‘Dirty Cops, Dirty Town’: A History of Corruption On Murder In Oregon

Arrested man in handcuffs

Arrested man in handcuffs

Murder in Oregon, hosted by Lauren Bright Pacheco, has been chronicling the 1989 murder of Michael Francke, the director of Oregon’s Department of Corrections. The night before Michael was to testify about some evidence of corruption he’d uncovered, he was found stabbed right outside his office building. Authorities said it was a simple car robbery gone wrong, but that story never satisfied Michael’s family or many others in the area. Partly because Salem, Oregon had a “long, colorful history of corruption” that went all the way to the top. Lauren talks with former Representative Chuck Sides, former detective in the Marion County Sheriff’s Department Jay Boutwell, former “Keizer Mafia” gang member Vince Taylor, and several others to understand the magnitude of what Michael Francke was up against, and the powers that may have conspired to kill him before they could be exposed.

Chuck describes 1980s Oregon as a longtime den of corruption, with powerful players getting people elected (including Chuck himself), participating in prostitution, doing and dealing drugs, and much more. “It was the '80s,” Phil Stanford, journalist and co-host, tells Lauren. “It was coke for the professional class, meth for the rest of the population.” With everyone from the police to the judges to the politicians participating in and benefiting from crime, there was very little anyone seemed to be willing to do about it. Detective Jay Boutwell puts it succinctly: “Dirty cops, dirty town.” He tells Lauren about busting over a dozen massage parlors, fronts for prostitution, with six weeks of meticulous surveillance. For an idea of “how it went down,” Jay says, he points out that at their first bust they “arrested members of Salem’s ethics committee.” It only got bigger from there: “We got politicians. We got attorneys. We got doctors, lawyers, big shots, people from Oregon State...we had a judge in there, even...Val Sloper, presiding circuit court judge.” But though the case was “slam-dunk,” with plentiful evidence from photos to financial records, D.A. Dale Penn refused to prosecute. “Because of who was in there, he didn’t take it,” Jay says. “It was never prosecuted...It was swept under the carpet.” 

An even bigger problem were the drugs, as Jim Hill, former senator, assistant attorney general, and state treasurer attests: “when you start talking about drugs, the ante goes up tremendously because, number one, you're talking about a lot of money, and you are also starting to get connected with some very dangerous people who will do what's necessary to protect themselves.” It was clear that some powerful factions were making a fortune off the illegal activities in Salem, and that corruption was blatant inside the prisons, too: there was “a lot of sex,” Chuck tells Lauren, and plenty of drugs, among other issues.

What wasn’t clear was how all the contraband was getting inside. But another guest sheds some light on that. Referred to only as Robert, he “had a front row seat to those compromised. He was a teen when he was hired to basically chauffeur a guy named Ron Spears, who managed an auto repair shop in Salem that provided more than just auto service.” Robert tells Lauren that Ron would outfit official police vehicles with hidden compartments, telling Robert, “that's how you'd get them in the prison. They have their own auto shop in there...The guards know when it's coming.” And the district attorney’s office was in on it, too - the same D.A. who refused to prosecute Jay's prostitution busts and would later be in charge of investigating Michael’s murder, Dale Penn.

Cropped Image Of Investigator Searching For Smuggled Drug In Car Trunk

Cropped Image Of Investigator Searching For Smuggled Drug In Car Trunk

One of the gangs responsible for much of the drug distribution in Oregon was known as the Keizer Mafia, and one member, Tim Natividad, would “heavily figure into multiple facets and theories about Mike Francke's murder: a good-looking guy with dark hair, dark eyes, and symmetrical features,” Lauren says. She talks to another Keizer Mafia member, Vince Taylor, about his criminal colleague: “He was violent, very violent,” Vince discloses. “He probably pulled a gun on me at least...10 times. And two of the times pulled the trigger, but it misfired. It didn't shoot.” Tim’s reputation for violence was well-known; he loved knives, Vince said, and he would brutally beat friends for owing him less than $20. “Do you think that it's possible that Tim killed Michael Francke?” Lauren asks. Without hesitation, Vince answers, “I’d almost guarantee it.” 

Learn more about Oregon’s seedy past, the "Man in the Pinstriped Suit," and the crimes Michael Francke was stopped from uncovering, on this episode of Murder in Oregon.

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