Clark County detectives say that new DNA evidence helps link suspected serial killer Warren Forrest to two more victims, a huge break in some of the agency’s oldest unsolved murders.
Blood on a weapon used as evidence in a 1974 case against Forrest was recently determined to belong to a different victim: Martha Morrison, a 17-year-old Portland girl whose body was found in rural Dole Valley more than 40 years ago.
Morrison’s body was found 120 feet from that of Carol Valenzuela, 18. Based on the proximity in time of the killings and location of the bodies, Hoss said that Forrest can also be linked to Valenzuela’s death.
“Up until now, nothing was physically linking him to either of those disappearances, or those bodies,” Clark County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Duncan Hoss said. “It’s a big deal.”
Forrest, 68, of Battle Ground is suspected of having at least six victims, but he’s only been convicted of one murder. He is serving a life sentence at the Washington Department of Corrections’ Monroe Correctional Complex for the 1974 murder of 19-year-old Krista Blake of Vancouver.
Periodically, he goes before a sentencing review board, where his release is considered. The new evidence could seal his fate and keep him behind bars for the rest of his life.
Six other deaths
Blake went missing on July 11, 1974, when she was last seen getting into a blue Ford van, but her remains weren’t found until two years later.
During those two years, Forrest went to trial for a similar crime, one that had a different outcome.
On Oct. 1, 1974, a 20-year-old Camas woman got into a van driven by Forrest, where she was threatened with a knife and bound with tape.
Forrest drove her to Lacamas Lake Park, where he raped her, shot her with an air pistol, choked her and stabbed her five times in the chest. The woman survived the attack and made her way to a public road for help.
She later identified Forrest as the man responsible and he was arrested on rape, assault and robbery charges.
In that case, Forrest was acquitted of the charges by reason of insanity, meaning the crimes were committed when Forrest was insane, and he was committed to Western State Hospital.
In 1976, Blake’s body was found and Forrest was tied to her death. After a trial, he was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison in 1979.
For decades, detectives suspected that Forrest was tied to homicides and disappearances of several other young women in the early ’70s.
Investigators believe that Forrest is responsible for at least six other deaths and that Jamie Grisim, who disappeared in 1971 on her way home from school at 16, was his first victim.
Forrest’s name also comes up in connection with Barbara Ann Derry, whose body was found in 1972 and Gloria Knutson, who went missing in 1974.
Also in 1974, hunters found skeletal remains of two women in shallow graves in the Dole Valley area. One was identified as Carol Valenzuela, and the other remained unidentified for 40 years, then in 2015 was identified as Morrison.
In June 2014, the Clark County Sheriff’s Office had more than a dozen open homicide investigations that dated to 1962. Major crimes detectives are often busy with the deluge of incoming cases, so then-Sheriff Garry Lucas formed a cold case unit of volunteer investigators to breathe new life into the stale investigations.
Among those volunteers was former prosecutor Denny Hunter — who prosecuted the murder cases against Forrest.
When he and the other investigators sat down to asses the cases, Hunter remembered the bloodied air pistol Forrest used in the rape and assault case.
“Everyone assumed the blood stain on the air pistol belonged to the original victim,” Hoss said. “One of the cold case detectives, instead of assuming, actually verified.”
So the pistol, which had been in a secure holding area for 40-plus years, was sent to the state crime lab.
The results came back to a profile for a female Caucasian, but that profile didn’t match any known DNA samples.
A year later, investigators got a break that would help them find their answer.
Nikki Costa, operations manager for the County Medical Examiner’s Office, took it upon herself to identify the unidentified remains found near those of Carol Valenzuela. It took her eight years, but in 2015, she was able to determine that the remains belonged to Martha Morrison.
Since then, the crime lab has connected the puzzle pieces and identified the blood found on Forrest’s gun as belonging to Morrison.
“In this maze of events, establishing a DNA profile and identifying Martha, we turned a major corner in this case,” Costa said.
The breakthrough has implications for not one, but two unsolved homicides.
Hoss said that since Morrison’s body was found in such close proximity to that of Valenzuela, investigators can tie Forrest to her death too.
Detectives are still working on ironing out the details, though.
They hope to have a statement of probable cause, which outlines support for an arrest, to prosecutors in the next few weeks.
If prosecutors decide there is enough evidence for a charge, Hoss said that they’ll apply for an arrest warrant and have Forrest transported to the Clark County Jail to face the charges.
Hoss said that when the cold case unit first formed, there weren’t high expectations for results. But the volunteer investigator worked doggedly to reinvestigate these cases, and the break, he said, is a nice payoff.
“They have put all this time, energy and effort into it, and we’re hoping it’s going to finally result in a conviction and mean closure for the families,” Hoss said.
“We want to hold Warren accountable.”