Dozens of missing women, girls in Portland-area raise ‘red flag,’ cold-case expert says

Published: Jun. 14, 2023 at 5:15 PM PDT
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Whether or not Portland and its surrounding communities have a serial killer, the sheer number of missing-persons cases in the area should be a cause for concern, according to a veteran cold-case investigator.

Police in a statement last week downplayed concerns of a serial killer after the bodies of six women were discovered in and around the city in a five-month span.

Roughly half of the 140 people missing from Multnomah County so far this year, which includes the city of Portland, are women and girls, according to the state’s online database. There are currently 401 active missing-persons cases statewide.

However, Joseph Giacalone, a retired NYPD sergeant and now an adjunct professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said the sheer numbers should be considered a public safety concern even if no foul play is suspected.

Fears of a Portland serial killer have been overhyped, according to police.
Fears of a Portland serial killer have been overhyped, according to police.((Fox News Digital | Google Maps))

The number of open cases involving missing women and girls in the first half of this year is already well above the 46 at the end of 2022, according to the state’s count. Portland police, who keep a separate record and are responsible for only a portion of the 466-square-mile Multnomah County, said they investigated a total of 489 missing-person reports last year.

Some of the disappearances may be linked to Portland’s liberal policies on homelessness and open-air drug markets, Giacalone said.

“You can’t have these tent cities and these open-air drug markets, which only breed this kind of behavior,” he told Fox News Digital. “It doesn’t need to be a nefarious reason, doesn’t have to be a homicide.”

Kristin Smith, left, and Ashley Real were found dead in February and May, respectively....
Kristin Smith, left, and Ashley Real were found dead in February and May, respectively. Portland police are investigating both cases but say they have "no reason to believe" they are connected.((Portland Police Bureau))

He said he suspects that more bodies will be found, likely due to overdoses, possibly concealed after the fact by panicked fellow users who don’t want to attract scrutiny.

“If you think that these are the only six bodies in that area, I think you’d be mistaken,” he said. “There needs to be a full investigation, including cadaver dogs and everything else.”

SEE ALSO: Portland officer weighs in on drug crisis downtown

Police found the remains of Kristin Smith, 22, on Feb. 19, Joanna Speaks, 32, on April 8, Charity Perry, 24, and an unidentified woman on April 24, Bridget Webster, 31, on April 30, and Ashley Real, 22, on May 7.

Of those bodies found, only one has been publicly declared a homicide by investigators so far – the death of Speaks, who was found dead of blunt head and neck injuries behind an abandoned barn 22 miles north of Portland.

Deputies in Clark County, Washington, say they are investigating the death of Joanna Speaks as...
Deputies in Clark County, Washington, say they are investigating the death of Joanna Speaks as a homicide after her remains were found at an abandoned barn in Ridgefield, Washington.((Clark County Sheriff's Office))

And at least one case has been linked to homeless encampments and the open-air drug markets.

Perry, who police found dead inside a culvert at Ainsworth State Park, 35 miles east of the city, had a history of substance abuse and mental health problems, her mother, Diana Allen, told Fox News Digital.

Perry’s mother believed she had been living in a tent in neighboring Vancouver, but learned later that her daughter was last seen at an open-air fentanyl market in Portland – where she overdosed.

Perry was taken to the hospital and revived with a dose of Narcan, her mother told Fox News Digital.

Law enforcement is investigating the discovery of six women’s remains around the Portland metro area over the course of the past four months.

But she was released without any verification of her address, no one looked up her background and the hospital did not reach out to her emergency contact – her mother – about the incident.

“I had been trying to find her, but every time I went to the tent she was staying out, she wouldn’t be there,” Allen told Fox News Digital. “At first, I didn’t know she went to Portland till the detective informed me of this. They can’t give me a day of death, but are pretty sure it was April.”

Allen said she could not discuss specifics of the case due to the ongoing investigation but said she believes the evidence shows her daughter was taken to the location in the park in an attempt to conceal her remains.

“It seems like a lot of work for a drug overdose,” she said. “So, I’m stuck on this f---ed up ride I call the ring of fire. One side is trying to reach for everything that may have a more innocent reasoning behind it. The other sucks you down a rabbit hole that I fear I may never get out of.”

Bridget Webster of Milwaukie, Oregon, was found dead on April 30 in Polk County. Her age was...
Bridget Webster of Milwaukie, Oregon, was found dead on April 30 in Polk County. Her age was not immediately available.((Polk County Sheriff's Office))

Despite her troubles, Perry was very friendly and eager to meet new people, her mother said.

According to a report in The Oregonian, investigators are looking into a possible connection between the deaths of Speaks, the lone confirmed homicide, Perry and Webster. All three died in a three-week span.

Giacalone said that investigators are likely looking for patterns even if they have not found evidence of a possible serial killer – but it’s also early to rule one out.

“If you look at the history of serial killers, they always prey on the most vulnerable and specifically people who are drug users, homeless or prostitutes because they’re transient,” he said. “People aren’t really looking for them after a certain period of time, and the groups that those individuals hang around with, whether it’s the drug scene or the prostitution scene, are not really that friendly with the police.”

A search of the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System database revealed at least four other Jane Does were found in the region in 2022: a woman in Lowell, Oregon, in May; another in Salem, Oregon, in November; and two more women in Woodland, Washington, in March and April. One of them had been struck by a train. Two were found on the side of rural roads and the fourth was found floating in the Columbia River.

“If a serial killer was involved in any of this, he or she has the perfect cover,” Giacalone said. “We have people coming from different countries, different parts of the state, the open-air drug scene, maybe prostitution, and all these other things, and you have the city that has the ‘abolish the police’ movement. Talk about a serial killer’s sweet spot.”

The city has established an illegal campsite reporting system at Residents can also call 311.