Friday, August 10, 2012

Jann Oslund

Jann Oslund
When Joe Banks returned to the home he shared with 24-year-old Vernon Paul Johnson after having been away all the previous night, he likely expected to find his roommate awake and engaged in some useful household activity, such as cleaning or cooking, particularly since Johnson had been unemployed for more than a month at that time and had plenty of time on his hands to take care of the daily necessary chores. When he approached the run-down, two-story white house situated on the 600 block of Southeast 6th Street in Hillsboro, Oregon, which was on the right-hand of the street, Banks observed that Johnson’s Doberman was outside in the yard and concluded that Johnson must be up and about. But when he entered the house through the unlocked front door, all was quiet. There was no sign of John­son, prompting his roommate to believe that he must still be in bed, and had earlier gotten up only long enough to let the dog outside. Banks did not im­mediately check on Johnson.
As the morning wore on, Banks went about his own business not paying much attention to the time. But at approximate­ly 11:15, he looked at his watch and noted that Johnson was sleeping later than usual, and, out of concern, he knocked on Johnson’s bedroom door. There was no reply, so he knocked again. But there was still no reply. At that point Banks entered the room, and all it took was one look for him to understand why his roommate had not risen at his usual time. Johnson was dead.
Horror-struck at the grisly sight which dominated his line of vision, Banks moved slowly into the room. Johnson was lying on the bed, he observed, and the pallor of his skin was ghostly against the crimson-stained pillow and bed sheets. Banks could see that the blood­stains had mushroomed considerably be­fore Johnson’s life fluid ceased pumping from his body, and much had spilled over onto the floor beside the bed, the result of which had created a massive pool of blood that had by this time be­come somewhat sticky due to coagula­tion. All it took was one look for Banks to determine that no life-rendering assist­ance was necessary and, in a near-panic, the terror-stricken housemate notified the detective division at the Hillsboro Police Department of his grim findings.
Within minutes, Hillsboro Police Chief Herman Woll and Detective Abel Reyna arrived at the crime scene, assisted by Detective Lila Ashenbrenner and several officers. Chief Woll in­spected the scene and ordered that John­son’s body be left undisturbed until the medical examiner as well as additional forensic personnel from the state crime laboratory arrived to process the crime scene scientifically. Chief Woll further directed his officers to rope off the yard and to post signs that identified the pre­mises as a crime site, and posted un­iformed officers as guards to keep back the curious onlookers, an effort to pre­vent the loss or contamination of poten­tial physical evidence which might be present. Woll named Detective Reyna to head the investigation and left the matter in his hands.
Detective Reyna walked over to Johnson’s body, took out his notebook and made the following entry: Monday, De­cember 27, 1982. 11:30 a.m. Victim identified as Vernon Paul Johnson, 24, a white male. Cause of death suspected to be a single gunshot wound to the right side of the head, no exit wound. Slug likely fired from a small-caliber weapon. Victim cold to the touch, likely to have expired several hours earlier.
As Reyna made his observations and continued writing them into his note­book, Detective Lila Ashenbrenner walked to a dresser at the foot of John­son’s bed where she found a single-shot .22-caliber revolver inside a holster. Ashenbrenner noted that the gun was loaded but left it undisturbed until the crime lab personnel arrived.
During the early stages of the in­vestigation police officials were unwill­ing to reveal much about the case for fear of jeopardizing it. They simply con­firmed that Johnson had been killed by a gunshot wound, and that his body had been found by “someone who lived in the house” with him.
“Nothing has been determined as of this time,” said Lt. Art Berry of the Hillsboro Police Department, stress­ing that little was known about John­son’s death.
“It is a routine murder probe,” he said, but declined comment regarding a possible motive and whether or not de­tectives had any prime suspects they were focusing on.
As the first stages of the investigation continued, Sgt. Greg Baxter and De­tectives Jerry Finch and Jim Ayers ar­rived from the Beaverton branch of the Oregon State Police OSP after being asked for assistance in the case. They were accompanied by several OSP crime lab technicians and their equipment. All these officials consulted Detective Reyna and worked under his direction. Deputies from the Washington County Sheriff’s Office were also on hand and assisted in the investigation where neces­sary.
Before Reyna allowed much walking in the house, all of which was labeled as an investigation area although primary concern was directed toward the be­droom where Johnson’s body had been found, the entire scene had to be photo­graphed by a police photographer. The photographer started in the bedroom where Johnson’s body was lying as it had been found, face up on the bed. He then took pictures of the blood, both on the bed and on the floor, and also photo­graphed the .22-caliber revolver found lying on the dresser. The photographer then concentrated on the approaches to the crime scene, namely door and windows, and then made photos of the rooms of the house. When he had finished, the photographer had several roles of exposed film that would later become a valuable and permanent part of the case file for the detectives and other officials to refer to as needed.
After being given the go-ahead by De­tective Reyna, the crime lab technicians went to work. They first placed the re­volver and holster found on the dresser into an evidence bag, and would later perform a firearms examination to com­pare bullets fired from the weapon to any slugs removed from Johnson’s body. Then, they would also check the weapon for the presence of latent prints.
Next they concentrated on the pool of blood on the floor. Working according to the premise that moist blood can be tested and grouped much faster and with greater ease in the laboratory than dried blood, not to mention the fact that wet blood usually yields more informa­tion than dry, the crime lab investigators collected samples on the floor beside the bed, near Johnson’s body, where the blood had steadily dripped from the wound. They had a great deal of blood to work with as what hadn’t either initially squirted or dripped onto the floor from Johnson’s wound had been absorbed by the pillow and bed sheets. The wet blood was collected with a medicine dropper and placed inside a glass vial, and an equal amount of normal saline solution was added before it was sealed. To in­sure efficiency, the crime lab technicians were careful not to mix blood samples taken from different areas.
The pillows, pillow casings, bed sheets and the mattress were also taken as evidence. The bloodstained bed clo­thing was taken piece-by-piece and placed inside paper bags, each piece sep­arated by a sheet of heavy paper. Paper bags are used in such cases because they are not as air tight as, say, plastic bags, and retard the build-up of any excess moisture which would, needless to say, only serve to contaminate the evidence. The sheets of heavy paper are used be­tween each article to prevent possible mixing of blood and other items, and also serve to catch any trace evidence which might become inadvertently de­tached from the item in question during transport or handling. Johnson’s clothing, both the articles he was wearing and those articles he had removed prior to going to bed, were treated in much the same manner as the articles of bed clo­thing.
After vacuuming for any trace evi­dence which might be present, the crime lab investigators began their tedious search for latent fingerprints. They paid special attention to the bedroom furni­ture, tables, door facings, windows and ledges, and so forth. Since there was evidence that more than one person had recently occupied the house and that some drinking of alcoholic beverages had recently occurred, even cans, bottles and dishes were examined for latent prints. The investigators dusted with powders, sprayed certain porous items with ninhydrin (a substance which is known to react with amino acids and turns a fingerprint a deep shade of pink with the passage of time). They also used vapors of hydrofluoric acid on non­porous surfaces such as glass, which, when latents are present, leaves the oily ridges of the print.
All-in-all, there were many latent prints found inside the house, leaving the probers wondering about the signifi­cance of each, if any. After all, the prints could belong to the victim, the suspect, other housemates, or any combination of those people who had access to the house. As a ,result, everyone who had access to the house, including the victim, would have to be fingerprinted to serve as a process of elimination. The value of the prints, the sleuths knew, could de­pend on those they could not match: they also knew the prints’ value may be di­minished if the perpetrator happened to be a regular visitor or a housemate, in which case the perpetrator would have a valid excuse for having his fingerprints scattered around the house.
When Washington County Medical Examiner Dr. Ronald O’Halloran ar­rived at the crime scene, he conferred briefly with Detective Reyna and the crime lab personnel, then examined Johnson’s body and made some notes of his observations. He took a rectal tem­perature of the victim, the result of which he used to calculate the victim’s time of death. When he had finished with the preliminary examination, Dr. O’Hallor­an told Detective Reyna that Johnson died as a result of a “single gunshot wound to the head.” O’Halloran said the bullet, fired from a small caliber gun at relatively close range, entered through the victim’s right cheek. He told Reyna that an autopsy might be more definitive, but doubted that it would reveal much more than the caliber of slug fired into Johnson’s body. Detective Reyna re­leased Johnson’s body at that point, and it was subsequently placed inside an opaque body bag and removed to the morgue facility.
After Dr. O’Halloran completed the autopsy, he told Detective Reyna that he had removed a single .22-caliber hollow- point bullet from Johnson’s skull during the autopsy. O’Halloran also told Reyna that Johnson died sometime between 6:00 a.m. on the morning he was found and 6:00 p.m. the night before. Alcohol had been found in Johnson’s blood, in­dicating that he had been drinking short­ly before his death. Other than that, O’Halloran had little else to provide and told Reyna as much. He added that the slug he removed from Johnson’s body had been sent to the crime lab for an­alysis.
At the crime lab, technicians per­formed a firearms examination on the .22-caliber revolver found in Johnson’s bedroom. They fired slugs from the gun into a thick slab of wax material, after which they removed the fired slugs and compared them with the one removed from Johnson’s body under a micro­scope.. Although the lands and grooves on all of the slugs bore similarities, the crime lab technicians were, un­fortunately, unable to make a positive determination. Other disappointing re­sults were that there were no identifiable fingerprints left on the gun. Although the results were obviously a setback for De­tective Reyna he persevered just the same, pursuing other avenues of in­vestigation at his disposal.
As Detective Reyna compiled new re­ports and reviewed the initial ones, he kept wondering what possible motive anyone could have had for killing John­son. There were no signs of forced entry to Johnson’s home, and nothing had been taken that they knew of, eliminat­ing robbery as a motive. The very nature of the crime dictated that it wasn’t a random killing, and it didn’t appear to be a stranger-against-stranger crime. Could revenge or hatred have been the motive? Or could it have been a cold and calculat­ing contract hit? Reyna could only won­der at this point.
In a small town, such as Hillsboro, many people know each other, a fact which holds true especially for cops. De­tective Reyna knew the victim in this case, Vernon Johnson, personally, and on occasions, he had spoken to him both as a cop and as a friend. Because of his being acquainted with Johnson, Reyna knew about the victim’s Doberman and just how vicious the dog could be. It was along these lines that Reyna developed a theory.
Reyna knew from personal experience that just anybody could not approach Johnson’s property, much less his Doberman, unless the dog was familiar with the person. Reyna himself, on the occasions when he went to Johnson’s house, always stayed inside his car until Johnson came out to avoid being attack­ed by the dog. So he knew that Johnson’s killer must have been either a resident of the house or a close friend or acquain­tance. But who? There were too many to focus his attention on all at once so he decided to start with the housemates and those who were known to frequent the residence with any degree of regularity.
Reyna compiled a list of those people closely associated with Johnson, includ­ing his housemates and frequent guests. Those people were questioned to de­termine who was present on the night of December 26th, a Sunday, who re­mained there with Johnson that night, and who was there the following morn­ing. Reyna discovered that most of the people in question left the Johnson resi­dence early that evening, and did not return until the next morning. One man, 30-year-old Jann Raymond Oslund, a friend, stayed with Johnson Sunday night, December 26th, and watched television with the victim until approx­imately 9:30 p.m. Oslund told Reyna that he and Johnson drank some alcohol­ic beverages and talked while watching TV, after which Oslund left to visit friends. Since Oslund was considered to be a friend of Johnson’s and visited him often, he was not initially considered a suspect. After all, Det. Reyna reasoned, what motive could Oslund have had? Why would he kill a friend who lay sleeping in bed?
Of course it was possible that Oslund and Johnson had become embroiled in a heated argument or altercation and Johnson had been killed out of anger. But if that had been the case, why let Johnson turn in for the night before carrying out the act of ultimate violence? There was no evidence that Johnson had been killed and then placed in bed to look as if he’d been shot while sleeping, and there was no evidence that a fight or scuffle had occurred. There was no doubt in Reyna’s mind that Johnson had indeed gone to bed and had likely fallen asleep when someone had crept into his bedroom, saw the gun in the holster on the dres­ser at the foot of the bed and shot him as he lay sleeping. In all likeli­hood, Reyna reasoned, Johnson didn’t even know what hit him, much less who pulled the trigger. One thing was certain, though. Johnson’s Doberman knew the perpetrator. Otherwise, he would never have made it through the front door without upsetting the dog.
Detective Reyna next attempted to re­construct Johnson’s movements prior to his death. Reyna interviewed neighbors who may have observed Johnson’s com­ings and goings, but, unfortunately, no one was able to provide the sleuth with any significant details. Things sim­ply appeared normal in the Johnson house. Reyna then checked out the local stores where Johnson was known to have done his shopping, bought gas and so forth in an attempt to generate new leads through anyone who may have known the victim, even remotely. But it was always the same. No one could provide anything to follow up on, not even a name to check out.
It wasn’t until Reyna began checking out the local taverns and nightspots where Johnson was known to have entertained himself that he made any signifi­cant progress in the case. At one such place, Reyna learned that none other than Jann Oslund had been making claims that he killed Johnson; he had actually bragged that he had carried out a contract killing for $500! Although the new lead now placed Oslund firmly in the spotlight, so to speak, it wasn’t enough for the district attorney’s office to file charges on. Det. Reyna had to have something more substantial and concrete, such as physical evidence link­ing Oslund to the crime scene, or even a confession.
In the meantime, however, Reyna continued to talk with people who claimed Oslund talked to them about the killing. Reyna learned that Oslund had been unemployed at the time Johnson was killed and had, in fact, been living out of the camper on the back of his pickup for some time, parking it at var­ious locations in Hillsboro. He occa­sionally stayed with Johnson, Reyna learned, and was hired shortly after the killing by a Hillsboro cab company; the same company where Johnson had work­ed prior to his death.
When Reyna checked out the cab com­pany, he interviewed 21-year-old John Lang, a cab driver who knew both Oslund and Johnson for approximately four years. Lang told Reyna that on the day Johnson was killed Oslund told him that he “took care of Johnson” and had been paid to do it.
“Oslund came up to me and said, ‘Your problems are solved.’ I asked him, ‘Which ones?’ and he said, ‘Just watch the news,’ ” Lang told Reyna, Oslund purportedly told Lang that he shot John­son “right between the eyeballs” with a .22-caliber revolver he found on the dresser in Johnson’s bedroom. He pur­portedly further stated to Lang that John­son was asleep in his bed when he com­mitted the killing. Oslund purportedly told Lang that he had been hired for $500, had been paid half down with the remainder to be paid after the killing had been carried out.
During the course of the investigation Reyna uncovered another witness who would come forward and “burn” Oslund for Johnson’s slaying. This wit­ness, Joan Simpson, a friend of Oslund’s, told Reyna that Oslund show­ed her $250 a few days before Christmas and said that it was a partial payment for a job he took. Simpson said Oslund told her it was a job she was “better off not knowing about.”
In the days that followed, still yet an­other witness came forward. This time 18-year-old Polly DiPietro told De­tective Reyna that she met Oslund in December 1982 and that a week after she met him he told her that he “accepted contracts for killing people,” and that he had such a contract to kill Johnson.
“He (Oslund) said it was hard to carry out the contract because it was on some­body he knew and that it was easier to get caught that way,” DiPietro told De­tective Reyna.. The young woman told Reyna that she introduced Oslund to her former boyfriend, a “weapons col­lector,” by the name of Ron Wyman. DiPietro said that she, Wyman and Oslund met in Portland on December 29th and discussed methods in which people could be killed, one such way which called for placing a filled propane tank beneath the hood of a car. Under that scheme, she explained, the tank would explode when the car’s engine had heated to the proper temperature. According to DiPietro’s interview with Detective Reyna, Oslund purchased a propane tank the following day, Decem­ber 21st. However, Oslund purportedly told DiPietro that the scheme would not work because the tank would not fit be­neath the hood of
Johnson’s car. DiPietro told the detective that she traveled to California where she spent the Christ­mas holidays, and that when she returned on December 30th, she asked Oslund if he had killed Johnson. “He (Oslund) said it was done,” she told the detective, but emphasized that Oslund would not say if he had been the one to carry out the execution. Reyna confirmed some of the story through talking with DiPietro’s former boyfriend.
As the investigation continued, according to Detective Reyna, Oslund came into the Hillsboro Police Depart­ment requesting to talk with Reyna on two or three occasions. Each time Oslund made the voluntary appearances he quizzed Reyna about the investiga­tion, how it was going. Reyna likened Oslund’s actions to an arsonist who would stand around watching his fire burn as firemen worked to extinguish it.
“He (Oslund) came in voluntarily, twice, I think, to talk to me,” said De­tective Reyna. “But all he told me was lies, and I knew they were lies. He said he wanted to know who killed his friend, but he was just fishing for information, wanted to find out how much we really knew and whether or not we suspected him of the crime.” Reyna said that Oslund had told him certain details about the evening Johnson was killed, but that he didn’t say anything that Reyna hadn’t already learned from a variety of other sources.
“The suspect had stayed there with Vernon Johnson that Sunday,” said Reyna during a recent interview. “They had watched television that night, drank booze together, and the suspect had slept there for a while. The other residents and friends had left, and Oslund was the only one besides Johnson who had stayed there. After the killing, he apparently left, and Johnson’s body wasn’t found until the following morning.”
Towards the end of January 1983, a month after Johnson’s death, another witness came forward with information about Oslund’s bragging regarding John­son’s death. This time, however, the wit­ness wanted to help police nail Oslund because “Vern was just as good a friend of Jann’s (Oslund) as I was, and he killed him for a measly $500.” The witness, Bill Smith, agreed to be wired with a microphone and a transmitter, and a plan to get Oslund’s confession on tape was set in motion.
With a microphone and a transmitter taped to his chest, Smith contacted Oslund and told him that police de­tectives had interviewed him about the murder of Vernon Johnson. Smith said that police wanted him to take a lie- detector test, and it was for that reason he needed to talk with Oslund so that he could make sure he got his facts straight. Oslund agreed to the talk, and he and Smith met at a pre-arranged location.
Smith and Oslund rode around Hills­boro and rural Washington County in Oslund’s pickup-camper, and were fol­lowed by police detectives in two differ­ent vehicles. Oslund described in detail the killing of Vernon Johnson.
It was approximately 9:30 p.m. on Sunday, December 26, 1982, the day after Christmas, said Oslund, and John­son had already gone to bed. When Oslund entered Johnson’s bedroom, he said, Johnson was asleep. Oslund said that Johnson’s .22-caliber revolver was inside a holster on the dresser at the foot of Johnson’s bed and that the gun was loaded.
“All I had to do was walk in there and pull the trigger,” Oslund told Smith as police officers and detectives listened from a distance and recorded every word. “It was dark and I wasn’t sure where I hit him. Then I heard blood dripping down like a water faucet and I knew he was gone,” Oslund told Smith. Oslund also told Smith that he had been paid $500 to kill Johnson by a man who “just plain hated Vernon.” Oslund did not say who paid him, or why that person hated Johnson enough to want him dead.
On the basis of the taped confession, as well as on the basis of statements taken by witnesses who came forward with information about Oslund’s pur­ported bragging about the killing, De­tective Reyna and several other de­tectives and officers arrested Oslund the following day in the parking lot of a well-known supermarket. He was charged with Oslund’s murder, hand­cuffed, Mirandized and taken to police headquarters and booked.
Oslund’s pickup-camper was im­pounded from the parking lot where he had been arrested. Investigators did not find a gun or other weapon inside the truck. They did find, however, a propane gas tank on the front seat which tied in and was consistent with the scheme in. which a propane tank could be placed under the hood of a car, to explode from the car’s engine heat, discussed by Oslund, Polly DiPietro and her former boyfriend, Ron Wyman. Little else of significance was found inside the pick­up.
On Monday, February 14, 1983, Jann Raymond Oslund was arraigned in Washington County, Circuit Court on a charge of aggravated murder in con­nection with the shooting-murder of Vernon Johnson following a two-day grand jury investigation that led to his indictment. Oslund pleaded innocent to the charge, and was held without bail in the Washington County Jail.
Washington County District Attorney Scott Upham said that an investigation involving the Hillsboro Police Depart­ment, Oregon State Police and the Wash­ington County Sheriff’s Office was con­tinuing into who may have had a motive to hire Oslund to kill Johnson. He ex­plained that his office became actively involved “because there were obvious complexities that required assistance from more than one agency.” Circuit Court Judge Alan C. Bonebrake set the trial date for May 17, 1983.
In the meantime, Oslund’s attorney, Tim Alexander, argued that bail must be set because of the charge of aggravated murder. Alexander argued that courts have maintained that aggravated murder is not merely another form of murder but is in fact a separate crime and, as a result, is not covered by the no-bail statute drafted by the Legislature. “The Legis­lature made a mistake” in not includ­ing it, he argued.
However, Judge Bonebrake ruled that an allegation of aggravated murder necessarily contains an allegation of murder and that “the statutory denial of bail covers this situation.” At the bail hearing, the state further demonstrated that proof was evident and presumption was strong that the defendant was in dan­ger of being convicted, both of which are basis for the denial of bail.
At his trial, Oslund’s attorney, Tim Alexander, contended that Oslund “bragged” about killing Johnson to merely create an image for himself and that one of the state’s key witnesses, Polly DiPietro, simply “had an interest­ing story to tell.” Alexander further argued that the state had so far presented no “physical or direct evidence linking (Oslund) to the homicide…It sounds to me as much imagination as fact. It is going to take substantially more than that to convict.”
After hearing the state’s case against Oslund, which included testimony from several witnesses who claimed they were told by Oslund that he killed Johnson as well as the taped confession police obtained through the help of Bill Smith, the Washington County jury found Oslund guilty of aggravated murder on June 9, 1983. He was sentenced to life in prison, with a minimum of 20 years to be served on the aggravated murder convic­tion and an additional five years because a handgun was used in carrying out the crime.
Oslund, through his attorney, appealed the conviction. However, the conviction was upheld by the State Supreme Court.
As of this writing, the Hillsboro Police Department, Oregon State Police and the Washington County Sheriff’s Depart­ment are still trying to build a solid case against the person who allegedly hired Oslund to kill Vernon Johnson.
Editor’s Note:
Joe Banks, Bill Smith, Polly DiPietro, Joan Simpson, Ron Wyman and John Lang 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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