Survivor reunited with her 'hero'

Woman who says she was assaulted by suspected serial killer meets with man who found her

By Emily Gillespie, Columbian breaking news reporter

Published:

 
photoWarren Forrest, a convited killer who was recently denied parole

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For the past 40 years, Norma Countryman said she didn't know much about the man who found her the morning after she was abducted and assaulted by suspected serial killer Warren Forrest.

"It was always a question mark," Countryman said. "I knew he was at the trials, I knew he testified."

But if you asked her, she couldn't produce the man's name. She hadn't seen or heard from him since that fateful morning July 18, 1974.

That was, until Wednesday, when she reconnected with the man whom she calls her hero, Jim Bellew.

Countryman was 15 when she accepted a ride from a stranger who turned out to be Forrest. She said he held a knife to her throat and drove her to a remote area of Tukes Mountain, east of Battle Ground. There, Forrest punched her in the face, gagged her with her own bra, hogtied her and then tied her between two trees. When he left, she gnawed on the ropes, eventually breaking free.

With her hands and feet still tied, Countryman hopped and stumbled her way to the nearby parks building. She sat on the steps until a truck pulled up. At the time, she worried it was her abductor, back to follow through on his threats to do worse.

But it wasn't him.

"I'm thankful that it was (Bellew) and not Warren Forrest," she said.

Bellew cut the ropes that bound Countryman and called 911.

"Heroic? Maybe. Everyday decency? Absolutely. I guess it makes him a hero to me," she said.

On Wednesday, outside of the former Clark County parks building where their paths first crossed, Countryman, 55, thanked and hugged Bellew, 79, of Vancouver. The two spent some time getting to know each other — discussing jobs, kids and grandkids. But mostly, they discussed Forrest.

"The evil that is Warren Forrest touched both of our lives," Countryman said.

In 1974, Bellew and Forrest worked together. He told Countryman on Wednesday that, at first, it was hard to believe what Forrest was accused of.

Bellew said he often thought of the morning when he pulled his truck up to work to find a disheveled-looking girl sitting on the cement steps. He worked as a parks employee at the time and said he liked to be the first one to the office.

"She was a messy looking thing then," he said. "I asked her, 'What happened to you?' She said, 'A guy in a blue van … and he said he'd be back later and it'd be worse.' I said, 'Well I saved you then because he ain't gonna come back up here.'"

When he later learned the details of what had happened to Countryman, "I felt cold chill bumps running over me," he said.

Countryman gave authorities a description of the man who had attacked her — that he had a blue van and a mustache.

Bellew, who worked alongside Forrest at the parks department for about 10 years, said he and other co-workers noticed that Forrest fit the description and teased him about what they thought was a coincidence.

"He said, 'Well I guess I'll have to get my van painted and go home and shave,'" Bellew said. "I said, 'I think I would too.'"

Two years after the attack on Countryman, authorities found the body of Vancouver woman Krista Blake 167 feet from where Countryman had been hogtied.

Forrest, now 64, was tried and found guilty of Blake's murder and is now serving a life sentence at the Washington Department of Corrections' Monroe Complex. During his time in prison, Forrest has disclosed to his therapists that he has had numerous victims, and that the offenses span four states. The graves of multiple suspected victims, all women, were found in or near Clark County parks.

Bellew said that over the years, he occasionally thought about the girl he found on the steps, but lit up when he read her story in the newspaper. The Columbian interviewed Countryman for an April 18 story ahead of the Washington Indeterminate Sentence Review Board's decision last week to deny Forrest parole.

"I thought I'd like to meet her and see how she's doing after all these years," Bellew said. "I feel good knowing that she's in good health and that she was able to get that off her mind."

Countryman said she felt relief after meeting Bellew. They exchanged phone numbers with a plan to meet up again.

"I have all the pieces," she said. "I have a feeling of completion."