Book Looks at Criminals in Portland’s History

By David Krogh

Portland Rogues Gallery: A Baker’s Dozen Arresting Criminals from Portland History is the latest in a long series of books by Arcadia Publishing on the history of crime in Portland. 

Published in February, this will be the fifth book about Portland by local author J.D. Chandler, and his fourth specifically on crime in Portland.  

This history is not written in a straight-laced academic history book style. Rather, the author does his best to discuss each Rogue as a story. 

For those who know nothing more about Portland’s crime scene other than the police brutalities and riots of recent days, they will be shocked. If you thought Chicago was the only city historically with mob bosses, illicit gambling houses, bordellos, racketeering, bootlegging, robberies and mayhem, guess again. 

The criminal activity has been a part of Portland’s history virtually from its establishment as a city, and chronologically through today.

Portland’s first police chief and the person who is most referred to as the initiator of Portland’s police force, was a man named James Lappeus. He arrived with his wife in Portland in 1852. An opportunist, he built a public house/saloon called the Oro Fino and because of experience as a Mexican War volunteer, was able to get himself elected as city marshal. 

He subsequently served as marshal and metro police chief off and on from 1859 to 1883, while at the same time running a saloon, theatre and gambling house (at a time when gambling was illegal). 

Although he established a stable police force and helped to make Portland a “civil” community, he was known for bending the rules. His breaks in police service were largely due to scandals. 

The author suggests, “He set the pattern for law enforcement in Portland that still exists in the 21st century, including the use of the police for political ends, a reputation for corruption and selective enforcement of laws, and impunity in matters of violence.” 

Another featured Rogue was brothel proprietor, Carrie Bradley, ultimately accused of murdering a man named James Brown in 1881. While under investigation in 1882, she was allegedly approached by Police Chief Lappeus to allow her to leave town for consideration of a $1,000 payment. 

Chief Lappeus was subsequently accused of bribery and his law enforcement career thus ended in 1883 even though he was ultimately exonerated. Bradley, on the other hand, was found guilty and served three years in prison until pardoned in 1886 at which time she and a henchman partner moved to the Mt. Shasta area to establish another brothel.

Those are only two of the baker’s dozen of characters brought to life in Chandler’s book about criminals in Portland’s past, which continues up until the very recent present, and ending with the arrest of serial killer Bud Brown in 1991. 

Most, if not all, of these characters are not commonly known to the average Portlander. Yet the range of crimes and timelines are astounding. It’s almost as if the history books are trying to protect the public from the truth about Portland’s crime filled past. 

Chandler’s descriptions are well researched and include substantial information. In fact, almost too much information is provided. 

There are so many characters and plot turns involved with some of these Rogues and so many asides, it is difficult to keep the storylines straight at times. Part of the problem seems to be that many of these people and situations have been previously introduced in earlier books by the author. 

If the first of the author’s books you read is Portland Rogues Gallery, you might experience some confusion, but don’t let that distract you.

When asked how he got into criminology history, Chandler responded, “The murder of a close friend (James Lee, Seattle cabdriver in 1991) got me interested in the impact murder has on individuals and the community.” 

He now lives in Portland and likes to write about it. 

“Every city has a substantial history of crime, but Portland’s history is manageable with a small pool of individuals to be familiar with. Portland’s history provides a good window into the course of urban development in the old west, as well as a manageable and interesting look at the history of urban violence in America.”

Asked which of his baker’s dozen was the most interesting to him he responded, “If I had to choose one of them, I would choose Tom Johnson. Johnson was Portland’s Black vice-king from 1920 to 1964. In addition to being a crime figure, Johnson was also an important supporter of the Civil Rights movement and Portland’s Black community.”  

Portland Rogues Gallery: A Baker’s Dozen Arresting Criminals from Portland History is available at most local independent bookstores and online. Read more at portlandcrime.blogspot.com and weirdportland.blogspot.com.

Image from Arcadia Publishing

Book Looks at Criminals in Portland’s History

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