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SALEM — John Arthur Ackroyd, who in 2013 was charged with the 1990 murder of his stepdaughter Rachanda Pickle, has died of natural causes at the Oregon State Penitentiary in Salem.

Ackroyd, 67, was found dead in his cell about midnight Thursday.

Prison officials said that medical staff administered life-saving efforts, but to no avail. Ackroyd was pronounced dead at 12:23 a.m. Friday. He was the cell's sole occupant.

Ackroyd has been incarcerated since Jan. 11, 1994, after being found guilty of two counts of aggravated murder and three counts of murder in cases from Jefferson County. He was convicted in 1993 of the Christmas Eve 1987 murder of Kaye Jean Turner in the Metolius River area.  

Ackroyd was also awaiting trial for the 1990 murder of his 13-year-old stepdaughter, Rachanda Lee Pickle of Sweet Home.

Linn County Sheriff’s Office detectives followed the latter case for more than two decades and formulated a “no-body homicide” case to get an indictment against Ackroyd.

The Sheriff’s Office built its case on the fact that Pickle was no longer alive and that DNA testing had become much more accurate than in 1990.

Rachanda Pickle disappeared from the Oregon Department of Transportation compound at the summit of the Santiam Pass on July 10, 1990. Ackroyd was an ODOT employee and the family was living on the site.

According to court records, Ackroyd had reportedly driven to Bend the morning his stepdaughter disappeared, but returned home early. During the initial investigation, he told law enforcement officials he asked Rachanda if she wanted to go for a walk, but she declined. When he returned to their home a short time later, she was gone.

Hundreds of law enforcement officers from seven counties mounted searches for the 4-foot-7-inch teenager.

In 2013, Ackroyd asked the court to expedite his trial date, in part due to health conditions.

Also in 2013, the Linn County District Attorney’s Office provided Ackroyd’s attorneys with thousands of pages of discovery materials, much of it centered on new DNA evidence.

“I was informed this morning that Mr. John Ackroyd has died in prison,” District Attorney Doug Marteeny said Friday afternoon. “Ensuring that Mr. Ackroyd was never released from prison has been a primary objective this office has pursued for a number of years. We believe Mr. Ackroyd was a dangerous man who not only was convicted of murdering Kaye Turner, but also was responsible for the death of Rachanda Pickle."

Three years ago, Marteeny said, attorneys held a settlement conference in the Pickle case.

“Pursuant to those negotiations, and in accordance with the victim’s family’s wishes, the case was placed on hold in a manner that would ensure that Mr. Ackroyd would remain in prison until his death,” Marteeny said. “That is what has happened and we are pleased with that outcome."

Marteeny said he is grateful to the Linn County Sheriff’s Office for its years of work, as well as staff at the crime lab and victim’s advocates.

“I am especially grateful to George Eder and Coleen Cerda who prosecuted this case on behalf of the citizens of Linn County,” Marteeny said.

Linn County Sheriff Bruce Riley said he is confident his staff had the right man.

“We did lots of work on this case and years ago we did a lot of work with the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office,” he said. “It’s not the resolution we wanted. We really hoped to find Rachanda and to bring closure to her family.”

He said it was one of the oldest cold cases the sheriff’s office has ever had.

“We have retired folks who retain a lot of interest in this case,” Riley said. “Everyone wanted this one.”

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Contact Linn County reporter Alex Paul at 541-812-6114.

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