Oregon man indicted in deaths of 3 women weeks before prison release

Posted at 8:43 AM, May 20, 2024

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — A man who has been under investigation in the deaths of four women whose bodies were found scattered across northwest Oregon last year has been indicted in two of those killings — as well as in the death of a woman whose body was found in Washington state.

A grand jury indicted Jesse Lee Calhoun, 39, on second-degree murder charges in the deaths of Charity Lynn Perry, 24; Bridget Leanne Webster, 31; and Joanna Speaks, 32, the Multnomah County district attorney announced Friday. Perry and Webster were found in Oregon, while Speaks was found in an abandoned barn in southwestern Washington.

jesse calhoun mugshot

FILE – This undated photo provided by the Oregon Department of Corrections show Jesse Lee Calhoun, who has been under investigation in the deaths of four women whose bodies were found scattered across northwest Oregon last year. Calhoun has been indicted in two of those killings — as well as in the death of a woman whose body was found in Washington state. (Oregon Department of Corrections via AP)

“Today’s indictment of Jesse Calhoun marks a significant step toward justice,” Multnomah County Sheriff Nicole Morrisey O’Donnell told a news conference at Portland police headquarters. “We recognize that until today, there have been many questions and that their deaths have caused fear and anxiety across our area and for the families that have been waiting for answers.”

The indictment came just weeks before Calhoun was due to be released from state prison, where he was returned last year to finish serving a four-year term for assaulting a police officer, trying to strangle a police dog, burglary and other charges.

He was initially released in 2021, a year early, because he was among a group of inmates who helped fight devastating wildfires in 2020. Gov. Tina Kotek revoked the commutation, which was issued by her predecessor, Kate Brown, last year when police began investigating him in the deaths.

Court records did not immediately reflect whether Calhoun has an attorney representing him on the murder charges. Authorities have not divulged what evidence they allege linked him to the deaths. The district attorney’s office said Friday that the charging document was still being finalized.

The families of the three have told reporters they struggled with addiction or mental health issues.

The deaths of two other women — Kristin Smith and Ashley Real, both 22 — are still being investigated, the prosecutor’s office said.

The bodies were found over a three-month period starting in February 2023 — in wooded areas, in a culvert and under a bridge — in a roughly 100-mile (160-kilometer) radius, sparking concern that a serial killer might be targeting young women in the region. Speaks’ body was found in Clark County, Washington, in April 2023, but investigators have said they believe she was killed in the Portland area.

Last June, the Portland Police Bureau said that speculation about a serial killer was not supported by the available facts — but by July, that had changed, and authorities acknowledged the deaths appeared to be linked.

tshirt of murder victims

A person wears a T-shirt with the names of Kristin Smith, Charity Lynn Perry, Joanna Speaks, Ashley Real, and Bridget Webster on it during a news conference on Friday, May 17, 2024, in Portland, Ore. A grand jury indicted Jesse Lee Calhoun, on second-degree murder charges in the deaths of Charity Lynn Perry, 24; Bridget Leanne Webster, 31; and Joanna Speaks, 32, the Multnomah County district attorney announced Friday. (AP Photo/Jenny Kane)

Real’s body was the most recent one found, on May 7, 2023. Her father, Jose Real, told The Associated Press last year that Calhoun had previously choked her, in November 2022. A Portland police officer took an initial report from Real and his daughter, and she gave the officer Calhoun’s name, but she was too scared to help investigators track him down, he said.

Perry’s mother, Diana Allen, and Smith’s mother, Melissa Smith, attended the news conference Friday and credited the work of the detectives.

“It’s been very, very frustrating for us families not to have answers,” Allen said. But, she added, the investigators “cared more about justice for Charity than they did for my feelings. I have to have a level of respect for that.”

Smith said she hopes to eventually have her daughter’s case solved as well.

“We just keep going, we keep waiting, we keep praying,” she said. “Stay hopeful.”

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