Friday, August 10, 2012

Gus Turner

Gus Turner
AUGUST 16, 1982, was a beautiful summer’s day, hot with clear skies. For some people it would be an enjoyable day at one of Oregon’s ocean beaches, or a day of swimming and drinking beer along the banks and beaches of the Columbia River. For others it would be a typical, routine Monday, the start of another dreaded work week, and, if you weren’t lucky enough to work in an air-conditioned office building, the day could prove to be a miserable one. It’s difficult to say, however, what kind of a day it would have been for 22-year-old Richard Lawr­ence Martens — difficult because he didn’t live long enough to find out. Richard Martens was shot shortly before 9:00 a.m., murdered while attempting to help someone out.
Even as Martens was motorcycling down the 2700 block of East Evergreen Boulevard in Vancouver, Washington, that morning, it would be impossible for anyone, besides himself, to know what he was thinking about. One thing is cer­tain, though — he probably hadn’t counted on becoming a victim of a murderer that morning. Even as he rode west on Evergreen Boulevard at a nice, easy speed on his 350 Yamaha, Martens, had no idea what was occurring in the parking lot of the Safe Credit Union, an ironic name considering the events which transpired on that fateful Monday morning.
Dorothy Mayer had just driven into the parking lot of the credit union, where she had worked for the past year, at just a few minutes before nine. It was only when she started to get out of her car to go inside that she noticed a menacing- looking man walking north on Z Street, prompting her to stay inside her car for a few minutes to give him time to pass by. When the man was out of sight, Dorothy got out of her car to go inside. Much to her horror and dismay, however, the man had returned, seemingly out of no­where, and was standing behind her car pointing a handgun at her.
“Get back inside the car if you want to live,” the angry-looking man ordered her. But instead of doing as she was told, Dorothy turned and ran in the opposite direction, screaming and pleading for someone to help her. As the gunman approached her she stopped, turned and threw her purse into the middle of Z Street, obviously hoping that it was what the man wanted and would go after it. The man fired a shot into the ground, apparently as a warning for the woman to stop, then grabbed her purse and ran off with it.
It was about this time that Richard Martens approached the scene on his motorcycle, slowing down to see what the fuss was all about. The woman, in a panic, screamed to Martens that a man had stolen her purse. She pointed at the man, who was by now running down Eighth Street just off Z Street.
Martens wasted not a moment. He im­mediately took off in hot pursuit of the fleeing man, and in no time at all was fast approaching the gunman. When Martens reached an apartment complex, the gun­man turned in his direction and fired his weapon several times. Martens was hit and he lost control of his motorcycle, which bounced off of a curb as he fell off and landed on the ground. He had been hit in the chest, possibly several times. By the time Vancouver police arrived a few moments later, Martens was bleed­ing profusely from his nose and mouth, not to mention his chest.
Within minutes, the scene was crawl­ing with police and medical personnel, but Martens lost consciousness fast. Several futile attempts were made to re­vive the young man, all in vain. He died at just a few minutes past nine.
As additional police personnel ar­rived, including homicide detectives, the scene was quickly and carefully cor­doned off, designated as a crime site. After sadly noting that nothing could be done for the victim, Detective Sergeant Brian Wright ordered police tracking dogs into the area to try to pick up the scent of the suspect, and also ordered one of the officers to contact the coron­er’s office.
One of the tracking dogs quickly pick­ed up a scent in the credit union parking lot, presumably that of the suspect, and followed it for some distance. The dog followed the scent to an apartment com­plex, where several people reported that they had seen a man matching the sus­pect’s description. However, much to the dismay of the police, the dog lost the scent while crossing Mill Plain Boule­vard, a busy street.
Not wasting any time, the cops issued an APB for the suspect, described by Dorothy Mayer as well as other witnes­ses as a 5-foot-9-inch tall white male, 20 to 30 years of age, with brown curly hair and a slender build. He was wearing blue jeans, a light-blue jacket with rolled-up fur cuffs, a navy blue stocking cap and possibly a red sweater. He was also wearing sunglasses.
With the help of all of the witnesses, police artists were soon able to come up with a composite drawing of the suspect, which was released to newspapers in the area as well as put on the wire.
According to Detective Wright, Mrs. Mayer’s purse contained approximately $110 in cash, several department-store and major oil-company credit cards, in addition to the usual identification and keys. She did not know and had never seen the suspect before.
When Clark County Coroner Arch Hamilton arrived on the scene, he quick­ly determined that Martens died of a single gunshot wound to the chest. La­ter, after an autopsy was done, it was determined that a .38-caliber bullet had pierced his right lung.
As the investigation continued, detec­tives learned that an attempted auto theft occurred near the State and Federal Em­ployees (SAFE) Credit Union a few mi­nutes before Richard Martens intervened in the purse theft and was subsequently killed. Additionally, witnesses reported seeing a man fitting the description of the suspect at a store across the street from the credit union, also only a few minutes before the killing.
Was Dorothy Mayer the intended rob­bery victim that fateful morning? Or was the suspect planning to hold up the credit union? These were questions that the cops knew they needed answers to, answers which could ultimately help them solve the case and bring Richard Martens’ killer to justice.
After talking with credit-union per­sonnel, mainly administrators, detec­tives learned that it had been robbed a few times in the past, most recently on March 31, 1980, and that fact prompted some lawmen to theorize that the suspect might be a professional bank robber. However, when they checked the photo files of the credit union (of pictures taken of suspects during holdups) and com­pared them with the composite drawing of the man suspected of shooting Mar­tens, they quickly discovered, much to their dismay, that they couldn’t make a match. Even more disheartening was the fact that none of the credit union em­ployees had ever seen the man in the com­posite drawing before.
Later that same day, however, the probers received a lucky break in the case. It was a slim lead at best, but it was better than none at all. According to a witness who called in, a brown 1975 or 1976 Lincoln Continental had been seen across the street from the credit union the morning of the robbery and killing. According to the witness, a man match­ing the suspect’s description was seen in the car, which had Oregon license plates and a light-colored roof. Unfortunately, the witness failed to get the license number.
In the meantime, the police had the difficult job of notifying Richard Mar­tens’ next of kin. When detectives talked with Richard Martens’ relatives, they learned a lot about his background. They learned that he grew up with his family in the university town of Davis, California, and when he was a sophomore in high school his parents parted and went their separate ways. At about that same time, Richard dropped out of school and he, his father and three siblings moved to Reno, Nevada. They lived there for about a year before moving north to Ashland, Oregon and making a new home there.
According to Richard’s dad, he was a good kid, always willing to lend a help­ing hand as well as any money he had in his pocket. “That’s why he was always broke,” the parent said. “Richard was just an average boy. There were really no special qualities about him other than that he was just a good son.”
His acts of valor didn’t start in Van­couver, Washington. All through his life, Richard was known for doing good deeds for people, but never of the magni­tude of the deed he did on August 16, 1982. No one knows for sure what prompted that act of courage, but some people think it might have been spurred on by an incident that occurred while he and his family were living in Ashland.
Shortly after they moved to that south­ern Oregon community, one of his rela­tives was attacked by two men, who were never apprehended. “It really bothered him,” said the relative, who wished to remain unidentified. “He wanted to find those guys and get re­venge. He was obviously frustrated when he couldn’t help me. Maybe when he saw the lady in trouble at the credit union, he saw it as a chance to help someone else. 1 can’t help but wonder if the Ashland incident was going through his mind when he was trying to help that lady.”
“I have asked myself what was in Richard Martens’ mind that made him get involved,” said Dorothy Mayer. “What made him care enough about me, a total stranger, to risk his life for me? I know the answer. It was because of the way he was brought up, taught to care about his fellow human beings.”
“It’s a hard thing,” said Martens’ dad. “But if my boy was here right now, I’d tell him he did the right thing. Who knows what might have happened to Dorothy Mayer if he hadn’t tried to help her? I’m the proudest father in the world. Wouldn’t trade places with anyone.”
Shortly after his death, Richard Lawr­ence Martens was awarded a Certificate of Commendation by the Vancouver Police Department. It was given to his family following a brief ceremony, and read as follows: “Richard Lawrence Martens is hereby posthumously awarded this Certificate of Commenda­tion for outstanding citizen involvement and heroism during a robbery on August 16, 1982. Awarded this 23rd day of Au­gust, 1982.” It was signed by Vancouv­er Police Chief Leland Davis.
“He was a kid trying to help some­body out,” said Chief Davis, who reiter­ated for the press what had occurred the day Martens was killed. “The suspect ordered her (Dorothy Mayer) to get back in her car, at which time a shot was fired into the pavement. The woman screamed and threw her purse at the sus­pect. The suspect picked it up and began running from the scene, at which time Martens, passing by on a motorcycle, spotted the incident and began to chase him. The suspect turned around and fired several shots at Martens, who was hit once in the chest.”
“In our community, we still have peo­ple that care, and will even lay down their life for a person in need,” said Sergeant Tony Braunstein, a Vancouver police detective who was also working on the case. “Richard did what he did because of a strong sense of right and wrong and because of his family train­ing. Much of the credit must go to his father. When you understand the type of caring individual that man is, you can see why Richard did what he did. One night while we were here in the office working late on the case, Richard’s father called. When he found we were here, he cared enough to take the time to come all the way down here and bring us dinner. He is a very special person. He can be very proud of his son, just as all of Vancouver can be very proud of him for raising such a son.”
At a press conference, Martens’ father was asked if he now believed that people should try not to get involved when they witness a crime. “No, I sure don’t,” he said. “I don’t think a person thinks about those things until it happens. I don’t see what else my son could have done.”
Did Richard ever carry a gun?
“No,” he replied. “Right now, I wish he had.”
In the meantime, as the investigation continued, Vancouver police learned that, on August 5, 1982, a convicted bank robber by the name of Gus Allen Turner, 36, had escaped from the Lewis County Jail in Chehalis, Washington, along with five-time convicted murderer William Perry Jackson. Jackson had been captured a few hours later in Milwaukee, Oregon, but Turner was still at large. When the police interviewed Jackson, he refused to cooperate with authorities. Although they didn’t get anywhere with Jackson, at .least now the police could place Turner in the vicinity a week and a half before Martens was murdered. And if Turner was up to his old tricks, it was very likely indeed that he could have been at the Safe Credit Union to hold it up on the morning of August 16th. After all, the prober reasoned, what better way was there for a bank robber to obtain money to survive on? He couldn’t very well obtain a job for fear of being traced. So why not stick up a credit union?
It was along this line of thinking that detectives obtained Turner’s records to see if they could put two and two together. They were shocked at what they read: His criminal career began with car theft in 1966 and mushroomed from that point on, including robberies he had been convicted of for which he was serv­ing sentences at the time of his escape. The print-out of crimes he was suspected of thus far included the March 31, 1980 holdup of the Safe Credit Union. Addi­tionally, he was suspected of robbing the Alcoa Credit Union in Vancouver on April 7, 1982, and again on April 30, 1982, less than a month later. He was also suspected of holding up the Lewis Federal Savings Bank in Chehalis on May 14, 1982.
He had certainly been a busy bank robber and, the cops reasoned, if he had not feared holding up the Alcoa Credit Union twice in the same month, why should he fear repeating a robbery at the Safe Credit Union more than two years later? The cops also noted that Turner had been charged with several auto thefts, all of which were committed in connection with the robberies. Turner’s method of operation indicated that he preferred credit unions and savings and loan banks where security was usually less than at a regular bank, and he always stole a vehicle to use as a getaway car in his hold-ups.
In the meantime, as days passed quickly with no new results, the cops began going back over old material hop­ing that something they might have mis­sed the first time around would turn up. Detectives decided to interview Dorothy Mayer once again, as well, knowing they probably wouldn’t uncover any new clues, but also knowing they would need as much background information about the case as possible for use when and if a suspect was apprehended.
“The guy already had my purse when I first saw Richard,” said Dorothy Mayer. “As soon as he took off after the guy, I knew what he was trying to do. He was going to run him down from behind. When the guy turned and started to fire, I prayed with each shot. Maybe it’s be­cause I’ve watched too many cop shows on television, but I was counting the shots, hoping he would run out of bul­lets.
“I knew Richard had been hit when the motorcycle just rolled past the gun­man, then hit the curb and toppled over. That part of it happened like it was in slow motion. I turned and ran screaming back toward the credit union. When the police arrived to question me for the first time, I kept asking them how the boy was. I didn’t find out he was dead until about an hour later, when my husband told me.”
“When I stood in that empty parking lot,” she continued, “yelling hysterical­ly, I wanted so badly for someone to help me. Being one-on-one with somebody with a gun, with nobody else around, is a terribly lonely place to be. I guess you have to be in a position of needing some­one’s help to understand what it means when someone comes to your aid. Peo­ple are always saying, ‘I don’t want to get involved.’ Now this happens.
“I’m sure people will say, ‘Richard Martens got involved and look what hap­pened to him.’ It really bothers me when people put him down for what he did. There was a letter to the editor in The Columbian from someone saying that Richard was dumb to chase that guy.” Tears could be seen welling up inside the woman’s eyes, and she paused for a few moments to regain her composure.
“I always thought I would be para­lyzed,” she continued, “if someone pointed a gun at me, but that’s not the way I reacted. There was no way I was going to get back in the car with that guy. When I started to run, I distinctly heard the two shots he fired at me. But it’s funny; at no time did I sense my life was threatened. I guess it was because I was in the middle of hysteria. I didn’t have the privilege of thinking things out. As soon as I saw the gun, I wanted to get as far away as possible. I must have screamed for help a hundred times.”
As the days passed, Gus Allen Tur­ner’s suspected list of crimes grew. He already had the August 5th escape from Lewis County Jail in Chehalis added to the list, as well as the hold-up which occurred at the Safe Credit Union parking lot on August 16th. He was now consi­dered the chief suspect in the subsequent murder of Richard Martens that same day, and his modus operandi fit that of a hold-up at an Oregon Bank branch in Portland on August 13th. But the crime spree that was now being attributed to Gus Allen Turner didn’t stop there. On August 26th the Nev-Tel Credit Union was robbed in Nevada, and the Safe Cre­dit Union in Vancouver was held up again on September 1st. Also on Septem­ber 1st, the Hyster Credit Union in Port­land was robbed, and all of the crimes just mentioned fit Turner’s M.O.
With federal, state, and local law-enforcement agencies working ’round the clock on the rash of recent robberies, authorities close to the Martens murder case felt hopeful that that case, as well as the robberies, would soon be solved. Even more encouraging was the fact that Gus Turner had been spotted by several people in Gresham, Oregon, east of Port­land and about halfway between Mount Hood and Portland. It now looked as if they might be able to bottle him up in the area.
But not before yet another robbery was committed. It was September 2nd, and this time it was the Mount Hood Security Bank in Gresham that was robbed. There was little doubt left in the minds of the cops that it was Gus Turner who commit­ted this latest robbery. Bank employees fingered him as the robber, and bank photos all but confirmed that Turner was the man.
Not wasting any time, authorities brought tracking dogs to the Gresham bank, and they quickly caught on to Tur­ner’s scent. The dogs led the police offic­ers northeast, towards neighboring Wood Village where, unfortunately, they lost the scent. Nonetheless, the entire area was cordoned off for several square miles, and it would be next to impossible for Turner to escape without first being detected. All main and secondary roads were now blocked off leading to and from Wood Village, and the only conceivable way he could escape would be by cutting through yards until he was out of the blockade area. That didn’t seem likely, though, because by now the news media had been alerted to the emergency, and if anyone saw a suspicious character pas­sing through their property they would more likely than not notify authorities.
At this point, police thought that Tur­ner might choose to just lay low for awhile to try and outwait them, or wait until night to use the darkness as a cloak of cover to make his escape attempt. It seemed like a good plan, one that Turner would most likely employ.
Turner didn’t get the chance to put the plan into motion, however. As it turned out, an observant Wood Village resident noticed a man fitting his description crawl from underneath a nearby house trailer and watched him go into the next yard to get a drink of water from a garden hose. Not wasting any time, the obser­vant resident notified authorities.
Within minutes, the entire area was swarming with police units, sealing off the entire area. There would be no chance for escape if Turner was, in fact, hiding under the mobile home. They would get him, dead or alive. When the first shot rang out, it looked as it if would have to be dead.
It was Turner’s shot, fired from under the trailer. The police were hesitant ab­out returning fire, as they preferred to take him alive. The detective in charge quickly got on his bullhorn and deman­ded that Turner throw out his gun and surrender. Instead, Turner shouted, “No way!” and opened fire once again, this time hitting a Multnomah County sher­iff’s deputy. Now the cops opened fire.
A short time later, all was quiet again. The officers again urged Turner to sur­render, only to be answered with more gunfire. This went on for nearly five hours until, somehow, the mobile home caught fire, perhaps from police gun­shots, or perhaps it had been deliberately set by Turner himself as a distraction. In any case, whether or not it was Turner’s own doing, the smoke and the heat got to be too much for him to withstand and he was forced to throw out his weapon and surrender. He was immediately taken into custody and handcuffed, loaded into the back of a squad car, and read his rights.
In the meantime, the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Department announced that the deputy who had been shot by Turner was wounded but okay, now in a Gresham hospital, and that Turner would be charged with attempted mur­der. The list of charges kept growing, and he was held in Oregon on a variety charges until February 3, 1983, at which time he was extradited to Washington and officially charged with the murder of Richard Martens.
In addition to being formally charged with felony first-degree murder, aggra­vated first-degree murder and first- degree robbery in connection with the death of Martens, Gus Allen Turner, who already had convictions for robbery and escape in Washington and Oregon, was also charged with robberies of the Safe Credit Union on March 31, 1980, and September 1, 1982; and the Alcoa Federal Credit Union in Vancouver on April 7, 1982, and April 30, 1982.
He was also charged with three counts of auto theft and one count of attempted auto theft stemming from incidents from April 7, 1982, to September 1, 1982. Clark County authorities had previously agreed not to charge Turner with the Alcoa robberies in exchange for his guil­ty plea to the May 14, 1982 hold-up of the Lewis Federal Savings & Loan Asso­ciation in Chehalis, Washington, for which he was serving his sentence at the time of his escape from the Lewis Coun­ty Jail. But under the circumstances sur­rounding Turner’s case that is — murder and repeated robbery offenses — Clark County authorities changed their deci­sion and charged him with the Alcoa robberies anyway.
Clark County Superior Court Judge John N. Skimas tentatively appointed Vancouver attorney Steven Thayer to defend Turner after Turner signed a statement of indigency. Turner, in feet and hand shackles, asked the judge to talk with his attorney before bail was set.
At a news conference, Clark County Prosecuting Attorney Arthur D. Curtis told reporters that even though Turner had been suspected for some time of killing Martens, Vancouver Police De­partment detectives had to first conduct an “extensive and continuous” inves­tigation involving more than 100 witnes­ses. Curtis praised them for a job well done.
On February 11, 1983, again shackled amid very tight courtroom security, Gus Allen Turner pleaded innocent to the charges against him. He stood before the judge with his hands chained to his waist and his ankles and linked together as Judge Skimas tentatively set a trial date for April 4th. Turner’s attorney said that he would most likely ask for more time to prepare the case because “it was a very difficult case from just what I’ve seen so far.” The attorney still had 1,340 pages of police reports to sort through.
On March 7, 1983, with only a few days left before their right to seek the death penalty against Turner expired, Clark County prosecutors announced that a plea-bargain agreement had been reached in the case. Turner decided that it would be in his “best interests- to plead guilty to all of the crimes for which he had been charged in exchange for the prosecution’s promise not to seek the death penalty. Under the agreement, Tur­ner would be sentenced to life without possibility of parole.
“My client was put to a devil’s choice,” said Steven Thayer, Turner’s attorney. “After reviewing the case, Tur­ner decided it was in his best interests to accept the prosecution’s offer and plead into life without parole to avoid the death penalty.”
“You’ve got quite a history,” Judge Skimas told Turner. “You’ve chosen a life of crime that began with car theft in 1966 and escalated to murder.”
“This is an ongoing spree of terror and larceny of staggering impact to this com­munity,” said Roger A. Bennett, chief criminal prosecutor, who had argued for the “harshest punishment” possible.
The plea left Turner with a guaranteed life sentence without parole for Richard Martens’ murder. However, Judge Ski­mas had the option of sentencing Turner to 20 years to life for robbery and making the terms run either concurrently or con­secutively with the murder sentences.
“What difference does it make?” asked Turner’s lawyer. “Without the death penalty, there is no sentence more severe than life in prison without parole.”
The decision in Turner’s case was the first time in the state’s history that a de­fendant has pleaded guilty knowing that it meant life without parole. Because of a state law passed in 1981, the present parole board, or even a future parole board, cannot release Turner. Furth­ermore, he is not eligible for work release or furlough. Gus Allen Turner is no lon­ger a menace to a free and responsible society, nor will he ever be again, as long as he can be kept incarcerated within the walls of the Washington State Prison at Walla Walla.
Editor’s Note:
Dorothy Mayer is not the real name of the person so named in the foregoing story. A fictitious name has been used because there is no reason for public interest in the identity, of this person.

5 comments:

  1. What ever happened to the "Houdini" Gus Allen Turner?

    ReplyDelete
  2. He is my uncle & is still in prison. He finally came to terms with what he's done & has been a model prisoner. My mother & another unless talk to him often & have up there to visit a few times. He will never be released.

    ReplyDelete
  3. He is my uncle & is still in prison. He finally came to terms with what he's done & has been a model prisoner. My mother & another unless talk to him often & have up there to visit a few times. He will never be released.

    ReplyDelete