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News / Clark County News

Warren Forrest trial: Camas woman describes surviving harrowing attack

She recounts terrifying ordeal in October 1974

By Jessica Prokop, Columbian Local News Editor
Published: January 25, 2023, 6:07pm

“Three steps, rest. Three steps, rest. Three steps, rest.”

Bloodied, bruised and naked, a 20-year-old Camas woman shuffled down a dirt road. She had been raped, strangled, stabbed and left for dead under some logs in the woods.

It was Oct. 1, 1974. She had no idea where she was, although she later learned it was Lacamas Lake Park in Camas.

When she reached a paved road, she collapsed, too weak to stand again, and flagged down a passing motorist for help.

The woman, now in her late 60s, took the stand Wednesday in Clark County Superior Court to recount how she survived her attack by suspected serial killer Warren Forrest.

Through her harrowing testimony, prosecutors aim to show a pattern of Forrest abducting and killing young women and girls in the 1970s. (Although the woman testified in a public trial, The Columbian does not identify victims of rape or sexual assault without their permission.)

But the case hinges on DNA. Blood found on an air pistol Forrest used to torture the woman was later determined to be that of 17-year-old Martha Morrison of Portland.

Forrest, now 73, is on trial for first-degree murder in Morrison’s slaying. Her remains were discovered Oct. 12, 1974, by a member of a hunting party in a densely wooded area of Dole Valley in eastern Clark County.

The former Battle Ground man and Clark County parks employee has already been convicted in the murder of 20-year-old Krista Blake, who was last seen July 11, 1974, climbing into his light blue Ford Econoline cargo van near downtown Vancouver. He has been serving a life sentence for Blake’s killing since 1979.

A modeling gig

In September 1974, the 20-year-old Camas woman returned to the United States after living abroad for some time. She was staying with her parents in Camas while preparing for a move to Portland, and she was volunteering for a couple of environmental organizations there.

On the afternoon of Oct. 1, 1974, she left her volunteer shift at the Oregon Environmental Council to walk to her next volunteer assignment.

At one point, she crossed the road, near a construction site, to walk in the sunshine. That’s when a man, later identified as Forrest, approached her. He asked if she was available for a modeling gig. The woman said she had a couple hours to spare, and she followed him to his light blue van parked around the corner.

He told her they would go to Washington Park in Portland, but first, he stopped at the Fred Meyer on Burnside to buy beer and tape.

They continued on, driving past the park’s rose garden. She said Forrest drove as if he knew where he was going. They came to a paved intersection, but instead of turning on the surface road, he drove straight onto a dirt road and into a grassy area surrounded by woods.

Even then, she wasn’t concerned, she testified.

“It wasn’t until I got out and started to brush my hair, and he made some remark, like, ‘You’re primping, huh?’ ”

Forrest rummaged around in the back of his van for what she presumed was photo equipment. He then asked her to help retrieve something.

When she ducked her head to climb in, he jumped on her, armed with a knife. They both fell. He landed on top. They struggled for about a minute.

“I was just hysterical, saying I did not want to get stabbed,” she testified.

He tossed the knife aside and ordered her to roll over. She refused.

“The next thing I remember, he was strangling me and then I lost consciousness,” she testified.

When she came to, she was lying on her side in the back of the van, her hands tied behind her back and her pants missing. She could see the van was traveling north. Forrest stopped a few times to secure her bindings. When she tried to flag down help through the back window, he tied her ankles together and hoisted them up, tying her to the van, she said.

As they drove, Forrest asked her questions: How old was she? Does she have a boyfriend? Has she had sexual intercourse before?

“He’s just carrying on conversation like he does this every day,” she testified.

He reportedly told her he was taking her to dance for men for money. Then, he said she was too much trouble and he planned to let her go, even stopping again to loosen her bonds.

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He took the Camas exit and drove on a winding road for about 15 minutes to a wooded area. He stopped, got out and unlocked a swing gate blocking the road, she testified.

When they parked again, Forrest attacked her. He ripped open her shirt, groped her and pointed a gun at her.

“He pulls the trigger, and I don’t die. And he keeps pulling the trigger,” she testified. Instead, she was struck by metal darts.

“I must have been in shock because I didn’t feel a thing. I was just amazed I wasn’t dead,” she testified. “I thought maybe it’s a poison dart, and I’m going to die anyway. He just pulled them out and went on to his next bag of tricks.”

Forrest raped her, she said, and when he was done, he partially dressed her and retied her. He led her, with a noose around her neck, into the woods. He eventually strangled her until she lost consciousness.

When she awoke, she was covered by logs and could hardly breathe, she said. She clawed her way out.

She saw she was naked, and bleeding from stab wounds on her chest and neck. She felt faint and nauseous, she said. But determined to get help, she made it to the road.

Forrest was arrested the next day at his home. Investigators were able to identify him as a suspect, in part, because the woman saw him unlock the swing gate — access a parks employee would have — and gave a description of his light blue van. The woman’s purse, along with other personal items, were recovered from Forrest’s possession, according to trial testimony.

He was later committed to Western State Hospital after he was acquitted in the attack by reason of insanity.

Thinking of sister

As Starr Lara listened to the woman’s testimony, she cringed — at times, covering her face.

“Because I thought of my sister, you know? That’s probably what she went through,” Lara said.

Her sister, Jamie Grissim, who authorities say they believe is Forrest’s first victim, disappeared Dec. 7, 1971, after leaving Fort Vancouver High School. The 16-year-old’s wallet was found in May 1972, about a mile from where Morrison’s remains were later found in Dole Valley.

Lara said she had never heard the survivor’s full story before.

“It’s always bothered me that I don’t know what exactly happened to her, but I think it’s similar,” she said of her sister, after the woman’s testimony. “And I just want one thing — the truth.”

‘Eerily similar’

Norma Countryman Lewis, 63, also had never heard the woman’s testimony before, despite them both testifying at Forrest’s previous trials.

“What she described was so eerily similar to me, and as she was describing it, I could see what my fate was if he had come back,” Countryman Lewis said outside the courtroom.

Countryman Lewis was 15 years old when a man, whom she later identified as Forrest, picked her up July 17, 1974, near Ridgefield. She testified Tuesday she was held at knifepoint and forced into the back of Forrest’s van, where he hog-tied her and then drove her to the Tukes Mountain maintenance facility.

She described Forrest striking her in the face and gagging her with her own bra. He carried her into the woods, she said, and secured her between two trees.

After he left, she chewed through some of her bonds and hopped through the woods, hiding in a field, she testified. At daybreak, she made her way to a nearby parks building and was discovered by an employee. (Forrest was never charged with any crimes against her.)

“She was a fighter, and I wasn’t,” Countryman Lewis said of the Camas woman. She explained how her flight response took over when she freed herself from one of the trees.

“I’ve lived now for a long time wondering what could have happened, what would have happened to me,” an emotional Countryman Lewis said.

She noted she didn’t think she would become emotional while she testified Tuesday, because she’s shared her story many times with the media. But it’s different reliving it in front of others, she said.

“It was hard, but once I was done, I felt good. I felt really, really good, about heading for closure,” she said.

She said it’s haunted her how law enforcement didn’t initially take her abduction seriously and didn’t stop Forrest.

“Carol would be alive. Martha would be alive. (The other survivor) would be a whole person,” Countryman Lewis said.

(Carol Valenzuela, 18, of Camas went missing Aug. 2, 1974, while hitchhiking. Her remains were found about 100 feet from Morrison’s remains in October 1974. Forrest has not been charged in her death; though, based on the proximity in time of the killings and location of the bodies, Forrest can also be linked to Valenzuela’s death.)

“What I’m most eager for in this, a conviction will finally mean he will go down in history as a serial killer, not a suspected serial killer,” Countryman Lewis said.

If prosecutors charge Forrest for Valenzuela’s death, she will be present for that case, too, she said.

“It’s my duty to see it to the end,” Countryman Lewis said.