Deborah Lee Atrops, 1988 {Sherwood, Oregon}

Today, we’ll discuss the case of a new wife and mom who went missing on her way to pick up her infant daughter after work in Sherwood, Oregon. She was later found strangled in the trunk of her car in Beaverton, Oregon. This is the unsolved case of Deborah Lee Atrops.

Deborah Lee Atrops. Photo: Washington County Sheriff

Sherwood, Oregon lies thirty minutes south west of Portland, at the beginning of the farmland that encompasses much of the mid Willamette Valley.  Today, Sherwood is often rated among the best towns to live in in America, with around 20,000 people currently living there and a high median income.  Highway 99 runs through the town, allowing the small town easy access to larger towns down the highway, like Tigard along I-5, just fifteen minutes away.  In 1988, Sherwood was even smaller at around 3,000 people.  On the north side of 99 is a huge stretch of rural farmland, with back roads winding over the hills into south Beaverton.  Just south of 99 is the core town area, with quaint shops along a four block square grid and surrounded by historic homes.

Downtown Sherwood today. Photo: Wikipedia Creative Commons

Deborah Atrops was born in June of 1958, and as a child, she moved around a lot due to her father’s job in the military.  The family lived in Guam and the Philippines before living for a few years in Salem, Oregon where she attended South Salem High School.  She moved with her family to Spokane, Washington, for her senior year of high school, graduating there before moving again with her family back to Salem.  On June 6, 1987, she married Robert Atrops, her high school sweetheart.  They moved to Sherwood, where Deborah began working as a bookkeeper at Wellon Industries, a Sherwood manufacturing plant.  In the spring of 1988, Deborah gave birth to their daughter.

On paper, this looked like a couple at the beginning of building a life together.  In June of 1988, Deborah had just celebrated her 30th birthday and her first wedding anniversary.  She had a newborn daughter.  However, in July, the couple separated.  Deborah moved to the Cambridge East Apartments off Sunnyview Road NE in Salem.  She was moving ahead with her life, taking accounting classes at Chemeketa Community College, and looking to get a degree in accounting. 

Deborah Lee Atrops murder in Sherwood Oregon
Deborah Lee Atrops. Photo: Washington County Sheriff

On Tuesday, November 29, Deborah worked her shift at Wellons in Sherwood, and got off work at 5pm.  She drove directly to her hair appointment at Razz Ma Tazz hair salon in Tigard and arrived on time at 5:15.  The salon, located in a strip mall next to the Fred Meyer grocery store, reported that she left just after 7pm.  She wore a red dress and a royal blue coat.  This would be the last time she was seen alive.

That evening, Deborah was due to pick up her 9 month old baby at Robert’s house in Sherwood immediately after this appointment.  His home at the time was located on the north side of Highway 99 in Sherwood, off Conzelman Road. That’s still a rural road today, surrounded on either side by a mix of tall trees and farmland, but still not far off the main highway.  If she had made it there, it would have taken her only fifteen or twenty minutes.  But instead, she never made it.  At 9pm that night, Robert notified police that she had not arrived.  Police searched her apartment but there was nothing there to indicate she was planning to leave.

The following morning, construction workers working to build some new apartments at the corner of Murray Blvd and Scholls Ferry Road in south Beaverton noticed a black Honda Accord at the end of a dead end street. The area has since been developed and the road expanded, but at the time, Murray Blvd ended just south of Scholls Ferry Road. However, nothing seemed outwardly unusual about the car, so they did not report it.

On Thursday Dec 1, 1988 at 8:45am, patrol officers on the lookout for her car found the Honda Accord and identified it as hers.  When they opened the trunk, they found her body. Her body was clothed.  An autopsy later showed she’d been strangled, and had been dead before she was put into the trunk of her car.  The car’s license plates were removed, and the keys were in the ignition.

Early newspaper articles mention that police were hoping to find parents who had been seen videotaping their son skateboarding in the parking lot of the hairdresser’s shopping center. The police did track down the video, but according to an article in the Salem Statesman Journal on December 8, 1988, the quality was poor and did not show Deborah in the background. Despite pleas to the public for assistance, no one reported seeing anything suspicious and there were no reported leads.

Then, in January of 1989, just six weeks after her disappearance, a different case would overshadow hers in the newspapers. Michael Franke, the director of the Oregon Department of Corrections, was killed outside of his office the evening of January 17, 1989.  This became a high profile case, and as coverage grew about Franke’s murder, it seemed to some that coverage of Deborah’s disappearance simply couldn’t compete.

Since then, there have been few breaks that have been made public, and news coverage of her case has all but stopped.  Deborah’s mother Gloria continued to be outspoken about her daughter’s case not getting enough attention, particularly in comparison to Michael Franke’s case.  Deborah’s case remains on the cold case list at the Washington County Sheriff’s office, and as of today is unsolved.  

If you have any information regarding Deborah Lee Atrops, please contact the Washington County Sheriff’s office at (503) 846-2500.

Sources

Novak, Theresa. (1988) “Salem woman found dead in Beaverton”, Statesman Journal, 02 Dec. Available at: https://www.newspapers.com/image/200276381/ (Accessed 12 June 2020).

(1988) “Deborah Lee Atrops”, Statesman Journal, 03 Dec. Available at: https://www.newspapers.com/image/200281882 (Accessed 12 June 2020).

(1988) “Video may give clue to strangulation”, Statesman Journal, 08 Dec. Available at: https://www.newspapers.com/image/200353976/ (Accessed 12 June 2020).

Novak, Theresa. (1989) “Mother of slain woman grows tired of silence”, Statesman Journal, 16 April. Available at: https://www.newspapers.com/image/200264239/ (Accessed 12 June 2020).

“Cold Case Investigations: Deborah Atrops” Washington County Sheriff. https://www.co.washington.or.us/Sheriff/FightingCrime/CriminalInvestigations/cold-case-investigations.cfm Accessed 12 June 2020.

Floy Jean Bennett, 1978 {Beaverton, Oregon}

Welcome to Northwest True Crime, a blog about unsolved murders and missing persons cases in the Pacific Northwest.  I aim to breathe new life into these cases by giving them the visibility they deserve.  Today, in our first post, we’ll discuss the case of a Beaverton court reporter who went missing in the late 70s, and how she’s connected to a grisly crime between two chess partners a decade later.  This is the unsolved missing person case of Floy Jean Bennett.

Floy Jean Bennett in 1978. Photo: The Charley Project

Our case takes place in February of 1978 in Beaverton, Oregon.  Beaverton is a suburb of Portland, Oregon, and lies about 20 minutes to the west of the city.  In 1978, a new rec center had just opened, the company that would become Nike had headquartered in Beaverton and officially changed its name to Nike that year, and the area was in a period of huge growth for the city: in 1960, the population was almost 6,000, but by the 1980 census, it was just under 32,000.  This is the area now known as Silicon Forest since there are so many technology companies based in the western suburbs of Portland, and even in 1978 tech company Tektronix was already a big employer there.

Beaverton in the late 70s and early 80s was growing quickly. Here, an aerial view of Beaverton Mall (now Cedar Hills Crossing) which was a central feature of the town. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Her family and friends called her Jeanie.  She was 37 years old, 5’8” and 120 pounds.  She had brown hair that she dyed blonde, and hazel eyes.  She’d been born Floy Jean Aspley on March 28, 1941 in LaGrande, Oregon, a small town in eastern Oregon. She went to Jefferson High School in Portland, graduating in 1959, where she’d been on the pep squad.

Jeanie married Robert E Bennett at the First Methodist Church in Vancouver, Washington on February 17th, 1962.  He was 24, she was 20.

By late February 1978, the couple was living in Beaverton and had just celebrated their sixteenth wedding anniversary.  By then, Jeanie was a court reporter for Multnomah County Courts.  Multnomah County is the county that houses Portland, so she had just a short commute to work into the city.  From all reports, she was a well-liked employee there and excelled at her job.

On the evening of Thursday, February 23rd, Robert alleges she went on a shopping trip and did not return.  Five days later, Robert reported to police that her rental car is parked in the driveway when he arrives home, and her suitcase and clothes were gone. Just two weeks later, he filed for divorce.  He told friends and police that she ran off with another man.  Her SSN has never again been used to work in the US. She had paychecks to pick up at Multnomah County Courthouse but has never claimed them.  Her bank account , which contained most of a $90,000 inheritance she’d recently received, was emptied. The money has never been found.

Jeanie’s family and friends were quick to come to her aid. The Multnomah County Court Reporters Association and her immediate family created a $1000 reward for information that would lead to the discovery of her remains.  Carol Chambers, Jeanie’s sister, stepped in to take care of her sister’s assets in her absence during the divorce.  The Associated Press reported that “the divorce petition would have given Bennett all the family assets and left her with all the bills” had Carol not stepped in and had herself made conservator of Jeanie’s assets.  Not only that, Carol continued searching for her sister in any way she could think of, including hiring a psychic.  Sadly though, no one was able to find what had happened to Jeanie.  She’d simply disappeared.

By the early 80s, the case had gone cold.  Robert’s life continued on.  His brother Joseph died in April of 1983 at the age of 46.  Then three years later, on New Year’s Eve of 1986, Robert married his brother’s widow, Charlotte.

Private investigators as well as police continued to search for Jeanie.  By March of 1988, Ray Montee, a well-known Portland private investigator, was on the case.  In investigating Jeanie’s disappearance, he acted on a tip from a hired psychic and obtained permission to dig up a large brick bbq in the backyard of Charlotte Bennett’s old home. Charlotte was Robert’s new wife and had lived in northeast Beaverton at the time of Jeanie’s disappearance.  A New York Times article painted an incredible picture of how dogged Montee was in his search and said Montee was “digging up bricks with a spoon” when the police stepped in and officially excavated the barbecue.  However, nothing was found and the excavation was called off shortly after it began.  Robert Bennett began to live a transient lifestyle, and by the year following the excavation, had left the state.

But that’s not the whole story for this family.  Almost 11 years to the day that Jeanie disappeared, on February 22, 1989, in Salt Lake City, a man was searching through a dumpster behind Smith’s Food King in hopes of finding lettuce that had been tossed out so that he could feed his pet rabbits.  The bin was set to be picked up that morning, but before it was, the man made a grisly discovery.  But it wasn’t Jeanie.  It was a man’s severed legs.  

Around the same time, Robert Bennett had moved to a room in a boarding house in Las Vegas under the name “Bill Anderson”.  It’s unclear why he chose Las Vegas, but it was confirmed that previously, Robert had lived in Salt Lake City between December of 1988 and February of 1989.  While he was living in Salt Lake, he rented a home, again under the name of Bill Anderson, and befriended a local freelance writer, Larry Duane White.  White was 51, a freelance journalist who lived with his father.  He was an excellent chess player, and it was through chess that he met Robert Bennett.  White taught him to play chess, and they formed a friendship, sharing meals and chess matches.

On April 6, Bennett was arrested on a federal warrant in Las Vegas related to Social Security fraud.  During the arrest, detectives searched his home.  What detectives found in his room at the boarding house was compelling: books on how to “manipulate the system to hide your identity”,  White’s driver’s license and social security card.  At the time of his arrest, Bennett had applied for a certified copy of White’s birth certificate, and he had rented a post office box with White’s name on it.  According to an article in The Salt Lake Tribune in May of 1989, it was believed by police that Bennett was attempting to assume White’s identity, and not only that, but this was likely not the first time he’d stolen an identity.  In the same article, the paper noted that “detectives in five states have been unable to locate missing persons matching the names used by Bennett over the years.”

Another key piece of evidence they found during the April 6th search was a set of license plates belonging to the landlord of Bennett’s previous residence in Salt Lake City.  That led detectives to search the Salt Lake City home on May 8th.  

Robert Bennett’s former home in Salt Lake City was a modest rental home on the south end of town.  After searching the backyard there, they found what they described as “a patch of soft earth” between the house and a fence on the side of the house and it was then that they began digging.  There, they found partial remains of a man.  They found his armless torso wrapped in a plastic garbage bag.  The body had been buried next to a septic tank just a few feet underground.  The torso had five bullet holes in it from a .38 caliber handgun and was wearing only white shorts.  They later found the man’s head buried as well.  After using dental records, they identified the body as belonging to Larry White.  He’d been reported missing just three days before by his father.  Robert Bennett was arrested for White’s murder.  In July of 1989, he entered a guilty plea and requested immediate sentencing.  He was sentenced that day to 5 years to life for the second degree murder of Larry White.

Robert Bennett was up for parole in 2004 and spoke before the parole board about White’s murder.  While he’d elected to plead guilty in order to avoid a trial, he said of White’s murder that “I lost it” and admitted shooting him five times during a car ride the two had taken to go job searching together.  

As far as Jeanie’s case, it remains officially unsolved. 

If she didn’t run off of her own accord, then she must have encountered foul play sometime after that shopping trip.  If she left for the shopping trip and encountered a stranger who somehow made her empty her bank accounts and disappear, then that stranger also drove her car, unnoticed, back to her home five days later while Robert was away, entered the home unnoticed, and made sure that her things were packed into her suitcases…and then made those disappear as well.  

There are still so many unanswered questions.  The biggest one being, of course, where is Jeanie?  What happened to her on February 23rd, 1978?  Did she indeed run off with another man as Robert believed, or did she encounter foul play? If she did choose to disappear–why wouldn’t she take the car or her paycheck with her, and why has she never used her social security number to work in the United States again?  Who packed her things into suitcases and where did all of her things end up?  Where did the inheritance money and the money from Jeanie’s bank account end up?  In 1985, Police Chief Don Newell told the Associated Press that “we believe that she has fallen to foul play–we have always thought that.”

For now, Robert Bennett is serving 5 years to life in Utah State Prison for the murder of White.  He was up for parole in 2004 but was denied.  He is 82 years old.  If she’s still alive today, Jeanie would be 78 years old.  If she lived, she might have had children, even grandchildren by now.  Instead, Jeanie’s family continues to live with the mystery of her disappearance as they keep searching for her.  It’s clear that she made an impact on the lives of those around her: her family, friends, and coworkers who supported the search efforts after her disappearance.  If you know anything about the disappearance of Floy “Jeanie” Bennett, contact the Beaverton Police Department at 503-526-2260.  

Sources

Associated Press. (1985) “Disappearance unsolved”, Albany Democrat-Herald, 3 Aug. Available at: https://www.newspapers.com/image/442405820/ (Accessed: 12 June 2020).

Associated Press. (1988) “Police Use Psychic’s Tip in disappearance”, Spokane Chronicle, 02 March. Available at: https://www.newspapers.com/image/567235540/ (Accessed: 11 June 2020).

Carter, Mike. (1989) “Now police find body’s head; charges may be filed today”, The Salt Lake Tribune, 10 May. Available at: https://www.newspapers.com/image/613334945/ (Accessed: 12 June 2020).

Carter, Mike. (1989) “Detectives say they’ve solved dismembertment murder”, The Salt Lake Tribune, 06 May. Available at: https://www.newspapers.com/image/613334199/ (Accessed: 12 June 2020).

Israelsen, Brent. (1989) “Trial ordered in mutilation, slaying of chess mate”, The Deseret News, 19 July. Available at: https://news.google.com/newspapers?id=rkxTAAAAIBAJ&sjid=PYQDAAAAIBAJ&pg=6894%2C1429656 (Accessed: 11 June 2020).

Hunt, Stephen. (2004) “Killer speaks of crime at parole hearing: ‘I lost control'”, The Salt Lake Tribune, 26 April. Available at: https://www.newspapers.com/image/613654839/(Accessed: 11 June 2020).

Hunt, Stephen. (2004) “Man who killed chess partner won’t be paroled”, The Salt Lake Tribune, 27 Aug. Available at: https://www.newspapers.com/image/613614232/ (Accessed: 11 June 2020).

Good, Meaghan. “Floy Jean Bennett.” The Charley Project, http://charleyproject.org/case/floy-jean-bennett. Accessed 12 June 2020.

Ancestry.com. Washington, Marriage Records, 1854-2013 [database on-line]. Available at: https://search.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/sse.dll?dbid=2378&h=7157598&indiv=try&o_vc=Record:OtherRecord&rhSource=2378 Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2012.

Grey, Wil. (1989) “Bennett enters surprise guilty plea”, The Deseret News, 29 July. Available at: https://www.deseret.com/1989/7/29/18817517/bennett-enters-surprise-guilty-plea (Accessed: 12 June 2020).