On a fall evening in Corvallis, Oregon in 1967, 17-year-old Dick Kitchel, a high school senior, disappeared after attending a party at the home of Paul and Juddi Everets. The married couple would throw keggers for the local teenagers and 20-somethings. Ten days later, Kitchel’s body was discovered floating down a river by two children. The teen had been beaten and strangled. His murder was never officially solved.
Nearly 50 years later, Rebecca Morris, a New York Times-bestselling author and Kitchel’s high-school classmate, returns to her hometown to explore how the murder changed the town and the lives of Kitchel’s friends.
On the first school day after Dick’s body was found, his death was mentioned in the morning announcements delivered over the public address system at CHS. It was two days since his body had floated near the dock of Riverview Marina, and the day before his funeral. If it happened today, counselors would be brought to school. There would be vigils. An outpouring of media coverage. Television interviews with his friends and parents. Pleas for people to come forward and provide information. That kind of media intensity didn’t exist then. There was nothing except well-meaning but incomplete coverage by our local paper, the Gazette-Times. Some of Dick’s friends already knew about his death because word had spread, and some had already been interviewed by the police. I remember hearing the announcement on the PA system and how surreal it seemed. I have no memory of discussing Dick’s death with others at school, or with my parents. They may have assumed I didn’t know him. All over town, parents weren’t talking to their teenagers about the boy who had been murdered. They just let it be. But Dick’s friends were talking to each other.
I was reading newspapers and asking questions by the time I could walk, so the G-T and The Oregonian would have been my source for details. It wasn’t our high school newspaper. I was on the staff of the High-O-Scope. We didn’t mention Dick’s murder, presumably because our bi-weekly was distributed every other Friday inside the G-T. But our memories are hazy. I’ve checked mine with Donella Russell, who was editor of the High-O-Scope and a friend of mine since kindergarten days at Roosevelt School, as well as Blue Birds and Camp Fire. She says it is possible we were told not to write about Dick. The next spring, Alice Henderson, the editor of the yearbook, wanted to do a full page about Dick; the administration told her no. She found a way and did it anyway.
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On Monday, [Detective Sergeant] Montgomery and [Captain Bill] Hockema made the first of several visits to Corvallis High School to talk to students and faculty. They met with Robert Payne, the new assistant principal who had taught American History, coached basketball, and served as athletic director before moving into administration. The detectives pulled various boys and girls out of class to speak to them in Payne’s office. It was the first time they had met Diana Eddins, the girl who had been with Dick on Labor Day weekend when he had been arrested for drinking, crashing his car, and resisting arrest. That was their second date; they never had another.
“He was a cute guy, not very big,” she remembers. On their first date, they hung out at Seaton’s [a popular hamburger hangout] and he got to second base, she told me. She had heard rumors about his drinking and on their next date they went to a party north of town and both got drunk. Just before they crashed on 9th Street, not far from Seaton’s, she thought about trying to take the keys out of the ignition but was afraid that would make things worse. They knew a police car was following them and Dick sped up and swerved over to the wrong side of the street. They crashed into a row of mailboxes, trees, and a fence. They were taken to the police station and Diana was put in a room by herself. “My dad is going to kill me,” she thought to herself. Her parents, Helen and Larry Eddins, “good people” according to their daughter, grounded her for the rest of the year. She stayed friends with Dick but they never had another date, and he wasn’t permitted to phone her. Then she heard that he was dead. “I didn’t cry— I was shocked,” she remembered.
The picture the detectives got was that on the night of the Everts’ party, Dick had been spoiling for a fight. He had told friends that he wanted to fight various boys who for one reason or another—or no reason— irritated him. He imagined fights between others too. Judy Appelman remembered that Dick would ask friends to fight for him. Usually they shrugged it off. Dick wanted a friend to fight Paul Everts for him, because Paul had shoved Dick around at an earlier party. Recently, Dick had been in a fight with Mike Nader, who thought Dick was flirting with his girl, the babysitter who lived at the Everts’.
Detectives also spoke to another vice principal at CHS, Charles Kipper. From him they learned about Roger Bicks, Dick’s stepbrother, who had a violent temper and had been expelled for non-attendance. Roger was also living at 301 Bell Lane with Dick, Ralph, Sylvia, and a brother. The school administrators knew Dick and his stepbrother had problems living under the same roof. Roger had spent more time in Cottage Grove than in Corvallis, and the detectives made a note to talk to authorities there.
Montgomery and Hockema met with Bob Wadlow, who drove Dick to the party on October 11 and never saw him again. He couldn’t tell them much about Dick’s state of mind that night. The detectives asked all the students they interviewed about who might have had a grudge against Dick, and compiled a long list of who was arguing with whom.
One of the boys the detectives talked to at the school had been at the party and witnessed the argument between Dick and Paul. He described Paul grabbing Dick by the shirt collar, but had not seen how the argument ended. He did see them walk back into the house together. The detectives heard more rumors flying around, including a tip that Dick had been seen after being let out of Doug’s car. They never pinned that one down.
Mel Plemmons, whom they talked with briefly when they broke the news about Dick’s body being found to the partygoers at the Everts’, showed up at the police station to see them where he could talk more freely. He told the detectives more about the fighting. Telling much the same story as Judy Appelman had, he explained that in Dick’s social group one member would carry a grudge, announce they were going to have a fight and who with, then, in Dick’s case, ask someone to fight it for them. He also said Dick was angry at Paul long before October 11.
They talked to Terry Garren, class of 1967, who was at the party. Terry said news of an upcoming party at the Everts’ would be shared by word of mouth. The Everts liked young people around, and the teenagers contributed money to the keggers. Terry had gone to Harding and Garfield grade schools and knew Dick. Dick was “a drunk, feisty little guy” and much smaller than Terry. Dick had asked him once if he wanted to fight. Terry laughed at him. Terry also knew Doug and his brother and sometimes fished with them. Terry never told his parents he was at the party the evening Dick disappeared. He thought of contacting the police, but they found him before he could. Terry lived next door to Mel, and tried to talk with Mel about Dick’s disappearance and murder, but Mel wouldn’t talk about it. “Everybody was pretty scared” about Dick’s murder, Terry said later. “They pointed fingers at everybody else.” To this day, Terry has a vivid mental picture of the party. “It was crowded. Dick was swearing at everybody.” Dick picked a fight with a boy and Terry broke it up, telling the boy, “Come on, he’s drunk, he’s not really wanting to fight.” Terry said he thought Dick was so drunk that he didn’t know what he was doing.
Mel did speak to Terry once about the evening. He was the one who told Terry “they can’t find Dick.”
Monday afternoon, Montgomery and Hockema drove Paul and Juddi Everts, Doug Hamblin, and Marty Tucker [the latter two were acquaintances of Kitchel and were at the Everts’ party the night he went missing] to the Eugene Police Department for polygraphs. The detectives liked to drive because it sent a message that the police were in charge and guaranteed the exams would happen. The time in the car might also encourage conversation on the way down or back. The detectives usually took a few minutes before the exams to talk to the examiner and suggest questions. Juddi was not given a polygraph. Instead, in the weeks that followed, the detectives found several opportunities to talk with her alone.
The polygraph examiner found Marty to be “a nervous young man, somewhat agitated when discussing the events leading up to the night of the death of the victim.” The examiner concluded that Marty’s stress and vagueness was caused by his being underage and not wanting to admit that he had been drinking. Marty mentioned that he saw Dick with Paul after the altercation and Dick did not appear to be hurt in any way.
They asked Paul some baseline questions, including if he had ever stolen anything. He answered no. When he was told there was a problem with his response, he admitted he had taken some candy as a child. “I was really nervous,” he said later. He thought he had told the police everything he knew. There had been a fight between Dick and Doug on the front porch. He didn’t know what it was about. It wasn’t “a big brawl.” He didn’t remember if Dick ever reentered the house.
The report on his polygraph examination read:
The subject is [a] quite friendly, intelligent, seemingly candid, young man. He states that he was friends with the victim, that he feels it incumbent upon himself to help the police in any possible way that he can, to determine who it was [who] caused the victim’s death. He states he feels quite strongly about this matter, and cannot talk too long about the death of the victim without becoming slightly emotional about it.
As is common with polygraph tests, Paul was asked two sets of questions, both general ones and specific ones, and was asked both sets twice for comparison’s sake. The specific ones were very specific: Had he thrown the victim’s body in the river? Did he know who did? Had he hit the victim in the face or throat? He answered all “no.” The examiner concluded that “this subject is not deceptive…the answers given in response to the questions listed are truthful.”
Like the others, Paul didn’t know until he read in the Gazette-Times the next day that he was mentioned as among those taking a polygraph test. Paul’s parents were living in Cincinnati but subscribed to the G-T. He called to warn them that they would see his name in the newspaper.
District Attorney Frank Knight was quoted in the newspaper as saying that it appeared the group was being truthful to police. But he was not sharing all he knew. The polygraph examination of Doug had followed the same format—two sets of questions asked twice. He was asked if he’d had a fight with the victim, if he knew who choked the victim, and if he had choked the victim and thrown the body in the river. The examiner wrote that the results of Doug’s test were “inconclusive” and it was “highly desirable” that he be re-examined.