A Quiet Community
Map with Oregon City, Oregon Locator
Oregon City, Oregon, is located about 20 miles south of Portland, the state’s largest city, and has generally been considered a quiet, peaceful community, nicely tucked away from the hustle and bustle of the larger metropolitan area that is home to more than one million people. The town began as a lumber mill in 1829, located on the Willamette River, and was founded by Dr. John McLoughlin. The city bears the distinction of being the first city incorporated west of the Mississippi River, and McLoughlin, along with other early settlers, welcomed new arrivals who, like themselves, had dared to embark on the often perilous journey along the Oregon Trail. It is recognized as the last stop on the Oregon Trail and soon adopted the motto, Urbs civitatis nostrae prima et mater — first and mother-town of our state. A large portion of the city is situated along a bluff that overlooks the river, while other parts of the community are spread out along the banks of the Willamette. Although it was eventually designated as the capital of Oregon territory, nowadays it is the county seat of Clackamas County and is home to about 30,000 residents. Unfortunately, no one knew that they had a monster living in their midst — evil incarnate — until it was too late.
Ashley Marie Pond
Wednesday, January 9, 2002, started off as a typically cold and rainy Pacific Northwest winter morning, as 12-year-old Ashley Marie Pond prepared for school. Shortly after 8 a.m., and running a little late to catch her school bus, Ashley kissed her mother goodbye and walked out of their South Beavercreek Road apartment in Oregon City, Oregon, and began the 8-10 minute walk to the stop where the bus carrying her friends and classmates would pick up the seventh-grader near the apartment complex’s entrance and take them to Gardiner Middle School. The temperature was forty-three degrees;Ashley could see her breath as she walked uphill along the path through a stand of hemlock trees towards the school bus stop. She likely shivered a time or two from the morning chill, oblivious to the fact that she would never return home again.
Gardiner Middle School
Newell Creek Village Apartments, where Ashley and her relatives resided, is a medium-sized apartment community comprised of 125 units, fashioned to suit the needs of lower middle-class tenants, single mothers, and those who were designated as mentally challenged. Constructed in the late 1990s, the complex was relatively new. An attractively designed community, it is cozily situated in the hills above the Portland-area suburb. Even though there was a relatively high turnover rate, the vacancies did not last long and there was often a waiting list of potential tenants waiting to move in. Like all apartment communities, Newell Creek Village had its share of problems over the years. The police were called on a somewhat regular basis to quell domestic disputes and investigate burglaries, most of the incidents of which were not particularly memorable. None of the 300 or so residents would have ever imagined that the place they called home would become the center of national media attention soon after Ashley disappeared and, later, the focal point of a murder investigation that no one would ever forget.
Ashley was a popular girl at school, and was a member of her school’s dance team, the Fallen Angels. She was also a member of the swimming team. On the last day that her mother saw her alive, Ashley had been eager to attend dance practice after school. That was the reason that her mother hadn’t expected her to return home immediately after classes that day. However, when Ashley hadn’t shown up at home and had not called by 6 p.m., her mother became worried. It just wasn’t like her to not check in.
According to news articles in the Portland Tribune, Ashley’s mother soon learned that her daughter hadn’t shown up for school at all that day. She called the school, but most of the teachers and administrators had already gone home by that time, and she had been unable to connect with anyone who had seen Ashley that day. She also called several of Ashley’s classmates, those with whom she knew Ashley to have been close — but no one had seen her. She also instinctively checked Ashley’s room to see if any of her clothes were missing. Even though it was unlikely that Ashley had run away from home, she had to be sure. Nothing was missing. Having covered all of the bases and frantic with worry, the next telephone call she made was to the Oregon City Police Department. She described Ashley as a well-behaved daughter, Caucasian, 5 feet 3 inches tall, 110 pounds with brown hair and brown eyes. She also told the police that Ashley had a birthmark on her right hip.
An Investigation Begins
After taking the initial report of Ashley’s sudden and unexplained disappearance, Oregon City detectives, wasting no time, began interviewing several of Ashley’s classmates. What they discovered was very disturbing — Ashley had not taken the bus to school that day. When the bus had pulled up at the scheduled stop at 8:19 a.m., they were told, Ashley wasn’t there with the other kids that got on.
Oregon City Police Patch
In the hours and days that followed, investigators, some with bloodhounds, also fanned out and searched the surrounding areas while others questioned many of the complex’s residents as they hunted leads that might point them toward a suspect. Search crews that consisted of mostly volunteers also became involved and carefully examined the neighboring properties for any sign of the girl — looking for things like school books, a purse, clothing items, anything at all. The detectives also examined lists of known sex-offenders in the area, and carefully scrutinized Ashley’s Internet activit,y including her contacts and the sites she visited. However, they came up empty-handed at every turn.
Even though Ashley’s mother didn’t believe that her daughter had run away from home, the Oregon City Police Department continued to manage their investigation without dismissing that possibility. There had been a number of domestic problems that had occurred within Ashley’s home life that caused investigators to continue that line of reasoning; there had also been reports that Ashley had been seen in the area after her disappearance. However, the investigators soon determined that the reported sightings of Ashley had been false.
Obviously not making any headway into determining what had happened to Ashley, the Oregon City detectives, only a few days into the investigation, decided that they needed outside help with the case and, on January 18, 2002, nine days after Ashley disappeared, they asked the FBI for assistance. Convinced by then that Ashley had been abducted and possibly killed, according to the Tribune, they took advantage of a federal law that authorizes the FBI to get involved in cases of missing children that wouldn’t necessarily otherwise fall under their jurisdiction.
The FBI Enters the Case
As the FBI became involved, the federal agents took on a more macroscopic approach toward Ashley’s disappearance than had the Oregon City investigators. From the outset, it looked like it was going to be a tough case to crack. They did not have a crime scene to examine, and none of the efforts of the combined law enforcement agencies had turned up any witnesses. Thinking they knew straightaway how the case should be handled, the FBI rapidly put together a task force that was comprised of investigators from the Oregon State Police, the Clackamas County sheriff’s department, the Oregon City Police Department and the neighboring West Linn Police Department. Charles Matthews, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI in Oregon, headed the task force.
Charles Matthews, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI in Oregon
Intent on moving their investigation beyond the immediate apartment community and the adjacent neighboring areas, the task force interviewed Ashley’s friends and relatives and questioned her teachers and the administrators at her school. Utilizing Boy Scouts, thousands of fliers with Ashley’s photograph and details of her disappearance were handed out door-to-door throughout the Oregon City area. Days later, despite the fact that tips were being called in as a result of the increased public awareness about Ashley’s disappearance, the task force only hit more dead-ends as the leads that trickled in proved fruitless.
At one point, a law enforcement dog handler, along with a Clackamas County sheriff’s deputy, searched the neighborhood, including the yard of a ranch-style house across the street from the apartment complex. Although the resident, Ward Weaver, refused their request to look inside his house, he did give them permission to look around outside in his yard. As the case moved into February, the detectives still didn’t have a clue as to what had happened to Ashley during the ten minutes between the time she left her apartment to when she should have arrived at her bus stop.
A Background of Abuse
During the course of their interviews, police investigators, both at the local and federal levels, learned that a year earlier, Ashley’s biological father had been indicted on 20 counts of rape and 20 counts of sodomy involving Ashley over a four-year period, according to reports in The Oregonian. She hadn’t known her biological father until her mother, some seven or eight years into her marriage with her high school sweetheart and then-current husband, decided to divorce the man that Ashley had considered to have been her father. A dispute over child support payments prompted DNA testing to establish paternity, and Ashley was overwhelmed and overcome with confusion when the results of the tests came back — the man that she had thought of as her father for most of her life was not her dad after all. Sadly, the alleged abuse began shortly after she began trying to get acquainted with her biological father.
When she would come home from her weekend visits with her real father, friends and relatives noticed that she was often brooding and seemed angry, and that her behavior had worsened following subsequent visits over the four-year period. It got to the point where she refused to make the weekend visits, and she finally confided to her mother the details of what had been happening to her.
Her biological father managed to plea bargain his case, resulting in it never going to trial. He eventually pleaded no contest to a single count of attempted unlawful sexual penetration, and was sentenced to 10 years’ probation — a mere slap on the hands for the shame and degradation that he had inflicted upon his own child. According to the deputy district attorney that prosecuted the case, Ashley had claimed that her biological father was not the only adult male that had sexually abused her.
By April 2001, the task force learned, the police had been called to Ashley’s apartment several times to quell drunken disturbances and domestic disputes. As a result, she began spending considerable time at a neighbor’s home, situated along South Beavercreek Road near the edge of the apartment complex where she lived. One of her friends and classmates lived there, along with other family members.
Ward Weaver III
The neighbor, Ward Weaver III, 39 at the time, and his family had moved into the rental house at that location a few years earlier, and Ashley, along with another friend, Miranda Gaddis, had eventually befriended Weaver’s daughter, who was near their age and attended the same elementary school. The trio had met the year before they graduated to Gardiner Middle School.
At first, Ashley’s relationship with the Weavers simply involved sleepovers with their daughter when they were both still in elementary school. Weaver often dropped Ashley and his own daughter off at Gaffney Lane Elementary School following the sleepovers. On one occasion, Ashley’s reading teacher saw Weaver kiss Ashley on the lips when he dropped her off. The teacher filed an official report of the incident with the principal, but little else was said about it. By the summer of 2001, she had purportedly begun staying at the Weaver home in what were described by the local media as “extended visits.” In late July and early August, Ashley accompanied the Weaver family on a two-week vacation to California. Shortly after their return, Ashley accused Weaver of molesting her and moved back home. She also confided the matter to her reading teacher and claimed that Weaver had threatened to testify against her in her biological father’s case, had it gone to trial, if she persisted in the matter.
Shortly after Ashley accused Weaver of molesting her, Weaver called one her relatives on the telephone to complain.
“I’m calling to let you know that Ashley has just now accused me of molesting her and raping her,” Ashley’s relative quoted Weaver as saying. “She (Ashley) told my daughter this. I want you to know that she is never allowed back at my house again. I’ve completely washed my hands of her. She just ruined the relationship.”
The police would later learn that Weaver, on the day that Ashley disappeared, had shown up for work at his job in the community of Clackamas, not far from Oregon City, at around 9:30 a.m. that day. Apparently, according to police documents, it had not been determined whether he left work at anytime that day, nor had the police determined what time he arrived at home after work.
Slipping Through the Cracks
At the investigation’s outset, while those involved worked feverishly searching for answers, it was difficult to see how Ashley’s abuse and the clues that pointed to Weaver as a suspect in her disappearance slipped past the combined efforts of the multi-jurisdictional task force. However, in retrospect, it became more apparent that vital clues reported by concerned individuals, if given attention earlier, might have prevented the case from slipping through the cracks of the system that was set up to help protect children from predatory monsters that live in the world. Those same clues, had they been taken more seriously sooner, might have worked to save another child’s
life. According to reports that initially appeared in the Portland Tribune and later made their way to national television news programs on CNN, MSNBC, and countless other networks, witnesses who suspected that something was very much amiss with regard to the association between Ward Weaver III and Ashley Pond were virtually ignored by investigators until much later. Some of the witnesses were not given the attention many people felt was deserved until the investigation was into its seventh month!
A relative of Ashley’s mother, for example, reported that Ashley had stayed at her house about a week before she disappeared and had shared some of her secrets with the relative’s older daughter. One of those secrets was that Weaver had prevented Ashley from exiting his house when she had wanted to go home. Ashley’s friend, Miranda Gaddis, had witnessed such an episode, Ashley had confided. Miranda purportedly had seen Weaver push himself up against Ashley, using the weight and size of his body, to prevent Ashley from leaving. The relative claimed that she had never been contacted by investigators after she had called in the report.
A former boyfriend of Ashley’s mother, who had knowledge of Ashley’s relationship with Weaver and his family, had called the police to voice his concern that Ashley’s relationship with Weaver had seemed improper to him. He cited an incident in which he was visiting Ashley’s mother when Weaver suddenly showed up. He said that at one point Ashley sat on Weaver’s lap and began kissing him on his face.
“She was being very sexually aggressive, and Ward looked uncomfortable, like he had something to hide,” the witness told a Tribune reporter. “I thought the behavior was totally inappropriate.”
The witness claimed that he “got a sick feeling about Weaver” after Ashley disappeared, and stated that he had reported his concerns to the Oregon City Police Department and to the FBI following Ashley’s disappearance. No one, he said, from either agency ever contacted him.
Another person that was close to both the Weaver and Pond families claimed that Ashley had slept in the same bed with Weaver at his house, and that it had caused problems between Weaver and his live-in girlfriend of the past few years. Again, according to the witness reports, investigators had made little attempt to investigate the alleged inappropriate behavior that some people believed was going on at the Weaver house.
Friction at the Weaver’s
The Weaver Home
Yet another witness close to the Pond family told the Tribune that she had called child services representatives on two occasions to report the “disturbing” relationship that Ashley apparently had with Weaver. The witness said that she had been told by a family member that Weaver had been acting as a father figure to Ashley, and that Weaver had taken Ashley “under his wing…because she was missing her dad.” It was all so appalling that it seemed beyond belief to many people close to the case.
On one occasion, the witness said, she had been visiting at Ashley’s apartment in July 2001 when Weaver’s girlfriend had called Ashley’s mother. Weaver’s girlfriend had been very upset because Ashley was always there, living at Weaver’s house, and that Weaver was paying more attention to Ashley than he was paying to his own family.
“Ashley was sleeping in bed with him, while (the girlfriend) was sleeping elsewhere in the house,” the witness told the newspaper reporter. “There was so much friction that it was basically tearing the family apart.” When the girlfriend insisted that Ashley had to go, Weaver became defiant. “He would get physical with (the girlfriend). They were basically fighting over Ashley.” The witness said that she had later asked Ashley about the details of the conversation that she’d had with Weaver’s girlfriend, and that Ashley had confirmed much of it.
“She kind of defended him, as a matter of fact,” the witness said. “She seemed to like the attention. She’s always been a very needy child — it drives you nuts sometimes.” She said that she had explained to Ashley that sleeping in the same bed as Weaver was very inappropriate.
The witness said that she had called Oregon’s child protective services and had reported what she knew to a caseworker, but that the agency had not followed up with her. About a month later, in August 2001, right after Ashley had made accusations that Weaver had raped her, the witness again called the child protective services agency and was told that “there was basically nothing they could do.”
When news of the telephone calls had been made public, a spokesperson for the Department of Human Services, which oversees the child protective services division, defended their actions by saying that reports of abuse allegations from third parties were routinely turned over to the law enforcement agency in the child’s jurisdiction.
By late autumn and early winter, after Ashley had fallen out of favor at the Weaver residence, people began to notice a marked improvement in her behavior and demeanor. She had become calmer, her grades had improved, and she had fewer blow-ups with her mother. Months later, it even appeared that she had become friendly with Weaver and his family again, and she eventually resumed spending at least some of her time at their house. But sometime in late December 2001, around Christmas, Weaver’s live-in girlfriend apparently had had enough of Weaver’s displays of affection toward 12-year-old Ashley Pond and moved out of the house. Less than two weeks later, Ashley vanished.
Miranda Gaddis, headstrong and opinionated, was born November 18, 1988, in Oregon City and had lived in the area most of her young life. A pretty girl, she had aspirations of becoming a model. Although outgoing and friendly, Miranda, like her friend Ashley, had also been a victim of sexual abuse at a young age and she knew the trauma and depths of degradation that her friend had been put through. Her biological father, like Ashley’s, had gotten into trouble with the law for sex crimes. Her father had served 19 months in prison on six counts of rape and for custodial interference involving underage girls in 1994. His crimes, however, had not involved Miranda.
However, Miranda’s mother had found a new boyfriend shortly after the trouble with Miranda’s biological father. The new boyfriend had completed the tenth grade, but hadn’t learned how to read. Unlike Miranda’s father, the boyfriend had sexually abused Miranda along with two other girls. He was indicted in 1999 on 22 counts of sexual abuse involving Miranda and the other two girls, and was eventually convicted of three counts of abuse and one count of criminal mistreatment and sent to prison. Perhaps in part because of what had happened to her, Miranda didn’t hesitate about coming forward to provide to the police much of what she knew about Ashley’s sexual abuse. Even though the information was useful, it had not seemed, at least at the time, to have brought the task force any closer to solving the matter of Ashley’s disappearance.
Miranda and Ashley, who rode the bus together and were in the same dance class at school, had become close friends, and Ashley had often told Miranda details of her personal problems, which were numerous. Among the things that Ashley had told Miranda were details of the allegations she had made against her biological father and Weaver. She also claimed to have been sexually abused by two other adults who remained unnamed. Perhaps more significant was the fact that Ashley, just prior to her disappearance, had told Miranda and others, including her mother and one of her teachers, that it had been during the two-week trip to California in August 2001 that Weaver had raped her.
Miranda, like Ashley, had been friends with Weaver’s daughter. The police would eventually piece together information indicating that Miranda, shortly after spending the night at the Weaver house for his 11-year-old daughter’s birthday party, had also told others some of the details that Ashley had confided to her about Weaver. Word traveled fast, and by the end of February 2002, it was all over the school that Weaver had raped Ashley. It was an understatement to say that Weaver’s daughter was embarrassed and had been ostracized by her classmates, a tough position for an 11-year-old to be placed in, to the point that some days she didn’t want to go to school. Word had it that Weaver was furious about the things that were being said about him.
One of Weaver’s ex-wives told the police that he was a “really aggressive person,” and she suggested that when things did not go his way, he was quick at finding “another way to take things out.”
On March 8, 2002, exactly sixty days after Ashley Pond disappeared without a trace, Miranda Gaddis said goodbye to her mother as her mother left their apartment at 7:30 a.m. to go to work. With more than forty-five minutes left before her school bus arrived at the bus stop at 8:19 a.m., Miranda had at least half an hour to finish getting ready for school and to eat a light breakfast before heading out to catch her bus. Because of the school bus’s scheduled time of arrival at the apartment complex, police later believed that Miranda likely left the apartment a couple of minutes past 8 a.m. Just like Ashley, however, Miranda wasn’t at the stop when the bus arrived, and she never made it to school that day.
It wasn’t until 1:20 p.m. that day that Miranda’s mother learned that her daughter had not made it to school. A relative, after learning from several of Miranda’s friends that she had not been seen at school, had called Miranda’s mother at work. Distraught, Miranda’s mother called the school and confirmed that her daughter had been marked absent that day. Frightened beyond belief, Miranda’s mother went directly to a local police station and reported her daughter missing. Typically, a police agency will not take a missing person report until 48 to 72 hours have passed from the time that the person was last seen. However, in Miranda’s case, in part because she was a child and in part because of the fact that Ashley had disappeared exactly two months earlier in exactly the same manner from the same apartment complex, the police took the report.
Unsolved Mysteries Logo
There were other similarities in the two cases, as reported on Unsolved Mysteries. For one thing, there was a remarkable resemblance between the two girls. Both were near the same age, both had brown eyes, and each girl was near the same height and weight. Both girls also took the same route to the school bus stop. When the inevitable question of whether they had been abducted by a stranger came up, Ashley’s mother, as well as Miranda’s, quickly discounted the theory — both didn’t believe that it was likely. Both mothers indicated that their daughters would almost certainly have put up a fight if someone they didn’t know tried to abduct them.
Miranda’s mother described her daughter as “bubbly and outgoing,” and said that she liked to talk to people. “She can’t sit quiet for very long….”
According to Miranda’s mother, Miranda had been on the Internet the evening before she disappeared. As a result, she provided the task force with the computer that Miranda had used, according to a report on CNN.
“They (law enforcement) just told me that they’ve found a lot of people that she chatted with and that they were checking into all of them,” said her mother. “I’m not sure who they were.”
“I don’t think either of them would have gotten into a car with someone they didn’t know,” Miranda’s mother told CNN. “Miranda was pretty wild and liked fighting and wrestling and I don’t think she would have gotten into a car with someone she didn’t know. I’m really worried that that is what happened….She was excited about her dance competition the next day and was telling me stuff she was going to do after school.”
Nonetheless, whether it was a stranger who abducted them or whether it was someone they knew made little difference to the community. People were terrified for the safety of their children, and the community wanted answers — quickly.
Oregon City residents feared that a sexual predator was busy kidnapping little girls, to do only God knows what to them. In an effort to reassure terrified parents that their children would be safe while on their way to and from school, the school district issued orders that children in the area who took the bus would be picked up and dropped off in front of their homes rather than at a community school bus stop.
The police, meanwhile, conducted their investigation following the theory that the abductor was known by both girls.
The Task Force Splits into Two Teams
Within days of Miranda’s disappearance, the task divided into two groups — one group to investigate Miranda’s disappearance, and the other Ashley’s. The two teams came together at least once daily to share information; sometimes, depending upon the number and quality of the leads that were coming in, two or more briefings would be held for the information exchanges.
On March 15, again aided by Boy Scouts from one of the local troops, investigators performed a second survey of the area, this time handing out flyers depicting photographs and descriptions of both girls. Investigators also recognized the fact that they had overlooked quite a large number of potential suspects during the first canvass. They found that many of the apartment complex’s tenants had not divulged the fact that they’d had visitors staying with them during the time frames in which Ashley had disappeared. Some of the apartment dwellers had six or more people living with them, either temporarily or on a more or less permanent basis. Some of them, the cops learned, were fugitives. By the time they had finished, they realized that there had been upwards of 150 such people living in the complex, unknown to the rental office and to the world. The cops had no choice but to begin the tedious task of identifying all of the non-tenants, and then interviewing each, to either clear them as a potential suspect through checking out their alibis, or to gather sufficient information or evidence to warrant taking further action.
The task force was also responsible for locating and interviewing all of the registered sex offenders who resided in the area — their numbers reached approximately 900, spread out across the Oregon City area. The process took a number of weeks to complete, and the cops discovered that some of the sex offenders had been convicted of committing offenses against children. After all of the time they spent attempting to confirm alibis and administering polygraph examinations, all they really had to do was to look across the street. Ward Weaver’s name had surfaced several times during the early weeks of the investigation, but there was nothing solid enough to warrant bringing him in, even though the task force considered him a potential suspect all along. Sure, he could have done it, they admitted. But where was the evidence? There were no witnesses — at least none that had come forward — and there was no known crime scene to investigate.
Although the area had been searched by a dog and its handler once already, in January, shortly after Ashley had disappeared, a second dog handler not affiliated with law enforcement asked Ashley’s and Miranda’s mothers for permission search for signs of their daughters. Permission was, of course, granted, and after obtaining clothing articles that held the girls’ scents, the dog handler searched areas of possible significance, including a canyon near Weaver’s house. Nothing was turned up.
FBI search Weaver home.
Refusing to give up, the handler took his dog to Weaver’s house on his next attempt to unearth clues. Although allowed onto Weaver’s property, Weaver instructed him to keep his dog away from a slab of freshly poured concrete in his backyard, claiming that he did not want the dog to damage it. The handler took the dog near the concrete slab, however, at which time the canine began to display signs indicating that a deceased human might be nearby — the so-called dead body alert. The dog handler turned in his findings in the form of a report to the Oregon City Police Department, but it would be some time yet before it would be acted upon.
According to CNN, the FBI was frustrated because of the lack of evidence in the case.
Charles Matthews, FBI Special Agent in Charge
“There is no crime scene, there are no forensics, and we have no witnesses,” said Charles Matthews, FBI Special Agent in Charge. “Eventually this kind of predator will strike again, and this, of course, is obviously what propels our need to resolve what happened to our girls…the actual solution to this case is still in the community. It’s still out there. Someone still has the info we need to resolve what’s taken place….I think all the investigators have concluded that we are dealing with abductions here.”
The mystery of whatever happened to Ashley and Miranda was one that many people began to believe would never be solved.
Weaver Talks to the Media
Ward Weaver III
While task force investigators continued to run down one fruitless lead after another, time continued to slip forward. Little of significance was learned in April 2002, and May and June produced few results as well. Aside from going over Ward Weaver’s background and compiling report after report on him and his family members, it wasn’t until June 30 that anything new and significant occurred, when Weaver decided to break his silence and talk to the media. He contacted a reporter at the Portland Tribune who, as it turned out, was more than happy to hear what he had to say.
Weaver told the reporter that he did not know what had happened to Ashley and Miranda, but said that he did know that he was the FBI’s prime suspect in that case. Asked how he came by that knowledge, Weaver said that he believed the FBI suspected him in that case because they learned that he had been convicted of assault in connection with women he had been close to, and because Ashley had made accusations that he had molested her. Another reason was that he had failed a polygraph examination regarding his knowledge about the case. And he indicated that perhaps the most important reason of all was that his father, Ward Weaver, Jr., was on California’s death row for killing a young woman and a young man. After the Tribune article was published, the police acknowledged that they had known about Weaver’s dad for a long time and had invested more time, energy, and money looking into Weaver III’s potential culpability in the girls’ disappearances — but not necessarily because of his father’s crimes.
At one point, according to CNN, reporters asked the district attorney’s office whether Weaver was really a suspect in the case as he himself had declared.
“We’ve never said that,” said Greg Horner, Clackamas County chief deputy district attorney. “The police have never said that. The only one who’s ever said that is him.”
When details began to emerge about what the police knew and when they knew it caused many people in the community to begin asking why a search warrant hadn’t been issued and executed at Weaver’s rental home on Beavercreek Road. He had, after all, failed a lie detector test, and he had been named numerous times by various individuals as a potential suspect. Unfortunately, officials said, it wasn’t enough, particularly when polygraph examinations are not admissible in a court of law. There was also the problem of several other people who had been investigated and had failed lie detector tests, too. It just wasn’t enough for probable cause, according to Senior Clackamas County Deputy District Attorney Christine Landers.
“Probable cause,” Landers said, “means it’s more likely than not that evidence of the crime will be found during the search.”
It wasn’t as if the police hadn’t tried to gather enough evidence to obtain a search warrant — they had. During the earlier phases of the case, Weaver had allowed investigators onto his property and into his house to conduct searches with his permission. Even with his permission, he could limit where they could go and what they could examine, something that he wouldn’t be able to do if the cops had served a search warrant. He had even allowed search dogs and their handlers into his yard, to no avail. None of them, except the dog owned by a private non-law enforcement handler, had indicated that there was anything suspicious to pursue. Under the circumstances, there was little else that they could do without risking violating his constitutional rights. Doing so would damage, if not destroy, the entire case that they were attempting to build against Weaver. As a result, the cops did what was right — they played strictly by the rules and did everything by the book.
Ward Francis Weaver, Jr.
Ward Weaver Jr., Older
When the issue surrounding Weaver’s dad, Ward Francis Weaver, Jr., being housed on California’s death row began to surface, a frightened and concerned community naturally wanted to know more about the man on death row. According to the details that emerged, mostly from Kern County (California) Superior Court documents, the public learned that Ward Weaver III’s father had been convicted in 1984 of the first-degree murders of Robert Radford, 18, and his girlfriend, Barbara Levoy, 23, and had been sentenced to death by a jury.
According to the facts of the Weaver Jr. case, Robert Radford was a member of the United States Air Force and had been assigned to a base in Colorado for training. It was there that he had met Barbara Levoy. Following Robert’s training, the couple traveled to his hometown of Edmonds, Washington, so that Barbara could meet his parents, and afterwards drove to Pinedale, California, near Fresno, to see his grandmother. Their final destination was to have been Las Vegas, Nevada, where Robert had been assigned a tour of duty at Nellis Air Force Base. Barbara, on the other hand, was to have flown home to Colorado while Robert served his country on the outskirts of Sin City.
Map with Tehachapi, CA Locator
The young couple arrived in Pinedale on the afternoon of February 5, 1981, according to plan. After visiting with Robert’s grandmother for a few hours, they left early that evening, around 7 p.m., to begin the approximate six-hour drive to Las Vegas. However, they didn’t make it to Vegas — their car broke down about one mile east of Tehachapi, California, approximately 160 miles from Pinedale. It was dark by that time and they were on a lonely stretch of state Highway 58 between Bakersfield and Barstow, practically in the middle of the Mojave Desert. Stranded at the side of the road with his car’s emergency flashers turned on, Robert and Barbara waited, hoping that a passing motorist would offer them some assistance.
At one point, a person traveling in the opposite direction, heading back toward Tehachapi, stopped and offered to help them. However, because the motorist was not going toward their destination, Robert declined his help. As the man drove away, Robert and Barbara had no idea that they had just made a drastic mistake by turning down the man’s offer to assist them — a mistake that would cost them their lives.
It was about 10 p.m. when Ward Weaver Jr., driving on the opposite side of the road toward Tehachapi in his big rig flatbed, saw Robert’s car on the side of the road as he passed by. While it isn’t known why Weaver took the next exit and circled back to Robert and Barbara’s location, it was generally speculated that he must have seen Barbara. Whatever his reason had been, Weaver stopped along the side of the highway and offered to drive Robert and Barbara to Mojave. They accepted his offer and climbed into the truck’s cab, likely glad to be out of the chilly night air. Even the Mojave Desert gets cold at night during the winter months.
Cheater Pipe, Similar
About five miles down the road, Weaver pulled his rig off to the side of the road and asked Robert to help him shift the load on the flatbed. Robert got out with Weaver, and Barbara stayed in the warm cab. While Robert was bent over in preparation to begin shifting the load, Weaver approached him from behind, wielding a three-to four-foot length of metal pipe that truckers often use for leverage when tightening the bindings on their load. It is known in the trucker world as a “cheater pipe.” Without any warning, Weaver repeatedly struck Robert on the head with the pipe as he slumped first into unconsciousness and, eventually, into death.
Weaver, excited and crazy with twisted lust, climbed back into the cab where he threatened Barbara and waved a knife in her face. He forced her to lean forward with her head between her legs and her hands, fingers locked, behind her back. It was a procedure that he had learned when moving prisoners during his service in the armed forces in Vietnam years earlier. Confident that Barbara would remain in the position that he had forced her into, he turned the truck around and drove towards Bakersfield. At approximately 4 a.m., he stopped at a location near Kettleman City, where he raped the terrified young woman, and then continued driving toward San Francisco. He stopped again at another point and raped her a second time.
During the time that Weaver was raping Barbara and driving toward San Francisco, a passing driver saw Robert lying along the side of Highway 58 where Weaver had left him for dead. He was still alive, but only barely, as he lay in a large pool of blood that continued flowing out of his head. Although the police and paramedics rushed to the scene, they were unable to save his life. The damage of the blows to his head were too severe, and the loss of blood too great. He died en route to a hospital.
While at the hospital, police discovered Robert’s wallet, which held his driver’s license that was issued by Washington State. Although the process took some time, the police were eventually able to connect the inoperative vehicle parked along Highway 58 to Robert Radford. When they examined the car’s interior they, discovered a female’s purse and a set of luggage. They quickly found identification inside the purse that belonged to Barbara Levoy, confirming the fact that Robert had been traveling with a woman. Investigators quickly issued a missing person report for Barbara, and put into motion a plan to try and find her. However, by the time they did, it would be too late.
Map with Oroville, CA Locator
According to public record legal documents out of Kern County Superior Court, Weaver dropped off his freight in San Francisco and then drove toward his home in Oroville, California. Barbara Levoy was still with him during this time, and it seemed somewhat peculiar that she had not attempted to escape from the cab while he was offloading his cargo or, at the very least, had tried to get someone’s attention so that she could alert them that something was very wrong and that she needed help. But none of that had happened, at least as far as the police had been able to determine.
Much of what they did learn came from Weaver’s own mouth later, during tape-recorded interrogation, after the police had learned that he was already in prison on convictions from an unrelated case while they were working feverishly trying to solve Robert and Barbara’s murders, and through his courtroom testimony at his trial.
While en route to Oroville, Weaver stopped the truck at an isolated and out-of-the-way location, before reaching the town, and told Barbara to get out of the cab. He proceeded to bind her hands and feet with electrical tape. When it came time to place a gag inside Barbara’s mouth, she struggled and bit him hard on the thumb. Whether or not he had planned to kill Barbara at that location at that time, or whether he had flown into a rage because of the bite, is not known to anyone but Weaver. At any rate, he made the choice to strangle her to death.
Prior to driving into Oroville to meet his wife at the restaurant where she worked the night shift, Weaver dug a grave and buried Barbara’s body. A few hours later, he took his wife’s car to the remote location, dug up Barbara’s body and placed it in the trunk. He then drove home, only to find that his three children were still awake. Using the wound on his thumb to frighten the children, Weaver lied to them when he told them that he had been involved in a fight with a man who might come looking for him. Frightening them further, he warned them to stay inside the house where it would be safe.
Confident that the children would remain inside the house, Weaver quickly removed Barbara’s body from the car’s trunk and placed it in a shallow grave in his backyard. He had previously dug several trenches in preparation for a sewer line that he was planning to install, and he used one of them to bury Barbara’s body again — temporarily. A few weeks later, Weaver dug up Barbara’s body again and moved it to a deeper grave in his backyard. Knowing that his wife didn’t like to stand in the wet grass while hanging the laundry out to dry, Weaver built her a wooden platform to stand on and placed it on top of Barbara’s grave.
San Quentin Prison
As investigators from multi-jurisdictional agencies continued to work hard in their attempt to solve the by now 17-month-old murders of Robert Radford and Barbara Levoy, they, of course, had no idea that their man was already residing inside a cell at San Quentin Prison. But they would learn soon enough that Weaver had committed other crimes after he had murdered Robert and Barbara, for which he had been convicted and sentenced to prison. The first clue that Ward Weaver Jr. was their guy came about when another prison inmate, who was looking to have time shaved off of his own sentence, reported that Weaver had told him intimate details of the rapes and murders involving Robert and Barbara, and provided details that Barbara’s body might be buried in Weaver’s backyard in Oroville. He had apparently told the inmate that he was in prison for kidnapping and rape, but that he had also committed murder and had gotten away with it!
When investigators began looking into his background to learn why he was serving time for kidnapping and rape, they learned that he had picked up two hitchhikers in Oregon, a young man and a 16-year-old girl, while working his route along I-5. He apparently drove the pair as far as the central California coast. At one point, he stopped in Oxnard and made a telephone call to a friend and asked him to join him. When the friend showed up, he forced the young man to go with his friend, but he kept the teenage girl with him. When the friend left with the young man, the pair knew that they were in serious trouble.
Weaver raped the girl repeatedly over the next several days in the cab of his truck, and eventually drove her to his home in Oroville, where he kept her locked inside a closet. The only time that he would allow her to come out was when he felt like raping her again. Unbeknownst to the girl, Weaver’s friend had taken the young man to a secluded area where he shot him three times in the head and threw him down the side of a steep hill.
Amazingly, the young man survived the gunshots and had managed to climb back up the embankment. He was picked up by a passing motorist, who took him to a hospital for medical treatment and called the police. Upon retrospect, the police figured that the young man’s ability to survive had been the determining element that had saved the teenage girl’s life. He provided enough information about Weaver and his truck that the police were able to trace it quickly to Weaver. When they called his house for additional information, Weaver, as he later acknowledged, realized that he would not be able to kill the teen. He quickly drove her into the countryside and let her go as a last-ditch attempt, lame as it was, to avoid getting caught red-handed, so-to-speak. Nonetheless, Weaver and his friend were convicted of several serious offenses that included rape and conspiracy to commit murder, and were sentenced to life in prison.
Kern County Sheriff’s Department Patch
As a result of the new information, the case was essentially turned over to the Kern County Sheriff’s Department. Wasting no time, sheriff’s deputies mobilized and converged on Weaver’s home, while at the same time making plans to pay Weaver a visit at San Quentin if they found what they were looking for at his home.
Detectives carefully interviewed Weaver’s wife and son at their home, taking extensive notes of every pertinent detail related to their case. They also asked for permission to search the yard, which Weaver’s wife granted. His son showed them the platform that his father had built. Working under the presumption that the information that had been provided to them by the prison inmate was accurate, the investigators began digging in the area where the platform had been. After a short time they found what they had come there for — a body. Taking great care, they exhumed the badly decomposed corpse and sent it to the morgue, where a definitive autopsy would be performed by a licensed medical examiner.
It would eventually be confirmed that the corpse was dressed in the same clothing that Barbara Levoy had been wearing at the time of her disappearance. Strands of electrical tape were found on the collar of her shirt. When the outerwear was removed, however, it was noted that she was not wearing any panties, and none had been found with her body, prompting some to wonder whether Weaver had taken the panties as a trophy. Due to the advanced state of decomposition, it was impossible to make a positive identification visually. As a result, investigators obtained Barbara’s dental records through the assistance of her family, and the corpse was positively identified as Barbara Levoy through a dental comparison. The medical examiner was unable to determine the cause of death, however, due to the severe decomposition.
In His Own Words
Sergeants Garry Davis and Glenn Johnson of the Kern County Sheriff’s Department caught the assignment to drive to Folsom Prison to interview Weaver and, since they had helped dig up Barbara’s body, they wouldn’t have had it any other way. The interviews were conducted over three days: July 27-28 and August 2, 1982. Upon their arrival for each of the interviews Weaver, shackled hand and foot, was brought out of his cell and placed with the two investigators in a security squad office where they could speak privately. Although Weaver agreed to waive his Miranda rights, he asked if he could speak to his mother before speaking to Davis and Johnson. They agreed, but made him no offers nor made him any promises. They simply agreed to listen to what he had to say.
During the tape-recorded interviews, Weaver admitted that he had killed Robert Radford and Barbara Levoy, and that he had raped Barbara. He provided details, and drew a map of the secluded area outside Oroville where he had first buried Barbara. Later, Davis and Johnson followed the map and located an indentation in the earth where Weaver had indicated that he had buried her. They also found pieces of black electrical tape nearby. Weaver was, of course, eventually charged under various theories of rape and murder, and the case went to trial.
At trial, Weaver testified in his own defense. Among the things he claimed was that he had been hearing the voice of a female named Ladell since the age of 17. There was also a male voice, he claimed, of a competitive nature that he had heard beginning in 1968 while serving in Vietnam where, it was said, he took great pleasure in blowing up towns and villages — he was known for volunteering for such duty. He said that he had learned to trust the male voice, which apparently didn’t have a name like the female voice, because it had forewarned him of danger in Vietnam and had consequently saved his life. He also claimed that, after the war, he began using amphetamines to keep him awake while driving his truck. He claimed to have been using amphetamines for 18 months at the time of the crimes involving Robert and Barbara, and had not slept for a week and a half at the time he killed them.
Weaver claimed that when he picked up the couple, he immediately found Barbara attractive and was sexually aroused by her. Right away the male voice inside his head began urging him to have sex with her while the female voice, Ladell, instructed him to leave her alone. The male voice told him to knock Robert out so that he could be alone with Barbara, and continued to urge him to rape her. The voice told him that he would not get into trouble for his actions. Because he had trusted the male voice due to the fact that it had helped him in the past, he decided that he would commit the rape.
“I just couldn’t go against him,” Weaver testified. “I just couldn’t help it. Had to go along with what sounded like the most logical thing to do.”
Despite eleven lacerations found on Robert’s head, Weaver claimed that he had not intended to kill the young man. He only wanted to incapacitate him so that he could be alone with his girlfriend. He said that if he had wanted to kill Robert, he would have used the knife that he always carried in his truck. He claimed that a few years earlier he had assaulted someone with a similar piece of pipe and that person had not died.
Convicted and Sentenced to Death
Weaver testified that when struck Robert with the pipe, Robert fell off of the flatbed track, screaming. Weaver said that he told him to “shut up,” but he would not. He then struck him again “a couple” of times, and when he finally lay still he had just assumed that Robert was “out.” He then climbed back into the truck, showed Barbara the knife and forced her to get into the prisoner transport position described earlier, and drove off. Along the way the two voices inside his head battled it out, with the male voice demanding rape and the voice he referred to as Ladell scolding him. Weaver, of course, yielded to the male’s voice.
Weaver claimed during his trial that he had not intended to kill Barbara Levoy. Instead, after he had raped her the second time, he began looking for an isolated place where he could drop her off. As dawn began to break he changed his mind and decided to take her to the Bay Area with him. He ordered her to sit on the truck cab’s floor while he offloaded his cargo, and she had complied during the entire 45 minutes that it had taken him to complete his work. Afterward, they drove to Oakland where Weaver needed to pick up another load. He was pulled over along the way, he explained, by a California Highway Patrol officer. He said that he had instructed Barbara to remain quiet. Again she complied, neither attempting to get the patrolman’s attention nor trying to escape. After finishing up with the officer, Weaver drove on to Oakland and picked up the new load.
According to Weaver’s testimony, it was about 11:00 p.m. on February 6, 1981, while driving toward his home, that he made the decision to tie her up, gag her, and leave her overnight beneath a bridge. He claimed that he’d had the intention of returning the next day during a scheduled run to Los Angeles to pick her up, and then drive her to the Los Angeles warehouse district, where he would let her go. However, his plan hadn’t worked out. After binding her securely with the electrical tape, he attempted to place a cloth diaper into her mputh to gag her and keep her quiet until his return. But she hadn’t cooperated with him. She put up a struggle, and bit him on the thumb — she bit him hard, and wouldn’t let go. He said that he struck her with his fist, twice, and then blacked out for a while. The next thing he knew, he had wrapped the cloth diaper around her neck and strangled her. He stopped when she had let go of his thumb, and realized that she had slumped over. After realizing that she was dead, the male voice inside his head instructed him to get rid of the evidence by burying her body.
Much earlier, before Weaver had even been arraigned in this case, his defense attorney had raised the issue of whether his client was competent to stand trial. As a result, two psychiatrists were appointed by the court to examine Weaver and make a determination regarding his sanity. On October 27, 1982, the psychiatrists presented their findings to the court: both doctors had agreed that Weaver was legally competent to stand trial. Furthermore, the jury that heard his case didn’t buy the two voices in his head scheme. What some people had considered an apparent attempt at putting on an insanity defense just hadn’t worked out for him. The jury found him guilty of both murders under special circumstances, among several other charges related to the case, and sentenced him to death. He has been waiting, however, a long time for his appointment with the executioner.
In part because he was a long-haul truck driver whose route consisted primarily of the north-south I-5 corridor, some people in law enforcement familiar with his case believe that he could be connected to the unsolved disappearances of 24 hitchhikers that occurred along his route through California, Oregon, and Washington.
As chilling as the details in Ward Weaver Jr.’s case were, the investigators that were attempting to build a case against his son in Oregon had no idea how unnerving those details would be until they related the elder Weaver’s case to that of his son. The similarities in the two cases went far beyond chilling.
Back to Ward Weaver III
Meanwhile, the Oregon investigators, midway through 2002, were busy conducting interviews and examining and analyzing more than 1,200 tips that had come in over the past several months. With the case literally going nowhere fast, the FBI offered a $50,000 reward for information leading to a suspect or suspects in the disappearances of Ashley and Miranda, and/or for the safe return of the girls. The Oregon City Police Department added $10,000 to the reward fund, and the Newell Creek Village Apartments put up another $5,000. However, there were no immediate takers.
Newell Creek Village Apartments
Charles Matthews, FBI Special Agent in Charge, issued a plea to the public for their help, asking that citizens keep a watchful eye open for any suspicious people in the community. He also asked that anyone with information, no matter how insignificant they thought their details might be, to come forward.
“If someone found a pair of discarded jeans, I want to know about it,” Matthews said. He indicated that everyone involved remained hopeful that the girls might still be alive, held captive somewhere. “We have no information that would lead us to conclude they are not alive.”
The community became more involved as time moved forward, and many of those concerned contributed money to the reward fund to help it grow. Others set up individual Web sites for the girls where people could share their feelings and concerns or simply post tips that, it was hoped, could help the police find the girls. The girls’ dance team at Gardiner Middle School held a fund raiser for the reward fund at one point, and America’s Most Wanted ran two segments in an effort to produce additional tips.
America’s Most Wanted Logo
However, despite all of the good intentions of everyone involved, nothing seemed to help. The case remained at a standstill — until August 15, 2002.
Trouble at the Weaver’s
On August 15, Ward Weaver III had begun making plans to leave town. He had packed most of his things, and was nearly ready to try and disappear. He had asked his 24-year-old son’s girlfriend, who was 19 at that time, to help him carry his belongings outside when, with little or no warning, he attacked the young woman while she was in the bathroom. He ripped off her clothes and raped her, then attempted to strangle her. Fortunately, she was able to break free from his grip, and ran out of the house with only a shower curtain wrapped around her. Weaver, realizing that things had suddenly gone terribly wrong for him, jumped inside his car and attempted to flee the area. His victim, however, was able to get help and the police were called. Acting quickly, the Oregon City police stopped him before he got out of town.
According to CNN, Weaver was arrested and taken to the Oregon City Jail, where he was booked on charges of first-degree rape and sexual abuse of his son’s girlfriend. Because he was fleeing the scene of a crime, the district attorney’s office feared that he might leave town, or possibly the country, if he made bail. As a result, bail was set at $1 million.
Investigators told the public that prior to the attack on his son’s girlfriend, law enforcement authorities hadn’t had sufficient probable cause evidence to arrest Weaver or to even obtain a warrant to search his house. Now, however, the task force investigators felt that they could get a warrant to search Weaver’s house to gather evidence of the attack for which he had been arrested, but they felt it prudent that it be only a limited warrant at this point to include only the interior of the house.
The cops realized that they still needed a break, a big one, to crack the case of the missing girls.
The Big Break At Last
A week after Weaver landed in jail, the task force investigators finally got the big break that they had been looking for in the disappearances of Ashley and Miranda. According to police reports as well as a number of published reports, the straw that broke the camel’s back in this case came about when another of Weaver’s sons, this one 19 years old, came forward with information. According to the son, Weaver purportedly told his son that he had done “bad things” and was planning to leave the area. His son told detectives that he believed his father had been referring to Ashley and Miranda.
FBI spokeswoman Beth Anne Steele told CNN that the task force now had probable cause to obtain a search warrant for the house and property where Weaver and his family resided. On Friday, August 23, 2002, a judge approved the search warrant. The entire property on South Beavercreek Road was cordoned off, and an extensive search was planned for the following day.
“This authority is the result of and directly related to the investigation of the Ashley Pond and Miranda Gaddis kidnappings,” Steele said. “The search will cover the house and the property….We’ll be searching every inch of the property over the course of the next few days….Remember, the goal was not just to obtain a search warrant, but to obtain a search warrant that would not be overturned by a higher court at some later point.”
Weaver III’s Background
Ward Weaver III
Ward Weaver III’s father, who had nicknamed his son “Little Pete,” abandoned his family in 1967, and a few years later his mother married an abusive alcoholic. Weaver only saw his father occasionally after he left, in part because his dad had remarried and had started a new family. However, according to those who know him, he idolized his father even after he was convicted of murder. He had attended his father’s murder trial, and had paid him regular visits in prison.
Ward Weaver Jr.
According to his sister, Weaver III first began showing signs of antisocial behavior when he was about 12. By that age, he had physically and sexually abused at least one family member and, in 1981, a female relative who was in her teens at the time reported to police that he had repeatedly raped her and that she had sustained beatings at his hands. That case lay inactive and nothing was ever done. Even after he had left home and was married, relatives said the abuse continued. Family members said that they were terrified of him.
That same year, 1981, Weaver enlisted in the U.S. Navy Reserve and was stationed in the Philippines following training, but was discharged less than a year later for infractions related to heavy drinking and charges of dereliction of duty because he repeatedly failed to report for his assigned job.
While in the Navy, however, Weaver met the woman who would become his first wife, and they moved in with his mother and her husband. When his wife was five months pregnant, he purportedly attacked her in an incident that required her hospitalization while they were living in Bakersfield, California. According to reports of the attack, Weaver had allegedly slapped her, pulled her hair, and slammed her head against the bed’s headboard. Four months later, at about the same time that his father was convicted of murder and sentenced to death, his first son was born. Within five years she bore him a second son and, in the late 1980s, she bore him a daughter.
Later, Weaver, along with his wife and child, relocated to Fairfield, California where they moved in with another family that had befriended them. They weren’t there long, however, because Weaver, while heavily intoxicated one night, asked the couple’s daughters to drive him to the store so that he could buy more liquor. While there, he attacked the couple’s 15-year-old daughter outside the store with a concrete block. The girls escaped and reported Weaver to the police. He was subsequently arrested, convicted, and sentenced to three years in prison for assault.
Although Weaver’s wife waited for him to get out of prison, she found that she couldn’t live with him because of his abusive ways. She eventually left him, and filed a restraining order against him in 1993. Soon afterward they divorced.
Weaver, however, quickly found himself a new girlfriend, but he was violent and abusive with her, too. Shortly after their relationship began, he was arrested for beating her with a cast-iron skillet. She refused to testify against him, and they resumed their relationship. They married in 1996, but their marriage only lasted four years. Apparently, the breakup of his second marriage was caused by an affair that he had begun in 1997 with a woman that he had met at work. Despite the affair, his wife had remained with him for nearly three years, until she’d had enough of her husband’s unfaithful, violent ways and decided to leave him. With his second wife now out of the way, Weaver eventually moved his sons and daughter, along with the new girlfriend, into the rental house on South Beavercreek Road in Oregon City.
Human Remains Found
Oregon City Police Chief Gordon Huiras
Shortly after the search commenced the next day, Saturday, August 24, 2002, Oregon City Police Chief Gordon Huiras announced that a set of human remains had been found inside a cardboard box that had been placed in a storage shed behind Weaver’s house. It was not immediately clear how long the remains had been there, but it was obvious that positive identification would not be immediate. The remains were taken away by the state medical examiner’s office, and Chief Huiras told reporters that it would likely take several days to make a positive identification.
Cement cutter used at the Weaver Home
According to the FBI’s Charles Matthews, approximately 40 investigators from the FBI, state, and local police would continue to search the property and had already made plans to bring in underground imaging equipment the following day. He said they also planned to dig up a concrete slab that Weaver had poured after the two girls had disappeared.
FBI Underground Imaging Equipment
The following morning, investigators worked diligently to remove the concrete slab in Weaver’s backyard. Afterward, they discovered a 55-gallon barrel that had been buried beneath the slab. Not surprisingly, they found a second set of human remains inside the barrel.
Tents at Weaver Home
By this time, a media circus had converged on the area, as had supporters, friends, and relatives of the missing girls. One of Weaver’s ex-wives had also shown up, and she told CNN that there had been “no doubt” in her mind that Weaver had killed the two girls. She said that she had urged the FBI to investigate Weaver several months earlier, and was “frustrated and disgusted” that it had taken so long to bring the case to this point. She claimed that she had first become suspicious when Weaver had poured the concrete slab in the middle of the night. She said that he had claimed that it was for a hot tub, one that he never installed.
“If only people would have listened to me five months ago and tried to understand why I was so frustrated and why I was trying to get the attention (to focus) on him,” she said. “It’s not because I’m an ex-wife and because I have hate against him. When the first remains were found, I was hysterical.”
Lori Pond and Michelle Duffy (Ashley’s Mother)
Within a few days the remains found in Weaver’s backyard were positively identified as those of Ashley Pond and Miranda Gaddis. Ashley’s remains were those found in the barrel beneath the cement slab, and Miranda’s were those found in the cardboard box in the storage shed.
A few weeks later, the facts of the case were presented to a grand jury and Ward Weaver III was indicted on multiple counts of aggravated murder, rape and sexual abuse in connection with the deaths of Ashley and Miranda, as well as two counts of second-degree abuse of a corpse. He was also indicted on counts of rape and sexual abuse in connection with the attack on his son’s girlfriend, and similar charges were leveled against him in connection with the rape and sexual abuse of another young girl that allegedly occurred in July 2002. The district attorney’s office was considering pursuing the death penalty in connection with the aggravated murder counts associated with Ashley’s and Miranda’s murders, but a decision had yet to be made.
Meanwhile, retired detectives Garry Davis and Glenn Johnson, who had worked on Ward Weaver Jr.’s case 20 years earlier while employed by the Kern County Sheriff’s Department and had helped dig up Barbara Levoy’s body from Weaver’s backyard, watched in shocked disbelief as Ward Weaver III’s case unfolded on television news stories nationwide. They found the similarities between the two cases eerie and unsettling, almost unbelievable.
“Our parents are our teachers, and Ward Weaver III had a horrible teacher in his father,” Johnson told a reporter for the Daily Iowan. “Apparently, the fruit doesn’t fall very far from the tree….He (the elder Weaver) is the type of person who has to get to know his victims and befriend them, in a sense. That would sexually excite him for the assault.”
“The name reaches out to me, and it’s like a cold hand grabbing my heart,” Davis said to a reporter for a story that was picked up by AP. “You flash back to digging at his house, and now I’m seeing this, and I’m thinking it’s so scary — it seems like he set out to get a cell next to his father.”
According to autopsy reports from the Oregon State medical examiner’s office, both girls died as a result of “homicidal violence of unspecified etiology.” In other words, the medical examiner had been unable to pin a precise cause of death for both victims. According to the reports, death by strangulation, poisoning, beating, shooting or stabbing had been ruled out.
Miranda Gaddis and Ashley Pond
Ashley’s remains were mummified, which is consistent with having been frozen, and were fully clothed. A white rope had been wrapped around her neck and was connected to her wrists and hands, and had been used to pull her body into an unyielding fetal position. The remains had also been wrapped in four transparent plastic bags, and had been covered by a silver tarp.
Similarly, Miranda’s remains were partially clothed and had also been secured by cords. The box had been taped shut, and had been covered in clear plastic. It was speculated that one or both of the girl’s bodies had been kept frozen inside a chest-style freezer inside Weaver’s house before being moved to the locations where they were found. At least one of Weaver’s fingerprints was found on the tape that had been used to seal the box.
Strangely, Ashley’s autopsy report showed that she had a blood alcohol level of 0.17 percent, which is more than double the legal limit for drivers in Oregon. According to an analysis of the report by an independent forensic scientist, that level of alcohol would be the equivalent of roughly five shots of whiskey or other hard liquor within a fairly short timeframe before she died.
“It’s extremely difficult to say how much alcohol she actually had,” said the scientist, because as a body decomposes it produces alcohol. Miranda’s body, for example, had a blood-alcohol level of 0.05 percent which could be attributed to having been produced during decomposition. If Ashley had consumed five shots of alcohol before she died, it would have had a serious effect on the 110 pound girl.
“That’s high enough to kill such a young girl,” he said. “I would be surprised if she hadn’t passed out,” continued the forensic scientist. “If she hadn’t passed out, there would be no question in anyone’s mind that she would have been plastered. She’d be falling-down drunk, inhibitions totally absent, probably some vomiting depending on how quickly the alcohol had been taken in. At that age and size, you would have the potential for acute alcohol poisoning…she’d obviously be drunk to anyone looking at her.”
Although the investigators couldn’t say where Ashley had gotten the alcohol or with whom she had drunk it, police reports indicated that information had surfaced during the investigation that had indicated that Weaver, in July 2002, had provided alcohol to his own young daughter and another teenage girl that he allegedly sexually abused after getting her drunk. They also had no way of knowing whether Ashley had been forced to drink the alcohol, if she had drunk it willingly, or if it had been administered to her in some other way. There were also statements from a doctor who told police that Weaver’s daughter had told her that Weaver had provided alcohol to her and Ashley.
Although a precise cause of death couldn’t be confirmed by the autopsies, several theories were being tossed around by the task force and others. Among the ideas being considered were alcohol poisoning, suffocation with a pillow, a hand being held over the face and mouth, a chokehold to cut off blood circulation to the brain, or asphyxiation due to being placed inside an airtight container. An uncommon drug or rare poison could also be difficult to identify.
Officials also believed that Miranda’s body had been in the shed only a short time when the police recovered it, perhaps only a few weeks. And because, at least in part, of the presence of cigarette butts, Styrofoam pieces, and a Q-tip found in Ashley’s clothing, it appeared that Ashley’s body may have been kept elsewhere before it had been buried beneath the concrete in March 2002.
Weaver Talks to the Media Again
In an apparent attempt at proclaiming his innocence, Weaver provided copies of the autopsy reports to a reporter for Portland television station KPTV, according to the Portland Tribune, during a jailhouse interview on October 29, 2002. He claimed that the autopsy reports would help contradict previous media information that had caused him to appear guilty.
Ward Weaver III
“I was publicly tried and convicted before I was indicted,” Weaver told the television reporter. His argument was that the district attorney’s office would be unable to prove his guilt because they had not been able to determine how the girls had died. “They’ve indicted me for stuff they have no evidence on. Zero. Yes, there were two bodies in my back yard, but that’s all there is.”
Even though a cause of death hadn’t been determined, Weaver’s argument had plenty of holes in it. There was ample circumstantial evidence that prosecutors could use to convict Weaver. For example, Weaver knew both girls and their families, Ashley had accused him of molesting her approximately six months before she disappeared, and he had a prior criminal record for the physical assault of a young female in another state. But the most damning of all was the fact that both Ashley’s and Miranda’s bodies had been found in his backyard. There was also the fact that Weaver’s daughter had earlier told her school guidance counselor, back in March shortly after Miranda had disappeared, that she was unable to attend a memorial service for Ashley and Miranda because she had to help her father dig a hole in their backyard where he had planned to install a hot tub. The cops had also found two small plastic bags containing human hair, handcuffs, rope and cord in the drawer of a nightstand that Weaver had moved to a storage unit off of his property. The fact that Weaver’s father was on California’s death row for similar circumstances didn’t help him any, either.
Clackamas County Courthouse
When Clackamas County Circuit Judge Robert Herndon, who was hearing the case in its early stages, heard about Weaver’s contacts with the media, he immediately placed a gag order on Weaver and everyone else associated with the case. The judge believed that a gag order was needed to guarantee that Weaver received a fair trial.
However, in what some considered an act of defiance over the gag order, Weaver again called a reporter at KPTV to complain about it.
“He can’t keep me from saying what I want to whom I want, about what I want,” Weaver told the reporter. “This is my life, and he’s got no business sticking his nose in it and violating my First Amendment rights. None. And I’m going to take that up with him on Friday.”
Weaver’s attorneys promptly filed a motion to be removed from his case.
On Thursday, April 22, 2004, before the trial of Ward Weaver III could get underway, his new attorneys presented Clackamas County Judge Robert Herndon with evidence that their client suffered from severe depression and therefore was unable to assist in his own defense. While waiting for trial, Weaver had sliced his daughter’s name onto his forearm with a sharp instrument, produced self-inflicted lacerations to his chest, and had engaged in several incidents in which he had deliberately and repeatedly battered his head against his cell wall. When psychiatrists had asked him why he was in jail, he responded that he believed it was for spanking his daughter.
Ward Weaver III
Psychiatrists that had been called by both the prosecution and the defense told Judge Herndon that Weaver was experiencing depression and stated that his mental state was impaired. A defense psychiatrist, one of the so-called “hired guns,” told the judge that he had diagnosed Weaver with “narcissistic personality disorder” and “major depression.” But a prosecution psychiatrist said that he believed Weaver was feigning some of the symptoms. Defense psychiatrists also testified that Weaver had told them he was hearing voices, and claimed that he had tried to kill himself. They testified that he had undergone “rapid mental deterioration” after he had been segregated from the general jail population and placed in solitary confinement.
Herndon, noting that Weaver had been taking strong doses of anti-depressant medication since being jailed in 2002, accepted the defense arguments and ruled that Weaver was suffering from severe depression and ordered him sent to the state mental hospital in Salem for further evaluation and possible treatment.
“I find that the defendant does at the present time satisfy the criteria of mental illness according to Oregon law,” Herndon said. “These proceedings are suspended.”
Herndon added that if psychiatrists at the state mental hospital determined that Weaver was faking his symptoms, he would be returned to Clackamas County and his trial for the murders of Ashley Pond and Miranda Gaddis would resume. Weaver sat emotionless through the entire proceeding, often staring at the floor. Relatives of the two girls were in the courtroom, some of whom cried at the judge’s ruling.
Ward Weaver III
By late summer 2004, psychiatrists at the Oregon State Hospital determined that Ward Weaver III was mentally competent to be returned to Clackamas County to stand trial for the murders with which he was charged. However, just prior to the beginning of the trial and fearing the death penalty if convicted, Weaver and his attorneys worked out a deal, supported by the victims’ families, in which he would plead guilty if the state agreed not to pursue the death penalty against him. On Wednesday, September 22, 2002, Weaver pleaded guilty to seven out of 17 charges that included aggravated murder, sex abuse and abuse of a corpse. He entered no contest pleas to the remaining 10 charges, including a rape that he committed in July 2002. Judge Herndon sentenced him to two consecutive life prison terms with no possibility of parole.
Oregon State Hospital
“You will leave here with your life today, such as it may be,” Herndon told Weaver. “I see nothing but evil. I believe everyone probably shares the hope that there is a special place in hell for people like you.”
The guilty plea left such unanswered questions as when, where and how he had killed Ashley and Miranda, details that he will likely take to his grave.
Snake River Correctional Institution in Eastern Oregon
Without ever providing a detailed confession of his crimes, Weaver was sent to the Snake River Correctional Institution in eastern Oregon where he was housed, along with 44 other inmates, in the administrative segregation unit. The segregation unit is for inmates that prison officials believe need to be separated from the general population for their own protection.
On Sunday, March 4, 2007, Marvin Lee Taylor, 44, an inmate barber, and Weaver were along in the segregation unit’s day room. Taylor was giving Weaver a haircut when he allegedly stabbed the child killer with a homemade shank. Weaver sustained neck and shoulder wounds from the attack, and was treated at the prison infirmary. If a guard hadn’t stopped the attack, Taylor might have killed Weaver. As it turned out, Weaver recovered from his injuries.
“We’re not sure of the motive,” said Malheur County District Attorney Dan Norris. “But it does demonstrate the difficulty the Department of Corrections has with dealing with infamous inmates such as Mr. Weaver.”
Because inmate barbers are not allowed to cut hair with scissors or other sharp instruments, but only use electric razors, prison officials were uncertain how Taylor had managed to keep the shank concealed. The incident had marked the first time that anyone had tried to harm Weaver since his arrival at his new home.
Next time he might not be so lucky.