EUGENE, Ore. — It’s been 40 years and one month since Martha Marie Morrison went missing — and 40 years and two days since an unidentified female’s body was discovered near Vancouver, Washington.
Cold case detectives, both locally and in Washington state, are hoping to put together those two puzzle pieces and perhaps solve a mystery that has stumped investigators for four decades.
Morrison, a free-spirited 17-year-old with long, brown, curly hair and a talent for music, was on her way home to Eugene from Portland in September 1974. But she never arrived.
Detectives with the Eugene Police Department’s cold case squad believe she was hitchhiking. They fear that one of two notorious serial killers prowling the Pacific Northwest at that time — I-5 killer Randall Woodfield or Seattle-based murderer Ted Bundy — may have picked her up.
“The 1970s were a bad time,” said Bob Walker, a retired police officer who now volunteers as a cold case investigator for Eugene police.
Woodfield and Bundy were both active in the mid-1970s. Woodfield, from Salem, was convicted of killing three women but is believed to have killed as many as 44 along the I-5 corridor.
Bundy confessed to 30 homicides in seven states between 1974 and 1978. He admitted that two occurred in Oregon but never identified his victims.
The Clark County Sheriff’s Office in Washington state is now working to identify the second of two bodies found on Oct. 12, 1974, in rural Dole Valley northeast of Vancouver. The first body was identified that same year as belonging to 18-year-old Carol Valenzuela of nearby Camas, Washington, but the second body long has been classified as an unknown “Jane Doe.”
Walker said DNA and other testing at various labs hasn’t eliminated Morrison as the possible victim, “but we need to confirm it.”
Operations Manager Niki Costa with the Clark County Medical Examiner’s Office also noted that the DNA indicators for the unidentified body point to Morrison, but aren’t conclusive. She said she is hopeful something will be generated through the renewed investigation to confirm the identification.
If Eugene detectives help identify the remains and a killer, it would be the third cold case solved since the 2010 formation of the Eugene police cold case squad.
Walker said Eugene police initially took a report at the time of Morrison’s disappearance in 1974 because, even though she officially went missing out of Portland, her mother lived in Eugene and her boyfriend at the time had come to Eugene from Portland to look for her.
That report taken by local police, however, is nowhere to be found.
Walker said it likely was destroyed along with other documents when a Lane County office flooded around that time. The first available report taken by Eugene police in Morrison’s case is dated 2010, the same year the cold case squad formed.
In that report, Morrison is described as 5-feet-4-inches tall and about 140 pounds. The body discovered the same year she went missing, along with the skeletal remains of Valenzuela, was determined by the medical examiner to be a 17- to 23-year-old female, between 5-feet-2 and 5-feet-51/2 inches in height, according to Clark County officials.
The victim’s long, brown hair is described as thick, coarse and possibly wavy. Her teeth were documented to be in poor condition, particularly the canines.
Morrison had attended Jefferson and Roosevelt junior high schools in Eugene. She was fluent in sign language because her mother was deaf.
Morrison was interested in tarot cards and had a reputation of being an occasional runaway who experimented recreationally with marijuana and amphetamines, according to Clark County investigators.
She was said to be an accomplished guitarist and singer, and she had severe psoriasis that affected all of her body except for her face.
Morrison spent time in foster care when she was young and later attended the Corvallis Farm School, although she may have run away from that facility before joining a Job Corps training program in Phoenix, Arizona, according to Clark County detectives.
It’s believed that while in Phoenix, Morrison acquired a new boyfriend, a light-skinned African-American who was taller and thinner than her. The two are reported to have taken up residence in Portland, where he worked as a welder in the shipyards.
Morrison and her boyfriend visited her mother around late August 1974 in Eugene before returning to Portland, investigators believe. Her boyfriend reported that she had left their apartment in September, following an argument.
She has not been seen or heard from since.
Clark County and Eugene detectives are hoping someone remembers seeing Morrison as she was hitchhiking, or recalls other details about her or her boyfriend.
“It’s very difficult when you have old evidence and an old case, and you’re trying to get people to talk, to remember,” Walker said. “But that’s what we’re hoping for in this case.”