Let me say this about that

By Gene Klare

August 20, 1999

THE NEW YORK-OWNED Portland Oregonian has its very own mystery-solving Nancy Drew. Her nom de plume in the Newhouse chain newspaper's Living section is Margie Boule. She was hired by the morning paper as a chit-chat columnist in the 1980s after her departure from a KATU-TV talk show. Boule segued into sleuthing six months ago when someone called her attention to "Oregon's greatest unsolved mystery of the 20th century!" - to quote from one of her columns on the subject. She didn't identify the source of the quote. Maybe it came from deep-voiced Robert Stack, the longstanding host of the "Unsolved Mysteries" TV series. Or maybe not. Maybe it was a case of Boule' quoting herself.

The morning Onion's Nancy Drew has her sights set on solving the mystery of what happened to the missing Martin family. Portlanders Kenneth and Barbara Martin and their three daughters, ages 10, 12 and 14, set out on Dec. 7, 1958, for a drive up the Columbia River Gorge in their 1954 Ford station wagon which Ken had equipped with seat belts. They planned to gather Christmas greenery to decorate their Northeast 57th Avenue home for the holiday season. The only family member not with them was a son Donald, 28, who was in the U.S. Navy stationed in New York. One Boule' column had him working as an artist, and a possible suspect!

Before they vanished, the Martins left only a few sightings in the Gorge. Ken gassed up the Ford in Cascade Locks. They had hamburgers and fries in a Hood River eatery. Some people reported seeing them on the Washington side of the Columbia at the onset of dusk.

SHERIFFS IN COUNTIES on both sides of the Columbia River Gorge searched for clues, aided by multitudes of volunteers. To no avail. As a reporter for the Oregonian in that halcyon pre-strike era, I was assigned to retrace the route taken by the Martins. But I had no more success in solving the mystery than did the Oregon and Washington sheriffs. One sheriff in particular stood out as smart and helpful - Rupert Gillmouthe of Oregon's Hood River County. (We shared a disdain for Portland's Multnomah County sheriff, a politician and real estate operator with no previous police experience, who dressed like a drugstore cowboy.)

Later, I accompanied investigating officers on a cold, windy boat trip up the Columbia to check the river's surface and to inspect hillsides in both states for a trace of tire tracks left by a sliding car. Someone on board with a camera provided me with a photo of myself wearing a wool cap with ear flaps and an old Marine Corps trenchcoat while peering intently through binoculars.

In the first week of May 1959, the water-bloated bodies of two Martin daughters surfaced in the river. The first, that of Sue, 10, was recovered near Camas on the Washington side. The second body, that of Virginia, 12, was found a day later near the Bonneville Dam. Sheriff Gillmouthe theorized that the river's current had tumbled the station wagon, popping open its rear door. Subsequently, Gorge sheriffs used airplanes, a helicopter, underwater sonar and divers in a renewed search.

One of Boule's columns said a technician who fingerprinted the two bodies told her he thought there was a bullet hole or a similar wound in the head of each girl! As a newspaper reporter who watched a deputy coroner examine one body in the old Multnomah County Morgue at 303 SW Clay Street in pre-urban renewal Portland, let me say this about that: No bullet hole! The body found near Camas was taken to the Clark County Morgue in Vancouver. Drowning was listed as the cause of death for both girls.

Boule has put together what she calls an "expert team" that's been searching the Columbia River for the Martin car, using the latest high-tech gear. More searches and dives are planned. Forty-one years after it disappeared, they may find the car, but I doubt it. It's also doubtful if finding it would solve the mystery of how it plunged into the river. Newhouse's Nancy Drew leans toward foul play, citing old newspaper clips about a summing-up report in that direction by Multnomah County Detective Walt Graven a decade after the Martins vanished. Walt, an avuncular friend of mine, was a tough, grizzled cop who possessed the soul and imagination of a poet, which he also was. He sometimes approached cases and life with his imagination at full throttle. For example, he was positively certain the two of us would strike it rich if we could just find the time in 1959 to take a couple weeks off and prospect for gold together in a certain eastern Oregon cave. He'd prospected there in the past. I, too, was an experienced but unsuccessful prospector, having scoured the remote reaches of Idaho the Gem State in a quest for elusive high-grade uranium. I'd also panned for gold.

FOUL PLAY AS A REASON for the Martins and their car going into the Columbia certainly makes a more dramatic story than Ken Martin losing control of his station wagon in December's early darkness, perhaps while suffering a heart attack. Forty-one years ago, highways and turnouts were not as developed, maintained and safe as they are now. As for foul play, criminals of four decades ago usually employed more logic than today's mindless perps. If a 1958 bad guy wanted to steal the Martins' four-year-old Ford, would he shove it into the river?

But, hey, maybe Nancy Drew Boule will solve the case after all these years. Meanwhile, she can fill more columns with the awful tragedy of the missing Martins. It probably does rank as Oregon's most baffling mystery. Certainly, it was the most heavily investigated case in the state's history. And the one that has received the most newsprint.


LOU WEBB of Vancouver, a retired Newspaper Guild member from San Francisco, told the NW Labor Press that she fears hundreds of people will eventually be out of work as a result of the Hearst newspaper chain's purchase of the morning S.F. Chronicle. The Hearst Corporation, owner of the evening S.F. Examiner, said it will attempt to sell the Examiner. But if a buyer isn't found Hearst said it will merge the Examiner into the Chronicle, which will continue as a morning paper. The Chronicle's circulation of 475,000 is four times larger than the Examiner's. Webb at one time worked for the Examiner and was chairman of the Guild's unit there. She recalls the exciting days of long ago when San Francisco not only had the Chronicle and Examiner, but also the News and Call-Bulletin, while across the Bay in Oakland there were the Tribune and the Post, the latter now long since dead. Webb said in a 1960s deal, the Scripps-Howard chain, owner of the News, pulled out of San Francisco, and in a quid pro quo Hearst pulled out of Pittsburgh, leaving Scripps the dominant publisher in the Pennsylvania city. After she left the newspaper industry, Webb for many years was the director of San Francisco's Labor Community Service Agency and edited its newsletter. She was a longtime delegate to the San Francisco Labor Council. Before she retired and moved to southwest Washington, Webb also had served in the Western Labor Press Association, holding the offices of secretary-treasurer and vice president.


THE RECENT REPORTS in the Labor Press by Don McIntosh on the problems of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 757 with Canadian transit giant Laidlaw Inc. brings to mind this thought: If Laidlaw tried to use in Canada the same labor relations tactics it has employed in the United States, it would quickly run afoul of Canada's much tougher labor laws. Another thought: Perhaps the U.S. needs a law which permits seizure by the U.S. or any state of assets of foreign-owned companies that thumb their noses at American labor and environmental laws.


TRI-MET, the Portland metro area's state-established mass transit system, has hired Laidlaw's former Chicago area general manager as executive director of operations.



TRENT (VACANT) LOTT, one of the backward state of Mississippi's contributions to the United States Congress, has said he worries about the cost to the federal government of President Bill Clinton's proposal to provide prescription drugs to Americans on Medicare. The Republican majority leader in the Senate ought to be told that some of us worry about the cost to taxpayers of the extensive and expensive health insurance coverage, including prescription drugs, dental care, eyeglasses and Viagra, provided to Lott and other members of Congress. Some of us also worry about the cost to taxpayers of the unconscionably high pensions which senators and representatives have bestowed on themselves. And some of us worry about the reported ties of Lott and one or two other Southern lawmakers to white supremacist Dixie whackos. Lott has, of course, denied that he's in bed with the white sheets. (For the record, Lott and his redneck buddies have among the worst voting records in Congress on labor issues, according to the AFL-CIO's scorecard.)


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