Photo: Herbert Shelton
Shelton and his men checked with scrap metal dealers in Portland and local dealers in hopes of identifying the two men, but came up empty-handed. Ganzle and Houston had better luck checking area restaurants. One restaurant waitress recalled waiting on the two men, one of whom had only one arm. She said the two men argued and the one-armed man was doing a lot of sweating. One of them mentioned something about Eugene, she added.
With that slim piece of information, the two lawmen reported to Shelton, who in turn called Lane County Sheriff C.A. Swarts. Swarts told Shelton there was a one-armed man outside of town named Rufe Stults who had a truck matching the description of the truck seen along Cedar Road.
Swarts dispatched two men to Stults farm, but the subject of their visit wasn't home. Stults' wife told them he'd gone to Eugene for groceries and supplies. The two men waited several hours for Stults' return and were just starting to head back to town when they noticed the truck coming up the long driveway. They took Stults into custody for questioning.
The following morning, Shelton and Houston arrived in Eugene to question Stults. Although he had maintained that he and his partner, whom he knew only as "Deafy" had taken a load of scrap metal to Portland, but maintained he dropped his partner off at Albany on the return trip. But under intense questioning by Shelton and Houston, Stults admitted he had killed his partner. He said he was jealous of the kind of attention the blonde was paying "Deafy" (later identified as Alex Harju) and was angry she had given his partner her address where she was staying in Portland.
Stults also said the victim demanded more money from the scrap metal than he was entitled to. So Stults said the two got into a fist fight and he struck "Deafy" several times with a piece of scrap metal. He put the body into the back of his truck and drove several miles before dumping the corpse into a drainage ditch along Cedar Road.
Linn County District Attorney Harlow Weinrick filed a first-degree murder charge against Stults. Authorities later learned, through fingerprints, that Stults also was convicted of burglary and larceny in Illinois three years earlier. He was paroled in 1938.
Stults was convicted of manslaughter. Circuit Judge L.H. McMahan sentenced him to 10 years in the state penitentiary in Salem.
But the mysterious blonde remained a mystery. Investigators in Portland discovered the girl had not gone to the address in Portland which she had given to Alex "Deafy" Harju when Harju and Stults dropped her off in the Rose City.
Murder Rides the Rails
The murder of Martha Virginia James on Jan. 23, 1943, sounded like something out of a Sherlock Holmes mystery. Here was a beautiful young woman, riding the West Coast Limited train from Seattle to San Diego, alone. Suddenly, a bloodcurdling scream echoes through the sleeper section, and Martha James' body tumbles out of the sleeping berth, her throat slashed.
A coroner's report indicated the victim died of a deep wound to her throat, possibly caused by a sharp instrument such as a razor or a sharp butcher or cutting knife.
The murder apparently occurred just north of Tangent in Linn County, but the train was allowed to continue to Eugene. While Lane County Sheriff Roy Sutherland and his men were searching the train in Eugene, Linn County Sheriff Herbert Shelton and his men were launching a wide-scale manhunt in and around Tangent. They discovered bloody footprints along a section of railroad tracks, but the lead turned sour when they learned that a farmer delivering milk to one of the train cars had suffered a bloody nose. His bloody handkerchief substantiated the farmer's story.
With that, Shelton telegraphed authorities in Klamath Falls that the murderer apparently was still aboard the train.
Back on the West Coast Limited, a young Marine was telling authorities he chased a man he had seen near the dead woman's berth to the end of the train, but lost him somewhere in between. Others on board said they had seen a young man with a brown pin-striped suit in the sleeper section earlier in the evening. Two women said a young man, wearing a dark coat, had made advances toward them, but each rejected the man.
Authorities checked out their tips. A brown pin-striped suit was found in the luggage of a 30-year-old dining car waiter. But the waiter claimed he was in his own sleeping berth when he was awakened by all the conversation about the young woman's death. One of the women who claimed she was molested by a young man on the train could not positively identify the waiter as her assailant.
Investigators later learned the young victim was traveling alone because her husband, a Navy Ensign, could not get the same train to San Diego. He left on an earlier train and she followed on the West Coast Limited. They had just recently been married.
The sleeper car was disconnected from the other cars on the train and remained in Klamath Falls for further inspection while the remaining cars of the West Coast Limited continued on into California.
The investigation had hit several snags until a woman in Klamath Falls reported she also had been accosted on the West Coast Limited 12 days earlier by a man with a butcher knife. Authorities immediately turned their attention to the train's kitchen crew -- the only ones on board who had ready access to butcher and sharp cutting knives.
The Marine told investigators while chasing the mystery man to the end of the train he had run through the kitchen and spotted a cook working. The cook said he did not see anyone go through the kitchen, however, but the Marine said the cook was sweating profusely although it seemed fairly cool in the kitchen.
With that, Shelton contacted the railroad company and learned that a 20-year-old-cook named Robert Folkes had been on the West Coast Limited the night Martha James was murdered.
When first brought in for questioning, Folkes remained cool and unflustered by all the questioning. He denied ever being in the sleeping car the night of the murder.
But authorities laid a trap for Folkes and he stumbled into it head first. They had Folkes "mugged" and supposedly sent the photo to Klamath Falls for identification by Folkes' earlier victim. Then they told Folkes the woman in the Klamath Falls incident had positively identified him as the man who attacked her. Folkes lost his composure and quickly confessed to murdering Martha James.
Folkes later was executed in Salem for his crimes.
©1998 Roxann Gess Smith
All Rights Reserved
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