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News / Clark County News

Suspected serial killer, 70, in Clark County court in 1974 murder case

By Jessica Prokop, Columbian Local News Editor
Published: January 6, 2020, 2:03pm
8 Photos
Suspected serial killer Warren Forrest was in Clark County court Monday to face a new murder allegation in the death of 17-year-old Martha Morrison.
Suspected serial killer Warren Forrest was in Clark County court Monday to face a new murder allegation in the death of 17-year-old Martha Morrison. (Nathan Howard/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

It was, in part, curiosity that brought Karen Gilchrist to court Monday morning to lay eyes for the first time on the man she believes killed her sister in the 1970s.

“It was frightening. We made eye contact. It felt like he knew me,” Gilchrist said of suspected serial killer Warren Forrest. She trembled as she spoke.

Her sister, Diane Gilchrist, disappeared in the spring of 1974 when she was 14 years old. She has never been found. In 2018, KOIN-TV reported that Forrest is a person of interest in her disappearance.

Forrest, now 70, is suspected of killing at least six women and girls in the area. However, he’s only been convicted in the murder of Krista Blake, 19, who was last seen on July 11, 1974, climbing into Forrest’s light blue Ford Econoline cargo van near downtown Vancouver.

Forrest is serving a life sentence for Blake’s killing in the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla, but on Monday morning, he was back in Clark County Superior Court to face a charge of first-degree murder in the slaying of Martha Morrison in the 1970s.

The 17-year-old Portland girl’s remains were found Oct. 12, 1974, by a member of a hunting party in a densely wooded area in Dole Valley. However, the body was not identified at that time.

Decades passed, and then investigators had a breakthrough in the cold case in 2015 when blood found on an air pistol Forrest used to torture another woman in 1974 was identified as Morrison’s.

As Forrest was escorted to the courtroom, he stayed silent when a reporter asked if he had anything to say to the families.

During the hearing, when asked if he’d like a court-appointed attorney, Forrest politely replied, “If you want to appoint one, your honor.”

Judge Daniel Stahnke appointed Vancouver attorney Sean Downs and set Forrest’s bail at $5 million. Although he is not subject to release, if he posts bail, he’ll be sent back to the Washington State Penitentiary.

Though the charge has already been filed, Forrest will be arraigned Friday.

“Boy, am I happy about that one. It’s been 45 years,” Morrison’s half-brother, Michael Morrison, said in a phone interview after Forrest’s hearing. The 74-year-old, who lives out of state, said he had been receiving updates on the case via Facebook.

“Am I expecting some kind of closure? I don’t know. I’m kind of really settled in my own mind at this point. I’d like to look him in the eye and say. … ‘Why did you do this?’” he said.

‘Free spirit’

Colleagues and supervisors of Forrest, who worked for the Clark County Parks Department, reported the man had explored Dole Valley many times and was interested in property there, court records say. The Dole Valley crime scene was 8 miles from Tukes Mountain, where Blake’s body was found.

Martha Morrison had gone missing in September 1974, but her disappearance wasn’t noted until January 2010, when Michael Morrison contacted police in Eugene, Ore. He said their father reported his sister missing years earlier, but the police report was lost. The family didn’t realize it until another sister discovered the mistake.

Michael Morrison reported that his sister was a “free spirit” who was known to hitchhike. She hadn’t been heard from since 1974, when she evidently moved from Phoenix to Portland, according to court records.

Using DNA evidence from Morrison’s half-brother, sister and the exhumed body of her father, investigators were able to identify the decades-old remains on July 7, 2015.

Michael Morrison said he moved from the area shortly before his sister went missing.

“And then all of the sudden, we stopped getting phone calls. She was really good about calling at least once a week,” he said.

As the years passed, he believed his sister was dead in a ditch somewhere. Since learning Forrest is the suspect in her death, he’s tried to wrap his mind around it.

He felt anger and frustration, he said, because his family had been kept in the dark all those years.

“When I discovered what this guy’s name was and learned more about him, then I tried to understand,” Michael Morrison said. He read a book about serial killers written by a member of the FBI. “I’m mad and angry but wanted to understand what transpired, why this happened.

“And then I read all the articles I could and kind of got his M.O. I’m assuming, I would imagine, he did the same thing every time,” he added.

Martha Morrison played the guitar. “She was an artist. She was real friendly. She was just a great kid,” Michael Morrison said.

“I don’t know what I’m really expecting. There isn’t really any closure. I got all of the information. OK, this happened. What more can you do?” he said. “That’s probably all I can really expect at this point. I’m kind of at peace with it somewhat, somewhat.”

‘Next to evil’

In 2014, investigators began a review of physical evidence from Forrest’s adjudicated cases to determine if any might be used in unsolved crimes. One file was Forrest’s murder of Blake and sexual assaults reported by a woman identified in court records as V, as well as Norma Countryman, who recounted her attack by Forrest in a Columbian interview.

Forensic scientists with the Washington State Patrol Crime Laboratory identified a partial DNA profile found on the air pistol Forrest used to torture V, which belonged to “an unknown female source.” On Nov. 23, 2015, the DNA was matched to Morrison.

Investigators told The Columbian in 2017 that the DNA evidence found on the air pistol could have implications for another unsolved homicide. The body of Carol Valenzuela, 18, was also found by hunters in 1974, 120 feet from Morrison’s body. Prosecutors have not brought charges against Forrest in that case.

Detectives have believed for decades that Forrest is also responsible for the homicides and disappearances of several other young women. Detectives believe Jamie Grissim, a 16-year-old who disappeared in 1971 on her way home from school, was his first victim. His name also comes up in connection with Barbara Ann Derry, whose body was found in 1972, and Gloria Knutson, who went missing in 1974, although he has not been formally charged with any crimes connected with those cases.

Dena Rush, a friend of Grissim’s sister, Starr Lara, attended Forrest’s hearing Monday on her behalf.

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“There are a lot of girls from our county who are missing that he had a hand in,” Rush told media outside the courtroom. “It’s hard because so many years, and he’s still alive and their loved ones are still missing, these girls. And they deserve better.”

Rush said she was struck by Forrest’s small stature.

“You always think when you are going to be next to evil you’re going to feel it or sense it,” she said. “He looks so innocuous. He just looked like he couldn’t hurt a fly. That’s what made him so dangerous, though, I’m sure.

“I just hope there’s something that can be done so that the families are given some answers by him, because he obviously would have to be offered something valuable to him in order for him to give it up,” Rush added. “Because I think he’s just going to want to keep the secrets. That gives him all the power. In a perverse way, he probably kind of enjoys it.”