Friday, August 10, 2012

David Hart

Willamette Valley
The trouble occurred in Eddyvil­le, Oregon, a town with an offi­cial population of about 30 persons, although thousands actually live in the surrounding rural area and in nearby Toledo, the largest town for several miles in any direction, located about 20 miles west of Eddyville.
Eddyville proper sits on a curve along U.S. 20 about halfway between Corval­lis, located in the Willamette Valley, and Newport, which is on the Oregon Coast. Nearly all day, every day of the week, log trucks and cargo transport trucks come thundering down the highway past the front porches of the residents, and thus making outdoors conversa­tion often difficult, sometimes even im­possible. But most of the residents are accustomed to this annoyance, and they pace their talk between trucks, some even making a game out of it. The com­munity consists mainly of simple folk, and its economy is supported primarily by an alder plywood mill, a school, a church, a post office, and, of course, the Little Elk Store.
The Little Elk Store, owned and oper­ated by 49-year-old Dorothy Biggs for several years until her violent and un­timely death, is not located in Eddyville proper. It is actually located three miles east of the town, along the busy high­way, and caters to the many truck drivers and ordinary motorists who pass through the area on their way to or from the coast, while serving the needs of the locals as well.
On Friday, August 3, 1984, Dorothy got up at her usual time, which was be­fore six and always early enough to open the store for business as usual. She turned on the window beverage display lights as well as the overhead ceiling lights, turned the CLOSED sign around so that it read OPEN, and readied the cash register till by placing coins and currency in the ap­propriate compartments. Fridays were often busy, so she also had a family mem­ber help her put additional stock on the refrigerator racks and the aisle shelves.
Located adjacent to a large gravel parking area, the wooden frame store had a freezer out front as well as a public telephone and a newspaper stand. There was also a public bulletin board where anyone could place whatever message they wished, provided it was in good taste. One such message was one in Dorothy Biggs’ own handwriting, affixed near the door. An avid cat lover, the note read: If you don’t want your cats, leave them here.” Nearby a proud cat licked her paws and began smoothing out her nap time wrinkles, and next to her play­ing in the warm sunshine were four kit­tens whose motorized purrs grew louder as they watched Dorothy bring them their morning meal.
The month was August so it was natu­rally going to be hot, with temperatures nearly breaking 100 in the shade by mid-afternoon, or so the weatherman had said. As the early morning sun blazed, Dorothy worked fast to get the store ready while the morning was still reasonably cool.
By midday the intenseness of the sun’s rays had sharply increased, only occa­sionally diminished by a slight easterly breeze that blew in off the Pacific. Some relief could be found for those wishing to venture into the nearby woods, which Dorothy did occasionally. In the woods, one could cool off in the freshness of a running stream. On this particular day the happy voices of several children could be heard echoing through the for­est, as could the joyous sounds of their splashing in the running water, totally unaware of the horrible reality of murder being committed not far from the spot where they played. For others, relief could be found by having a soft drink or a cold beer bought at the store and drank there or on their front porches.
Some, however, chose both the cold drink and the brook, and virtually no one in town knew what horrible thing had happened to Dorothy.
She took a lot of pride in her store and enjoyed friendly conversation with her customers and friends. Although Doro­thy was generally in charge of running the store, it was not unusual for her to have one of her family members fill in for her while she ran errands, visited friends, or when she had to work at an­other part-time job she held as a regis­tered nurse at a Toledo, Oregon hospital and health-care center. So when her ab­sence from the store was eventually no­ticed on this particular Friday, no one really paid it much thought. They merely thought she had gone to work at her “other job” or had perhaps gone shop­ping in Toledo.
By mid-afternoon, however, a female family member began looking for Doro­thy. The family member hadn’t seen her for at least a couple of hours, and the fact that others, particularly friends and cus­tomers, had been asking questions re­garding her present whereabouts kin- died the caring relative’s curiosity.
The relative checked the apartment above the store where Dorothy lived with her family, but quickly found that she wasn’t there. The relative then asked other family members if they’d seen her, and was told that they hadn’t. She finally checked to see if Dorothy’s car was parked out back of the store only to dis­cover that it wasn’t, prompting her to conclude that Dorothy had likely gone on an errand or to visit a friend. She could afford to do that sort of thing, especially with all the family members to help run the store in her absence. So for the time being it was still business as usual. In fact, the day likely would have been like any other if Dorothy had returned to the store. But she didn’t, and people began to fear that she had met with foul play.
As the day wore on and Dorothy still had not returned home, dark ominous thoughts and fears continued to intensify as the concern of one family member steadily mounted. Trying to push aside those thoughts of foul play and actually not believing them, particularly since this was such a crime-free community, the relative instead tried to convince her­self that Dorothy had been in an accident or just hadn’t notified anyone that she was going away. Letting her feelings guide her, however, the relative contact­ed the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Depart­ment to report the missing woman. One of the deputies on duty took down all the necessary information including Dorothy’s description and the type of car she was believed driving, among other things, and assured the relative he would follow up on her inquiry and report back to her as soon as possible.
It didn’t take long before they had some additional information, but it wasn’t of the type that everyone had hoped for. Later that day, according to sheriff’s department reports, a motorist driving along U.S. 20 near Kline Hill’s summit, located about 25 miles east of Newport and five miles east of the store, discovered a parked car near the top of a steep embankment. Thinking that some­one had perhaps had an accident or was sick, particularly since the car was parked at a location off the road and in an unlikely position near the embankment’s edge, the motorist stopped to see if he could help.
When the motorist walked up to the driver’s side of the car to see what was wrong, he recalled later that a sudden, inexplicable chill came over him. When he saw the blood on the driver’s face he stopped momentarily in mid-stride, cold dread clawing at his middle, and he un­derstood why he felt the way he did. Feeling slightly sick, the motorist real­ized he’d discovered a dead woman, on­ly it was clear that she was no accident victim. He hurried back to his car and drove to the nearest telephone and noti­fied the Lincoln County Sheriff’s De­partment of his grim discovery.
When the deputies received the call, they didn’t know for certain at that point if the motorist had found Dorothy Biggs’ body or not. They realized that the car fit the description of Dorothy’s car and that the body fit Dorothy’s general physical description, but they didn’t want to un­duly alarm the concerned relative until they knew for certain who and what type of case they were dealing with. For this reason the family would not be immedi­ately notified till an attempt at positive identification had been made by the in­vestigating deputies.
Waves of and heat shimmered in the distance as the deputies surveyed and photographed the crime scene, stopping occasionally only to swab their perspir­ing faces. One commented that it should have been thirty degrees cooler, but that was only wishful thinking. In spite of the weather, however, the deputies secured the crime scene while they awaited the arrival of detectives, the district attor­ney, the deputy state medical examiner, and Oregon State Police (OSP) crime labs.
As the woman’s body, described as heavyset, was photographed in the same position it was found in, the detectives captured the wild-eyed, peculiar, and re­mote look of her eyes with close up shots. They noted that her eyes had already lost their luster, likely due to the heat, and they were peculiarly bloodshot as in strangulation victims. They also captured the horror that was still frozen on her face.
The detectives also noted that traces of saliva mixed with blood had trickled down from the corner of her mouth. Her lips and cheeks were drained of color. The face, in its condition, appeared hide­ous to the detectives, almost as if it was leering in death. They observed that her hands were bloodless, and her fingers had gone dead white. These were all tell­tale signs that the victim had been dead for at least a couple of hours, a sight not unfamiliar to them in their dealings with homicide and accident victims. But per-haps the most intriguing thing the detec­tives noted was the fact that the woman’s hands and arms had been fastened under her seat belt, leaving no doubt that she had been a victim of foul play. Another oddity that played a part in their assess­ment was the woman’s attire. She was dressed in a pair of poorly fitting male trousers, and was wearing a male style pair of shoes.
Why was she dressed this way? Did she normally wear male clothing? It didn’t seem likely to them because if she had, she probably would have worn clothing that at least fit properly. Did that mean that someone else had dressed her in male clothing? If so, why? Could they possibly be dealing with a sordid sex crime of some sort? Had she perhaps been killed at a different location, perhaps while undressed, only to be subsequently dressed by her killer while acting in a panic state? Or had she been dressed that way by her killer in an attempt to confuse the investigators? Those questions, among others, troubled the detectives immensely early on in the case, and they knew they would eventually have to find reasonable answers to them. But for now they continued with their investigation of the crime scene.
One of the first questions a prober responding to a suspicious death asks himself is whether there are signs of a struggle. If there are visible signs such as pulled out hair, bloodstains, displaced items, and so forth, the course of events can usually be reconstructed fairly accu­rately. But in this case such signs were minimal at best, prompting investigators to conclude that the victim had been killed at a different location and brought to the embankment in an attempt to dis­pose of the body, likely by pushing the car over the cliff. But why hadn’t the killer been successful in his attempt to get rid of the corpse? Was he or she too weak to push the car over the embank­ment? Or had the killer been scared off by a passing motorist?
Closer, more careful observation of the victim’s body indicated that she like­ly had sustained a severe beating prior to death. The detectives didn’t move the body, but they could see numerous bruises, cuts, and abrasions over areas of her body not covered by clothing. Her hair was matted with drying blood, still sticky in the heaviest saturated areas. The palms of her hands were also blood­stained, likely from touching the injured parts of her body prior to unconscious­ness. But there were no signs of an at­tempt to escape or resist inside the car. It the victim had been conscious at the lo­cation where her body had been found. her blood-covered hands would most likely have left marks on the doors or windows.
Since the detectives were interested in identifying the victim as soon as possible because of their interest in Dorothy Biggs, they searched the pockets in a step which is usually avoided if possible until the body has been taken to the morgue. They noted that the pockets hadn’t been turned inside out (if they had been it would have indicated that some­one, such as the killer, had examined them earlier), but they were unsuccessful in their attempts to find identification documents, wallet, or other valuable ar­ticles.
Next, a police artist carefully sketched the body, showing its position relative to fixed objects inside the car. The position of the body was then described for use in their reports.
Following an examination of the body by a pathologist, who concurred with the detectives that the cause of death had likely been strangulation, the body was removed and taken to a mortuary in Newport where the autopsy would be performed. Likewise, the car was towed to a more secure, controlled environment where it would be gone over thoroughly for clues.
In the meantime one of the investi­gators was faced with the unpleasant task of informing members of Dorothy’s fam­ily that they may have found the missing woman’s body and would require at least one of them to accompany him to the morgue in an attempt to make identifi­cation.
One family member held a look that immensely disturbed the detective. He had eyes that fixed on him with an in­tense, hawk-like stare, dark eyes that were definitely not friendly. As he left for the Newport funeral home with one of the family members, the detective made a mental note about the young man’s look as well as his uneasy de­meanor.
At the funeral home in Newport, the detective led the family member into the corpse storage area, located near the au­topsy room. They walked up to the vic­tim’s body that lay on a stainless steel table, and the funeral director carefully pulled the sheet back to display only the victim’s face. The relative drew back and gasped, then began crying as she positively identified the body as that of Dorothy Biggs.
Following the definitive autopsy con­ducted early the next morning by Dr. Larry Lewman of the state Medical Ex­aminer’s office, it was positively deter­mined that Dorothy “died from being strangled,” said Lewman. Lewman told the detectives that Dorothy had sustained a variety of other injuries, primarily blows from a beating and asphyxiation damage. Lewman added that several blows to the face and head caused exten­sive bleeding, but that no breaking of the skull had occurred.
The residents of this community were shocked at the news of Dorothy’s murder. The murder angered many people, saddened others, and some felt both an­ger and sadness. Most people expressed her death as a great loss, and everyone had nothing but kind words for the slain woman.
“It was just a real devastating thing for our community,” said one long time Eddyville resident who knew the victim well. “We were all real close to Doro­thy.”
“When I took my little kids down there, she was always sticking some­thing in the bag — a banana, candy…” Said another resident and friend, “…(I) used to go to Dorothy’s five days a week to get milk and eggs or whatever,” con­tinued the resident, who explained that Dorothy was a giver. “She offered a lot to this community — she was a friend. She helped people out when they needed somewhere to stay. When we were hav­ing some hard times she’d carry our cred­it as far as the groceries, which really helped.”
“Dorothy was kind of a community person,” said a local community leader. “We have quite a spectrum of people here. There’s people whose families have been here from pioneer times, new­er people that came here just to retire, people who commute to different jobs in Toledo and even Corvallis. People have come from the counterculture, too…. We all know each other, everybody’s friend­ly. Everybody is accepted as what we are. Generally speaking, those that have been here for some time are conserva­tive; those that have been coming from the counterculture are not.”
It’s difficult to say precisely what group Dorothy Biggs belonged to, al­though many would say she fit some­where in between the conservative old-timers and the more liberal counter­culture types. She moved to the area from Portland several years earlier to try and start a new life for herself and her family and, as can be seen from their statements, most who knew her indicat­ed they liked her very much. Many en­joyed the personal warmth and friendly atmosphere she provided in the operation of her store. To her it was more than just a business; it was a way of life.
Regarded by residents as the commu­nity hub, it was actually the only store “in town,” and as such did a good amount of business.
Because of Dorothy’s giving attitude and the fact that one person said she was known to give people a place to stay when they needed it, the detectives be­gan to wonder if perhaps one of her char­ity cases had killed her.
They continued to interview the locals to try and find out who, if anyone, had stayed with Dorothy recently, and they attempted to determine whether any tran­sients had been through the area recent­ly. However, the sleuths learned that it had been some time since Dorothy last put someone up at her home, and they could find no evidence that she’d recent­ly helped a transient. During those inter­views they did, however, uncover shocking information regarding one of Dorothy’s family members, her son, 17-­year-old David Hart. The information implicated Hart in his mother’s death.
Among the things the detectives learned was that Hart had been suspected by the local residents of setting fire to a vacant house on Biggs’ property on July 6. The rumors circulating throughout the community included one that Dorothy had offered David half the insurance money if he burned the house down. The detectives also learned, from sev­eral different sources, that Hart had of­fered friends and strangers sums ranging between $5,000 and $10,000 to kill his mother in the weeks before her death! However, he had been unable to find any takers, witnesses said.
The detectives recalled that something about Hart’s demeanor bothered them when they went to the Biggs residence and told the family that Dorothy might have been a murder victim and requested a family member to accompany them to make a positive identification. They re­membered the nervousness of the young man, and his unfriendly eyes, and now they felt they knew why he looked and acted as he did. After conferring with the district attorney’s office, the detectives returned to Dorothy’s residence and ar­rested David Hart on an accusation of murder in connection with his mother’s death.
Hart went quietly with the detectives, but he didn’t talk at first. After he was booked into a juvenile facility, the detec­tives returned to the Biggs apartment with members of the OSP crime lab. While the crime lab technicians searched for evidence of a beating, primarily dried blood and tissue, the detectives contin­ued with their interviews of other family members.
Acting on a hunch, the detectives con­centrated their interrogation on one fami­ly member in particular, one they felt knew something about Dorothy’s mur­der but was unwilling to talk about, like­ly out of fear of implicating himself or because he was afraid he’d get into trou­ble for not having told the detectives earlier that he knew something. Finally, after repeated questioning the relative broke down and implicated David Hart.
According to the relative, Dorothy drank and smoked marijuana with Hart and two other relatives the day of her death. The drinking and smoking session eventually led to an argument that was primarily between Dorothy and David. At one point Dorothy purportedly told David, her youngest child, that “We’d all be better off if you were dead.” While the activities that Dorothy was supposed­ly involved in and the statement she pur­portedly made didn’t seem like the things he would do or say, the detectives couldn’t ignore the allegations. Record­ing the conversation, they pushed the relative for more details.
The relative told the sleuths that he was in the bathroom of the store when he heard a loud noise coming from the sec­ond floor apartment. A moment later he said he heard what sounded like someone falling down the stairs, followed by someone running down the stairs. When he looked out of the bathroom, the rela­tive said he saw David Hart beating and kicking Dorothy.
“I went back into the bathroom, I was scared,” said the relative. Five or ten minutes later the relative said he looked out again and saw Hart hitting and beat­ing Dorothy with a baseball bat. The relative said he went back into the bath­room, but a few minutes later the relative said Hart came to the bathroom and asked him to help load Dorothy into a car.
The detectives arrested the relative on charges of hindering prosecution for not telling them what he knew earlier and for helping the suspect load the body into a car. Following arraignment, the relative was released on his own recognizance.
In the meantime, the detectives con­fronted David Hart, armed with the eye- witness testimony from the relative as well as with physical evidence obtained by crime lab technicians from the store and apartment. As a result, Hart agreed to talk to the detectives.
In the statement he provided to detec­tives, Hart said that his mother had been “ragging at him,” and that he couldn’t take any more. He said he pushed her down a flight of stairs, and recalled beat­ing her with his fists. He said he didn’t remember beating her with a baseball bat.
“I came to with my hands around her neck,” Hart continued in his tape record­ed confession to detectives, “and, as she was taking her last five or six breaths, I just squeezed her off, killed her.” Hart was held at the Mid-Valley Detention Center, a juvenile facility in Salem.
Hart was subsequently charged with aggravated murder in the beating and strangulation death of his mother, and was remanded to adult court. He was also charged with first-degree arson in connection with the burning of his moth­er’s vacant house. He was transferred to the Lincoln County Jail in Newport where he was held in lieu of $525,000 bail. He retained Newport attorney Tho­mas 0. Branford for his defense and, in spite of the evidence which included bloody clothing and a baseball bat, an eyewitness account, and his own confes­sion, Hart pleaded innocent at his arraignment.
“He was just a typical teenager with all the resentments of a teenager,” said one person who occasionally provided Hart with informal alcoholic counseling. “Authority was one of his big resent­ments…David wanted to be an adult so bad, looked upon as an adult…but he just didn’t want to assume the responsibili­ties of an adult.”
An official at the 225-student Eddyvil­le School, which Hart attended during seventh and eighth grades, said that Hart had a considerable amount of ability but did not use it to make achievements in school. As a result his grades suffered.
“Staff spent a lot of time trying to get him to live up to his ability,” said the school official. “In other words, he wasn’t retarded. He wasn’t a genius, but he was capable…he bottled things up quite a bit. He desperately wanted friends — he would try to buy friends with gum or candy. He was really want­ing to be accepted. He was accepted, cautiously.”
A member of the community’s non-denominational church told investi­gators that he first met David Hart four years earlier during the Christmas sea­son.
“The church was going around carol­ing, and we stopped at the store,” said the church member. “David came out and wanted to join us. He didn’t, though. The reason was that his mother was a Catholic and didn’t feel that was the thing for him to do.” However, the church member told detectives that Hart, his mother, and other family members later attended the non-denominational church “fairly regularly…I couldn’t imagine David killing his mother. I couldn’t fathom anybody around here doing that.”
“I knew the nicer side of David — the kid who carried out the groceries, always real helpful,” said another area resident.
Others however, apparently didn’t feel that way.
“I’m relieved he is out of Eddyville,” said one female resident who has lived there for 11 years. “He is not a safe boy to be around. I’m petrified he’ll come back.”
In continuing their interviews the de­tectives learned that Hart had spent the day prior to his mother’s murder fishing for blueback with a few friends his age. They had gone to the Yaquina River, just east of Toledo.
“It was the normal David telling jokes, happy as a clam,” said one friend, explaining the suspect’s demeanor the day of the outing. “He didn’t say any­thing about his mom, didn’t seem to be bothered by anything…I never saw him get mad at anybody. I think pressure built up inside of him from all the times he and his mom had fights. The only time I ever saw him drunk or stoned was at home.”
Meanwhile, in December 1984, Hart was found guilty of the first-degree arson charge, and was sentenced to five years in prison.
David Hart was obsessed with killing his mother, Lincoln County District At­torney Ulys Stapleton told the jury in his opening statement in the courtroom of Judge A.R. McMullen. Stapleton out­lined the case for the jury of two men and 10 women, and said that Hart was charged with aggravated murder after analysis of evidence, an eyewitness re­port, and the fact that authorities discov­ered the staged automobile accident. Sta­pleton said that Hart tried to dispose of his mother’s body by dressing her in a pair of his own pants and shoes, appar­ently because hers were covered in blood from the beating she sustained, after which he placed her inside her car and drove her to Kline Hill’s summit. He failed in his attempt to stage an automo­bile accident, said the district attorney, by fastening the victim’s hands and arms under her seat belt. Also, the car was not going fast enough to move off the em­bankment, said Stapleton. Stapleton said he would show that an element of torture was involved due to the prolonged beat­ing the victim sustained and the fact that Hart was aware of what he was doing.
Defense attorney Branford, on the other hand, told the jury that his client was not guilty because of “extreme emo­tional disturbance,” and added that Hart recalled beating Dorothy Biggs with his fists, but not with a baseball bat. “David Hart told the police, ‘I just remembered squeezing her off,’ ” said Branford. “He did admit beating her in the face, he did acknowledge strangling her. The evi­dence will show he was acting under extreme emotional disturbance in this killing.”
The defendant, dressed in navy blue, jail-issue clothing, showed little emotion as he listened to the testimony of detec­tives, crime lab technicians, the medical examiner, teachers, neighbors, relatives and others, including psychiatric witnesses who said Hart was emotionally disturbed at the time of the killing, dur­ing his week-long trial. He did react slightly, however, when his taped con­fession was played for the jury.
At one point in the trial, defense attor­ney Branford read portions of Hart’s files with the Children’s Services Division that went back as far as 1977 when his family was living in Portland and was investigated for suspected child abuse. Branford portrayed a troubled home and said that Hart had been abused both physically and mentally. A relative, said Branford, had been convicted in May 1983 of fourth-degree assault after threatening Hart with a knife. It was at that time that Hart left the relative’s home and moved in with his mother in Eddyville. Branford also pointed out to the jury that Dorothy Biggs allegedly offered Hart half of the insurance money if he would burn down a vacant house she owned.
“The pathetic thing here is a history of an obvious felony coming, and Mrs. Biggs’ refusal to do anything about it.” Despite recommendations from others, Branford said Biggs never sought coun­seling for the family. Branford insisted that Hart acted under extreme emotional distress, triggered by anger and passion, causing him to lose his ability to reason and control himself.
Although Stapleton conceded that Hart “did not have the best of child­hoods,” he maintained that Hart was a manipulative person who was accus­tomed to getting his own way. Stapleton added that there had been no specific incidents prior to the killing to trigger Hart’s uncontrollable temper.
Following more than five hours of de­liberations, the jury returned with a ver­dict of guilty of murder against David H. Hart. The prosecution had sought a con­viction of aggravated murder, while the defense had sought a verdict of innocent or of manslaughter.
Hart’s relative, who witnessed the beating of the victim, pleaded guilty in Lincoln County District Court on charges of hindering prosecution in the case. He was placed on five years’ pro­bation, fined $800, and was ordered to perform 200 hours of community ser­vice.
On Monday, January 28, 1985, David Hart was sentenced by Judge McMullen to life in prison. McMullen ordered Hart to begin serving the sentence after he completes a five-year term on the first-degree arson conviction. Both sen­tences will be served at the Oregon State Correctional Institution.

1 comment:

  1. A bit of creative writing....but mostley accurate. Foggy night,eyes closed,radio blarring,gas pedal weighted down,15 feet short of going over the embankment....as David was trying to present a car accident.
    signed; the motorist that found Dorthy

    ReplyDelete