Friday, August 10, 2012

Humberto Zalaya

Crime Scene
Except for the sound of the wind whispering through the tops of the tall fir trees and the occasional bird or animal noises, the woods of the Willamette National Forest near the Mount Washington Wilderness Area were quiet, offering a tranquil retreat for anyone venturing in by choice. The for­est trails are a haven for hikers and nature enthusiasts, and the rushing waters of the McKenzie River are a real treat for thrill-seeking rafters.
It is no wonder that most of the sounds are those of natures. However, on late Friday afternoon, November 15, 1985, the tranquility was broken by the man­made sound of an automobile traveling down a remote, seldom-used private road which connects to a main road that leads to and from the small community of McKenzie Bridge, Oregon, a mountain hamlet located several miles east of Eu­gene. Soon voices could be heard, laugh­ing and carefree, and the barking of a friendly dog became distinctly audible.
The laughing soon ceased, however, and an altercation that led to cold-blooded violence began. Although the shouting match of the participants occasionally vented out of the dwelling, which was an old school bus that had been converted into a home it is likely the arguing was only heard by the participants them­selves. And maybe the forest animals, since it was miles to the nearest resi­dence.
Like the laughing, the arguing and shouting suddenly ended when one of the participants aimed a small-caliber gun at 26-year-old Dwayne Denney’s head. A noticeable tic, likely caused by fear or perhaps anger, or both, manifested itself in one of Dwayne’s eyes as he stared down the barrel of the pistol, and he began to grimace when the man with the gun began to squeeze on the trigger. Sud­denly the gunman moved the pistol’s aim slightly to the left and fired once, delib­erately missing Dwayne’s head.
As the gun recoiled, Dwayne’s eyes grew wild, taking on a fierceness that bordered on rage. Nearly deafened by the blast, he shrieked, but did not back away. It may have been merely a warn­ing shot for Dwayne to back off, or it might have been intended to instill fur­ther tenor in his mind, a sort of mental torture prior to carrying out the final act. Whatever the reason for the violent hos­tility, Dwayne foolishly began shouting again.
“Well, after that, what are you going to do?” Dwayne asked, taunting the man with the gun. “Kill me?”
“Yes,” answered the man without hesitation. With devilishly quick re­sponses he lowered the pistol and fired a single shot directly into Dwayne’s fore­head. When the bullet hit its target, Dwayne’s body lurched backward, and a spray of blood and tissue flew out of his head.
Dwayne’s female companion, 26-­year-old Debbie Frederickson, screamed and briefly kneeled over Dwayne’s mo­tionless body before attempting to flee. But the killer’s reflexes were too quick for her and the third shot from his pistol hit her in the back of the head and she, too, went down.
The killer then turned and walked quickly outside to take care of Debbie’s 7-year-old boy, Kenny Rogers, and his dog, both waiting patiently in a 1972 American Motors Hornet parked nearby. The boy undoubtedly heard the shots, but he likely had not understood what had occurred. If he had been aware of the bloody carnage that had just taken place inside the bus, he probably would have climbed out of the car and run for his life into the woods.
The killer, his breathing rapid, ap­proached the Hornet, all the while keep­ing a tight grip on his gun. He could see the boy, cold and afraid, hugging his dog inside the darkened car. Innocent and trusting, the little boy looked up and at­tempted a smile through the window at the man and likely wondered why his mother and her boyfriend had not come out instead.
Before the boy had a chance to speak, though, the killer fired a shot through the passenger window, putting a bullet in young Kenny’s forehead.
At that same instant, Kenny’s dog jumped out through the shattered win­dow and headed into the forest, fright­ened away by the gunshot. The killer reached through the shattered opening and fired another bullet into the child’s head, just to be sure. The youngster slumped over in the car seat and bled profusely from his wounds. Unfortu­nately for the helpless little victim, death did not come quickly.
As the boy lay dying in the front seat of the Hornet, the killer and his female companion returned to the bus and drag­ged Dwayne and Debbie outside and loaded them into the back seat of the car. Attempting to cover their tracks as com­pletely and carefully as possible, and afraid that the victim’s dog might some­how find its way home, the killer’s fe­male companion sought out the animal. When she finally found the dog wandering about the woods and won his confi­dence, she beat it to death with a baseball bat and climbed into the Hornet. They then drove east on Oregon 126, the main highway that links Eugene, Oregon, with the central part of the state, to dispose of the car and the bodies.
As the killer began to drive away he sensed movement beside him. It was the boy, and he clearly wasn’t dead yet. De­ciding he would fix that, the driver coldly and unhesitatingly drew out his pistol and fired another slug into the youth’s head. The boy lurched once; then again lay motionless in the front seat.
A short time later the killer turned off Oregon 126 onto a side road and, after deciding the area was appropriate for dis­posing of the bodies, he ran the Hornet head-on into a tree. Immediately after impact he again sensed movement beside him, and again he fired a shot into young Kenny’s head. As he and his companion left the vehicle, the killer heard Debbie move in the back seat. He aimed the gun at her head and fired once more. After her body jerked from the impact of the bullet she lay motionless, leaving the killer sat­isfied that his actions had been success­ful. He and his companion then began their hike home.
The following day, Saturday, Novem­ber 16th, was Sally Dennison’s and Ray Nichols’ day to go hiking and white-water rafting. Longtime friends, Sally and Ray had hiked up, over, and through some of the most popular trails in the Pacific Northwest. Experienced, they knew where to go to see all types of wildlife and spectacular scenic views, and it was a rare occasion that they fin­ished their explorations without an abun­dance of outstanding photographs that would make those found between the covers of travel and nature magazines often appear amateurish.
On this particular autumn day, Sally and Ray, accompanied by a few fellow hikers and friends, decided to venture into the Oregon Cascades, a group of mountains which run north and south through the center of the state. It was early when they arrived at the Willamette National Forest at a location near the Three Sisters Wilderness Area (named after three peaks) and the Mount Wash­ington Wilderness Area. They parked their vehicles at an area well below the summit of McKenzie Pass and unloaded their gear.
The rippling white waters of the south fork of the McKenzie River could be heard in the distance, and a heavy mix­ture of mist and clouds hung in the tops of the tall fir trees on this brisk, chilly morning, serving as a kind of forest shroud. Although cold, the air smelled clean and fresh and the group of hikers set off on a day-long trek they were sure to remember for years to come. It was a day of hiking and rafting that started off not unlike many others they’d ventured on, but it was one that would end unlike all the others they’d been on, complete with sinister overtones and bullet-riddled bodies.
It was approximately 1:30 p.m. when the hikers and rafters came across the crashed Hornet on Deer Creek Road, an old logging road, just off the McKenzie River National Recreation Trail. Curios­ity and concern prompted Sally and Ray to leave their group and take a closer look.
Sally’s shrieks echoed through the for­est when she peered into the driver’s side window and found the body of the young boy in the front seat of the Hornet and the body of the man in the back seat. Her screams brought the others in her group running to see what the fuss was all about and, after seeing the blood and the life­less bodies, they understood.
As the hikers stared in awe and horror, they heard a low, moaning sound that came from nearby. When they fanned out to find the source of the sound, they soon found Debbie Frederickson propped up against the base of a tree near the passenger side of the car. Her face, neck, and shirt were covered with blood, much of which was dry by this time, but be­cause of the bright crimson wetness on the side and back of her shirt they could tell that she was still bleeding. When asked what had happened, she appeared disoriented and could not provide any details, leaving the hikers to wonder if her injuries, as well as those of the man and the boy, had been caused by an auto­mobile accident.
The hikers made Debbie as comforta­ble as possible and administered what first aid they could while two others rushed off to highway 126 to flag down a car that could take them to a telephone where they could call for help. A short time later an Oregon state trooper arrived at the remote location.
Because of the severity of Debbie’s wounds she was rushed to McKenzie-Willamette Memorial Hospi­tal in Springfield, near Eugene, and ad­ditional troopers were dispatched to the Deer Creek Road to further assess the situation and take a statement from the hikers.
The hikers’ statement told the troopers very little except, of course, how they came upon the bodies. Examination of the bodies, however, told the troopers they were definitely dealing with a case of homicide, and not an accident, as the hikers had first believed. Close observa­tion revealed the bullet wounds in the boy’s and man’s heads. Likewise, when Debbie Frederickson arrived at the hos­pital, even though she was still unable to talk, it was confirmed that she, too, had been shot.
Due to the nature of the case, OSP Homicide Detectives John Wood and David Codding were quickly dispatched to the scene from OSP’s Eugene office. They were accompanied by several as­sistants, the OSP crime lab, and a deputy medical examiner.
The bodies were cold to the touch, Wood and Codding noted, and appeared to have been there for several hours. Likewise, the car’s engine was cold, adding credence to their theory. They speculated that the victims were shot at a different location and transported to the scene where they were found after death. But this was merely, conjecture on the detectives’ part at this point and not a result of evidence or eyewitness reports.
After the bodies were thoroughly pho­tographed by the photographic unit they were removed from the car, and then exam­ined at the scene by the deputy medical examiner, who told the detectives that it appeared the victims had been shot at close range, a determination he made from the presence of powder burns on the skin. He said that it appeared the man had been shot once, but that the boy had likely been shot several times. Following the preliminary examination, the bodies were loaded into the medical examiner’s vehicle and taken to the Lane County Morgue in Eugene.
As a matter of thoroughness, casts were made of the tire tracks found in the vicinity of the car, even though there was little doubt that the tracks belonged to the Hornet. The tracks led off of the main road onto Deer Creek Road, right up to the point where the car stopped when it impacted with the tree. The work of pre­paring the casts was done so that the door leading to any doubt that the tracks were the Hornet’s later could be firmly closed.
Aside from the tracks there was little evidence of significance found in the vi­cinity of the vehicle, and it appeared that most of the evidence would be found inside the car itself. This included a large amount of blood and blood spatters, indi­cating that at least some, if not all of the shots had been fired inside the car. The detectives reasoned that if there had been any shooting at another location, as they suspected, there would likely be good evidence found at such a location, too.
In the meantime, the two dead bodies were positively identified as 7-year-old Kenny Rogers and 26-year-old Dwayne Denney. Their relationship was not im­mediately known, but within hours de­tectives had determined that Kenny and his mother, Debbie Frederickson, lived with Denney in the community of Blue River, near McKenzie Bridge.
At the hospital, Detective Wood in­terviewed Debbie prior to her going into surgery, but he said she still appeared disoriented and still couldn’t believe that she’d been shot. The motive for the shootings still had not been determined at this point, he said.
“It appears to be an attempted triple homicide,” said Wood. “The murderer probably felt they were all dead when he left.” Wood added that Debbie had been shot in the back of the head and had suffered superficial wounds to her fore­head and to her right thigh from two other gunshots.
During surgery, doctors removed a small-caliber bullet from Debbie’s brain. She was left partially disabled and listed in serious but stable condition afterward. News of her condition was not made public for fear that the killer might try to find her and finish her off and, as an added precaution, an armed guard was posted outside her hospital room.
The autopsies revealed that young Kenny had been shot four times at point­blank range, and the slugs removed were later determined to have been .25-cali­ber. The same caliber slug was removed from Dwayne Denney’s body, and serol­ogy tests revealed the presence of alco­hol and methamphetamines in his blood. There were also recent needle marks on one of his arms, indicating that he’d in­jected speed shortly before his death.
Was this possibly a drug-related crime? And if so, had Denney been at­tempting to make a buy when he was killed? The track marks on his arms indi­cated that he’d been using drugs for some time. But was he dealing in drugs, too? The detectives felt they could get their answers from Debbie, as soon as she was able to talk. In the meantime, they had other leads to run down, including going over Denney’s Hornet with a fine-tooth comb.
There were several latent fingerprints found inside the Hornet and these were lifted for later analysis. Because the crimes involved multiple gunshots, par­ticularly because several were fired in­side the car, crime-lab technicians did a blood-spatter analysis to determine the positions of the victims and the killer. Even though powder burns indicated the victims were shot at close range, blood spatter analysis could, hopefully, deter­mine the velocity of the bullets and the angle in which the bullets struck the vic­tims, ultimately demonstrating how the gun was held by the killer. Such findings are often useful in determining the de­gree of intent.
After the news of the shootings broke in the Eugene area, followed by a plea for public assistance and the fact that there had been a survivor, the OSP office in Eugene was contacted by a witness. The witness, Rita Simms, told detectives that a man by the name of Humberto “Zeke” Zalaya, 50, had committed the killings of Kenny Rogers and Dwayne Denney and attempted to murder Deb­bie Frederickson. Other details of the witness’ statement were not made public at that time, but a source close to the investigation said the theory that the shootings were drug-related had been correct.
As soon as she was able to talk, detec­tives interviewed Debbie Frederickson who, although still unable to believe that she had been shot, confirmed much of what witness Rita Simms had told po­lice. Debbie said that on the evening of the shootings she and Denney, along with her son, drove to Zalaya’s school-bus home located in McKenzie bridge to buy drugs, as they had done at least once a month for the past six months.
On that fateful evening, Debbie said, she and Denney left her son and his dog in the car and entered Zalaya’s bus. In­side was Zalaya, his wife and their five children, and Rita Simms. After pur­chasing a small amount of methampheta­mines from Zalaya, the adults injected it. A short time later an argument broke out between Zalaya and Denney; Denney had insisted that Zalaya sell him some more drugs. Zalaya refused, and became angry when Denney refused to leave un­til he received more drugs. Prior to the fatal shooting, Debbie told detectives, Zalaya fired a warning shot at Denney.
Following a background check on their prime suspect, the detectives learned that Zalaya was an ex-con who had served time in three California pris­ons on a variety of charges, all felonies. He was described by prison officials and others who knew him as having a high- strung personality, cold and calculating. They learned from additional witnesses that he was a small-time dealer in Oregon who made a living selling relatively small amounts of marijuana and methamphetamines. He was being treat­ed for a liver ailment at the time of the shootings, and he often traded his pre­scription Dilaudid, a strong pain-killer, for speed. Little else was known about Zalaya at this point in the case.
Armed with arrest and search war­rants, detectives and troopers stormed Zalaya’s bus home. However, Zalaya and his family weren’t there when the lawmen arrived. While the detectives made inquiries as to where the suspect might be, criminalists went ahead and processed the bus and the surrounding area for clues.
A short time later, according to OSP Trooper Mike McCullough, Zalaya and his wife were located by police after de­tectives reportedly received a tip by in­formants. They were staying at the resi­dence of acquaintances in Springfield. After police quietly surrounded the resi­dence, Zalaya was taken into custody without incident for questioning in the McKenzie Bridge murder and was lodged in the Lane County Jail in Eu­gene. His wife, Leslie, 35, a substitute schoolteacher, was also arrested because of her alleged presence during the com­mission of the crimes in question. The couples’ five children were taken into custody by the Oregon Children’s Ser­vices Division. Zalaya consented to in­terviews with detectives and was ques­tioned thoroughly.
According to State Police Sergeant Kenneth Chichester, Zalaya said he and the victims were acquainted with each other, partially confirming earlier re­ports from Rita Simms and Debbie Frederickson. Because of the time frame that was developed from information ob­tained from Zalaya, the witnesses, and the autopsy reports, Chichester said that the victims had been left at the remote site for 15 to 16 hours before they were discovered by the hikers.
After a careful review of the evidence so far obtained, Zalaya was charged with two counts of aggravated murder and one count of attempted murder. He was also charged with being an ex-convict in pos­session of a firearm. He was held without bail. His wife, Leslie, was charged with two counts of first-degree kidnapping of Debbie and her son, Kenny. Her bail was set at $10,000 and she was released after posting $1,000, the required 10 percent.
After repeated grilling by the in­vestigators, Zalaya finally confessed to the crime, much to everyone’s surprise. His confession was tape-recorded and videotaped. In the videotaped reenact­ment of the crime, Zalaya explained the argument between himself and Dwayne Denney over drugs. He said that as the argument intensified, Denney began threatening him, his wife, and one of his children. Zalaya said that at one point, Denney grabbed one of his children. Af­ter he pulled out his gun and shot Denney between the eyes he said he shot Debbie as she attempted to flee the bus. He said he then decided he had to do something about the boy, Kenny, a first-grader, who was waiting in the car outside.
“He was like, afraid, but I couldn’t understand why he was afraid of some­thing if he wasn’t in the house,” Zalaya told detectives, explaining his per­ceptions of the boy’s feelings when he went outside to shoot him. In his gravelly voice, Zalaya said he raised his pistol and fired, hitting the boy in the forehead. He said he reached inside and shot the boy again, to make sure he was dead.
“I had no choice,” said Zalaya. “It was him or me. I know that if I leave a boy around that’s heard shots…I didn’t want to shoot him.” He then explained how he and his wife dragged the victims out of the bus and loaded them into the back seat of the Hornet. When he climbed inside to drive away, said Zalaya, he sensed movement and fired another slug into the boy’s head. He and his wife then drove the victims east on Oregon 126.
“I’m wondering where in the hell I’m gonna take the car,” said Zalaya. “What am I gonna do with the stupid car full of dead people?” After pulling onto the logging road, Zalaya said he decided to run the Hornet into a tree. He said he then felt something move beside him again, and he again fired another shot into Ken­ny’s head. He said he also heard Debbie move in the back seat, and he likewise shot her again. Thinking they were all dead, Zalaya said he and his wife began walking home. He said he threw his .25-caliber pistol into the white waters of the McKenzie River (the authorities were never able to recover the gun).
“In looking back at it,” asked Detec­tive David Codding, “would you have done anything different now?”
“No,” answered Zalaya gruffly. “No. Nothing.”
In spite of the confession, Zalaya pleaded innocent to the charges in Lane County Circuit Court. Court-appointed Defense Attorney Steve Chez said a de­fense of mental disease or defect might be used. His trial was set for June, 1985.
In a non-jury trial before Circuit Judge Gregory G. Foote, the prosecution pre­sented its case against Zalaya through expert testimony of crime-lab techni­cians, detectives, medical examining ex­perts, the videotaped reenactment of the crime and confession, and an eyewit­ness.
In spite of the confession, Zalaya pleaded innocent to the charges in Lane County Circuit Court. Court-appointed Defense Attorney Steve Chez said a de­fense of mental disease or defect might be used. His trial was set for June, 1985.
In a non-jury trial before Circuit Judge Gregory G. Foote, the prosecution pre­sented its case against Zalaya through expert testimony of crime-lab techni­cians, detectives, medical examining ex­perts, the videotaped reenactment of the crime and confession, and an eyewit­ness.
Rita Simms, the eyewitness, repeated for the judge that the adult victims, Dwayne Denney and Debbie Frederick­son, had gone to the Zalaya bus to buy drugs. After the purchase was made, Simms described how Denney demand­ed more drugs and refused to leave the bus until he got them. It was then, she said, that she, her son, Debbie, and the Zalayas’ five children watched in stun­ned disbelief as Zalaya shot Denney be­tween the eyes and then turned the gun on Debbie and fired.
In arguing that Zalaya suffered from an extreme emotional disturbance at the time of the shootings, co-Defense Attor­ney Jack A. Gardner said that it was Zalaya’s “background in prison, the small quarters of the bus, his confronta­tion with Dwayne Denney and, unfortu­nately, the narcotics ingested by the de­fendant, (which) all acted…to produce a result in his mind, right or wrong.” The defense further contended that Zalaya accidentally shot the child while he was trying to shoot their dog, which was in the car with young Kenny.
After viewing the videotaped confes­sion produced by the prosecution, Judge Foote said that he accepted eyewitness Rita Simms’ account of the ordeal rather than that of the defendant.
“I find that Dwayne Denney did not seize the defendant’s child (as Zalaya had claimed during the confes­sion)…that there was an argument that escalated, but that the argument involved only Dwayne Denney and the defend­ant,” said Judge Foote. Foote said that Zalaya was definitely not suffering from an extreme emotional disturbance when he shot the young child. “The court finds that that was essentially a cold-blooded, premeditated, execution-style killing,” he said. Foote immediately issued guilty verdicts on both counts of aggravated murder.
On Tuesday, August 20, 1985, Judge Foote sentenced Zalaya to two consecu­tive life terms for the shooting deaths of Dwayne Denney and Kenny Rogers, im­posing a mandatory minimum prison term of 30 years on each of the murder charges. Foote also sentenced Zalaya to 20 years with a mandatory minimum term of 10 years for the attempted mur­der of Debbie Frederickson. He also im­posed a five-year “enhanced” penalty because a firearm was used to carry out the crime. In meting out the sentence, Judge Foote said it was apparent to him “that the defendant continues, even at his mature age, to have an explosive, volatile personality that is easily ignit­ed.”
Leslie Zalaya’s trial began in mid-No­vember, 1985, and much of the same evidence that was presented at her hus­band’s trial was presented at her jury trial. Charges against her had been changed to include aggravated murder, felony murder, attempted murder, hin­dering the prosecution of her husband, and two counts of kidnapping. The pros­ecution also contended that she helped her husband try to hide the victims’ bod­ies in the remote area where they were found.
In spite of her husband’s testimony on her behalf, in which he maintained that her only involvement was after the shootings when she beat the victims’ dog to death with a baseball bat, Leslie Zalaya was convicted of manslaughter, first-degree kidnapping, and hindering prosecution in her husband’s case by burning certain evidence. She was sen­tenced to 10 years in the Oregon Wom­en’s Correctional center.
Debbie Frederickson eventually re­covered from her injuries and, after liv­ing with her relatives for a while in Cali­fornia, she moved to Montana.
On Sunday, April 5, 1987, Humberto “Zeke” Zalaya died in the Oregon State Prison infirmary where he had been hos­pitalized since February 5th for treat­ment of what was believed to have been cancer to the liver.
Editor’s Note:
Sally Dennison, Ray Nichols, Debbie Frederickson and Rita Simms 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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