The Northern Woods Paranormal Research and Investigations were interviewed by The Portland Sentinel in October of 2008 regarding our investigation and discovery of information regarding what was to be believed to be a haunting of Cathedral Park under St. Johns Bridge in Portland, Oregon by the ghost of Thelma Taylor. Here is a copy of that article:
Tags: Cathedral Park, Haunting, Investigation, Oregon, Paranormal, Portland, St. Johns Bridge, Thelma Taylor
Tags: Cathedral Park, Ghost, Haunting, Investigation, Oregon, Paranormal, Portland, St. Johns Bridge, Thelma Taylor
Case Title: “Legend of the St. Johns Bridge Haunting”
Case Number: TNW102907
The investigation is a published work that is copyrighted.
© 2007 The Northern Woods Paranormal Research and Investigations. All Rights Reserved.
“This is how a road gets made. Somebody walked on a virgin land, someone else saw their tracks and followed them leaving a path.”
If you think about the quote above, you can almost see the relation between it and how a legend is made. While researching and investigating the haunting of the St. Johns Bridge by the murdered 15 year-old, Thelma A. Taylor, we stared at the path of the haunting tale, but we stopped. We looked around and saw a virgin land and one by one our member’s footsteps created a path in a different direction which took us on an entirely different journey.
From Website to Website or from mouth to mouth, the story of Thelma A. Taylor seems to change. This change caused curiosity and resulted in a massive research investigation by members of The Northern Woods Paranormal Research and Investigations.
The haunting story plays out in bits of different ways, but all seem to focus on the story that Thelma A. Taylor was kidnapped, taken to a location underneath the St. Johns Bridge in Portland, Oregon and murdered. The stories continue that she was raped repeatedly over many days before finally being stabbed and killed by her kidnapper. From then on, she is said to haunt underneath the bridge in Cathedral Park during the evening hours during the summer with screams that frighten those that hear it. Some say that the police have been called on numerous occasions to locate the source of the screams, but to this day have been unable to. The stories out there in so many locations represent basically the same story, but sometimes pieces are added or taken away depending upon the author.
This is where we took a different path, instead of “promoting” the haunting, we tried to uncover whether Thelma actually haunts the bridge with screams on summer nights. The following results are our analysis of our journey of an in-depth research and investigation, which includes actual factual evidence that seems to have been over-looked throughout the past decades.
St. Johns / St. Johns Bridge:
St Johns Oregon, a quite throw back to a time long past by in Portland. This “Small town in the Big City” was once a city of its very own. Founded in 1865 by James John, who first settled in Linnton across river in 1843 and then decided to found his own town, this area has long resisted losing its independence but finally lost that battle in 1915 when Portland finally annexed it into its city limits…but don’t tell that to the residents of St. Johns. These days the St Johns bridge which spans the Willamette and opened on June 13, 1931 stands as testament to that very ideal of self-identity that residents of this town seem to cherish.
The Kidnapping and Murder of Thelma A. Taylor:
Thelma Taylor was a quiet young girl. She was a 15-year-old who attended Roosevelt High School in St. Johns. During the early morning hours of Friday, August 5, 1949, Thelma left her home around 4:15am to meet up with her friend, Janet Donaldson who was of the same age and lived near her. They were to join up with a party of youngsters to meet up with a picker’s truck that would take them to Hillsboro, Oregon on a bean picking trip. Later that morning, Janet Donaldson called Thelma’s parents to notify them that their daughter never showed up at her home. The search for Thelma began.
The Oregonian newspaper reported that Thelma had been missing from her home since early Friday morning. The newspaper described her “as weighing 98 pounds, and having dark hair, blue eyes and freckles. She was last seen by her mother, Mrs. Clarence Taylor, when she left on a bean picking expedition. (Thelma and her friend, Janet) were planning to catch a pickers’ truck at No. Oswego Avenue and Lombard Street at 5:00am.”
Morris Leland, a 22-year-old native Oregonian laborer, had a history with the police. The Oregonian reported that “(Leland) has an extensive record. He served two terms in the Oregon State Penitentiary, once nine months for conspiracy to commit a felony, and once 18 months for obtaining money under false pretenses. He also has been held for assault with a dangerous weapon and attempted rape.”
During Thelma’s walk to her friend’s house, Leland said that he “saw the girl walking near her home about 4:15am, Friday.” Leland said that he had lured Thelma into his stolen car on Friday. He then forced her into the brush of a 6×6 glade and held her captive for more than 24 hours before killing her at 8:00am, Saturday, August 6, 1949.
The following Thursday, Leland, was picked up by Sergeant Vernon Nicholson at 1:40am on N. Michigan Avenue and Failing Street for driving a stolen car. Leland had stolen the car three hours earlier. He then “blurted out” his attack on Thelma by bludgeoning and stabbing her to death. After he was arrested and taken to jail, Leland asked the jail officer, Sergeant Chet Wiles, to speak to the homicide squad about a murder that he committed. He told his story. According to The Oregonian, “He admitted attempting to attack the girl several times, but each time her screams forced him to desist … Finally, at 8:00am, Saturday, he said he decided to kill the girl ‘because she was a good girl and might tell’.” Picking up a two foot long and three inch wide steel bar, he hit Thelma across the arm and head. As her screams increased, he took the steel bar and struck her against the forehead.
Leland admitted to stabbing her twice, once in the chest and once on her side. He said he smoked three or four packs of cigarettes then neatly removed some evidence, such as his cigarette buds, the steel bar and the knife. He then walked about 300 feet and threw them into the river. The steel bar and knife were recovered.
Morris Leland was found guilty of murder and was executed on January 9, 1953. The method of execution was gas.
The Preliminary Investigation:
During the early summer weeks of 2007, the founder of our group, Jonathan Lockwood, and his assistant began to gather evidence from the Portland Police Department Archives, the central library as well as on-site visitations to the haunting location and the cemetery where she was supposed to have been buried. This was done in conjunction with meetings to form a larger team.
The investigation seemed to hit some trouble spots and dead ends. Towards the end of the summer, the assistant left and Jonathan was left to find a team. A team was formed and the investigation took off.
Our members were split into small groups with specific tasks to locate information needed. Basically, the investigation was started again from scratch, but the direction we took never changed from Jonathan’s vision.
The Oregonian: Friday, August 12, 1949
With copies of newspapers articles located from the archives of The Oregonian about the murder of Thelma A. Taylor by Morris Leland. Clues to the investigation began to take us in many different directions. The article itself contained information that contradicted the actual stories of the haunting. Instead of taking this evidence and closing the case, we decided to continue on to get as much information as possible. The dates and location were different then what is currently out in the public.
Multnomah County Oregon, Department of Records & Elections, Records Management Division:
Certain members were assigned to obtain copies of the actual court trial files. We first had learned that the transcripts for the case were destroyed decades ago. We examined microfiche and located the trial case number. We presented that to a records employee who was unable to locate the file. Our request was given to one of the head employees and she searched for almost 45 minutes going through many different locations in the department trying to find where the file was or where it may have been. We ended up with a microfiche reel that was inside a small cardboard box. On the cover of the old box which had seen its days over the years, we were stunned to find that there was a note typed onto that stated, “File-#€€€€€ Missing when received for filming.”
This left our investigation unable to obtain copies of the trial transcripts and court records for Morris Leland.
Multnomah Police Report Archives:
After one attempt during the summer, and one this fall, we were still unable to locate the police report in the Portland Police Departments archives. Two searches by employees came up empty. They suggested we contact the archives in Salem, and that was a dead end as well. An email was sent to the Portland Police Chief asking for his assistance, but we never heard back from him. We were told though, that when reports were sent decades ago to be placed on microfiche, there were some blocks of dates that never made it to be filmed.
This left our investigation unable to obtain copies of any police records.
Multnomah County Coroner’s Archives:
We were able to get in touch with a very nice man at the Coroner’s Archives. He stated that they had recently received old files from the era we needed. We asked if we could come down and look at them, but he said the condition of the folders and files were too delicate for the public to touch. They needed to be catalogued and scanned. However, we were able to obtain copies of the original coroner’s report describing the cause of death of Thelma Taylor. In addition we were able to get our hands on a copy of the original “Standard Certificate of Death” issued for Thelma Taylor. The information we obtained, confirmed our beliefs.
The Results of our Investigations:
As stated earlier in this report, the legendary stories say that she haunts the Cathedral Park area underneath the bridge. Websites and Tours also state that she was held against her will and repeatedly raped for several days underneath the bridge before finally being killed in the same location. This is where the legend begins that Thelma Taylor haunts the section of the bridge over Cathedral Park.
Though the story is extremely interesting to those looking for a good haunting story, we however, have come to a different conclusion.
To make this easier for the reader, we will use bullet points to state the facts of the story that we have uncovered. This contradicts the entire legend of Thelma Taylor:
Thelma Taylor was not held for several days and beat or tortured. If one picks up a copy of The Oregonian dated August 12, 1949, you will read that she was actually murdered just a little over 24 hours after she was kidnapped.
The Oregonian newspaper clearly states that Morris Leland led detectives to her body. The location was about 1000 feet from North Edison Street near St. Johns Avenue. One only needs to go visit that exact area and can see right from that area that she was not killed anywhere near the bridge.
The Standard Certificate of Death for Thelma A. Taylor dated August 15, 1949, states where she was killed, which was “In brush about 8 blocks North St. John’s Bridge.” This is an exact quote on the certificate.
The Coroner’s Examination of “Thelma Ann Taylor” dated August 12, 1949 by physician Vinton D. Sneeden, states that she died on August 6, 1949 from “Traumatic injuries including: Stab wound of chest with penetration of heart. Inferior vena cava. Compound comminuted fracture of the skull with cerebral laceration.” Listed as a “Homicide,” the report continues that the “Deceased came to her death as a result of injuries inflicted by an assailant.”
Upon visiting the area thought to be where the haunting occurred, we took numerous pictures from different cameras as well as used a voice recorder. We also did the same in the location we believed where she took her final breath. Neither location provided any evidence of paranormal activity.
It should be noted that we spoke with a gentleman at the Iron Works business just next to the park and bridge. We went to the factory, because the screeches we heard coming from the building sometimes sounded like screams, thus almost echoing under the bridge. The bridge rattled somewhat noisily as cars and trucks past by above us. The ships on the river made noise. The birds and dogs in the park made noises as well. We were told that the bridge completed renovations about four or five years ago. The gentleman we spoke with said that the bridge used to make terrible loud sounds. “It is better now,” he said.
So due to all the activity in the area it WAS and IS impossible to make a controlled quiet environment for paranormal investigator’s equipment. It also should be noted that we found out the Iron Works business has workers on swing shift until 1:00am. The noise from the factory can be heard right there in the park. Also, we were told that during the late evenings of the summer months, there seems to be a small problem with substance abusers under the bridge, however, the problem is not as severe as it once was. Hence the decline of reports of screaming over the past several years.
Could it be that perhaps those under the bridge and influence were hearing the bridge rattle and the high pitch sounds of the Iron Works business? Could this be the screams that they have reported?
Another important fact to make know is that Thelma Taylor was not murdered and found under the bridge. She was murdered further away, 1000 feet or so from North Edison Street near St. Johns Avenue.
And a very disturbing fact that based on our findings is that she was not raped over several days. She died just after 24 hours after she was kidnapped. It is very troubling for us to know that what this young girl went through and the rumors that spread over the years after her terrible ordeal. Though Leland did want to make some sort of “attack” on Thelma, there is absolutely no evidence that we have uncovered that states that she was raped. Perhaps this came out in the trial or police report? We don’t know as the files are missing. We can’t say 100% for sure she wasn’t raped, but the evidence we have is to the contrary.
On Saturday, October 27, 2007, a portion of our team headed out to the cemetery where Thelma Taylor was buried. There is not a record of where she lays, but based on the cemetery’s map from 1912 and information obtained from one of the caretakers, we were finally able to locate Thelma’s headstone. It was covered by almost four inches of soil, grass and weeds. We took our time cleaning it up (as well as four others we found) by washing away the decades of soil that covered the stone as it slowly sunk into the earth.
We did take pictures of the headstone and the cemetery as well as used a brand new state-of-the-art voice recorder to ask Thelma questions. Our pictures we took will remain private, except for a few of them. As for the EVP, that is between our members and Thelma. We believe Thelma Taylor’s name has been dragged through the Mud of Legends. It is time for her name and her soul to finally be put at peace.
Credits for this report:
The Oregonian Newspaper. Dated Friday, August 12, 1949 and Sunday, August 7, 1949.
Title Quote is partial lyrics from Duran Duran’s, “This is How A Road Gets Made.” 1987
G.C., Caretaker of the Cemetery.
Multnomah County Court House Records/Archives Dept and the Coroner’s Office Archives Dept.
Jerry who was Jonathan’s assistant when this case first started to be investigated.
The citizens of the St. Johns area of Portland, Oregon. Especially those we interviewed at Patti’s Café and the local library.