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.