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Arraignment set over for suspected serial killer in 1974 murder case

Warren Forrest is now scheduled to be formally charged Feb. 7

By , Columbian Assistant Metro Editor
Published:
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Suspected serial killer Warren Forrest leaves the courtroom after appearing in Clark County Superior Court in connection with the death of 17-year-old Martha Morrison in the 1970s on Friday morning, Jan. 10, 2020. Forrest was scheduled to be arraigned Friday, but the hearing was set over to Feb. 7. (Amanda Cowan/The Columbian)
Suspected serial killer Warren Forrest leaves the courtroom after appearing in Clark County Superior Court in connection with the death of 17-year-old Martha Morrison in the 1970s on Friday morning, Jan. 10, 2020. Forrest was scheduled to be arraigned Friday, but the hearing was set over to Feb. 7. (Amanda Cowan/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

Arraignment for suspected serial killer Warren Forrest, who’s accused in the slaying of 17-year-old Martha Morrison in the 1970s, was set over Friday to Feb. 7.

The 70-year-old is facing a charge of first-degree murder in Clark County Superior Court in the Portland girl’s 1974 death. Her remains were found Oct. 12 of that year, by a member of a hunting party in a densely wooded area in Dole Valley. However, the body was not identified until July 2015.

That same year, investigators had a breakthrough in the cold case when blood found on an air pistol Forrest used to torture another woman in 1974 was identified as Morrison’s.

On Friday, Forrest’s Vancouver attorney, Sean Downs, asked to waive speedy arraignment because he wants to review some information before his client is formally charged. Judge Daniel Stahnke granted the request.

Forrest politely answered the judge’s questions about waiving speedy arraignment with, “Yes, sir.” He will remain in the Clark County Jail on $5 million bail.

The former Battle Ground man 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 July 11, 1974, climbing into Forrest’s light blue Ford Econoline cargo van near downtown Vancouver.

Forrest has been serving a life sentence for Blake’s killing since 1979 in the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla.

‘Secrets to unlock’

According to court records, 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. The Dole Valley crime scene, where Morrison’s body and the body of 18-year-old Carol Valenzuela were found, was 8 miles from Tukes Mountain, where Blake’s body was found.

Morrison had gone missing in September 1974, but her disappearance wasn’t noted until January 2010, when her half-brother, 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.

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

In 2014, investigators began reviewing 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 Valenzuela’s unsolved homicide. Her body was found 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.

In 2018, KOIN-TV reported that Forrest is a person of interest in 14-year-old Diane Gilchrist’s disappearance in the spring of 1974. Her sister, Karen Gilchrist, attended Forrest’s hearing Friday, as well as his first appearance — the first time she had laid eyes on him in person. She told The Columbian she hopes Forrest’s latest case brings justice for her sister.

Dena Rush, a friend of Grissim’s sister, Starr Lara, also attended Forrest’s hearings this week on Lara’s behalf.

Countryman, one of two known victims who survived Forrest, said she plans to be at every hearing.

“It’s a good feeling to be able to walk around freely and know he’s uncomfortable,” she told The Columbian on Friday.

She said she hopes this case will lead Forrest to confess to his suspected crimes and bring closure to the families.

“He has a lot of secrets to unlock, and that’s what we want,” Countryman said, adding, “He has nothing to lose.”

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