Portrait of a killer
Portrait of a killer

Forty years ago this May, Benton County was caught up in one of the worst murder mysteries in the state's history.

Thirty-year-old sometime electrician Jerome Brudos' killing spree is believed to have included at least five young women, perhaps as many as 12 - although he would eventually plead guilty to three homicides. His victims included an Oregon State University student whose body was found in the Long Tom River about 12 miles south of Corvallis.

And it was an OSU coed's phone call to police a few weeks later that led to his arrest, guilty plea and 37-year incarceration.

Brudos, a Salem resident, was a 1958 Corvallis High School graduate. His past was troubled - including mental and physical abuse - from early childhold. The married father of two young children, who could not hold a steady job, would spend the rest of his life in the Oregon State Penitentiary.

A rapid unfolding

In 1969, Jack Rickard, city editor of the Gazette-Times, wrote about the rapidly unfolding events that started with the May 10 discovery, by father and son fishermen, of Linda Dawn Salee's body in the Long Tom River and resulted in Brudos' plea of guilty in a Marion County courtroom on June 27.

"The murder of a 22-year-old Portland girl whose body was recovered Saturday afternoon about 12 miles south of Corvallis, appeared to have police baffled … ," Rickard wrote in his first front-page story about the gruesome murders.

Salee was killed April 23. Her body had been weighed down by a car transmission. She had been strangled and raped and a cloth was tied around her neck.

Two days later, the body of Karen Sprinkler, an OSU student missing for six weeks, was found about 50 feet from where Salee's body had been recovered. Her body had been tied to a part of an automobile engine.

She too had been "smothered or choked."

In another front-page story on May 14, Rickard asked, "Does the Long Tom River still hold more grisly evidence of a mad killer on the loose? Are there clues in the murky water to put the forces of law on the trail of the killer of two young women?"

Rickard described the Long Tom River as a "slow-moving, muddy river" and added that there were five county bridges and one state bridge from which the women's bodies could have been dumped. There was also a makeshift junk yard near one of the bridges, where the hulks of numerous rusting cars and heavy equipment rested.

Born in South Dakota in 1939, Brudos reportedly hated his domineering mother - who admitted to wanting a daughter and not another son - and had a fetish for women's shoes and clothing, which earned him the gruesome nickname of "The Shoe Fetish Slayer." The family moved often during Brudos' youth, from California to southern Oregon and then to Corvallis in 1957, where Brudos lived until 1963.

As a teenager, Brudos was committed to the Oregon State Hospital for psychiatric treatment after beating a teenage girl. He was hospitalized for several months but was allowed to attend school during the day.

Upon his release, Brudos began attending Corvallis High School and graduated in 1958 with a 2.12 grade point average. He enlisted in the Army in March 1959 but was discharged in October of that year after telling a psychiatrist about a recurring obsessive dream of being seduced.

Brudos returned to Corvallis, studied for a time at Oregon State University and worked at a local radio station among a string of other failed jobs. In 1962 he married, and the couple had two children before Brudos' killing spree began.

Brudos was linked to five murders but would plead guilty only to three. Officials said that during his time of terror, 12 women went missing.

January 26, 1968: 19-year-old Linda Slawson was selling encyclopedias door-to-door. Although not convicted of her death, Brudos later confessed that he lured her into his basement garage, where he beat and strangled her. He supposedly kept her left foot in a freezer along with a high-heeled shoe. Her body was never found.

July 1968: 16-year-old Stephanie Vikko disappeared from Portland. Her remains were found on March 18, 1969, in a wooded area near Forest Grove.

November 26, 1968: During a drive from Eugene to McMinnville, University of Oregon student Jan Whitney, 23, vanished. Her car was found near Albany. On July 27, 1969, Whitney's body was found in the Willamette River near Independence. She had been weighed down with a chunk of railroad iron.

March 27, 1969: Karen Ellen Sprinkler disappeared from a Salem parking garage. The OSU student was on spring break and was going to meet her mother for lunch. Two girls told police they had seen a large man dressed in drag on the parking garage roof.

Brudos cut out Sprinkler's breasts as souvenirs. Her body was found May 12 in the Long Tom River.

April 23, 1969: Linda Salee disappeared from a Portland shopping mall. Brudos reportedly posed as a police officer and strangled her. Her body was found May 10 in the Long Tom River.

Beginning of the end

On May 14, 1969, Brudos' murderous spree began to unravel when he called an Oregon State University coed, told her he was a Vietnam veteran and asked her for a date. She initially refused, saying she had to study, but Brudos convinced her that he had learned a new studying technique during debriefing at Walter Reed Hospital upon his return to the States.

She eventually agreed to meet him for a soda. They met at the girl's dormitory lounge and Brudos talked her into going for a ride to get a soda. During the trip, Brudos' comments began to scare the young woman.

The coed told police Brudos told her to "think something sad … think of those two girls who were killed. That was an awful thing to have happen." He also told her he needed to fix the engine in his car, which triggered the coed's memory about newspaper stories concerning the missing women being weighed down with auto parts.

Brudos eventually took the student back to her dorm and asked if he could see her again. Realizing something was afoul, she played along, then called local police. When Brudos telephoned her a few days later for another date, the student alerted the police, who were waiting and questioned him.

He was now on the list of potential suspects, and after searching his home, police found suspicious items in the garage - wire, rope and photographs of various women - eventually gathering enough evidence to obtain an arrest warrant.

In late May, Brudos was charged with assault while armed in connection with an earlier incident in which he attempted to kidnap a teenage Salem girl. He threatened her with a gun, but she fled and alerted neighbors.

On June 2 Brudos was arrested in Marion County and charged with four counts of first-degree murder.

Although he originally pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity, five psychiatrists and two clinical psychiatrists determined he was not insane and was fit to stand trial.

On June 27, 1969, Brudos changed his insanity plea to guilty and was sentenced to three consecutive life sentences for the deaths of Whitney, Salee and Sprinkler.

In August 1969, his wife was charged with aiding and abetting her husband on at least one murder, but she was found not guilty in October. In 1970, she filed for divorce, changed her name and obtained a court order forbidding her children from contacting their father.

Brudos' killing spree was detailed in a book, "Lust Killer," by Ann Rule.

Brudos died in prison of natural causes on March 28, 2006.

Reporter Alex Paul started at the Gazette-Times in January. He's a former Democrat-Herald reporter and also a former longtime owner of the Sweet Home New Era.

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