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News / Northwest

Man linked to deaths of four women in Oregon reportedly assaulted one earlier, victim’s father says

By CLAIRE RUSH and ANDREW SELSKY, Associated Press
Published: July 21, 2023, 5:23pm

PORTLAND — A man being investigated in the deaths of four women in Oregon had previously attacked and choked one of them, her father said. But the man was not arrested until months later — only after the women’s bodies were discovered scattered across northwest Oregon.

The bodies had raised fears a serial killer was targeting young women in the area. The Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office announced Monday that investigators and prosecutors from nine law enforcement agencies have found links between the four deaths, with at least one person of interest identified.

The statement did not name the person, but a law enforcement official with knowledge of the investigation said Tuesday it is Jesse Lee Calhoun. The official requested anonymity because they are not authorized to comment publicly on the case. Calhoun was arrested on June 6 by members of two sheriff’s departments with U.S. Marshals Service assisting, the official said.

The bodies of Kristin Smith, 22; Charity Perry, 24; Bridget Webster, 31; and Ashley Real, 22, were found over a three-month period in wooded areas, under a bridge and in a culvert in a roughly 100-mile (160-kilometer) radius, spanning from rural Polk County southwest of Portland to the Columbia River Gorge, east of the city.

Real’s body was the latest one found, on May 7. Her father, Jose Real, told the Oregonian/OregonLive that he called police on Nov. 11 after she showed up, crying, at his Portland home, saying she had been attacked and choked by Calhoun.

A Portland police officer took an initial report from him and his daughter, Real said, and she gave the officer Calhoun’s name. Police wanted her to help find him but she was scared, Real told the newspaper.

“They took a report,” he said, “but after that, they did nothing.”

Because the location of the alleged assault was outside Portland police jurisdiction, the department referred the case to the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office, the Oregonian/OregonLive reported.

Jose Real said he and his daughter never heard back from police.

“The police didn’t do their work,” he said. “And now my daughter is dead.”

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Portland Police Sgt. Kevin Allen said in an email Friday that the department cannot comment on any reports or information related to Calhoun because of “an active ongoing criminal investigation.” Sheriff’s Deputy John Plock also said he could not comment because of an active investigation.

Calhoun was one of 41 prison inmates whose prison sentence was lowered by one year in 2021 by then-Gov. Kate Brown after they helped battle devastating 2020 wildfires in Oregon.

Calhoun was released from the Columbia River Correctional Institution on July 22, 2021, almost one year before his projected release date, the Oregon Department of Corrections said Friday. He had been serving a 50-month sentence for assaulting a police officer, trying to strangle a police dog, burglary and felony unauthorized use of a vehicle.

Sen. Tim Knopp, leader of the minority Oregon Senate Republicans, on Tuesday blamed Brown for letting “violent offenders” out early. But even if Brown hadn’t commuted Calhoun’s sentence, he would have been released months before the deaths occurred.

Still, a relative of another woman who died blamed police for being slow to react. Melissa Smith, Kristin Smith’s mother, said in a video on Facebook that she reported her daughter missing in December to police in a Portland suburb, but, she said, “I was not given the help that I needed.”

Family members posted flyers about the missing woman and searched parts of Portland. Kristin Smith’s body was the first of the four to be discovered, in a wooded area of a Portland neighborhood, on Feb. 19. Melissa Smith praised a detective with the Portland Police Bureau for more aggressively pursuing the case.

The district attorney’s announcement Monday said no charges have been filed in connection with any of the deaths. But Calhoun is back behind bars. Gov. Tina Kotek revoked his commutation on July 3.

Calhoun is now back in prison to serve the remainder of his sentence, with his new projected release date June 9, 2024, Oregon Department of Corrections spokesperson Amber Campbell said Friday.