what fascinates you about our city's sordid past, and how does our city rank in the history of crime compared to the likes of Los Angeles, New York and Chicago?
Chandler: Portland is a small city with a fairly low crime rate. That makes it a good city for studying crime, because the amount of information is not overwhelming. Portland has always had a well-earned reputation as a tough and violent town. Portland's history provides a good window into the course of urban development in the Old West as well as a manageable and interesting look at the history of urban violence in America.
Tribune: Police mug shots reveal character, or at least stamp an image on a character. They often are the lens through understanding an individual. Your thoughts?
Chandler: They are fascinating to look at because they give us a chance to see people with all their defenses down. Because it's impossible to maintain any pretense when the police take your mug shot, it gives us a raw look at a human being.
Tribune: Of all the subjects you address in your book, which ones do you find really intriguing? Which ones do Portlanders need to know more about to understand crime in or evolution of our city?
Chandler: Tom Johnson, Portland's Black vice-king from 1920-64, was an important figure in the city's history and very little is known about him. I gathered everything that has been written about him and did a genealogical search and I traveled to the National Archive to read a 1932 report on a Prohibition department investigation on Johnson's operation in Portland.
That report answered a lot of questions for me — explaining the violence that occurred in 1932 as Bobby Evans tried to take over Johnson's downtown operation, verifying that Johnson had a narcotics operation, which he always denied, and gave me a glimpse into his organization and some of the people involved.
Johnson also was an important supporter of the civil rights movement and Portland's black community. Tom Johnson has been a legendary figure for my entire life, and the more I learned about him and his operation, the more I came to respect and admire him.
Tribune: A police chief and senator were criminals? What got them in trouble?
Chandler: James Lappeus, Portland's first police chief (starting in 1870, after being town marshal), was a saloon owner (and gambler) who was accused of many crimes in his life and had a controversial career. I wanted to get to the bottom of the rumors that have swirled around him for years. I managed to gather a great deal of information about Lappeus' life and to the best of my ability I tell what's real and what's not.
Sen. John Mitchell (who served three times from 1873-1905) is a similar figure. As a sitting senator he was convicted of bribery and sentenced to a year in jail, but his more serious crimes involved election tampering.
In studying the lives and crimes of these two men, who left their indelible mark on Portland, we can learn a lot about the role of the police and elected officials in the stormy process of self-government. Personally, I think the chapters on Lappeus, Mitchell and Larry Sullivan (who purportedly was a con artist and shanghai man) have a lot to teach us about the city we live in today.
Tribune: Can you describe your next project?
Chandler: It will expand my study of murder to the whole state. I became interested in a murder that occurred in Pendleton in 1920, and I am convinced it was a power move by the Portland syndicate.
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