American Monsters Volume 4

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Dayton Leroy Rogers

The Molalla Forest Killer

“Dayton Rogers is a murder looking for a place to happen.”- District Attorney Darryl L. Larson

At around 3:00 a.m. on the morning of August 7, 1987, James Dahlke was crossing the parking lot to the Denny’s Restaurant on McLoughlin Boulevard when he heard the terror-stricken screams of a woman. Dahlke looked into the shadows where he saw two people, a man and a woman, engaged in some sort of struggle. Then, as his eyes adjusted, he saw to his amazement that the woman was naked and that the man was kneeling over her.

As Dahlke stood rooted to the spot, another customer, Charles Gates, arrived beside him. Together the two approached the couple and when the man saw them drawing near, he jumped to his feet and ran.

In an apartment across the road, Michael Fielding, too, had heard the screams. In fact, they’d roused him from sleep and he quickly got out of bed and crossed to the window, parting the drapes to look into the Denny’s parking lot. As he did, he saw a man run beneath a streetlight.

Meanwhile, Dahlke and Gates had reached the woman and noticed immediately that she’d been mortally wounded, her throat slit from side to side. Gates, who knew first aid, slid to the floor and tried CPR and mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, but to no avail. Besides the throat wound, the woman had been stabbed several times, she was drenched in blood, there was no sign of life.

As restaurant staff called the police, a crowd began to gather and among their number, Dahlke spotted the man he’d seen tussling with the woman earlier. The man was angling along the side of the building, working his way towards a pickup parked in the lot.

“That’s him!” someone shouted as the man made a dash for his truck. “That’s the one who cut her!”

A moment later the truck roared into life and burnt rubber on its way across of the parking lot. A couple of bystanders, Stan Conner and Richard Bergio, immediately ran for their own vehicles and tried to block the exits, but the man slipped between them. Bergio, though, was determined not to let the man escape. He raced after him in a wild pursuit through the darkened streets, at speeds approaching 100 miles an hour. When he got close enough, Bergio memorized the license plate number, then stopped and jotted it down. Then he drove back to the Denny’s and handed the information over to police officers, who had by now arrived on the scene.

After the victim’s body was removed to the morgue, police began interviewing witnesses including, Dahlke, Gates and Fielding. Then they conducted a search of the parking lot, which turned up some of the woman’s clothing - a pair of jeans, a hooded blue sweatshirt, and a single tennis shoe. They also found a pair of double-length shoelaces, tied into loops at both ends, suggesting that the woman had been hogtied.

But the most valuable piece of information was the license plate number, which turned out to belong to Dayton Leroy Rogers, a 33-year-old resident of Canby, Oregon.

Veteran Detective John Turner and a team of deputies arrived at Rogers’ home at five in the morning and were redirected to his auto repair shop in Woodburn. Rogers welcomed them in and, when they said they were homicide detectives, invited them to search the place. “Search my truck too if you want,” he said. It was obvious that he’d been drinking.

While officers carried out a search of the premises and vehicle, Turner began questioning Rogers. He insisted that he’d been at the shop all night. Dubious, Turner walked over to the truck and raised the hood. The engine was still hot.

Realizing he’d been caught in a lie, Rogers changed his story. He claimed he’d driven to Willamette Falls Hospital in Oregon City to have his hand seen to after he’d accidently cut it with a hacksaw blade. He showed the detective his bandaged right hand as proof.

Turner pondered his next move. He was certain that Rogers’ pickup was the one seen fleeing the crime scene, but the hospital visit might provide Rogers with an alibi. Then again, Rogers demeanor did appear suspicious. He decided to take the man into custody and arrested him on suspicion of murder.

While Rogers was being transferred to the Clackamas County Jail in Oregon City, police obtained an identification of the dead woman. She was 25-year-old Jennifer Lisa Smith, a mother of two, with an arrest record for prostitution.

And a background check on Dayton Rogers revealed that he was no stranger to law enforcement, either. In 1972, Rogers (then 18) had picked up a 15-year-old hitchhiker near Eugene, Oregon. He took her to a remote area and had consensual sex with her. A few days later, Rogers met the girl again and the two again made for a remote area. This time though, Rogers produced a knife and stabbed the girl in the stomach without provocation. Bleeding profusely and in severe pain, the girl pleaded with Rogers to take her to the hospital, which he did. Physicians attending to her wounds alerted the police who took Rogers into custody. He received four years probation for the attack.

Less than six months later, Rogers assaulted two 15-year-old girls with a soft-drink bottle, but was found not guilty by reason of insanity and sent to the Oregon State Hospital. He was released in December 1974.

Rogers’ release prompted Lane County District Attorney, Darryl L. Larson, to comment: “This man is an extreme danger to the community, particularly to young women. He is both sexually and physically violent and, without question, is a murder looking for a place to happen.”

In January 1976, Rogers was indicted for first-degree rape, but acquitted. Then, just a month later, he picked up two high school girls, raped one of them at knifepoint and attempted to rape the other. Rogers pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to charges of rape and coercion. He got five years on the coercion charge but escaped a rape conviction, mainly because the girls had drunk beer and smoked marijuana with him prior to the incident.

All in all, detectives discovered, Rogers had spent 27 months in various Oregon institutions for charges involving sexual violence.

With Rogers in custody, detectives began gathering evidence to tie him to the murder of Jennifer Smith. In a wood stove at his auto shop they found the remains of a burned tennis shoe that matched the shoe left behind in the Denny’s parking lot.

There was plenty of evidence in Rogers’ truck too, including blood inside the cab, numerous knife cuts on the dashboard, upholstery, ceiling, and passenger door and a single fingerprint matching Jennifer Smith’s right ring finger. The search also turned up several miniatures of Smirnoff vodka, and a small green band that would later be determined to come from a container of ready-to-drink orange juice.

Next, officers questioned medical staff at Willamette Falls Hospital. They confirmed that Rogers had received treatment for a wound to his hand, but said the cut couldn’t have come from a hacksaw. It looked more like a knife wound.

The case against Rogers looked strong, and was strengthened further by eyewitness identification. Shown an array of six photographs, Michael Fielding had no hesitation in picking out Rogers as the man he’d seen fleeing the scene.

And Portland’s streetwalkers provided even more information to investigators.

Rogers was well known to many of them, and those who knew him, knew to avoid him. Rogers went by the street name, “Steve the Gambler,” because “Steve” was the name he usually gave and because he claimed to be a professional gambler from Vegas. He favored bondage and would usually offer $40 to $80 for a “date.” He always had the girls undress completely and then “hogtied” their wrists and ankles. Many of the prostitutes reported that he’d bitten, cut and tortured them while they were bound. The women shared other information too, information that would soon become very relevant. They said that Rogers had a foot fetish and that he liked drinking vodka and orange juice. Often he’d stop off at a convenience store to buy containers of ready-to-drink orange juice, always the same brand with green plastic caps, security-sealed with green bands.

With evidence mounting against him, Rogers was indicted on a charge of aggravated murder in the death of Jennifer Smith and was held without bond. But the case was about to take another turn, one that would mark Dayton Rogers as, arguably, the most brutal serial killer in Oregon’s history.

On Monday, August 31, Everett Banyard was hunting on a 90,000-acre timber farm southeast of Molalla, Oregon, when he stumbled upon the naked, half-buried body of a young woman. The corpse had been partially covered with brush and was in an advanced state of decomposition. Banyard immediately ran to make a call to the police.

When investigators arrived at the site, Banyard led them up an old logging road through an area of rugged forest. There, on a steep slope, lay the body. It was immediately clear that the woman had been murdered, but due to the lateness of the hour, they held back on processing the scene until the next morning.

The search for evidence was begun as soon as available light permitted, and soon yielded a shocking discovery. Two more corpses lay in close proximity to the first. Detectives had discovered the dumping ground of a serial killer.

Unsure whether there were other bodies in the area, the police shut down the crime scene and sent for the Clackamas County Sheriff’s Department’s tracking dog. Over the next five days, the dog discovered an additional four corpses, bringing to seven the number found at the site. All were female, all were nude, all bore clear signs of stabbing, torture and mutilation. The killer appeared to have removed some of the victims feet with a hacksaw, some sawed through, others crudely snapped off, leaving behind, shards of splintered done. Then came a shocking revelation from the medical examiner, the feet had been sawn and snapped off while the victims were still alive.

Looking down at the broken corpses Detective Turner couldn’t help noticing similarities between the Molalla forest victims and Jennifer Smith. It was speculated (and would later be proved) that the victims were prostitutes. There were signs of cutting mutilation and torture. Could these murders be the work of Dayton Leroy Rogers? Any doubts that Turner might have had were soon dispelled. As he walked the murder scene, he began to see miniature vodka bottles everywhere, and plastic orange juice bottles with their distinctive green bands.

Rogers went on trial for the murder of Jennifer Smith in February 1988 and, with the strong evidence against him, there was very little doubt that he’d be found guilty. However, prosecutors were in for a surprise when Rogers’ attorneys unveiled their rather bizarre defense strategy. Yes, Rogers had killed Smith, they admitted, but he’d done it in self-defense after Smith had tried to rob him at knifepoint.

The idea was preposterous and the jury wasn’t buying it. They found Rogers guilty of first-degree murder, but stopped short of recommending the death penalty. Judge Gilroy sentenced Rogers to life in prison.

John Turner and his colleagues at the Clackamas County Sheriff’s Department were extremely disappointed with the sentence, which left Rogers eligible for parole. Still, they had another crack at securing the death penalty for the killer. Rogers still had to stand trial for the Molalla forest murders.

Over the next two months, detectives worked closely with the District Attorney’s office in building an airtight case. On May 4, 1988, Rogers was indicted on seven charges of aggravated murder in the deaths of Reatha Gyles, Lisa Mock, Noni Cervantes, Cynthia DeVore, Christine Adams, and Maureen Hodges.

The trial began on March 30, 1989, before an all-female jury, with Judge Raymond R. Bagley Jr. presiding. The state presented strong forensic evidence, some of it extremely graphic. Jurors heard how the women were tortured by having their feet sawn off and how one, Noni Cervantes, had been eviscerated by having a machete inserted in her vagina and then ripped upward towards the sternum.

They also presented testimony from several women who had fallen into Dayton Leroy Rogers’ clutches and somehow survived to tell the tale. One former prostitute described how Rogers had picked her up in Portland and driven her to the Molalla forest where he’d bound her and then spent the next six hours torturing her. She said that Rogers started biting her breasts, becoming ever more violent until he was ripping and tearing at her like a wild beast. The more she screamed, the more frenzied he became, she said. When he became concerned that someone may hear her cries he put a knife to her throat and told her to be quiet or he’d give her something to, “really cry about.”

Strong forensic evidence, much of it retrieved from the woodstove in Rogers’ auto workshop, linked him to each of the victims and, as in the Jenny Smith case, there was little doubt as to his guilt.

On May 4, the jury deliberated for six hours before returning a verdict of guilty on all counts. Rogers responded by burying his face in his hands and shaking his head while saying, “No,” several times.

The penalty took longer to deliver, but on Wednesday, June 7, 1989, seventeen hours of deliberation delivered the sentence Detective John Turner and his colleagues wanted to hear - Judge Bagley sentenced Rogers to death by lethal injection.

Many question remain regarding the case of Dayton Leroy Rogers. John Turner remains convinced that there are many more mutilated corpses buried in the Molalla forest. If Rogers knows their whereabouts, he isn’t saying.

American Monsters Volume Four includes 11 more riveting stories of America's worst serial killers