SALEM, Ore. (AP) — A man considered a person of interest in the deaths of four women whose bodies were found in northwestern Oregon is being held in a state prison after Gov. Tina Kotek reinstated a prison sentence that was commuted by her predecessor.
Jesse Lee Calhoun, 38, is considered a person of interest in the deaths of Kristin Smith, 22, Charity Lynn Perry, 24, Bridget Leann Webster, 31, and Ashley Real, 22, according to a law enforcement official with knowledge of the investigation. The official requested anonymity Tuesday because they are not authorized to comment publicly on the case.
The women’s bodies were found in wooded areas around Portland, Oregon, between February and May. Officials have not released any information about how the women died or why Calhoun is considered a person of interest in the investigation. He has not been charged.
Calhoun did not immediately respond to an email sent through the Snake River Correctional Institution’s inmate communication system, and a call to the most recent defense attorney listed in Calhoun’s online court records was not immediately returned.
The Multomah County District Attorney’s office said in a statement Monday that investigators have identified “at least one person of interest” in the cases and have “interviewed multiple people” as part of the investigation.
Calhoun was serving time for a 2019 conviction of stolen vehicle and burglary charges when then-Gov. Kate Brown commuted his sentence along with the sentences of 40 other prisoners in June 2021. The inmates had all helped fight wildfires in 2020 under a prison firefighting program, and Brown commuted their sentences after determining they did not present unacceptable safety risks to the community.
The commutation shaved about a year off of Calhoun’s sentence, who otherwise likely would have been released in the summer of 2022, months before the women went missing.
“I am absolutely horrified for the victims, their families, and all those who have experienced these losses,” Brown said in a statement emailed Tuesday to the AP.
Multnomah County Senior Deputy District Attorney Todd Jackson wrote to Gov. Tina Kotek’s office late last month, asking that Calhoun’s commutation be lifted so he could be reimprisoned to serve the rest of his sentence.
“Since his release from custody pursuant to this commutation, Mr. Calhoun has been involved in criminal activity currently under investigation by Oregon law enforcement,” Jackson wrote in the June 30 letter. “In light of this, the Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office and Multnomah County Department of Community Justice recommends Mr. Calhoun’s commutation be revoked.”
Kotek agreed, and Calhoun was taken back to prison on July 7 to serve the remaining 11 months of his original prison term.
The women’s bodies were found over a series of months starting in February, sparking fears and speculation online that the deaths were connected. In June, the Portland Police Bureau said that speculation was not supported by the available facts.
On Monday, however, the bureau joined with several other local law enforcement agencies and said there appeared to be links between the women’s deaths after all.
Investigators didn’t detail just what those links might be, however, and the law enforcement agencies declined to release additional details about the case.
“We will never stop fighting for Kristin. We will make sure the whole world knows how wonderful she was and the truth about her life,” Melissa Smith, Kristin Smith’s mother, posted on Facebook. “We will get justice for her!!!“
Kristin Smith, a resident of Gresham, just east of Portland, who sometimes used the last name Reedus, was reported missing Dec. 22 and found in a wooded area in a suburb south of Portland two months later.
“I am deeply saddened, lost and broken,” Melissa Smith wrote on a GoFundMe page after her daughter’s body was located.
“It’s quite like a piece of you is missing, that’s really the only way you can describe it,” Hailey Smith, Kristin Smith’s sister, told KPTV, a Portland television station, in February as family members searched for the then-missing woman.
Family members hung up fliers and looked for Smith near homeless shelters and other sites in downtown Portland. And a private “Justice for Kristin Smith” Facebook page with over 600 members was created over four months ago.
Perry’s body was found in Multnomah County on April 24, followed by Webster’s remains, which were found in Polk County on April 30. The fourth body found, in Clackamas County on May 7, belonged to Real, who had been reported missing in Portland a month earlier.
Perry’s mother, Diana Allen, said Tuesday that her daughter struggled with her mental health. Allen shared a photo with The Associated Press of Perry that was taken after Perry won a “spiciest chili” prize in a contest several years ago.
“She was so proud of it,” Allen said. “She had an amazing personality when she had her mental health under control.”
The state medical examiner has not determined the cause or manner of death for any of the women, prosecutors said in a statement.
Investigators from nine law enforcement agencies, including the prosecutor’s offices in three Oregon counties and the Oregon State Police, have been collaborating on the cases, authorities said.
Boone reported from Boise, Idaho. Associated Press writers Mark Thiessen in Anchorage, Alaska and Lisa Baumann in Seattle contributed to this report.