Friday, August 10, 2012

Tyro Elliott

Beaverton, Oregon February 4, 1983It was shortly past two on Wednesday morning, February 10. 1982, when a southbound trucker climbed back into the cab of his rig after a brief stop at the Santiam rest facility, located just off Interstate 5 near Albany, Oregon. While accelerating to gain speed for re-entry onto the freeway the trucker suddenly slammed on his breaks to avoid hitting a man who, without warning, had jumped out of the darkness into the path of the oncoming truck, waving his hands and arms frantically. The trucker, shaken by the near-accident, got out of his rig to see what all the fuss was about. The man was obviously distraught and was speaking nearly incoherently due to his excited, frantic state, or because of some sort of speech impediment. It was difficult at first for the truck driver to determine what was causing the dis­traught man’s difficulty in speaking, and several repeated attempts to calm the man through kind words and actions ul­timately failed, prompting the truck driv­er to wonder if the man could even hear him. Finally, the distraught man was able to communicate to the truck driver that he was a deaf-mute, thus explaining the difficulty speaking. Since he could not hear, the man never learned to speak properly.
Eventually, the trucker was able to calm the man down, and the man identi­fied himself as 43-year-old Tyro Elliott from Beaverton. Through the course of the next several minutes Elliott com­municated to the trucker that he had been abducted by two armed men from his home in Beaverton, and had been drop­ped off at the Santiam rest stop. Although he didn’t have the complete story, it was enough to prompt the truck­er to call the Albany Police Department on behalf of Elliott. However, the truck­er was informed that the rest stop was out of Albany’s jurisdiction, and he was advised to contact the Albany office of the Oregon State Police, which he did. He then drove Elliott to their offices.
Using verbal and sometimes written communications, Elliott told the state police officers on duty that earlier, on Tuesday night, he’d gone shopping at a Beaverton store, leaving his wife and two children at home. When he re­turned home a short time later, he said, he found that his home appeared to have been ransacked.
Not long after entering his house, Elliott told police, he was confronted by three men wearing ski masks and armed with handguns. Communicating with him by the use of hand signals (sign language), Elliott told the cops that his assailants continued to ransack his home, stealing cash and credit cards in the process. Elliott said that the three men then ordered him into his own white van, and proceeded to drive south on Interstate 5 until reaching the Santiam rest stop near Albany. After ordering him out of his van at the rest stop, said Elliott, his assailants handcuffed him to a small tree and left. However, Elliott said that he was able to bend the small tree over and escape by slipping the hand­cuffs over the top of the tree. He said he eventually removed the handcuffs from his hands and flagged down the truck driver who brought him to the state police offices in Albany. Elliott said that he did not see his wife and kids when he was abducted from his home, and ex­pressed his concerns about their safety.
Shortly after 3:00 a.m. Oregon State Police notified the Beaverton Police De­partment of the man’s story, who in turn sent officers to the Elliott home, located in the 14100 block of Southwest Red Haven Drive, to investigate.
When the officers arrived at the well-kept residence, they noted that there were no signs of entry to the door or windows. But it was shortly after 3:00 a.m. and very dark outside, making it difficult for them to be 100 percent cer­tain that the alleged assailants did not force their way inside the house. The officers made a note for detectives to check again later for any signs of forced entry, after sunrise.
After checking the outside doors and windows, the officers returned to the front door and rang the doorbell, then knocked loudly. Several moments later the door was opened by two children who identified themselves as Elliott’s kids. The officers noted that they had obviously awakened the children, and when asked regarding any earlier alterca­tion between their father, mother and any strangers, the children replied that they knew nothing of the alleged incident. The cops concluded that the children evidently slept through the ordeal, if in fact it had occurred.
Where was their mother? One of the officers asked the sleepy children, and was told that their mother was a deaf- mute and was likely asleep. Fearing otherwise, the officers asked to search the premises for themselves, and were led into the living room.
Once inside the house the officers be­gan an extensively exhausting room-by-­room search, noting several locations of the house were in a general state of disarray, with some of the rooms appear­ing as if they had indeed been ransacked. A short time later one of the officers called out to the others from an un­disclosed location in the house and, when they arrived, saw that he had dis­covered the body of a woman, whom they believed to be that of Nonnie L. Elliott, wife of the alleged kidnap vic­tim. The children were taken to a differ­ent location in the house where they could not see what the cops had dis­covered, nor hear the minute details of what they were about to discuss.
The officers noted that it appeared the woman had been beaten severely and stabbed several times. Although her body was fully clothed and there appeared to be no signs of a sexual attack, the cops were nonetheless aghast at the bloody mess that was the woman’s body. They immediately requested assistance from the homicide division.
While they were waiting for the arrival of homicide detectives and additional personnel, the officers first to arrive be­gan mentally recording the physical characteristics of the scene so that they could later enter it into their official writ­ten reports. Trained to protect a crime scene, the law officers touched no­thing they didn’t have to, knowing it was their responsibility to ensure that every­thing remained exactly as they had found it, in order to assure a flawless probe.
Shortly before 4:00 a.m. the Be­averton Police Department’s homicide detail was on the job, and they likewise alerted Washington County Deputy Dis­trict Attorney Ray Robinette, Washing­ton County Medical Examiner Dr. Ronald L. O’Halloran and the Oregon State Police crime laboratory located in nearby Portland. When they arrived, they found the victim lying in a pool of her own blood in the same location where the first officers had found her. Her body had not been moved.
The interior of the room where the woman’s body was found was ghastly, if not because of the body itself then because of the pool of blood and blood spatters, most of which were still wet but in varying degrees of wetness, depending on the size of the blood spot or patch.
Needless to say, it was an extremely gruesome sight for even the most sea­soned sleuths due, mainly, to the stab wounds the woman had sustained and the amount of blood she had lost.
Upon initial examination from observation, the homicide sleuths could see that the victim’s head had sustained injuries and had likely been beaten on the head with some sort of blunt instrument. The cops took note of the fact that the victim’s mouth was twisted, convoluted in a violent manner, an indication that she died horribly. But in spite of the beating and the stab wounds she had sus­tained, the probers could not im­mediately determine the precise cause of death. They would have to wait for that information until an autopsy could be performed.
“There were some blows struck, and a knife was involved,” said Washington County District Attorney Ray Robinette, who added that the woman, now posi­tively identified as Nonnie Elliott, a resi­dent of the house, had been killed “in the neighborhood” of 10:30 p.m. the eve­ning before, apparently before or during the alleged abduction of her husband, Tryo.
As the investigation continued, the de­tectives kept in mind that they could be their own worst enemies, at least as far as contamination of the crime site was con­cerned. As they probed for evidence the sleuths took extreme precautions not to disturb potential evidence until the state police crime lab technicians could proc­ess it and begin removing it in an orderly manner. The investigators knew they would have to be able to account for every item they touched for the possible future elimination of fingerprints. They also knew they would have to remember every place they walked in the event they discovered bloody footprints made by the perpetrator.
The lawmen reasoned that if Elliott’s story was accurate, the assailants must have forced their way in through the front door when either Mrs. Elliott or her children answered it, thus explaining why there were no signs of forced entry (subsequent efforts by homicide de­tectives failed to turn up any forced doors or windows). The detectives had to consider the possibility that Mrs. Elliott or her children opened the door to some­one they knew, but if that was the case, why didn’t Mr. Elliott also know them? But, on retrospect, they had to rule out the possibility of the children opening the door to anyone because they had been asleep when officers arrived to in­vestigate and knew nothing of any earlier altercation, or so they said. There was no reason to suspect the kids of lying, and it was extremely doubtful that they could go to sleep knowing their mother lay dead in another room, brutally beaten and stabbed to death. But why hadn’t they heard anything? Surely, probers reasoned, such a violent altercation would wake even the soundest sleeper, but these kids evidently slept through the entire ordeal. Why? It was a gnawing question they just didn’t have an answer to at this point.
When the medical examiner arrived, he made a preliminary examination of the victim’s body, taking notes as he went along. He observed rigor mortis had be­gun to set in, but had not yet reached an advanced stage, an indication that the victim had not been dead more than a few hours, which coincided with the 10:30 p.m. estimate of the alleged altercation and abduction of Tyro Elliott. He also took a rectal temperature reading of the victim’s body heat, which also pointed towards the 10:30 estimate of the time of death.
When he had completed his examina­tion the medical examiner told the de­tectives, much to their dismay, that he could not give them any specific answers at this point and could not give them any information that they had not already noted themselves. They would just have to wait and hope that an autopsy would turn up something more significant. But it was doubtful, for it was obvious that the victim died from the stab wounds or the beating she had sustained, or both. The medical examiner said the body could be removed to the county morgue when the detectives and crime lab technicians no longer needed it at the crime site.
Upon the arrival of the Oregon State Police crime lab technicians, a sign was placed on the front door of the house which read: DO NOT ENTER. THESE PREMISES ARE CLOSED DUE TO AN INVESTIGATION BEING CON­DUCTED THEREIN.
Once inside the house, the crime lab personnel conferred briefly with the de­tectives and the deputy district attorney to obtain information pertinent to the case. They then set about completing their detailed work by first surveying the interior of the house to determine the path of the perpetrators. Once they had completed this task they had a rough idea as to what order the house would be processed, although they admitted that it would be difficult, if not impossible, to determine precisely where the violent ordeal began.
Crime lab investigators and police photographers soon began taking pic­tures of the victim’s body from many different angles. They also photo­graphed the interior of the house careful­ly before moving anything, keeping in mind all the while that photographic rec­ords are invaluable aids to detectives, enabling them to recall the locations of various objects should they have to tes­tify in court. They also knew it was their job — as much as it was the detectives’ — to protect a crime scene from contamina­tion or destruction of potential evidence.
Once the house was photographed, a fingerprint technician from the Oregon State Bureau of Identification began ex­amining the single-story dwelling for fingerprints, of which he found many. Knowing that most of the prints would likely belong to the victim and her fami­ly, the fingerprint technician equally knew that he would have to go through a tedious process of elimination by fingerprinting the victim’s body, her family and those present at the crime site before knowing for certain who the prints belonged to.
The technician concentrated his efforts on the windows ledges, door fac­ings, tables, appliances, and everywhere else he thought he might be able to pick up good impressions. The possibilities were endless. Suffice it to say that he didn’t ignore many areas, and when he had finished, he had many latent im­pressions to examine, all of which could be identified if he had a suspect to match the prints to.
The crime lab experts continued with their tedious work at the crime site throughout the day, on the assumption that a criminal cannot commit his crime without taking something belonging to him inside with him, such as hairs, clo­thing fibers or any of a number of various items. They also took blood samples from the various areas of the house, and set up bright flood lights to aid them in looking for footprints that might have been made from the victim’s blood. Additionally, due to the considerable amount of blood and blood spatters present in the house, the investigators concluded that it would have been vir­tually impossible for the killer(s) to have completed his savage act without getting some of the victim’s blood on his or their own clothes. With this in mind, the in­vestigators searched all the rooms in the house, including hallway closets and the basement, in an attempt to recover any blood-soaked clothing that the fleeing assailants might have discarded.
After obtaining as much obvious evi­dence as was available, not to mention the not-so-obvious, the detectives and crime lab experts packed up their gear while noting that all nearby resi­dences should be contacted. After the victim’s body was removed from the house, the homicide probers decided it was time they started knocking on doors.
The cops confirmed by talking to neighbors that the Elliotts had lived at their Beaverton residence for 12 to 14 years. The husband, Tyro, had been em­ployed as a machine operator at Tektro­nix in Beaverton, a high technology in­dustrial plant, for 15 years. The Elliotts were described by several neighbors as a “fine family,” who did not socialize much in the neighborhood.
“They were very quiet and very fami­ly oriented,” said one neighbor, who asked not to be identified. “I think they lived here for about 12 or 13 years, but no one knew them very well. They stayed to themselves.”
“I don’t think either of them could hear very well and their speech wasn’t clear at all,” said another resident.
“We spoke to each other and kind of looked out for each other, but we were not close friends,” said still another neighbor.
After contacting all the neighbors in the area, the detectives were unable to find one single person who heard or saw anything suspicious late Tuesday night or early Wednesday morning. This trou­bled them immensely. Why? It was a gnawing question. Why hadn’t Elliott’s neighbors or their children seen or heard anything suspicious? It just di­dn’t seem likely to the detectives that a violent killing and an armed abduction by three masked men could be carried out without someone seeing or hearing something.
Where did the three armed men come from? A search of the neighborhood failed to turn up any out of place or abandoned vehicles. Did they simply walk to the Elliott home? Or were they dropped off by an additional accom­plice?
Tyro Elliott was again interviewed by the homicide probers and, through a sign language interpreter, he repeated his story much as he had several hours ear­lier. He said he’d gone shopping, re­turned home to find that his house had been ransacked, was confronted by armed, masked assailants who forced him into his own van and drove to the Santiam rest stop where he was hand­cuffed. He said he believed that the assailants’ final destination was some­where on the Oregon coast, but could not name the precise location.
Elliott, accompanied by several in­vestigators, returned to the Santiam rest stop and pointed out the location where he had been handcuffed to a tree and identified his white van, still parked at the rest stop. Sleuths noted that the tree to which he had been handcuffed was small and thin, and could easily have been bent to allow Elliott to escape. Af­ter a brief search of the area, probers found a pair of toy handcuffs Elliott said had been used to secure him to the tree. The handcuffs were taken as evidence, and the van was impounded to the state police crime labs in Portland where it could be thoroughly processed for clues.
How did the assailants flee or other­wise get away from the rest stop after leaving Elliott’s van? Did they have an­other car waiting for them at the rest stop? Did they hitchhike? Steal a car? Walk? Elliott had no answers for them, explaining that he was out of sight from his assailants when they fled, and left it up to detectives to come up with the answers to their own questions.
There had been no reports of stolen vehicles in the vicinity of the rest stop on the morning of February 10th, so sleuths could easily rule out that possibility. As far as the other possibilities were con­cerned, they simply had to resign them­selves to the fact that it would be di­fficult, if not impossible, to pin them down.
Several hours later, the detectives accepted the fact that they had not been able to uncover any significant additional leads. At this point, all they had was a dead woman on their hands who had been badly beaten, stabbed repeatedly and left to be found by her children or the cops. Fortunately for the kids, it was the cops who found her.
They did have some accompanying evidence which might later prove useful, consisting of blood and tissue samples taken from the crime site, the victim’s body, a white van, and a pair of toy handcuffs. Detectives declined to say, however, if they had recovered any weapons, and took their skimpy leads and scarce clues back to their offices where they would spend the rest of their day and most of their evening compiling reports and comparing notes.
In the meantime, Sgt. Wes Ervin, public information officer for the Beaverton Police Department, explained at a news conference that detectives working on the case simply did not have enough detailed information of the cir­cumstances regarding the homicide to come to any firm conclusions. Ervin said that Tyro Elliott would, of course, be questioned again, but emphasized that he was not a suspect in the case. Ervin added that the detectives had no suspects to zero in on at this point in the investiga­tion.
Meanwhile, Washington County Medical Examiner Dr. Ronald L. O’Hal­loran completed his autopsy on Nonnie Elliott’s body and officially concluded that she had been beaten on the head with a blunt instrument, stabbed multiple times, but had died of mechanical asphy­xia. O’Halloran stated that mechanical asphyxia is an obstruction of the air pas­sage and can be caused by a number of methods. However, he did not comment regarding the precise cause of mechanical asphyxia.
With nowhere else to go with their investigation, detectives returned to Elliott’s neighborhood in their quest for the elusive pieces to their homicidal puz­zle. Was there anyone who would want the woman dead? Anyone at all that she didn’t get along with? The probing homi­cide sleuths asked the questions over and over to everyone in the neighborhood, searching for a motive behind this seemingly motiveless crime. They in­terviewed relatives, known friends, ac­quaintances, even Elliott’s co-workers, but they simply hit one dead end after another.
Probers considered that Nonnie Elliott’s slaying might have been a stranger-against-stranger crime, as her husband claimed, which would ul­timately make the case more difficult to solve. But gut-level feelings told the sleuths that this wasn’t a stranger-against-stranger crime, as did the fact that they had no evidence indicating that it was.
No one in their mind, the sleuths reasoned, would willingly open their door to a complete stranger late in the evening, much less open it to three com­plete strangers. Of course it was possible that Mrs. Elliott did not lock the door when her husband left for the grocery store, making it possible for her assailants to enter freely and without warning. But, again, it just didn’t seem plausible.
Again the question of why no one saw or heard anything suspicious on the night of the homicide came up, nagging at the inquisitive brains of sleuths, refusing to go away. Even deaf-mutes can make noise with their voices loud enough to signal that they are in distress. And law­men reasoned, it is only human nature to become curious if there is something or someone of a suspicious nature lurking about one’s neighborhood. But no one, not even Elliott’s own children, re­ported hearing or seeing anything out of the ordinary that fateful night.
Could it be that nothing out of the ordinary, aside from the seemingly senseless homicide, happened that night? Could it be that Mrs. Elliott was killed by someone she knew and trusted, after her children had gone to bed? Was it possible that she had become embroiled in a heated argument with someone, us­ing sign language, of course — a fight which ultimately turned into a violent altercation that resulted in her death?
If their current line of reasoning was correct, a lot of the detectives’ questions would be answered. If Mrs. Elliott had become involved in a heated argument with someone using sign language, it was possible, the investigators theo­rized, that she had been struck without warning with a blunt instrument, perhaps knocking her unconscious, and was sub­sequently beaten and stabbed. That would at least explain why no one, parti­cularly her children, had heard anything. But who was the culprit? Her husband? Or some other person close to her who knew sign language?
Tyro Elliott was brought to Beaverton police headquarters for additional questioning and was interviewed at length by homicide detectives through a sign language interpreter.
Elliott again told his story of abduction by masked gunmen but, this time, there were dis­crepancies to his tale. Sleuths left him along for awhile in the interrogation room while they conferred with each other and compared notes. When they returned they placed Tyro Elliott under arrest, and charged him with the death of his wife. After reading him his rights, Elliott was taken to the Washington County Jail in Hillsboro where he was held without bail.
“There were inconsistencies, dis­crepancies and events that could not be substantiated in any respect,” said Washington County Deputy District Attorney Ray Robinette, adding that he understood that the killing occurred as the result of “a domestic argument of some sort,” and that homicide detectives now believe that Elliott drove himself to the Santiam rest stop and set the scenario to make it appear as if he had been abducted. Robinette declined further comment about the case.
Tyro Elliott was indicted by a Wash­ington County grand jury, which charged him with murder in the strangulation death of his wife, 38-year­-old Nonnie. Elliott retained Portland attorney Wendell Birkland to defend him, and pleaded innocent to the charges.
However, in a surprise move before a trial date had even been set, Washington County Deputy District Attorney Bruce Johnson announced that a plea bargain­ing agreement had been reached through negotiations with his office and Elliott’s attorney, Wendell Birkland. Johnson said that Elliott agreed to plead guilty to the lesser charge of first-degree man­slaughter. In exchange for the guilty plea the state agreed not to recommend a five-year minimum that could be imposed on a full maximum sentence of 20 years in prison on the manslaughter charge.
Oregon law defines first-degree man­slaughter as the intentional killing of another person “under the influence of an extreme emotional disturbance,” and the normal sentence is 20 years, allowing for the sentencing judge to impose a minimum number of years that must be served. Birkland, Elliott’s attorney, an­nounced that he did not agree with the intended sentencing and said that he would “offer testimony and witnesses that another sentence would be more appropriate.”
In accepting the plea before Judge Jon B. Lund, Deputy District Attorney John­son said that “we feel this is an appropri­ate plea in the case,” and stated that it had been approved by District Attorney Scott Upham.
At Elliott’s sentencing, testimony was heard from a Seattle psychiatrist who said he examined Elliott extensively and was convinced that the victim had suf­fered from a rare mental condition known as “Capgras syndrome,” dis­covered in the 1920s by a doctor in France.
“The individual (inflicted with the condition),” testified the psychiatrist, “usually a schizophrenic, has the belief that a person close to them is really an imposter that has taken the place of a real person. Nonnie believed her husband was not really her husband. She attacked the person she believed to be the impos­ter with such conspicuous vigor that Tyro genuinely feared for his life. He did not know what was going on.”
“He was fighting a wounded bear,” testified one of the defendant’s friends who said he “trusted (Elliott) com­pletely.” In recommending that Elliott be placed on probation in the care of a relative instead of going to prison, Elliott’s attorney, Wendell Birkland, called several character witnesses in­cluding friends, relatives, co-workers and others. They testified that they felt Elliott would not be a threat to the com­munity if he were released on probation.
However, Deputy District Attorney Johnson urged Judge Lund to impose the maximum sentence of 20 years (without setting a minimum before Elliott could become eligible for parole). “Some­times,” argued Johnson, “one might wonder who the victim was, listening to these witnesses.” Johnson cited the facts that the crime Elliott committed was brutal, that he “set up” the crime scene in such a way that it would lead police to think that a robbery had been committed. Johnson stressed the fact that Elliott left his two children inside the house alone with the body of their dead mother. Stat­ing that he had doubts regarding the de­fendant’s claim that he killed his wife because he had been provoked, Johnson said that even if true, “It doesn’t take away from the seriousness of the crime.”
“This is not an easy case (to decide),” said Judge Lund, stating that although Elliott may not be a threat to the commu­nity he should still be sentenced to prison to serve as deterrent to others. He added that Elliott should be sentenced to a pris­on term so that he will be placed in an “isolated” environment where he can think about the crime he has committed, and so that the state can be certain that he receives psychological treatment.
On Friday, February 4,1983, nearly a year after he killed his wife, Tyro Elliott was sentenced to 10 years in prison. Actual time served, however, would be determined by the State Parole Board.

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