SALEM, Ore. (AP) — The bodies of four women began appearing in wooded areas in northwest Oregon in February, though police initially said the cases appeared to be unconnected. But on Monday, prosecutors dropped a bombshell, saying they are linked and “at least one person of interest” has been identified.
The state medical examiner has not determined the cause or manner of death for any of the women, prosecutors said in a statement.
But, in an about-face from a June 4 Portland Police Bureau statement saying six deaths did not appear to be connected, the Multnomah County District Attorney’s office in Portland announced that four of them are.
“Investigators and prosecutors from multiple law enforcement agencies have been working collaboratively, … and they have determined that there are links between four cases: Kristin Smith, Charity Perry, Bridget Webster, and Ashley Real,” the prosecutor’s office said.
“Investigators have interviewed multiple people in connection with these cases and have identified at least one person of interest that is linked to all four,” the DA’s office added.
The Multnomah County District Attorney’s office in Portland says no charges have been filed against anyone but that the community is not currently in any danger. Local media reported a man is in custody. The announcement led to online reports of a serial killer, but officials did not use those words in announcing the connection between the deaths.
The women’s bodies were found in Portland and rural areas starting on Feb. 19, with the latest one found on May 7. One body was found about 45 miles (72 kilometers) southwest of Portland, near a creek in Polk County.
The first body discovered was that of Smith, 22, found in a wooded area in a suburb southeast of Portland. Smith’s disappearance was reported to police in suburban Gresham on Dec. 22, 2022.
“It’s quite like a piece of you is missing, that’s really the only way you can describe it,” Hailey Smith, Kristin’s sister, told KPTV, a Portland television station, 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 was 24 when she died. Her body was found on April 24 near a state park alongside the Columbia River, east of Portland.
Perry’s mother, Diana Allen, said her daughter struggled with her mental health. Allen shared a photo with The Associated Press of Perry taken after Perry won spiciest chili 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.”
Webster’s body was found on April 30 near Mill Creek in rural northwest Polk County. She was 31.
Real, 22, was last seen at a fast-food restaurant near Portland on March 27, police said. She was reported missing on April 4. Her body was found on May 7 in a forest southeast of Portland.
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.
This story has been updated to correct the location where two of the women’s bodies were discovered. While two of the women were from Gresham and Milwaukie, the bodies were found elsewhere in rural areas.
Boone reported from Boise, Idaho. AP Writer Lisa Baumann in Seattle contributed to this report.