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Sheriff List & Photos

Pictured Left: James H. Carey

James H. Carey was elected in 1980, beating out incumbent Bill McPherson to become the 25th Sheriff of Umatilla County. He has run unopposed in two elections since then.

Carey is a native of Prineville, where he attended elementary and high schools. He took classes at Blue Mountain Community College after work- ing for U.S. Gypsum for 13 years.

In 1970, Carey decided he wanted to get into law enforcement and signed on with the tiny Pilot Rock Police Department in Umatilla County, where he Would go on to serve three years as Chief of police in the town of about 1,600 residents.

Carey left Pilot Rock to become a Deputy with the Umatilla County Sheriff's Office, where he worked for five years before leaving to become a patrolman for the Pendleton Police Department.

While working for the Pendleton Police Department, Carey decided to run for Sheriff and was elected on his first try.

Carey heads up a staff of 50 workers, including 11 road deputies and a jail staff. The Sheriff's office in Umatilla County, parts of which lie along the Oregon Trail, sees a wide spectrum of crime. There is an average of two murders a year committed in the northeastern Oregon county.

Carey is married and he and his wife, Jackie, have five children.

Umatilla County

Alfred Marshall was appointed as the first Sheriff of Umatilla County soon after the county was established on Sept. 27, 1862.

The 3,231 square-mile northeastern Oregon county originally was part of the old, larger Wasco County. Some 60,000 people now live in Umatilla County.

The first white men to view the area were members of the Lewis and Clark Expedition in 1805. Those in the exploration party camped out in the fall of 1805 near Cold Springs on their historic adventure down the Columbia River.

Umatilla is an Indian word for river, meaning "water rippling over sand." The county seat originally was located in Umatilla City but was moved in 1868 to Pendleton, despite the objections of Umatilla City residents.

Wheat is the major crop in the county, where a number of other major crops also are grown from potatoes and green peas to fruit and the famous Hermiston watermelons.

Livestock also is a big business in Umatilla County. One of the big rodeos on the West Coast, the Pendleton Round-Up, pulls in thousands of visitors each year. The annual event began in 1910 -with the help of legendary Umatilla County Sheriff Til Taylor-- when ranchers and farmers got together to celebrate the end of the harvest. Hundreds of Northwest Indians also participate in the Pendleton Round-Up each year.

In addition to agriculture and livestock, other important industries in Umatilla County include timber, food processing and manufacturing.

Major points of interest in the county include McNary Dam and Lake on the Columbia River, Tollgate-Spout Springs Recreation Area and Emigrant Springs, Hat Rock and Battle Mountain state parks.

Alfred Marshall, the first Sheriff of Umatilla County, served as head of law enforcement until 1864, when Frank Maddock was elected. Maddock lived in Heppner, which was part of Umatilla County until Morrow County was established in 1885. He served two, two-year terms as Sheriff.

In 1868, at the age of 38, Oscar E. Thomson began serving the first of two, two-year terms. A native of Roanoke, Missouri, Thomson moved to Oregon in 1865, three years before he was elected Sheriff. He was active in civic groups while in Umatilla County. He was a charter member and one of the founders of Echo Lodge No. 94 A. F. & A. M., which later merged into Umatilla Lodge No. 40.

Adam Wirt Nye succeeded Thomson, serving as Sheriff for a single two-year term from 1872 to 1874. He was followed by J. A. Pruett, who was Umatilla County Sheriff from 1874 to 1876. Pruett moved to California in 1902.

Robert Sargent of Monroe, Maine, was elected to a two-year term in 1876. He was followed by John Lewis Sperry, who owned Sperry and Co., a mercantile business, with William Jeffers Furnish, who would later serve as Sheriffof the county. Sperry was Sheriff for two years before William Martin was elected to the first of three, two-year terms.

Martin was born in Hampshire County in West Virginia in 1822. He moved to Oregon in 1843 and served for a time as Sheriff of the Marion County. He also at one time was Sheriff in Siskiyou County in California.

John Mordecai Bentley was elected to a two-year term, serving as Sheriff of Umatilla County from 1886 to 1888. A native of Missouri, he crossed the plains with his family, settling first in California where he was involved in the cattle business. In 1871, Bentley moved to Pendleton and worked as a carpenter and building contractor before returning to raising stock. Four years after leaving the Sheriff's Office in 1892, Bentley was appointed a deputy U.S. Marshal, aposition he held for four years.

Zoeth Houser succeeded Bentley when he was elected to the first of three nonconsecutive terms. The Illinois native was Sheriff from 1888 to 1890 and 1894 to October 1897, when he resigned to serve as the U. S. Marshal in Portland. Houser was back for a four-year term from 1921 to 1925, the first time for the Houser had a number of business interests including cattle ranching, mercantile business and mining interests in Grant County. During the Indian War of 1878, Houser was employed by the Governor as a messenger. On one trip, he traveled 300 miles on horseback without taking a break to sleep. Most of his trips, however, were between Pendleton and Umatilla.

William Jeffers Furnish was elected to two, two-year terms in 1890 to succeed Houser. Furnish was born in Randolph County in Missouri in 1862 and moved to Oregon in 1890. Before he was elected Sheriff, Furnish was a Deputy U.S. Marshal for three years. After leaving the Sheriff s Office, he served two terms as Mayor of Pendleton.

Furnish was in the mercantile business with Sheriff John Lewis Sperry, who owned Sperry & Co. He also worked as a wool dealer and helped reorganize Pendleton Savings Bank. In 1902, he helped start the Furnish Ditch Company to irrigate 10,000 acres in the west end of Umatilla County. Furnish had a half-brother, C. J. Fraker, who was a Deputy with the Union County Sheriffs Office.

Zoeth Houser was back for two more terms, but the second two-year term was cut short when he was appointed U.S. Marshal in Portland in October, 1897. Herman Albert Faxon was appointed to take Houser's place and was Sheriff of Umatilla County until 1898. A native of Aurora, Ill., Faxon was born in 1849 and later moved to Oregon. He was 20 days from turning 92 years of age when he died.

William Minnis Blakley, who came from the famous Blakely Family which had three brothers who served as Sheriff --but in different counties --was elected as Umatilla County Sheriff in 1898 and served until 1902. His brother, Joe, was Sheriff of Gilliam County from 1886 to 1888. Another brother, James, was Sheriff in Crook County from 1884 to 1886 and Sheriff of Wallowa County from 1904 to 1908. William Blakley spelled his name different than his two brothers.

Blakley was born in Platt County in Missouri in 1840 and moved with his family to Oregon in 1846. He worked as a rancher and cattleman and spent time fighting in the Willow Springs Indian War in 1878. After leaving the Sheriff's Office, he went on to serve in the State Legislature until 1905, when he retired.

Tillman D. "Til" Taylor followed Blakley when he was elected Sheriff in 1902, serving until July, 1920, when he was killed during a jail break at the Umatilla County Jail. (See chapter on Sheriffs killed in the line of duty.)

Til Taylor's brother, William Rice "Jinks" Taylor was appointed to fill out the term of the murdered Sheriff. He served as head of Umatilla County law enforcement until 1921, when Zoeth Houser was back for his third term. This time, Houser spent four years as Sheriff because the length of the term of office had been changed.

R. T. Cookingham followed Houser, serving as Sheriff of Umatilla County from 1925 to 1929. He was followed by Thomas Benjamin Gurdane, who was Sheriff from 1929 to 1933. A native of Shelby County in Missouri, Gurdane moved to Oregon in 1882 when he was 10 years old. He was Chief of Police in Pendleton off and on for about 20 years. He also served for a time as a Special Agent for the U.S. Department of the Interior.

Robert E. "Bob" Goad, who was a Deputy under Gurdane, was elected to five consecutive four-year terms, serving as Sheriff of Umatilla County from 1933 to 1953. He was elected to the State Legislature after he left the Sheriff's Office in 1953.

Goad, along with Umatilla County District Attorney A.C. Mclntyre, Deputy District Attorney Cy Proebstel, Coroner Pat Folsom, Sgt. Joe Miller and Trooper Stuart Earl from the Oregon State Police hurried to the Tobin farm after learning a neighbor had reported finding the bloodspattered body of Tobin's 45-year-old son, Kenneth Gorsuch, behind a pig pen earlier that morning.

The victim had been shot in the back of the head. Folsom, from a cursory examination of the body, estimated Gorsuch had been dead about 12 hours.

The neighbor told authorities she had gone to the Tobin place early that morning to borrow some eggs, but said she could not find Tobin, Gorsuch or Tobin's 25-year-old nephew Marvin Adams anywhere inside their small farmhouse. The three beds were made and the house looked perfectly in order, she said. Then she began looking around outside. That' s when she found Kenneth Gorsuch' s lifeless body.

Goad had an uneasy feeling that the person who shot Gorsuch didn't stop there. He was right. Minutes later, authorities found the body of Cora Tobin, partially concealed under a pile of empty cardboard boxes in an outdoor cellar. She, too, had been shot in the back of the head.

At about the same time, other Deputies searching the barnyard outside the Tobin farmhouse discovered Marvin Adams under a few bales of hay, his head covered with blood from a fatal bullet wound to the back of his skull.

Folsom estimated that Cora Tobin died first, probably about noon of the previous day. Adams was fatally wounded about 5 p.m. on Sept. 25, and Gorsuch about 6:30 or 7 p.m. that same day, according to Folsom's calculations.

That meant the person who killed Tobin must have waited at the farm several hours before killing Adams and Gorsuch, authorities theorized. But the motive for the shootings escaped them.

Investigators, for the time being, ruled out burglary and robbery as possible motives. Nothing inside the house seemed to be disturbed and there were no scratches or other marks on any of the victims -- other than the fatal bullet wounds -- which would indicate a struggle.

No money or jewelry were found on the two male victims, but as one investigator noted, farmers rarely carry valuables when they are out in the fields working.

Could that mean revenge was the motive? The neighbor and others who knew the three victims well said they were decent, hard-working folks who didn't seem to have any enemies. Neither of the activities, investigators later learned.

Working on the revenge theory, investigators questioned a few potential suspects who had disagreements with Tobin, Gorsuch and Adams, but each had alibis for where they were and what they were doing when the three victims were killed.

But on questioning neighbors further, Deputies learned that Kenneth Gorsuch had a 1929 automobile at the farm. Now it was gone.

Goad and his men got the license number of the car from the Department of Motor Vehicles and a description of the vehicle which was quickly flashed to law enforcement agencies throughout Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Montana, along with an order to pick up and hold any of its occupants.

Later that same night, Goad received a phone call from police in Kennewick, Wash. The automobile they were looking for was spotted in a parking lot by a Kennewick Policeman. Goad and his men immediately took off for Kennewick.

Kennewick Police Chief M.H. Kershaw and several of his Police officers were keeping a distant watch on the suspect vehicle when Goad and his men arrived at the parking lot. They continued to wait for several hours. Then, shortly after midnight, a man approached the car. Officers moved in and took him into custody for questioning.

As it turned out, the "man" was only a 16-year-old boy who identified himself as John Sota. The youth claimed he had bought the car from Kenneth Gorsuch and had a bill of sale with Gorsuch's signature to prove it.

The piece of paper Sota handed them looked real, as did Gorsuch's signature. Just as they were about ready to concede another lost lead, Proebstel came up with an idea. He asked the youth where he was staying in Kennewick. When Sota gave him the name of a local hotel, Proebstel suggested Goad and McIntyre check out the hotel room for any evidence which might tie Sota to the triple murders.

The two lawmen returned about an hour later with the incriminating evidence: A blotter which revealed a fake bill of sale, written in Sota's handwriting and containing the forged signature of Kenneth Gorsuch.

With that, the youth broke down and confessed to the killings. He said he had known the victims for years and that he had gone to the Tobin farm looking for work. But Cora Tobin told him she wouldn't hire him because he was an escapee from a reformatory, Sota stated. He said Tobin also told him that Gorsuch and Adams knew about his past and that she was going to turn him in to authorities. Sota said he then decided he would have to kill all three of the victims to keep them quiet. After the shootings, Sota said he fled in Gorsuch's car.

On Oct. 6, 1941, Sota was indicted by the Umatilla County Grand Jury on three counts of first-degree murder.

Body In The Well

The sudden disappearance of Matt Jepson from the Government Mountain area of Umatilla County in August, 1921, puzzled many of Jepson's neighbors and friends. It was unlike Jepson to just walk away from his ranch and livestock without informing anyone.

Some of his friends turned to the Umatilla County Sheriff's Office for help in locating the 60-year-old rancher. After combing the hilly area around the Jepson ranch several hours without finding a trace of the missing man, a neighbor, Charley Von der Ahe, spotted something strange at the bottom of Jepson's well -- a shoe sticking up in the water.

Zoeth Houser Pictured Right

Deputy Sheriff James Dykes hurried back to Pendleton to get some grappling hooks, figuring if there was a body attached to that shoe special equipment would be needed to remove it. Dykes returned to the scene, along with Sheriff Zoeth Houser, Dr. Fred A. Lieuallen and Deputy Coroner William Brady.

Within an hour, the body of Matt Jepson was lifted from the well, But a coroner's report revealed Jepson had not died from an accidental fall, following a heart attack or stroke. He had been murdered. Jepson's skull had been pierced by a sharp instrument, possibly an axe.

Houser and his men began a thorough search of Jepson's cabin and his ranch for a murder weapon or any evidence which would shed light on the murder. But several hours of searching turned up nothing of value.

Next, they turned their attention to Government Mountain and its residents. Unfortunately, they discovered the mountain folks, while reasonably cordial, kept to themselves. If they knew who the murderer was, they weren't saying. For that matter, they didn't say much of anything that would help Houser's investigation.

Weeks passed without any substantial progress in resolving the mysterious murder. Every lead turned down a blind alley. Every potential suspect had an alibi. Finally, after months of desperation, Umatilla authorities turned to the Burns Detective Agency for assistance. Burns sent one of its top investigators, William L. Priest, to Pendleton.

Priest began a painstaking study of all of Jepson's neighbors -- their personalities, lifestyles and habits. He also talked with every officer involved in the investigation and collected piles of reports and notes about the case.

After two to three days of background investigation, Priest decided to infiltrate the mountain community, to dress and act the part of a mountain man to win the confidence of the mountain folks so they would open up and tell him something about Matt Jepson and, hopefully the person who killed Jepson.

The ploy worked. He learned some of the mountaineers were engaged in distilling illicit whiskey -- including one Charley Von der Ahe, the same man who found Jepson's shoe sticking up from the bottom of the well. Priest also stumbled across another interesting tidbit: Before he was killed, Jepson and Von der Ahe had a bitter argument. Jepson did not like moonshiners on the mountain and had threatened to turn them in to authorities. Some on the mountain said Von der Ahe had accused Jepson of turning him in. Not only that, Priest learned Von der Ahe had been fined $400 for his illegal distillery enterprises.

With that information, Priest came up with the idea of recruiting Von der Ahe in a phony moonshining scheme. By winning Von der Ahe's confidence, Priest figured the moonshiner might slip up and say something incriminating which would tie him to Jepson' s murder. Again, Priest called the right shot.

Passing himself off as a whiskey runner, Priest told Von der Ahe he was looking for someone to make the whiskey and offered him the job. Von der Ahe accepted, and for the next several weeks, the two men worked closely together, distilling the whiskey and mapping plans to distribute it illegally. Finally, Priest got around to the subject of Matt Jepson.

Von der Ahe said Jepson had no business sticking his nose into other people's business. The moonshiner suggested that anyone else who meddled in his business would find themselves at the bottom of the well, like Jepson.

Priest also located a rancher in Freewater who knew both Jepson and Von der Ahe. He recalled Von der Ahe telling him that some other people who informed on him would likely end up like Jepson, in the bottom of the well. Finally, Priest found another man who said Von der Ahe offered him $500 if he could supply him the name of the person who turned him in, adding Von der Ahe vowed to kill the informer, no matter who he was.

With all this information in hand, Priest submitted his report to Sheriff Houser and the Umatilla County District Attorney. On March 11, 1922, Von der Ahe was arrested and lodged in the county jail on a first-degree murder charge.

A subsequent search of Jepson's ranch turned up a bloodstained axe, hidden under a pile of straw at the old rancher's cabin.

Von der Ahe was indicted by the Umatilla County Grand Jury, but throughout his trial at the county courthouse in Pendleton, he continued to maintain his innocence.

But on April 29, 1922, jurors found Von der Ahe guilty of second-degree murder after brief deliberations. He was sentenced to the mandatory life term in the Oregon State Penitentiary in Salem.

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