Friday, August 10, 2012

Sharon Halstead

Sharon Halstead
When Jim Evans returned to his small apartment at the ranch that Thursday at noon, he planned to grab some lunch and then work the rest of the day. What he figured on and what came to pass, however, were two different things.
In his mid-30s, Evans worked as a hand at a horse ranch about four miles west of Newberg on Northeast Olds Lane, near the heart of Oregon’s wine country. He’d taken the morning off to attend to some personal business and do a little shopping. As he entered his living quarters on that dark, dismal day — November 3, 1988 — his plans, including lunch, were wiped out by an unpleasant surprise.
Stepping inside his dwelling, Evans couldn’t believe his eyes. Many of his clothes lay scattered about, furniture was out of place, some of it overturned, and drawers’ contents were strewn on the floor. It was clear that someone had ransacked the flat, but, perhaps because of the sudden shock of finding his home in a shambles, Evans was unable to immediately determine whether anything had been taken.
Somewhat angry and wondering why anyone would do such a thing, the ranch hand left his apartment shaking his head in bewilderment, wondering if the same thing had happened to his co-worker.
Marsdon “Mike” Lemke, who was 58, also worked and lived on the ranch. Although a horse wrangler like Evans, he had worked there longer — since 1979. Because they had much in common, such as being in the same line of work and living and working on the same ranch, he and Evans had become friends.
Even though Lemke was an amiable fellow, he chose to live alone in a small travel trailer he kept parked on the ranch grounds. Thinking that perhaps he might know what had occurred at his apartment, Evans rushed over to Lemke’s trailer after being unable to find him outdoors.
Evans knocked once on the door to Lemke’s small home, but he got no response. He hadn’t seen Lemke in the horse arena or the corral, but it was possible that his co-worker was somewhere else on the ranch, perhaps inside the barn. Just the same, Evans tried the handle to the trailer’s single door. He found that it was unlocked. Without hesitating, he went inside.
If he had been disturbed by what he’d seen in his own apartment, Evans was downright horrified by what he found in Lemke’s trailer.
Lemke was lying in the middle of the floor in a large pool of blood, his body riddled by bullet holes.
Choking back vomit and trembling from fear and revulsion, Evans crept over to where Lemke lay to check for life signs. He found none.
His co-worker and friend, who had been alive when he last saw him only hours earlier, was now clearly dead, Just how long he had been dead, Evans couldn’t tell.
Without wasting another second, Evans rushed to the nearest telephone and called the Yamhill County Sheriff’s Department. After briefly describing his grisly discovery, he was assured that help would be sent immediately. He was instructed to wait outside the trailer until lawmen arrived, and was advised not to touch or disturb anything at or near the scene.
Minutes later, Sheriff Glen Shipman arrived, accompanied by a team of road deputies. Sergeant John Kowalik and Detective Larry Pedersbeck also showed up in their own cars. They met Evans outside the trailer and, although he was distraught, he explained how he had found Lemke’s body after discovering that his own apartment had been ransacked. He could think of no reasonable explanation for what had occurred.
The lawmen carefully entered the trailer to view the carnage. They noted there was a great deal of blood, not only what had puddled beneath Lemke’s body and mushroomed outward, now in a semi-liquid state, but also what had spattered the walls, ceiling, floor, and the trailer’s sparse furnishings. It looked like a case in which criminalists would likely perform a blood-spatter analysis.
The investigators couldn’t immediately determine how many times the victim had been shot. But one thing stood out from the blood and bullet holes: Lemke’s face was twisted into a dreadful grimace, indicating that he’d died horribly.
Since this was obviously a homicide, Sheriff Shipman had one of the deputies notify the district attorney’s office and call in a county medical examiner.
Detective Pedersbeck, assigned by Sheriff Shipman to head the case, asked Evans if he had noticed whether anything was missing from the ranch. Evans, still visibly shaken, replied that he didn’t know yet if anything had been stolen from his own apartment. He said he would have to straighten things first before he could make that determination. What he was able to say, however, was that a red 1988 Chevrolet pickup, hooked to a two-horse trailer, was missing from the spot where it was usually parked. He told Detective Pedersbeck that it belonged to the ranch’s owner, but added that the man could have taken it out for his own use.
Evans said that he hadn’t seen anyone leaving the ranch as he returned from town. There was little activity as he drove down Olds Lane, and everything seemed quiet — too quiet — when he turned onto the road leading into the ranch. Even though Evans hadn’t seen anyone fleeing the scene of the crime, reasoned Pedersbeck, that didn’t mean that someone else, perhaps a neighbor, hadn’t observed someone fleeing the scene or otherwise appearing suspicious.
He reminded himself that he would have to question nearby residents as soon as possible.
There was little that could immediately be learned from the crime scene itself, aside from the fact that a violent homicide had occurred there. There was simply a bullet-riddled body and lots of blood and blood smears, a matter best left to the Oregon State Police (OSP) crime lab criminalists, who arrived a short time later in their specially-equipped vans.
The criminalists knew, paraphrasing an axiom stated by the distinguished French criminalist, Dr. Edmund Locard, some 75 years ago, that the “criminal always leaves something behind at the scene of the crime and always takes something away,” no matter how minute. If that premise proved to be true here — and they had little doubt that it would — then when all the trace evidence had been gathered and analyzed, they hoped to have something of substance to offer the sleuths.
In the meantime, the ranch owner was located, and Detective Pedersbeck quickly learned that he had not taken the pickup as had earlier been suggested. Listing it as stolen, Pedersbeck put out an all-points bulletin (APB) for the pickup with Oregon plates NZL 274. He also included in the police advisory that the vehicle, when last in the possession of its owner, had contained a rifle, a shotgun, and ammunition for both.
By day’s end, following a careful accounting of all the valuable property on the ranch, lawmen determined that, in addition to the truck and trailer, a horse and several thousand dollars worth of horse tack had been stolen. At least on the surface, robbery appeared to have been the motive for Lemke’s slaying.
Along those same lines, some of the investigators theorized that Lemke disturbed the robbery in progress and was killed by the perpetrator to cover up the robbery. One investigator suggested it was possible that Lemke had known his killer or killers and that he was wasted to conceal their identities.
Evidence at the scene indicated that more than one person was involved in the crimes. This line of reasoning was partly fostered by the theft of the pickup. If the killers had brought their own vehicle, more than one driver would have been needed, since they didn’t leave their own vehicle behind.
The remoteness of the area made it highly unlikely that the perpetrators arrived on foot, but the detectives could not yet completely dismiss that possibility.
The following day an autopsy was performed on Lemke’s body at the state medical examiner’s lab. The cause of death was confirmed as “multiple gunshot wounds.
According to Yamhill County District Attorney John Collins, investigators believed that the fatal shots were fired from a .38-caliber handgun. Their belief was based on analysis of the slugs removed from Lemke’s body. It was also possible that a .357 magnum was used in the slaying, since some models of that handgun can also fire .38-caliber bullets.
But the only way its type could be positively confirmed was if the suspected murder weapon was found. Much to the sleuths’ dismay, however, a careful search of the ranch had failed to turn it up.
The next evening — Saturday, November 5th — while the Yamhill County authorities were still trying to unravel the mystery of Marsdon Lemke’s violent death, another incident of extreme violence, at first seemingly unrelated to the Lemke case, occurred in Grants Pass, some 200 miles south of Newberg in Josephine County.
Just minutes before 10:00 p.m., gunshots shattered the silence on an otherwise quiet street in this southern Oregon town of 15,000 people.
One man who was already in bed heard three loud “pops,” resembling firecrackers, spaced closely together. But there was something distinctly different about the sounds that distinguished them from firecrackers.
Within a few seconds, he decided there was no mistake about the sounds. They were gunshots, and they sounded as if they came from his next-door neighbors’ house, the Greene residence.
Moments later, while lying in bed pondering the nature of the gunshots and whether or not he should check it out, he heard someone pounding at his front door, calling out for help. He jumped out of bed and quickly threw on some clothes, but by the time he reached the front door, the person was gone.
The man looked up and down the street. At first he saw no one. Then he spotted someone on the front porch of Sue Bain, another neighbor who lived a couple of houses down from his. She had answered her door and appeared to be talking to the man, who seemed to be injured.
Something about him looked familiar, but, at that distance in the dark, the witness couldn’t make him out.
Sue Bain quickly helped the man inside her house. She recognized him as a resident of the Greene house. He collapsed just inside the door.
A few minutes later, a patrol unit and an ambulance screeched to a halt in front of Sue Bain’s house, soon followed by several other police and medical units. The activity awakened nearly everyone in the neighborhood and brought most of the residents outside their homes.
By this time, the man who’d entered Sue Bain’s house was back outside, this time lying on a gurney, talking to police and being treated by paramedics.
“They were friends,” the wounded man told a police officer. “Why would they do this?” He was crying and beginning to ramble, obviously in intense pain and overwhelmed by concern for the other residents of the house he had just fled.
He kept gesturing toward the Greene residence as he was being loaded into an ambulance that whisked him off to Southern Oregon Medical Center in Grants Pass.
Whatever had happened, reasoned several neighbors who had grouped together outside, it appeared to have occurred inside the Greenes’ house.
Grants Pass Police Sergeant Verlin David was one of the first lawmen to see the carnage. When he went inside he found a young woman lying on the floor in the living room. Sergeant David quickly determined that she was dead, apparently from gunshots. One wound was in her chest, the other on top of her head. It was a sight too grisly even for a cop to endure.
The Grants Pass officers and paramedics promptly encountered an even greater shock as they entered the dining area. There, slumped in a high chair, was a young boy, no more than 2 or 3 years old, they guessed, with a bullet wound to his neck.
Fighting their overwhelming emotions, the officers and paramedics checked for vital signs. The boy was still alive and they had him rushed to the Rogue Valley Medical Center in nearby Medford, where emergency-room doctors worked feverishly into the night to save his life. His condition was listed as critical.
Eric Mellgren, a Grants Pass police spokesman, soon announced that the dead woman was positively identified as 32-year-old Lynnann Rita Greene, a Grants Pass teacher. The wounded man and child were identified as members of her family. Investigators checking a lead regarding visitors to the Greene home a short time before the shootings said there was no apparent motive for what had happened.
“Right now, it’s a mystery,” said Mellgren.
Meanwhile, detectives learned that Lynnann Greene’s adult relative was listed in fair condition following surgery. The bullet had entered through his shoulder blade but missed vital organs.
Although extremely distraught over the violence done against him and those close to him, he nonetheless managed to talk and provide investigators with details of the shootings.
The incident that led to the shooting, the tearful relative told investigators, began at about 9:00 p.m., when 36¬-year-old Sharon Lee Halstead, her 31-year-old sister, Deborah Lynne Halstead, and Sharon’s two male children, ages 9 and 12, dropped in uninvited at the Greene home. The Halsteads, he said, were longtime family friends who grew up with Lynnann and her family and attended the same Seventh-Day Adventist church in Grants Pass as they themselves did.
Backing up a bit, the relative said that the Halstead sisters had also paid a visit to their home the previous evening. Nothing extraordinary had occurred while they were there that evening, but, after they had gone home, Lynnann was unable to find her purse. They looked everywhere for it, but it was nowhere to be found.
Although the relative stopped short of accusing the two sisters of taking it, the lawmen couldn’t help but wonder if the disappearance of the purse had played a part in the motive for the shootings. The shootings, they reasoned, could have been a plot to cover up the theft.
The relative, continuing with his statement, told police that he and Lynnann had had several discussions with the Halstead sisters during the three weeks before the shootings about a series of messages from God that Sharon Hal-stead’s younger child had supposedly received. The kinsman said that Lynnann told the Halsteads she “didn’t go along with what they were saying.”
The topic of spiritual messages came up again on the night of the shootings, he said, but it wasn’t talked about much. Because of his condition, the relative could give only sketchy details of the discussions. The detectives, concerned about his recovery, didn’t push him at this point; they just recorded what he had to say.
The Halsteads, he said, stayed for about half an hour on the night of violence, “whispering and snickering” among themselves. Meanwhile, Lynnann wrote checks to pay the monthly bills, watched television, and played with the child at the table.
Several times he and Lynnann asked the Halsteads what they were whispering and snickering about, but they wouldn’t tell them.
A short time later, he said, Lynnann excused herself and went to the bathroom. While there she discovered that someone had written “Trust Jesus” on the wall in lipstick. When she returned, she was obviously angry and ordered the Halsteads to leave.
It was then, said the relative, that Sharon Halstead pulled out a handgun and motioned for them to move into the living room.
At that time, he said, Deborah Halstead took a portable telephone from a table and said, “Trust Jesus.” All the while, one of the children with the Halsteads, the younger one, was waving a knife. And the older one was dancing around the room chanting that the gun Sharon held was loaded.
The relative told detectives that he began to move slowly toward the back door. When he got outside he began running to try and get help, but he was followed and was shot as he rounded the corner of the garage.
Moments later, he said, additional shots rang out inside the house. He heard Lynnann’s scream, followed by a shot, then another scream followed by another shot.
“If only I had grabbed (the child),” said the relative between sobs. “We had a home life — we liked to go camping and do all the things everyone likes to do. A future, more kids. Then, the whole thing hit a wall.”
Instead of the investigators trying to rush in and make an arrest, their regard for the safety of everyone concerned prevailed. They simply waited while developing a strategy. For starters, they set up a quiet stakeout.
During their survey of the premises, one of the detectives noticed a red pickup parked outside the Halstead’s house. He also observed a two-horse trailer parked nearby, an unusual vehicle to be parked on a residential street.
Although the officers suspected the pickup was the one driven by the two sisters when they left the shooting scene and was most likely theirs, one of the lawmen nevertheless ran a check on the license-plate number.
The check resulted in their receiving a law enforcement advisory from Yamhill County, stating that the pickup bearing Oregon license plate NZL 274 was stolen at the time of a robbery-homicide at a Newberg ranch in which Marsdon Lemke was shot to death.
The already serious situation involving the Halstead sisters was suddenly made all the more ominous by the new information. Josephine County authorities quickly mobilized a SWAT team, which they sent into the peaceful neighborhood.
Over the next few hours, members of the SWAT team moved quietly through the neighborhood, evacuating residents on both sides of the street one house at a time. At one point, at about 2:00 a.m., a visiting male relative of the Halstead sisters awoke and called police to complain about a barking dog, unaware that the dog had apparently been disturbed by the SWAT team’s activities. A police dispatcher told the relative he would send an officer to the neighborhood to investigate.
Two hours later, at 4:00 a.m., police called the Halstead home. The relative who complained about the barking dog answered the call. He was told that police had surrounded the house. The relative, who was visiting the Halstead sisters with his wife on their return to Oregon from a vacation in Texas, was instructed to vacate the house. Shaken by the situation, he agreed to cooperate fully with the lawmen.
It didn’t take long to empty the house. The two visiting relatives, the two children, and Sharon and Deborah Halstead walked slowly outside without resisting, their arms raised.
The two sisters were ordered to lie face down on the ground. They were quickly handcuffed. The two children were immediately placed in the custody of the State Children’s Service Division.
The two women were advised of their rights and held without bail in the Josephine County Jail on charges of homicide and two counts of first-degree assault.
Meanwhile, according to published reports, Lynnann Greene’s young relative, who was a month away from his third birthday, was having difficulty breathing following several hours of difficult surgery to remove a bullet that had nearly severed his spinal cord. Although the bullet entered the boy’s neck near his chin, it had lodged in his back. Leaking spinal fluid, said physicians, contributed to his difficulty in breathing because it compressed his lungs.
Over the next several hours, homicide investigators tried to learn as much as they could about the Halstead sisters and the events that led up to the shootings.
Neighbors told police that Sharon Halstead occasionally held Bible study classes in her home. Some even described her as a religious fanatic.
The religious gatherings were part of a group that included Lynnann Greene, among others, and were sometimes held at Greene’s home. Some participants of the study group, which had begun in 1983, described the activities as a “deliverance ministry.” Others called it a “thought-voice ministry.”
During the religious gatherings, police learned the group would pray together and listen to what they perceived were members’ “visions” or “messages from God and angels.”
Often, demons would be cast out of members, and some would describe out-of-body experiences, or astral projections. More recently, within a few weeks of the shootings, the Halstead sisters had been discussing a message from God with Lynnann Greene.
According to a friend of hers, Lynnann had concluded that the messages were inconsistent with Scripture. The friend told the detectives he was aware that “some tension” had developed over the disagreement, but that he didn’t think the disagreement had become heated.
He said he had talked to the adult victim, who told him that the Halstead sisters dropped in uninvited on the night of the shootings to tell them that God had given them a message.
“These were the kind of people who would say, ‘Sure, come on in ‘ ” he said, characterizing the victims. An argument developed, he said, when Lynnann and her relative told the sisters that they doubted God had actually talked to them and quoted passages from the Bible to support their conclusion.
Like many others, he said he wished he knew for sure why the shootings occurred. “I just don’t have the answers to the questions everyone is asking,” he added.
A former boyfriend of Sharon Halstead’s, who at one time had lived with the suspect, told detectives that Sharon and Deborah claimed to be receiving messages through Sharon’s youngest son.
In the beginning, he said, the child used the messages to persuade his mother to allow him to go skateboarding at night and to take him out of school.
At a later point, the boy was able to persuade Sharon and Deborah to steal or vandalize the property of persons he perceived as being possessed by demons.
The two sisters, said the ex-boyfriend, occasionally went out to slash tires on vehicles belonging to those identified by the boy as demon-possessed.
On one occasion, he said, the Halstead sisters attempted to carry out an extortion scheme involving a group of people in Grants Pass’ Riverside Park whom the child declared were drug dealers.
In the meantime, state criminalists impounded the stolen pickup and horse trailer and began searching them for clues. Investigators also recovered the horse stolen from the Newberg ranch at the time Lemke was killed. It had been kept at a Josephine County stable.
On Tuesday, November 15th, in closed-door proceedings, Josephine County District Attorney Tim Thompson began outlining his case to a grand jury. Two days later, the grand jury returned indictments against Sharon and Deborah Halstead charging them with aggravated murder, making each eligible to face the death penalty if convicted. They were also charged with attempted murder and first-degree assault in connection with the crimes committed against Lynnann Greene’s relatives.
Three weeks later, on Wednesday, December 7th. a Yamhill County grand jury returned indictments charging each of the Halstead sisters with murder, aggravated first-degree theft, second-degree theft, first and second-degree burglary, unauthorized use of a motor vehicle, and second-degree criminal mischief in connection with Lemke’s tragic, senseless death.
Sharon Halstead, accused of being the actual shooter in both cases, pleaded innocent to the charges. Because of a crowded Josephine County court calendar, her trial date in the Greene case was set for September 12, 1989.
On Monday, September 12, 1989, in Yamhill County, Judge Blensly sentenced Sharon Halstead to life in prison with a minimum term of 30 years to be served before consideration of parole in the murder of Marsdon Lemke. When asked if she wished to make a statement, Halstead told the judge that she had nothing to say.
Lynnann Greene’s murder was “a crime of greed” and “should be met with death,” declared a relative at Sharon Halstead’s sentencing hearing later that same month in Josephine County. “That is my feeling.”
The relative also described in his statement to the court how difficult it was to listen to the young, paralyzed boy asking about Lynnann’s whereabouts. He also described how emotionally difficult it was to “rip up the carpet and see the blood of someone you loved.”
From a wheelchair, another of Lynnann Greene’s relatives testified, saying that Halstead’s actions “stole” Lynnann from her. Now, she said, Halstead “wants to live and the state of Oregon has to feed her every day…I hope every night she hears (Lynnann’s) screams. Maybe there’s no justice on Earth, but there will be justice when (Halstead) is gone.”
After hearing Sharon Halstead’s attorney, Ken Hadley, tell the court that his client’s life “was turned upside down by this cult,” making her “a victim, too,” Josephine County Circuit Court Judge Gerald Neufeld sentenced her to life in prison with a 25-year minimum. The term, stipulated Neufeld, is to be served consecutively to the Yamhill County sentence.
The judge also imposed consecutive terms of 10 years each for the attempted murders of Greene’s two relatives, and an additional five years because a firearm was used in the slaying and attempted murders. Judge Neufeld also ruled that significant planning had preceded the crimes, which could affect her parole date.
Editor’s Note:
Jim Evans and Sue Bain 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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