Friday, August 10, 2012

Daniel McCumber

Chained
“Help us! Somebody help us!” screamed the two teenage girls repeatedly, their voices reverberating through the towering Douglas firs of the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. But there were no replies as darkness closed upon the two helpless girls, chained and padlocked securely to one of the trees, their hands lashed behind their backs with rope. Consider­ing the situation they were in, neither girl could possibly have any idea of how or when their rescue might occur or, for that matter, if it would occur at all.
For all they knew, they could die from exposure or starvation before anyone wandered into these remote woods, some 40 miles northeast of their home in Vancouver, Washington. Sadder still was the fact that neither girl knew what had become of the little 9-month-old baby they had been taking care of at the time of their abduction. Its fate was now in the hands of their seemingly merci­less abductor.
As the last rays of sunlight began to disappear from the western sky, it was inevitable that the horrifying thoughts already present in the girls’ minds would sharply intensify with the com­ing darkness. They didn’t know if their attacker would return to rape them once again and then finish them off to keep them from talking, but it was a possibil­ity that both girls had considered.
What if he brought friends back with him? Hopefully, their attacker would be too frightened to return after what he had done to them earlier that day. What if they became the prey of some hungry wild animal? A horrifying thought, but they’d already been the prey of a wild human in his hunger for sex.
Although it was midsummer and the days exceptionally hot, by contrast the, night forest air was cold. Bugs were everywhere, crawling up the girls’ legs, over their arms and necks, and inside their shirts. And in their bound posi­tions, the girls couldn’t brush them off. They simply had to grit their teeth and tolerate them as best as they could.
Making things even more miserable for the victims were the swarms of mos­quitoes. They attacked the two girls re­peatedly, showing no mercy in their search for the warm blood that was their sustenance. It would be a long, agoniz­ing night for the teenagers. They were miles from the nearest town, and they knew their only hope was that some­body would simply have to discover them by chance. But who would wander into such a remote location? And when?
In the meantime, Father Ralph Stephens, a Roman Catholic priest of the Downtown Chapel in Portland, had reported that he’d received a mysterious call from a man at approximately 6:30 p.m.
“Can I trust you?” the unidentified man had asked the priest. He then told Father Stephens that he was feeling guilty, that he had picked up two female hitchhikers who asked him to drive them to the town of Battle Ground.
They had a baby with them, the man told the priest, which they asked him to watch while they looked for a job. The unidentified man said that he grew im­patient after waiting for over an hour for the girls to return, and finally took the baby into the post office and left.
Due to the suspicious nature of the phone call, Father Stephens called the police in Battle Ground. He was in­formed that a woman had discovered a baby crawling on the sidewalk outside the post office. There was no sign of the two girls who had been babysitting the infant, but the child was returned to its parents.
By mid-evening, the parents of 15-­year-old Mardee Hicks and 16-year-old Ruth Ann Wilkerson, the babysitters of the infant found crawling on the sidewalk in Battle Ground, had become frantic after being notified of the events surrounding the abandoned baby. Neither girl had called home, nor had either been seen. Battle Ground police were already aware of the mys­terious circumstances, and as a result were on the lookout for the missing girls. But the parents of the two pretty teenagers decided to notify the Van­couver Police Department and the Clark County Sheriff’s Office just in case something suspicious was reported locally. As the night wore on, however, none of the police agencies obtained any tips on the girls’ whereabouts, and had nothing significant to report to the wor­ried parents.
Meanwhile, back in the remote sec­tion of the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, the two girls screamed through­out most of the night, since sleep was impossible. By the time dawn began to break, both were hoarse and it was pain­ful for them to continue screaming, not to mention pointless. They decided it would be wise to wait until they heard something or someone before resuming their agonized pleas for help.
It was shortly past noon on July 19, 1981, when the two helpless girls en­tered the second day of their terrible predicament. Both fearfully dreaded the probability that they would have to spend another night in the dark forest. Their lips and mouths were now parched and beginning to crack from lack of water and their stomachs ached from hunger pangs.
Except for the sounds of their own choked voices exchanging conversation to help quell their fear of death and the unknown, it was dreadfully quiet on this Sunday afternoon. Nearby Mount St. Helens smoldered silently, its de­capitated form hidden from the girls’ view by the tall trees. But they knew the volcano was there, for they were on the outer perimeter of the prohibited “red zone.” They also knew that an eruption equal to the blast of May 18, 1980 could prove fatal to them. But at the moment, the mountain was the least of their wor­ries. Or was it?
Suddenly they heard a sound, a rumbling in the distance. Was it the mountain? They hoped not, for they could choke to death from the ash fall­out. Was it thunder they heard? It couldn’t be, they reasoned, for there wasn’t a cloud in the sky.
As the two girls listened intently the sound grew louder, increasing in intensity with each passing second. Sud­denly, the girls realized it was the sound of a car or a truck on a nearby gravel road.
Although it was now painful to do so, the two teenagers began to scream again and again. But would the driver of the vehicle stop? Would he even be able to hear their screams over the sound of his automobile traveling across rocks and gravel? All they could do was scream, and hope and pray that they would be rescued.
They screamed, and listened. Again. Repeatedly.
And finally, when the rumbling of the moving vehicle ceased and the sound of its running engine could clearly be heard, Mardee and Ruth Ann realized that the driver had stopped. Soon the engine went quiet, and the girls heard the slamming of a car door.
“Help us, please help us! We’re over here,” they screamed, hoping they we­ren’t calling out to their attacker, but realizing they had little choice if they wanted to be rescued. But when they listened, they could the voices of several people echoing through the forest. They knew now that they would be saved.
“We can hear you,” called out a man’s voice. “Keep yelling until we find you,” he said. The man’s name was Jake Adamson, and he had brought his wife and two children to this part of the forest to look for a picnic spot and a place to pick wild berries.
As Adamson and his 13-year-old son threaded through the trees and the dense brush, he continued calling out to the girls. The teenagers’ voices became louder and clearer, and within six or seven minutes Adamson and his son reached the scene. The father and son could barely believe their eyes.
There were two barefoot girls sitting on the ground, their hands tied tightly behind their backs. They were held sec­urely in place by chains that had been wrapped around their necks and pad­locked between two trees. The girls were covered with mosquito bites, their eyes blazing red from lack of sleep. The smell of urine was quite strong.
The two had severe blisters around their wrists and their hands were swol­len and blue. Adamson freed their hands immediately, but had to send his son back to his truck for wire cutters. Ten minutes later, Adamson had the chains and roped removed from around the girls’ necks and torsos; at last they were free.
Adamson immediately drove the two girls to the Clark County Sheriff’s De­partment, where they told the story of their two-day ordeal to Deputy Linda Talbot, a story that would ultimately shock and enrage residents from Amboy, Washington to Hillsboro, Ore­gon.
According to the teenagers, they had been babysitting an infant on Saturday, July 18th, when they went to Leverich Park in Vancouver, accompanied by the baby. They had learned of a possible part-time summer job installing storm windows, they said, from a man who called himself Dan.
Posing as a recruiter for the storm-window company, the girls told Deputy Talbot, the good-looking, bespectacled man of average height asked the girls to accompany him to a meeting about working for the storm window company. But, before they knew it, they were in a remote area of the Gifford Pinchot Na­tional Forest northeast of Vancouver.
According to the girls, the man or­dered them at gunpoint to strip of all their clothes and chain each other to two trees. They were then raped and sodomized by their abductor. Over a period of three to four hours, the girls explained, they were forced to perform a wide range of sexual activities with the man, as well as with themselves as he looked on. During the entire ordeal, the 9-month-old baby slept nearby on a pile of one of the girl’s clothes.
When he was finished with them, the girls said, he allowed them to put their clothes back on, then bound their hands behind their backs with rope and stuffed their socks inside their mouths. After making sure the chains were securely in place around their necks, they said, he then took the baby and left, firing a single gunshot when he was out of their sight, with neither girl knowing whether or not he had shot the baby. They managed to work the socks out of their mouths shortly after the rapist had fled, and then began screaming for help.
Much to their relief, the girls were told that a baby had been found crawl­ing on the sidewalk outside a downtown Battle Ground post office, and that the infant had, in fact, been confirmed as the one that the girls babysat. The girls then consented to an examination.
Lying flat on her back in a doctor’s examining room in Vancouver Memo­rial Hospital, her feet placed firmly in the examining table’s stirrups, the younger girl shivered and sobbed as the doctor removed semen samples from her vagina, to be used as evidence that she had been subjected to recent sexual intercourse. The samples were given to Ken McDermott, who is with the Washington State Police Crime Labs. He quickly corroborated the doctor’s findings of recent intercourse.
After the examinations, Deputy Tal­bot and the girls studied a huge map of Clark County. Using landmarks that Mardee and Ruth Ann remembered, Talbot and the two young victims made their way back to the wooded area.
Once there, the girls showed Talbot where their abductor had parked, but the ground was too dry for the accom­panying crime-lab technicians to obtain usable tire impressions. However, a police photographer filmed the entire area and, realizing that the criminal had been thorough in eliminating evi­dence, the lawmen knew that little else could be done at the crime site.
Back at the sheriff’s office, the two girls agreed to be put under hypnosis with the hope they would be able to pro­vide much greater detail of the events that transpired during the last 30 hours.
The two teenagers were relaxed, and told the investigators as much about the man who abducted them as they could. They said he had brown hair, wore metal-framed glasses, was slender and of average height, and appeared to be 30 to 35 years of age, although he had somewhat of a “baby face.” Little could be remembered about the man’s car, only that it was no more than a few years old. The girls told the police the man’s name was Dan, and his last name started with Mc. They had trouble de­ciding if it was McCormick, McDaniel, or McCumber. The teenagers finally de­cided that it was McCumber, and he had told them he was from Hillsboro, Ore­gon. Although the details were sketchy, sleuths at least had a name and a locale to investigate.
A short time later, the girls sat down with a policeman who began working up a composite picture of the suspect based on the facial details the pair could remember. He used an “identi-kit,” allow­ing the victims to choose from hundreds of noses, eyes, and facial structures. The best that they could hope for with this method was a distorted likeness of the suspect, and since the girls couldn’t find his photo in the hundreds of mug shots they looked at, a distorted likeness was better than none at all.
Concentrating their efforts in Hill­sboro, Oregon, with the Help and coop­eration of the Hillsboro Police Depart­ment and the Department of Motor Veh­icles, authorities in Vancouver came up with a number of possible suspects and began the tedious process of elimina­tion.
Only four days after the terrifying ordeal of the two Vancouver girls, police began to zero in on Daniel Charles McCumber as a possible suspect based on details given to them by the victims. The 34-year-old resident of Cornelius, Oregon, had no prior criminal record; nonetheless, the cops wanted him for questioning. Checking him out still further, the cops soon learned that he was a science teacher at J.B. Thomas Junior High School in Hillsboro.
It wasn’t long before authorities had obtained a photo of McCumber, and the two teenage victims unhesitatingly selected his picture from several others that had been placed in a photo lay down.
Police went to McCumber’s home armed with search-and-arrest war­rants, but he was nowhere to be found. Informing his wife that her husband had been charged with two counts of attempted murder, two counts of first-degree kidnapping, two counts of first-degree rape, and one count of indecent liberties, the lawmen finally learned that McCumber was in California.
Pressing Mrs. McCumber further, de­tectives learned that McCumber had contacted her several times but wouldn’t tell her where in California he was.
In a search of the McCumber home, authorities recovered a 9-mm semi­automatic pistol they believed to be connected with the case. But they hit a snag when Frank Lee, a firearms expert with the Washington State Police Crime Labs in Seattle, said that he could not determine if the gun in ques­tion had been fired in July. Lee said that when he examined the gun its barrel was filled with lint, an indication that the weapon had not been fired for some time.
Police authorities soon set up ’round- the-clock surveillance of McCumber’s residence in case he tried to return there in the dead of the night. But he didn’t, and after a couple of weeks the surveil­lance teams were called off. In the meantime, California authorities had been notified, but Clark County cops doubted that they could be of much help, since nobody seemed to know where in California McCumber was.
Two months passed, and still there was no sign of Daniel McCumber. Leads were checked and re-checked, and every known person that McCumber knew was questioned, all to no avail. It seemed as if he had simply disappeared from the face of the earth.
Then, quite suddenly and unexpec­tedly, McCumber surfaced at the Van­couver Police Department on Sep­tember 17th where he surrendered to authorities. He told them details of what had happened on July 18th, de­tails that were radically different from those reported by the victims.
At his arraignment, McCumber pleaded innocent to all of the charges leveled against him. He learned that, if convicted, he could receive sentences of 20 years to life imprisonment on each charge of kidnapping, rape, and attemp­ted murder.
Held in custody since his arrest, McCumber was brought to trial on January 26, 1982, in the packed cour­troom of Superior Court Judge J. Dean Morgan. It would be one of the most dramatic trials to hit this southwestern Washington Community in years.
Mardee Hicks and Ruth Ann Wilker­son, the alleged victims, were sitting in the front row. Also in attendance in the courtroom were McCumber’s wife and year-old baby boy, as well as McCumber’s parents.
In his opening statements, Clark County Prosecutor Art Curtis told the jury that he would prove beyond any reasonable doubt that Daniel Charles McCumber kidnapped the two teenage Vancouver girls on July 18, 1981, his wife’s birthday, and forced them at gun­point to perform a variety of sexual acts for three or four hours, then left them chained, bound, and gagged to die in a remote area north of Vancouver.
“It was a day in their lives they will never forget,” said Prosecutor Curtis. “By the grace of God, picnickers found the girls over twenty hours later.”
When Ruth Ann Wilkerson took the witness stand, the now-17-year-old girl described the sexual acts in a voice that was barely audible to the spectators, judge and jury.
“It lasted about three hours or so,” she said, referring to the sexual acts. “He told us to call him Master, or Sir, and we were crying most of the time. That night it was cold, and we screamed most of the night as bugs crawled all over us,” she testified.
Photographs of the girl’s hands, swol­len and blue as a result of being bound behind her back for over 20 hours were admitted into evidence. Also admitted as evidence was a gun, two sets of chains, two padlocks, a briefcase, two knapsacks, several pieces of rope, and the clothes the girls were wearing on the day of the attack.
Mardee Hicks, the younger girl, was also called as a witness, and much of her testimony repeated that of the older girl. However, although she denied tel­ling McCumber that she’d had sex at age 13, she did admit that she told him she wasn’t a virgin.
“Did Mr. McCumber know that you weren’t a virgin?” asked Defense Attor­ney Steven Crowe, as the spectators and members of the jury squirmed uneasily in their seats.
“Yes,” she answered.
“Is it fair to say he was not nervous and upset until after he had sex with you?” asked Crowe
“Yes,” replied the girl.
Prior to calling the former seventh- grade science teacher to the stand to testify on his own behalf, Crowe urged the jury to keep an open mind.
“Mr. McCumber is the only other per­son who has any immediate knowledge of the events of July eighteenth,” ar­gued Crowe. “We know what we’ve heard is shocking. But what would be more shocking would be to convict Mr. McCumber of something he didn’t do.”
According to McCumber, who was on the stand for more than four hours, the girls asked to go with him in his quest for potential campsites for him and his family. When they arrived at a secluded area northeast of Vancouver, they de­cided to stop for a picnic. According to the defendant, it was then that the youngest girl started some “horseplay.”
“She was throwing leaves and twigs at me,” McCumber testified. “And I then started throwing them back. It be­came something of a wrestling match, and I allowed her to pin me to the ground. She was threatening to stuff leaves inside my shirt. I said, ‘Don’t do that.’ And she said, ‘But I like to do it.”‘ McCumber then told the court that the other girl decided to take the baby and go for a walk. “The wrestling then be­came more involved,” he said.
“Did you have sex with her?” asked Crowe.
“Yes, I did,” answered the defendant. “We had just finished dressing when the older girl returned. I was somewhat withdrawn. I wasn’t feeling too proud of what happened. It’s not part of my mari­tal history,” he said. “I avoided eye con­tact. When she came back she sat down. She opened up a Pepsi, and asked if we had a good time.”
If McCumber was telling the truth, one spectator wondered, could the 16-­year-old have been watching as McCumber and the 15-year-old engaged in sex?
“And the fifteen-year-old said,” con­tinued McCumber, “yeah, we had a good time. We had a real good time, didn’t we, Dan?” McCumber then told the court that the girls told him they could “forget the whole thing for a price.” He said they demanded $1,000 each, or they would say he raped them.
“I didn’t have a thousand dollars, let alone two thousand,” McCumber tes­tified. “I felt ashamed. I felt like I had done some wrong things and I felt very, very threatened.”
“I had a concept of containment,” McCumber continued. “I had a problem I didn’t know how to deal with. If I could contain the problem, then I could neutralize the extortion threat. I had the concept of being able to bargain.”
He then told the shocked spectators how he went into the woods with one of the knapsacks, took out a toy gun and returned, pointing it into the air and ordering the girls to shut their eyes.
“They were startled, dumbfounded,” McCumber said. “I repeated the com­mand, and they complied.” He then said he tied the two girls to two trees, al­though he didn’t remember precisely how he tied them. At this point in the trial, McCumber’s wife of nine years rushed out of the courtroom.
As McCumber continued his tes­timony, he said he took the crying baby to his car, and then returned to the girls a short time later to wipe his fingerprints off the padlocks.
McCumber testified that he did not intend for the two girls to die, further stating that he called a woman about them and asked the woman to call the police. McCumber told the stunned jury that he “made a deal” with the girls after he tied them to the trees. He said they then promised not to blackmail him, and he likewise promised to have someone come to their rescue. But Pro­secutor Curtis contended that McCumber intended for the girls to die so they couldn’t talk about what had happened.
Under cross-examination by Curtis, McCumber testified that the two girls originally got into his car with him be­cause he had agreed to give them a ride to Battle Ground. He said they told him they wanted to “meet some guys” at the Harvest Day festival.
“Mr. McCumber, when was the last time you saw two teenaged girls try to pick up some guys while holding a nine-month-old baby?” Curtis asked sarcastically. But there was no reply, and the defendant was not required to answer. Curtis then asked McCumber how long the sexual activity with the younger girl had lasted. McCumber told him about 30 minutes.
“And the sixteen-year-old was taking a walk during that time?” asked Curtis.
“I have a question about that,” McCumber said with a frown on his face.
“Well, so do I,” remarked Prosecutor Curtis.
“I’ve never forced anyone to have any kind of sex with me in my life. The girls lied about the rapes,” said the defen­dant. He went on to say that he merely panicked when the girls threatened him with blackmail.
“They made it up, right?” asked Cur­tis.
“Yes, sir,” replied McCumber. “Pretty elaborate plan, huh?”
“Yes, sir,” McCumber repeated.
“So you opened your trunk and there were your trusty chains and locks,” suggested Curtis sarcastically. He then proposed the idea that once McCumber had them bound, chained, and locked, and had obtained their word that they wouldn’t blackmail him, he could have released the girls.
“That would have been good think­ing,” McCumber agreed.
“Too bad you didn’t have me along,” taunted Curtis. “Did you forget to let them go?”
“I didn’t forget to let them go,” replied McCumber. “I never thought of that. I wish I had.”
“Ropes weren’t enough?” asked Cur­tis. “Chains weren’t enough? You had to tie their hands behind their backs?”
“I don’t remember,” said the defen­dant. “If that’s how they were found, that’s what I did.”
The prosecutor then verbally at­tacked McCumber for destroying evi­dence that the defendant insisted could have corroborated his story. McCumber admitted that he destroyed a sheet and a blanket, as well as several lists of names and the toy gun he had used to threaten the girls. But he could not exp­lain why he destroyed evidence that was so vital to his case.
“I didn’t believe there was any way I could prove my innocence,” McCumber explained. According to McCumber, he fled to California with the intention to earn enough money for a defense attorney when he returned to give him­self up. He said he didn’t want a court-appointed attorney out of fear that he would be assigned a “rookie.”
In his defense, McCumber claimed he made a telephone call to a number in Vancouver that he had picked at ran­dom following the ordeal with the girls. When a woman answered, he said, he asked her if she believed in God. When she told him that she did, he claimed to have told the woman where the girls were located, and asked her to contact the authorities. However, he could not recall the number he dialed, and did not ask the woman her name. The authorities were never contacted, except by the priest who was concerned about the safety of the baby. The priest had had no knowledge of the two teena­gers until reading about them in the newspapers.
Toward the end of his trial, McCumber’s wife was called to the wit­ness stand. She testified that the gun the state contended was used by her husband against the two girls was in their house on the day in question.
“Are you standing by your husband?” asked Curtis.
“Yes,” she replied. “Our marriage has been a good one, and we have been close.”
“Are you close now?” asked the pro­secution.
“In many respects, yes,” she replied, breaking down only briefly during her testimony.
Defense Attorney Steven Crowe made his closing statements to the jury, admitting that his client did a “stupid thing” when he tied up the girls and left them in the forest.
“But,” he said, “the question is not whether what he did was stupid or dumb, but if he wanted further harm to come to them. He didn’t intend any­thing further to happen.”
The eight women and four men of the jury were then charged with their obli­gations by Judge Morgan, who took about 45 minutes to read them their instructions.
After 19 hours of deliberation, the jury found Daniel McCumber guilty of all seven charges against him: two counts of attempted murder, two counts of first-degree kidnapping, two counts of first-degree rape, and one count of inde­cent liberties.
McCumber showed no emotion, sit­ting quietly as the verdict was read. His father cried and dashed out of the cour­troom, followed by McCumber’s wife and their baby boy. When his wife and son returned, McCumber looked back at them repeatedly as a deputy escorted him out of the courtroom. He stopped and looked at them every few feet, as if he would never see his family again.
“I think the verdict was consistent with the only reasonable interpretation of the law that could be made,” said Pro­secutor Curtis. When the victims were asked about their reactions to the ver­dicts, they merely smiled and walked out of the courtroom.
Later, at McCumber’s sentencing, the case took an unusual turn when Pro­secutor Curtis contended that McCumber was planning a jailbreak. Curtis produced a diagram of the Clark County Jail found inside McCumber’s cell, and strips of bed sheets that Curtis said were found inside McCumber’s socks.
According to Curtis, an informant re­ported that a string made from the strips of bed sheets was to be dangled from McCumber’s cell window, and that an accomplice outside would tie a file into the string. McCumber denied the jailbreak plan, stating his cellmate had framed him. He explained that the socks and strips of sheet were to be used to make a doll for his son.
Additionally, Prosecutor Curtis urged that McCumber be sentenced to four consecutive life terms. “The girls probably would not be alive except for a minor miracle,” he said. “Thank God they were found before they died of ex­posure in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest.”
On Tuesday, April 6, 1982, Daniel Charles McCumber was sentenced to two life terms for the attempted murder of the two Vancouver girls. In addition, he was sentenced to serve two 25-year prison terms for raping the girls, and a 10-year term for the indecent liberties conviction. Judge Morgan ordered the two life sentences to run consecutively, the two 25-year sentences to run con­secutively, and the 10-year sentence to run concurrently with the 25-year sen­tences. Morgan also ordered an overall parole, although actual time served will be determined by the parole board.
“The sexual aspects of this case are ugly and aggravated,” declared Judge Morgan. “There is a high degree of un­predictability in the case, and there are no assurances it will not happen again.” McCumber then spoke briefly.
“I’d like to say that before or since July eighteenth, I never did anything malicious,” said McCumber. “I’d like to say that from my perspective, the only reason for my existence is to be a hus­band for my wife and a father for my son.”
Editor’s Note:
Mardee Hicks, Ruth Ann Wilker­son, Jake Adamson, Steven Crowe, and Father Ralph are not the real names of the persons so named in the foregoing story. Fictitious names have been used because there is no reason for public interest in the iden­tities of these persons.

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