For those of you interested in the Not Innocentstory, I recommend starting at the beginning. The posts are displayed on the page in “most recent first” order. If you start reading at the top of the page, you’ll be reading the story backwards. To read the story in proper sequence, start here:
Much of this final chapter is memories, stories, suppositions, and opinions. I’ll attempt to keep it reasonable and not spiteful or hurtful to anyone reading this, as that’s not my goal. But, in order to try to show how this murder affected a large group of people, it’s effective to tell how people felt about it, how they reacted to it, what they thought about it.
Absolute truth is a very slippery eel. Even in math and physics, things we often think of as being absolute and true, facts must be accompanied by disclaimers and “Yeah, buts…” You might say that it’s an absolute fact that 1+1=2, whereas I could just as easily say it’s an absolute fact that 1+1=10 (in binary, base 2). If it’s true that truth is a slippery eel for the simplest of mathematical and scientific facts, what are we to make of truth when applied to human beings, history and events. The only person that knows the ‘truth’ about your life is you. You’re the only person that has lived it in its entirety, that’s been there for every moment of it. But you are a different body and a different brain every day, every moment. Our memories are built, then some are wiped away, only to have new ones built on top of them. Put ten people in a room to watch an event happen, then ask them all to write down an account of what happened. You’ll get ten different accounts, at minimum (as some people will contradict themselves, resulting in multiple accounts from the same person). And all of those accounts will be false, because all of those accounts will be incomplete. They will consist of a series of statements that, taken as a whole, strung together, will tell a story of what that person perceived or think they perceived.
About all we can really do is to say that some stories are more true than others. The newspaper stories about Ervin’s murder are more true than the “true crime” magazine stories. The police reports are more true than the newspaper stories. But none of them contain all the facts, they can’t. History only happens once, and the best we can do is create new history by telling stories about old history. We can make our stories be factually more true by trying to verify facts from multiple sources, or we can make our stories be emotionally more true by describing how people felt or imagining how they felt, by dramatizing history. No matter what we do, we will never be able to tell the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
Even the police reports are subject to error and misunderstanding. The investigators interviewed people, asking them for their memories of what happened, sometimes quite a while in the past, sometimes when they weren’t really paying good attention. Human memories have repeatedly been shown to be very unreliable. The police took notes in their little notebooks, then later, back at the office, and sometimes days later, they would transcribe those notes into reports, using their notes to trigger their memories of what the witnesses recalled of their memories. Lots of opportunities for mistakes, misunderstandings and bad memories to alter “the truth.”
But, with all that said, if you collect enough memories, enough information, it’s frequently possible to “read between the lines,” to assemble a mental picture of what might have happened, what probably happened, and what the people involved were generally like. The best I can say, as they say in the movies, is that this story is based on true events. I’ve tried to follow the “true events” as closely as possible. Hopefully, you will always keep an open – but questioning – mind.
In this book, I’ve tried to remain as objective as possible, but keep in mind that this is my story of what happened, and that I was only two years old at the time. So, my story necessarily depends upon the memories of others with their inherent lapses and biases, the written records with their inherent lapses, mistakes and the biases of those who wrote those records. It also depends upon my own views and perceptions of everything I’ve been able to gather, the things I have not been able to gather, and how I’ve chosen to present all of it. The more information you can gather, the more stories you listen to, and the more reasoning you apply to that information and those stories, the closer you may arrive to a shimmering shadow of the truth. Unfortunately, I’ve been unable to talk with anyone from the Oveross family, so, while I’ve tried to remain objective and balanced in the telling of this story, that’s one large chunk of information that I’ve not been able to gather.
The jury found Cap Oveross “not guilty.” The newspapers and magazines asked when Oregon would capture the ‘real’ killer, said that the killer was still “out there,” waiting to strike again. Was Cap innocent? Did someone else kill Ervin? A number of people pointed their finger at Ervin’s brother Harvey, because Harvey had struck Ervin during a dispute the previous year and made clear that he didn’t like his brother. Then there were the “two mysterious men” in a car parked behind the Evergreen School. What about the other husbands of women Ervin had tried to romance? These are all things the jury may have considered.
But you should consider: 1) The murder weapon was proven to be one of two rifles sold by Ames Hardware in 1949. 2) The other of those two weapons was purchased and still owned by Steve Zolotoff. 3) Ames Hardware had a receipt showing Cap Oveross bought one of those rifles in 1949. 4) Multiple people swore they’d seen, borrowed, or used Cap’s 30-30 rifle between 1949 and Christmas 1954. 4) Dan Gilham placed Cap Oveross at the Gilham house less than 10 minutes after the murder, at which time Cap already knew that Ervin had been shot. 5) Cap later told the police that he had been in taverns the whole evening, had never been in the area of Ervin’s home that evening, and that he had never owned a 30-30 rifle. 6) Multiple people placed Cap or his car in the area of Ervin’s home that night.
Then, we have this: for a while after the trial, Cap said very little about it. But apparently, as some point, he realized that he was safe from “double jeopardy,” the fact that once a person has been accused of a crime, tried and acquitted, they can never be tried again. This protects citizens from being persecuted by the government, something that used to happen with some frequency, causing the framers of the constitution to include protections against that. That meant that Cap could happily go around town admitting, even bragging, that he had killed Ervin Kaser, and he would suffer no (legal) ramifications.
Harvey Kaser’s youngest son told me this story:
In 1975 or ‘76, I had a summer job at Redman, across the street from the Milltown tavern. I went into the tavern with some friends one Friday after work. I elbowed up to the bar next to an old guy sitting on a bar stool. The barkeep asked for my ID, and I happened to plunk down my driver’s license right in front of the old guy. The old guy looked at the license, looked up, and said, “Are you related to Harvey Kaser?” I told him I was his youngest son. The old guy said, “Well, I killed your uncle.” The bartender went pale and told him to shut up. The old guy turned out to be Cap Oveross. I asked my brother Jeff about this once, and he said that in later years Cap would get drunk at the Milltown Tavern and start bragging about killing Ervin.
At the trial, Ted Finlay testified, “I would say it definitely was not” Oveross’s car he saw leave the murder scene a few seconds after hearing four shots. However, Calvin Kaser later recalled:
Manny Kellerhals and Ted Finlay were scared shitless that Cap was going to come back and shoot them. I was working at the S&M Truck Line, and Ted Finlay had an electrical shop and would come down there all the time to pick up his freight. He’d say, “I knew who the hell that was, hell, that was Cap, sure as hell. I heard those shots, and I heard that car come off, and I was up in the upstairs window.” Cap drove a Ford, and they had a round deal like this right in the grill, and Ted said, “I can still see that round emblem, and hell, it was Cap’s car. I couldn’t see him, but I’d bet my life that it was Cap’s car.”
When all the evidence is examined with an open and unbiased mind, there can be little doubt that Casper Oveross murdered Ervin Kaser. So how was he found not guilty? The answer to that, of course, is that our “justice system” is not perfect. It was intentionally set up as an ‘adversarial’ system in which the prosecutor must prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt to a jury of 12 citizens. Jurists are supposed to be objective, to judge the case based solely on the evidence presented. But, of course, they can’t. Many of them will have heard of the case ahead of time, and all of them will carry prejudices and beliefs that were shaped by their society and their experiences.
The prosecution seems to have done a poor job of presenting their case to the jury (more below). The job of defense attorneys is not to prove innocence, but rather, in any legal way possible, to prevent the prosecution from doing their job. In the case of the Oveross trial, it seems that the defense did an excellent job of throwing up smoke screens (“look at all these other jealous husbands” and “look at all these mysterious cars and men that were following Ervin Kaser around”), preventing the prosecution from entering crucial items into evidence, and painting the victim as a nasty bad-man and their client as an innocent, simple carpenter who, even if he had killed Ervin, would have been justified because of the way the nasty bad-man had broken up his marriage. You have to keep in mind that this was 1955, the time of Leave It To Beaver and Father Knows Best, of white bread and apple pie, a time when very few marriages ended in divorce, sex outside of marriage was verboten, and an unmarried woman getting pregnant was so shameful that she might as well burn herself at the stake before she was impaled by society’s sharpened, pointing fingers. The jury was made up of nine women and three men, and it wouldn’t take a lot to make them return a not guilty verdict. The newspapers and magazines liked to say that the murder remained unsolved. That’s a poor choice of words. There’s no doubt in my mind that the murder was solved. It’s just that no one was ever convicted.
A lawyer I know, who read a preliminary version of this book, had quite a few thoughts about the trial:
There is a rule of thumb that juries tend to come back fast with a decision if its clearly in favor of the defendant. It looks like this one took a little over a day. I would guess there were enough people on the jury that were not going to vote for conviction, and that after maybe two or three weeks of sitting through a trial, they decided it was time to go home and call it a day. It was hot; they didn’t like camping out.
I can’t tell for sure, but it looks to me like the defense on the gun was this: the Oveross expert soaked a Winchester in Pudding River water for 11 days, and it must have looked like it was in worse shape than the murder weapon, suggesting that the murder weapon was thrown in the river sometime after Oveross departed for Alaska. [EK note: Of course, soaking a gun in shallow, warm water would have a very different result than one where the barrel was buried in cold mud, where the supply of oxygen needed for rusting would be much lower. Also, Cap may have kept his rifle well-oiled, which would have protected it, whereas the test rifle may have been brand new and never oiled. So many variables…]
In the name of establishing that Oveross had left for Alaska, the defense paraded all of his family members in front of the jury, just to give the jury a look at them. The respectable school teacher, the daughters, and everyone else. My guess is that everyone in the family came across as pretty normal, decent people, whereas Ervin Kaser had some baggage.
When Ethel Oveross testified about the mysterious men, and if she was not cross-examined about it, then it casts a lot of doubt about whether it was Oveross or someone else. It looks like she was not cross-examined about it, and I would guess nobody was going to pick on her. That puts the jury in this position: why would she lie about it? Clearly, she didn’t care that much about Oveross because she was running around behind his back. It creates a lot of doubt. I do know this, though: the defense attorneys knew she was going to testify about the mysterious men and what she was going to say about it. I would guess the prosecutors had no idea that she was communicating that to the defense, somehow. Ethel was probably faced with her daughters blaming her for having their Dad put in prison or worse, so may have elaborated on the story about the mysterious men that had followed them.
Ken Brown helps blow the trial by talking about “dry gulching” Ervin, that he was “shot down, shot in the back, dry gulched, shot down like a dog without a chance to turn on his attacker.” He never should have done that.
Hindsight is 20-20, but you can really see how this trial was mishandled. I’ve been through a few of these things and lucky enough to learn a few things from some trial lawyers and judges who have been through a lot of them. After a few days the jury just shuts down and gets tired of it all. Danny Gilham and his stepmother were the strongest witnesses for the prosecution and should have been the first witnesses out of the box, not at the end of 3 weeks. Everything should have centered on the fact that Cap Oveross shows up less than 10 minutes after Ervin Kaser was shot and is talking about it (they lived 5.3 miles away, according to the police). Then, you ask the Kellerhalls to establish the time of the shooting and maybe a couple of others, but not everyone in the neighborhood. And your question to each would be this: “how did you learn about the shooting? Who did you talk to at that time? Did you call Cap Oveross?” And then everything boils down to this argument: it is undisputed that Cap Oveross knew about the shooting less than 10 minutes after it occurred. No one told him about it. The only way he could have known about it that quickly is if he did it himself.
You tend to win or lose these things based on the number of contradictions or inconsistencies the other guy creates. The more witnesses that you have, the more contradictions you will have. Stuff like who said what in taverns, or to the police, or the comings and goings of all the cars, just feeds into that. Never have or allow the same witness to testify three times.
Anyhow, I’d say Ken Brown must have been a pretty young guy at the time and he must have been really inexperienced. You can see they sort of did a methodical, “leave no stone unturned” type of approach, and it just backfired. The one thing I’ve learned about these things is that you don’t do a build up to a crescendo – you put your best witness on first.
According to Edith, for about 30 years after the murder, Harvey wouldn’t allow Ethel or Colleen and Danny into their house because he felt, rightly or wrongly, they’d lied on the stand in a way that might have contributed to Cap getting found not guilty. In order to visit with her twin sister, Edith had to go to where Ethel worked in Stayton. In the early 1980s, probably after Cap had died, the rift between Harvey and Ethel’s family was somewhat healed, but thirty years of anger had caused scars that could never be erased.
It’s hard to read the police reports, newspaper stories, and recollections and not get the impression that Cap Oveross thought he was sharp enough to out-smart the police. He proved rather foolish by going around for six months before the murder threatening to a lot of people that he would kill Ervin, including lying in a field at night with two Silverton police constables watching his (ex-)house to try to catch Ervin visiting Ethel. He tried to set up an alibi that he was in two taverns in town the whole evening, and then drove straight from the murder to the Gilham home and told Danny Gilham that, “Ervin has three slugs in him, and I was with you last night.” But then, when the police question him, he switches back to, “I was in taverns all night and no where near Ervin’s house all evening.” He got incredibly lucky at the trial.
I never knew Cap Oveross, but reading between the lines you can build an image of what his life was like. Edith once said:
Ethel had a hard life during her early marriage. Ethel and Cap lived in an old rundown house at Four Corners (where Abiqua road intersects Hwy 213) when they were first married. Our father [Fred Knight] was concerned and brought chickens, eggs, potatoes and such to Ethel because they didn’t have enough to eat. Cap drank up everything that he made. Colleen had a case of ringworm that was so bad when she was a young girl that she nearly lost all of the hair on top of her head, because they couldn’t afford to go to the doctor.
Calvin said something similar:
Ervin was running around with Ethel, but Ethel and Cap were separated. Cap, he blamed Ervin for their breakup. But, hell, they were having trouble long before that. Cap, he was a damn boozer, he drank up everything he made. Ethel was having to work to support the kids, cause he drank everything. He worked only enough to subsist on.
These memories certainly should be taken with a grain of salt, but there is evidence to back them up. Cap was well known in the taverns at the time of the shooting and was still patronizing them regularly thirty years later. He never remarried. Besides his anger at Ervin, he had also accused his neighbor Wayne Moore of “chasing around” with Ethel. I can imagine asking him shortly before he died, “What would you consider the most important moments of your life?” and I wonder how near the top of the list would be shooting Ervin Kaser. Would that have come to his mind before my two daughters? Before marrying Ethel? Before building a good life with friends and community? From a distance, it seems like a very sad life to have murder be a dominant, central feature. They say that, “Revenge is a dish best served cold.” But I have to believe that, “Revenge is a dish that poisons the server as much as the served.”
I also have to think about the effects murder has on the people around it. I suspect that, in his anger and bitterness, Cap was focused on getting his revenge and didn’t think much about the affect it would have on his family, friends and neighbors. He may even have thought that he’d be viewed as a hero, we don’t know. But we can imagine how this affected the lives of those around him and Ervin.
The divorce of their parents was probably very stressful on the Colleen, 18, and Karen, 14. It’s pretty clear from the police reports that Colleen was very defensive of her father and may well have been ‘informing’ on her mother, telling her father when Ethel would go out and come home, essentially (unwittingly) helping him to learn their habits and patterns, making it easier for him to follow them and set up the murder. It seems that after the murder, Colleen was much more favorable to her father than to her mother. A neighbor girl, Charlotte Moore, told the police:
Colene was very mad and she mentioned something about Mrs. Gilham, the old biddy, being on the side of the law.
Then, the police were suspicious of her boy friend, Danny Gilham, so two of the most important people in her life seemed in danger. Of course she didn’t want to cooperate with the police. Colleen didn’t want Danny to cooperate with the police either, because that would further endanger her father. So, Danny is caught between the police and his girlfriend because his stepmother has already spoken to the police about Cap stopping at their house. He was the perfect example of being between a rock and a hard place. Then, Danny and Colleen got married, and for the rest of their lives, every family get-together that involved either of Colleen’s parents would have had this large shadow looming over all of them, impossible to evict, impossible to forget. There’s little information about how Karen reacted to these events, but one can easily imagine the day-to-day life of a 14-year old girl in a very small community who’s dad has been accused of murder, very publicly in the news and on everyone’s lips for six months.
During the trial, Ethel had to take the stand and testify. If her testimony helped convict Cap and he got sent to prison for life or executed (Oregon had the death penalty at that time), what would that do to her relationship with their daughters? And yet, her lover had been shot dead by her ex-husband. She, too, was between a rock and a hard place.
What about the victim’s family? Ervin’s mother Sarah had lost her husband Fred just a year and a half before, and now her oldest, first-born child is shot to death less than a quarter-mile away from her home. When asked how his mother took the news of the murder, Calvin said: Oh, she was a basket case. She’d want to go over to the cemetery, and you’d no more than drive into the cemetery and she’d start crying, and she’d be crying almost until we got home, unless you could get her talking and get her mind off it. But she had that stroke in the fall of ‘55, not too long after Ervin was shot, along in September, I think. I’m sure she had a pretty good idea why Ervin was shot. She never talked about it much. She never went to the trial. On one trip to the cemetery to visit Ervin’s grave, she said, “I know he wasn’t a perfect boy, but he didn’t deserve a bullet.” My mother, Wilma, said: I think that worked on her so bad, that she got so that she wouldn’t even sit in the living room in the night time. She’d sit in the hallway with just one little light in there. She figured if someone had shot Ervin, someone would come and shoot her, too. When you came in the front door, the dining room was on the right, and the living room was on the left, and right in the middle was where the furnace came up through a grate, and there was a doorway that went into the hallway. Calvin picked up the story: It wasn’t a hallway, it was a cloak room, but we called it the hallway. It had five doors going out of it, one upstairs, one into the kitchen, one into the bathroom, and one into their bedroom. It was just a small, square room. When company came, that’s where we hung their coats. It must have been an eight by ten room, and that’s where she would sit. All she had was a straight-backed chair and a card table. Then, in September, she had that devastating series of three strokes that basically ended her life, although she lay in the nursing home for five years before she died.
Ervin’s brother Harvey, who had also been Cap’s brother-in-law and neighbor, whose kids had played together for years, was also investigated by the police because he’d gotten into a fight with Ervin. People knew that Harvey and Ervin had argued. Calvin remembered it this way:
Sometime after Dad’s hop yard was pulled out, the place was sewed to grain. [Probably 1954, as Calvin’s dad Fred died in August 1953, and the murder was February 1955.] I know that’s what Ervin and Harvey got into a fight about, because they had somebody come harvest Mom’s grain, and Ervin took Mom’s grain down to the Wilco… well, it was Valley Co-op at that time, and the elevator was still there, and he put her grain in his name. That’s what he and Harvey got into it about, and that’s when Harvey poked him. Then Harvey went down and straightened it out and put that grain back in her name. That would’ve had to have been about ’53 or ’54.
So, when Ervin got shot, a number of folks told the police about the two of them getting into a fight. Of course, the police already had good evidence that Cap was the culprit, but they had to investigate and rule out any and all other possible suspects before the case could go to trial. But Harvey and Edith were also caught between a rock and a hard place: the victim was his brother, and the man accused of the murder had been married to her twin sister, up until a few months before, and was the father of their nieces.
When talking to Cleta McMorris about the murder, she said, “Oh, Mary [Ervin’s wife] just made a spectacle of herself at the funeral, she threw herself on the casket, and was hysterical.” When I mentioned this to my dad, Calvin, he said:
The only thing I remember about Mary, we were at the folks’ house after the funeral, a whole bunch of us, and she was standing in the corner over the furnace register. Nobody was saying anything, and she just blurted out, “I don’t care what any of you think, I still loved him!”
What about you? Whoever you are, you have been affected by the murder just by reading about it, whether or not you’re related to the families involved.
Hundreds of peoples’ lives were directly affected by the murder, and its effects still echo today in the lives of people who lived through it and in the lives of their descendants, knowingly or not. No story of a murder has a happy ending. No one is a complete saint, and no one is a complete villain.
By most accounts, Ervin was not the nicest man in the world. He certainly didn’t deserve to be murdered, but it’s clear he was not innocent.
At his trial, Casper Oveross received a verdict of not guilty, but it’s very clear to me that he certainly was not innocent.
And so ends my blogging of the story of the murder of Ervin O. Kaser. I’m well along in the process of completing the book form of this story, which I hope to have finished and “put to bed” by some time in February 2019, almost exactly 64 years after the murder.
This is a preliminary timeline of people and events involved in or surrounding Ervin’s murder. I’m sure I’ll be making some changes to it, but that’s going to require a careful re-reading of all the police reports and newspaper articles.
Nov 16, 1905 — Ervin Oren Kaser born Oct 1, 1911 — Casper Arnold Oveross born Dec 13, 1914 — Ethel & Edith Knight born
Apr 25, 1933 — Ervin O. Kaser & Frances L. Dixon married 1:35pm Vancouver, WA Dec 5, 1934 — Cap A. Oveross & Ethel J. Knight married 1:30pm Vancouver, WA Jan 7, 1936 — Harvey W. Kaser & Edith M. Knight married Marion County, OR Apr 24, 1936 — Colleen Marie Oveross born Oct 21, 1939 — Ervin O. Kaser & Mary L. Calavan Huntley married Salem, OR
Early 1949 — Ames Hardware buys two scarce 30-30 rifles (#1538797 and #1541417) March 5, 1949 — 30-30 rifle #1 sold to Cap Oveross by Marion Zahler at Ames Hardware March 26, 1949 — 30-30 rifle #2 sold to Steven J. Zolotoff at Ames Hardware (#1541417) November 1949 — Noah Wenger borrows Cap’s 30-30 rifle for elk hunting
November 1952 — Everett Kaser born
fall 1953 — Wayne Moore goes hunting with Cap and his 30-30 rifle
sometime 1954 — Jeff Kaser picks up 5 shell casing while Cap is target practicing Aug 6, 1954 — Mary sues Ervin for divorce Aug 20, 1954 — Cap sues Ethel for divorce ~Sep 1, 1954 — Cap, Officers DePeel & Jackson lie in field to watch Ervin at Ethel’s. ~Sep 1, 1954 — Cap states threat to Charles Hopkins that he’ll kill Ervin Mid-Sep 1954 — Cap states threat to Harvey & Edith Kaser that he’ll kill Ervin ~Aug-Oct 1954 — Calvin & Wilma Kaser sees Ervin and Ethel Oveross in Salem ~Oct 1, 1954 — Cap target shoots using 30-30 rifle with Frank Dedrick ~Oct 1, 1954 — Wayne Moore sees Cap’s 30-30 carbine rifle Oct 1954 — Cap & Ethel divorce is final Oct-Dec 1954 — Cap states threat to Robert Barnes that he’ll kill Ervin ~Christmas, 1954 — Dan Gilham sees 30-30 rifle at Cap’s cabin #6
Thurs, Feb 17, 1955 9:30-9:45am — Cap Oveross shoots a rifle at Huddleston lumber yard 12:00pm — Cap Oveross leaves work near Aurora 7:30pm — Ethel Oveross leaves home to meet Ervin 7:40-7:50pm — Cap arrives at Oveross home, visits with Colleen & Dan 7:45pm — Ervin & Ethel Oveross meet at Abiqua covered bridge 8:10pm — Cap leaves Oveross residence — Robert Barnes follows Cap north from Oveross residence — Gerald Hoyd tends bar at Town Tavern, no Cap Oveross 8:15pm — Mary Seward sees Cap at Frank’s Grocery on west Main 8:30pm — Cap buys gas from Dennis Legard, no rifle seen in car 8:40-9:05pm — Car arrives, motor running 5 minutes, at cabin #6 (picking up guns?) 9:00pm — Ray Ruscher at Shorty’s Tavern (Cap is there or arrives) 9:35pm — Rod Oster arrives at Shorty’s Tavern (Cap is there) 9:50-10:00pm — Rod Oster talks with Cap Oveross at Shorty’s Tavern 10:15-10:30pm — Rod Oster leaves Shorty’s (Cap still there) 10:30pm — Ray Ruscher leave’s Shorty’s (Cap already left) — Mannie and Connie Kellerhal go to bed. — Ethel Oveross returns home — Rod Oster arrives at Town House Tavern — Dan Gilham heads home from Colleen’s, sees Cap’s car heading north 10:35pm — Oveross girls return home from Salem skating party 10:45-10:50pm — Waldo Rue passes Ervin’s house on his way home 10:45-10:55pm — Ervin pulls into driveway at Rt 3 Box 115A. — Killer’s dark blue or black Ford sedan stops on road shortly after. — Ervin is shot. — Kellerhals see the last three muzzle flashes and the car. — Killer’s car departs heading south. — Ted Finlay hears shots, sees car pass south on highway — Edith Kaser’s pickup passes by. — Ethel Oveross hears 4 shots, car going south, Edith’s pickup — Kellerhals call Ervin, then Melvin, clock chimes 11:00pm — Melvin goes over, sees Ervin dead, calls Harley DePeel 11:00pm — Rob Riches passes on his way home — Harley DePeel notifies County Sheriff’s Office — Cloreta calls Calvin Kaser (and probably other Kaser family members) — Constable Harley DePeel arrives — Cap arrives in Gilham driveway, covers up something in back seat — Cap tells Dan Gilham Ervin is dead & Dan is his alibi, leaves. 11:05pm — Silverton officer James D. Painter informed of shooting 11:13pm — Painter notifies Sheriff Young & Silverton Chief R. R. Main 11:15pm — James Painter checks taverns for Cap Oveross, not found 11:17pm — James Painter arrives at Holland Auto Court #6 11:23pm — Sheriff Young notified 11:25pm — Deputy Sheriff Richard Boehringer arrives — Calvin and Harvey Kaser arrive at scene 11:40pm — Sheriff Young arrives in Silverton to pick up Chief Main ~11:45pm — Officers check Town House Tavern for Cap Oveross, not there
Fri, Feb 18, 1955 12:10am — Sheriff Young and Chief Main arrive at scene 12:15am — Painter, Bethschieder, Yates enter Holland #6 (no Cap, no guns in sight) 12:35am — State Police Private Robert W Dunn sent to Ervin’s. 12:45am — Gerald Hoyt sees Cap Oveross arrive at Town House Tavern 12:55am — Coroner Leston Howell arrives at scene 1:10am — Pvt Dunn arrives at scene, contacts Sheriff Young 1:20am — Cap Oveross leaves Town House Tavern, goes to cabin #6 1:30am — Rod Oster leaves Town House Tavern (no Cap Oveross) 1:55am — Cap Oveross picked up by Sheriff Young at cabin #6 (shotgun in corner) 3:30am — Cap Oveross is questioned, claims: 1) was in two taverns all evening 2) wasn’t in the area of crime anytime that night 3) never owned a 30-30 rifle 5:30am — Questioning of Oveross ends am — Harvey & Melvin notify mother Sarah Kaser of Ervin’s death 11:00am — Cap Oveross is returned to his cabin in Silverton — Deputy Boehringer takes Ervin’s car to Salem for storage — Dan Gilham takes Cap & Colleen Oveross to attorney ~7:00pm — Cap Oveross moves to brother Henry’s house 315 S Water
Sun, Feb 20, 1955 — Mary Kaser moves back into her & Ervin’s house.
Mon, Feb 21, 1955 2:00pm — Ervin’s funeral in Silverton, buried at Belcrest in Salem
Tue, Feb 22, 1955
8:05pm — Cap Oveross is arrested and his car impounded 10:00pm — Oveross is booked into Marion County Jail
Wed, Feb 23, 1955 10:00am — Oveross is arraigned in District Court
Mon, Feb 28, 1955 9:30am — Grand Jury hears testimony, Oveross released
Thu, Mar 10, 1955 — Ames ledger sheet shows sale of 30-30 to Oveross Mar 5, 1949
Sun, May 8, 1955 3:00pm — Larry Wacker pulls 30-30 rifle #1538797 from Pudding River
Tue, May 10, 1955 — Confirmed: 4 of casings from Jeff Kaser (1954) fired by murder weapon
Fri, May 13, 1955 — Confirmed: Rifle #1538797 fired the murder bullets
Mon, May 16, 1955 — Grand Jury indicts Casper Arnold Oveross for murder
Mon, May 16, 1955 5:20pm — Call from Colleen Oveross residence 468 N Winter Street phone# 38146 to Lloyd Oveross at Happy Camp, CA, finally
put through at 7:20pm on May 17th.
Fri, May 20, 1955 — Oveross located in Fairbanks, Alaska
Wed, May 26, 1955 — Sheriff Young and Deputy Hoffman leave for Fairbanks
Sun, May 29, 1955 — Young, Hoffman and Oveross return to Salem
Tue, June 1, 1955 — Oveross pleads not guilty, trial date set for June 21st
June 21, 1955 10:00am — Trial begins
July 14, 1955 5:26pm — Oveross found not guilty, released
sometime-1955 — Dan Gilham & Colleen Oveross marry
1958-1960 — Wilma & Everett Kaser encountered Cap on Silverton street corner
~1975-1976 — Cap bragged to Harvey Kaser’s youngest son that he killed Ervin
Jan 24, 1981 — Casper Oveross died (buried Valley View Cemetery, Silverton OR)
1988 — Mary (Calavan Huntley Kaser) marries Albert Cianni
Sep 30, 1998 — Ethel Jane Oveross died
Apr 4, 1999 — Mary Calavan Huntley Kaser Cianni died
Oct 5, 2013 — Colleen Oveross Gilham died (buried at Mt. Hope Cemetery)
And that’s it for a while. Now, I have to assemble, compose, write, edit and polish “the final chapter.” It will contain a few later events, thoughts by myself and others about all of this, speculation about the trial and juries and social standards, and dwell a bit upon how one action in selfish anger can have very significant effects upon the lives of hundreds of people over decades and generations to come.
…And here’s the final magazine story about the murder. As the author says near the beginning of the article, “It’s been nearly six weeks…” So, this article was written around the end of March, before the rifle was found and before Cap Oveross was arrested the second time and indicted.
Real Detective – August 1955
By Steve Clay
Silverton, Oregon has 3164 residents and one corpse. But if you ask who the killer was, Silverton’ll shrug its shoulders.
SILVERTON’S LOOKING for a murderer.
And it doesn’t look like it’ll find him.
It’s been nearly six weeks since the cops found 49-year-old Erv Kaser dead in his own driveway, slumped against the dashboard of his bullet-riddled Plymouth with a.30-caliber slug lodged near his heart.
It’s been five weeks since they tried to pin the rap on a local carpenter.
And it’s been only a little less than that since they admitted they were stymied.
One cop says they’re caught in an endless circle. Everything they check seems to run back to something they’ve checked before.
District Attorney Ken Brown says the town’s full of rumors. There are plenty of things the cops could investigate.
A newspaper reporter in nearby Salem, the state capital, says something could break any time. It always can.
But most of the cops aren’t saying much of anything. Sheriff Denver Young and the state troopers just tell everyone they’re continuing their investigation and have lots of evidence. They’re keeping it secret until the right moment.
They thought they had lots of evidence five weeks ago, too, a few days after the murder. They thought they had the killer.
They must have kept a lot of their evidence secret then, too, because a grand jury didn’t agree with them. And now all Silverton’s wondering who Erv Kaser’s killer really is.
And it looks like it’ll keep on wondering, unless and until a shadowy, sharpshooting killer comes out of the tall, green Oregon firs to kill again. Because he’s still free and, the way things are going, he may stay free forever….
It was Em Kellerhals who saw Erv Kaser die. He was lying in bed the windblown night of February 17, when he heard Erv pull into the driveway of his pleasant-looking white frame house across the way. He looked at the hands on his luminous watch and noticed it was a few minutes to eleven.
As he remembers it now, he heard Erv slam the door to his car and, within a matter of three seconds, the quick whine of a single bullet. By the time he’d gotten out of bed and to his front window, he found he was just in time to see three quick white flashes and watch the slugs crunch into the windshield of Erv’s car.
They came from a dark-looking sedan parked a few feet from Em’s own driveway and about 75 feet from Erv’s car. As soon as the fourth bullet had been fired, the sedan sped off down the black-topped road toward Stayton, hurtling forward into the wind. Em said it sounded like a Ford.
Silverton Constable Harley DePeal was the first cop to get to the murder scene. He was followed by Sheriff Denver Young and other officers from the Marion County sheriff’s office. Then came the state police.
What they found out about Erv Kaser in the next 24 hours was enough to show that several people might have wanted to kill him. Em Kellerhals said Erv was a good neighbor, but a lot of people around Silverton didn’t like him. They said he’d caused a lot of family arguments and broken up several marriages around the countryside.
And Erv Kaser had been in the process of getting a divorce himself. In August, 1954, his wife, Mary, had filed suit against him, charging him with associating with other women, staying out all night and striking and beating her. When she filed it, she moved into an apartment in Salem, 15 miles away.
Erv hadn’t wasted any time. He’d turned right around and filed suit against her. He denied all her charges and thought up some of his own. He said he’d be glad when the case came to trial March 17.
The cops talked with Mary Kaser about the victim, but they were more interested in what Erv’s younger brother, Mel Kaser, had to say about him. He described Erv as a lone wolf, said he always concealed his affairs, his friends and his goings and comings.
And Mel also said he and his friends thought Erv’s death had been carefully planned. And he didn’t think February 17 was the first time that Erv’s killer had tried to do him in. He said it was unusual for Erv to park just where he did and that it was a million-to-one shot that the killing had gone off just the way it had. He figured the murderer must have known Erv and his habits pretty well.
It was as plain to the cops as a big piece of lumber that Erv Kaser had been a trouble maker and a lone wolf, a man whom few people knew well and some people thought they knew too damn well, a man whom many residents might have liked to see out of the way.
They thought there was one man in particular, however, who might have liked to kill Erv Kaser. His name was Cap Oveross. His age was 44. His occupation, carpentry.
Like Erv, Cap had been separated from his wife. Two weeks after Mary Kaser filed suit against Erv, Cap had asked his wife for a divorce. He’d gotten it in October.
And, just as Mary Kaser had accused Erv of associating with other women, Cap Oveross had accused his wife of associating with other men and one in particular. He didn’t name him in the divorce suit, but he told plenty of people around Silverton who he considered responsible for the breakup of his marriage. A man named Erv Kaser.
LIVED NEAR KASER
There were a couple of other things about Cap Oveross that interested Denver Young and the state troopers. He’d lived for 20 years only one half mile east of Erv Kaser. He had a car, a dark 1950 Ford tudor sedan. And he was a crack shot with a rifle and had had a target range on the little farm where he’d lived before his divorce.
Within 24 hours of the death of Erv Kaser, police had long and extensive talks with Cap Oveross. Cap was nonchalant enough. He just told them he’d spent Thursday evening, February 17, in two taverns and thought he’d been in one of them both before and during the approximate hour of the killing.
The cops didn’t like his story. They said it was too hazy.
And they didn’t like the facts that he had a motive, had a Ford and had a gun.
But they let him go because they didn’t have enough evidence to hold him. And they talked with even more people who might have wanted to kill Erv Kaser and started investigating the murder scene.
Saturday, both sheriff’s deputies and state troopers scoured the entire Silverton neighborhood for the murder weapon. Streams were dragged. Abandoned wells were searched. Woods were probed.
Sunday, two ponds were dragged, one within a half mile of the victim’s home, three miles south of Silverton. No weapon was found.
But three rifles to which Cap Oveross had access were impounded and sent to the state police crime laboratory for inspection. Cap’s own hunting rifle was not found.
His car was found though, and they impounded it, too, and sent it to the crime laboratory for inspection. Because one thing seemed sure – the four shots that had slammed into Erv Kaser’s car had been fired from inside the killer’s car. Em Kellerhals said it had looked like that to him, and he said the car had started up immediately after the last quick, white flash.
Monday and Tuesday, the cops continued their investigation, comparing bullets found at the murder scene with slugs in the possession of various suspects, working quietly and secretly, telling as little to the newspaper reporters as they could. But, by Tuesday afternoon, word had gotten around Silverton that Denver Young and the state troopers had made little progress.
The word was wrong. Because, early Tuesday evening, Cap Oveross was arrested in his niece’s home in Silverton, and Cap didn’t like it one bit. He refused to accept the arrest warrant.
The cops made him accept it though and took him to state police headquarters in Salem, but that didn’t change Cap’s attitude at all. All he would say was that his name was spelled with a ‘C’ instead of a ‘K,’ as the warrant had it, and that he wanted his lawyer, Bruce Williams.
When the cops tried to find out more, the lean, laconic carpenter scratched at his bright plaid shirt, hitched at the belt on his blue jeans, looked down at his rolled-up cuffs – and turned toward the wall.
When his neighbors heard about it, most of them didn’t blame him. The news of what had happened started coming over the telephone wires strung through the big Oregon firs within an hour of his arrest, and they couldn’t believe it.
Some of them slipped into their fur-lined windbreakers or big red-plaided lumber jackets and drove into town to talk it over. A lot of them had known Cap all his life, still thought of him as a kid.
He looked like a kid anyway – only weighed about 155, wore his hair cut close to his head, had a big, friendly smile. They didn’t think he’d do a thing like kill Erv Kaser.
Some of them said that, even if he had, he’d been justified. Everyone knew about his divorce, and everyone knew he was a quiet, levelheaded guy who wouldn’t take the law into his own hands without good reason.
And a couple of them suggested that, if he had fired the bullets, maybe he’d just done it to scare Erv. Em Kellerhals had said the last three had come pretty fast – too fast for the killer to have taken dead aim. And a lot of people knew Erv Kaser had visited Ethel Oveross the night he died.
The next morning, a lot of Cap’s neighbors drove over to Salem and jammed into the spectator’s section of the Marion County District Court to watch Cap’s arraignment before Judge Ed Stadter.
They’d hardly gotten settled before Cap’s lawyer, Bruce Williams, asked the judge for a quick preliminary hearing so Cap could be set free. He said there was no evidence against him.
And Bruce Williams got what he wanted, partly because the cops refused to say just what the evidence against Cap was. Ed Stadter set preliminary hearing for a week later and told the cops they’d have to present sufficient evidence for him to turn the case over to a grand jury. Otherwise, he’d dismiss the charges.
Cap Oveross was very pleased. He’d sat calmly and impassively in the prisoner’s dock throughout the hearing, chewing on a wad of gum. But when Bruce Williams obtained an early hearing, he walked smiling out of the courtroom and waved to the friends and neighbors who’d come over from Silverton to see how things went.
He didn’t pay any attention when the cops returned him to the fourth cell in cellblock A of the Marion County jail, and he didn’t even look at them when they told him he could get the gas chamber in the Oregon State Penitentiary if he was convicted of killing Erv Kaser.
If Cap had known what was coming, he’d have been even more relaxed. He never even got a preliminary hearing.
District Attorney Ken Brown asked Judge Stadter if he wouldn’t send the case right to the grand jury, and the judge said yes, despite the protests of Bruce Williams.
WHAT DID JURY LEARN?
On February 28, the grand jury met in secret session at 9:30 in the morning. It didn’t finish its hearing until four in the afternoon.
And what did it learn?
It learned that Cap Oveross had refused to take a lie detector test. He said he didn’t need to, he was innocent.
According to Denver Young, it listened to several witnesses who claimed they heard him threaten Erv Kaser’s life.
It learned that some people thought he’d been at his old farmhouse the night of the killing. The cops said that was close enough to Erv Kaser’s place for Cap to have gone there and returned without any trouble.
But it didn’t learn anything about the murder weapon because it hadn’t been found after the shooting of Erv.
It didn’t learn aything about the three rifles Cap Oveross had access to because state troopers were still making tests on them in Portland.
And it didn’t learn anything about Cap’s 1950 tudor sedan because there hadn’t been much, if any, evidence in it linking him to the murder.
Seventeen witnesses were paraded in front of the grand jurors. Some were favorable to Cap Oveross, some unfavorable.
Early in the afternoon, the jurors retired to consider the evidence against the slim, boyish-looking carpenter. At four o’clock they returned and told Ken Brown and the cops there wasn’t a ghost of a case against Cap Oveross. They didn’t believe he’d killed Erv Kaser and, even if he had, there just wasn’t enough evidence to indict him.
When they brought Cap into the sheriff’s office, he was as quiet as ever. He just turned and asked Bruce Williams if it were true.
He was just as calm in front of Judge Stadter. He listened intently to the brief proceedings that resulted in his freedom and then said, “Thank you, judge” and walked out of the courtroom.
From the police, he picked up some extra clothing he’d worn when he was first arrested, four one dollar bills and his 1950 Ford. He was a free man.
Cap went back to his home and his work. He refused to say anything about his arrest or what had followed, except to repeat that he wasn’t guilty. As far as anyone could tell, even he wasn’t sure of what allthe evidence against him was.
Two days after Cap was freed, Sheriff Denver Young announced the investigation would continue. Privately, some cops admitted they didn’t know where their next clue was coming from.
More than a month after Erv Kaser died in his own blood and his own car, rumors began circulating through Silverton that the sheriff’s office had given a secret lie detector test to a suspect.
Denver Young and his aides refused to identify the suspect. As a matter of fact, they refused to admit a lie detector test had been given to anyone. They refused to deny it, too. They said they weren’t saying anything one way or the other.
Neither was the killer saying anything. But, whoever he is, he’s waiting somewhere – in the big fir country around Silverton or in Salem or in Portland or in some other state – waiting, perhaps, to strike again.
When’s Oregon going to catch him?
I’ve never heard of a “tudor sedan.” At first, I thought the author was mistaking “two-door” for “tudor.” But apparently that was actually a term that Ford once thought was cute:
“Those terms were more common in the 1939 to 1948 vehicles where they actually made a coupe, a tudor sedan, and a fordor sedan. The 1949 was the first year where they called a tudor a coupe. Ford cars continued with the business coupe in the 49 to 51 years but not for the Merc.”
Those marketing types are always pushing the envelope…
Next, I’ll be working on a time-line of events surrounding the murder. Stay tuned.
Here’s the second of the magazine stories about the murder, this one with a more typically lurid cover. Sex and violence are always successful salesmen…
Police Cases – October 1955
Love, To Die!
By Louis Adams
The quickest way for a man to make enemies is to cheat at the game of love.
Once too often the handsome farmer plucked at forbidden fruit – and he died.
Frost was just beginning to sparkle in the fields two miles south of Silverton, Oregon, as Emanuel Kellerhals Jr. burrowed deeper under the comforting warmth of the bedcovers to shut out the chill of the night on February 17,1955.
He was tired from his day’s work and as he closed his eyes he was momentarily annoyed by the slam of a car door. The sound came from the direction of his neighbor’s driveway across the road. “Erv Kaser’s home early tonight,” he muttered to his wife.
Suddenly the tiny bedroom reverberated to the shattering roar of a shot close by. “What was that?” Mrs. Kellerhals asked in alarm, rising to a sitting position. Kellerhals jumped from bed and rushed to the window.
From where he stood, the now thoroughly awakened man could see his neighbor’s sprawling hop farm. Parked in the driveway by the house was Ervin Kaser’s sedan.The dome light was burning. Near the front of his own driveway, Kellerhals observed the shadowy outlines of another car. It appeared to be dark in color.
As he watched, three more shots punctuated the night air and Kellerhals saw vivid flashes corresponding to the sounds. They seemed to come from the strange car in his driveway and, adding force to his visual observations, the motor of the automobile roared into life. The vehicle leaped ahead, and soon its taillights were fading toward Stayton on the Silverton-Stayton highway.
“What’s wrong? What’s going on?” Mrs. Kellerhals inquired anxiously. “Tell me what’s happening out there!”
“I don’t know,” her husband replied, “but it looks as if someone just shot Kaser!”
Kellerhals started to dress, intent on going across the road to see what happened; but then he recalled that there were people better equipped than he to handle such matters. He telephoned Constable Harley DePeal in Silverton.
DePeal contacted Police Chief Raoul Main, and the two men wasted no time in getting to Kaser’s farm. As they pulled to a stop, they noticed the dome light burning in Kaser’s 1949 Plymouth sedan.
The officers rushed up to the car. One glance was all that was required to convince them they needed help beyond that which their own meager departments could give. Constable DePeal called the Marion County sheriff’s office and soon Sheriff Denver Young was on his way from the state capital and county seat at Salem, 13 miles away. As Young left his office he told a deputy to relay the alarm to the Oregon State Police. At the police barracks, Private John Mekkers dispatched State Officer Robert Dunn to the scene.
When the lawmen were assembled, the wheels of a full-scale murder investigation were set in motion.
Ervin Kaser was lying on his right side on the front seat of his car, his feet on the brake pedal and the accelerator. Blood from a wound beneath the victim’s read-and-black plaid jacket was congealing in a pool that had formed on the car seat. The initials E. O. K. on the man’s belt buckle reflected the light from the dome of the car.
“From the looks of things, the poor devil never knew what hit him,” Sheriff Young muttered to Officer Dunn.
The state officer nodded, then suggested that this was a job calling for the talents of Dr. Homer Harris of the state crime laboratory.
“Good idea,” Young agreed. “Get him on his way down here from Portland while I call the coroner.”
Dunn radioed to his dispatcher, with instructions to contact Dr. Harris and have him and a fingerprint technician come down. At the same time, he asked for more help and State Officer Lloyd T. Riegel was dispatched.
Meanwhile, Young, Main and DePeal went across the street to talk to the Kellerhalses.
“It’s all so horrible,” said Mrs. Kellerhals. “Why would anybody do such a thing?”
“That’s what we aim to find out,” Sheriff Young said grimly. “But tell us all you know about it.”
Em Kellerhals described what he had seen and heard when he looked out of his bedroom window.
“What do you know about Kaser?” Young asked when the other finished talking. “Perhaps if we know something about him, it will help establish a motive.”
“Afraid there isn’t much I can tell you,” Kellerhals said. “He was always a pretty good neighbor. Kept to himself though. Maybe someone tried to rob him. He was supposed to be pretty well off.”
“How about visitors? Did he have many?”
“Not many – and what few there were, usually came at night. I think they were men he worked with, but I couldn’t recognize any of them,” Kellerhals declared.
The sheriff asked about the car that had been seen pulling away after the shooting.
“It looked like a Ford. Yes, I’m pretty sure it was a Ford. It sounded like one when it started up,” Kellerhals replied. “It was dark colored, maybe black. It looked like a sedan or coach. I couldn’t tell very well. All there was to see by was starlight.
The officers soon perceived that the Kellerhalses could offer little, if anything, more in the way of information. As they started to leave, Police Chief Main asked if he could use the telephone. He said he hated to do it, but someone had to notify Kaser’s relatives about the murder.
“Oh, I’ve already done that,” Kellerhals interrupted. “I called his brother, Melvin. He should be getting here soon.”
The officers thanked him and started to leave, but as they were on their way out the front door, Sheriff Young turned back and asked, “How do you account for the sequence of sounds, Mr. Kellerhals? The door slamming and then the shots?”
“Gosh, I don’t know,” Kellerhals answerd. “Looks to me as if Kaser maybe got out of his car and started for the house, then something warned him so he got back into his car.”
“That’s about the way it looks to me, too,” Young commented. “He probably intended to drive out of there and never had a chance.”
The coroner and Officer Riegel had arrived by the time the lawmen returned to Kaser’s car. State Officer Dunn quickly filled them in on what he had determined. Kaser’s wallet had not been disturbed and everything seemed in order in the house.
“Doesn’t look as if the motive was robbery,” Dunn concluded. Officer Riegel, meanwhile, had his notebook out, jotting down a physical description of Kaser and making a rough diagram which showed the location of the murder car and the approximate position of the slayer’s automobile before it fled.
Ervin Kaser, 49, was of medium weight and about five feet ten inches. His brown hair receded in front, but he had been a comparatively handsome man. In addition to the plaid jacket, he wore a gray shirt, dark twill trousers and tan loafers. A gray felt hat was crushed beneath his head.
A sack of groceries in the back
seat indicated that the victim had just returned from shopping.
“Have you searched the area where the killer’s car was parked?” asked Young.
“Yes, but we’ll probably have to wait until daylight if we’re going to find anything that might give us a lead,” Dunn replied.
Dr. Harris and Sergeant Ralph Prouty of the state crime laboratory pulled up just then and they immediately got to work. Prouty began shooting pictures of the scene, after which Dr. Harris accompanied the coroner to the morgue where a preliminary autopsy would be performed.
Meanwhile, an examination of Kaser’s sedan revealed that three bullets grouped close together had plowed through the left doorpost; a fourth had gone through an open window and out the windshield. Two of the bullets that had penetrated the doorpost also had gone through the windshield, while the fourth was lodged in Kaser’s body. It struck Kaser in the left shoulder, but did not emerge.
The Kellerhalses had placed the murder car between 50 and 75 yards away from Kaser’s sedan. When Sergeant Prouty learned this he was amazed.
“Whoever did this was a whale of a good shot. Look how closely grouped those shots are on the doorpost,” he said. “Accomplishing that at night is really something.”
Sheriff Young nodded assent. “Of course the killer was helped by the fact that with the dome light on, Kaser made a clear target; but still the sniper is a deadly marksman. We’d better warn the cars that are out hunting him to be careful.” Earlier the sheriff had broadcast a description of the killer’s car and he now issued a warning.
At this point, Constable DePeal introduced Melvin Kaser, brother of the slain man. DePeal stated that Melvin lived just down the road from his brother’s farm and might know something.
Young and Riegel, mindful of the younger brother’s grief over the killing, nevertheless decided to question him immediately rather than wait until later.
“I don’t know what’s behind my brother’s murder,” Melvin Kaser began, “but I can tell you one thing. It definitely was planned. It looks to me as if there must have been other attempts, maybe several times.”
“Why do you think that?” Dunn asked.
“Because the chances are about a million to one for Erv to be parked right where he was shot and for him to have his dome light on to make it easy for the killer.”
“Isn’t there some other reason, too, why you think the murder was planned?” Sheriff Young pressed. “Did your brother have any enemies?”
Melvin Kaser’s brow furrowed in deep thought. He was silent several moments as though weighing something in his mind, then he said:
“Erv was always somewhat of a lone wolf. Sure, he lived next door to me and all of that, but he never told me any of his affairs. He never discussed his friends or where he went. Far as I know, he never had much to do with anybody. Afraid I can’t help you much that way.”
The Silverton police chief, who had been listening, spoke up:
“There’s a lot of talk going around Silverton that Erv was quite a lady’s man. Some say he’s broken up some marriages around here. His wife sued him for divorce not long ago, claiming he was messing around with other women and staying out all night with them. There’s probably several people who won’t be sorry about his death.”
The younger Kaser admitted that he, too, had heard the rumors, but he didn’t know how true they were.
“Well, we’re getting somewhere, at least,” Sheriff Young interrupted. “if we can find out who Ervin Kaser has been dating, we’ll probably find a clue to the killer. This job begins to look like the work of some jealous husband.”
Chief Main nodded agreement. “There’s a carpenter, named Oveross, who lives up the road a way, and I’ve heard that Kaser has been seen with this man’s wife. He might be a good place to start,” the chief suggested.
Sheriff Young thanked Melvin Kaser for his help, conferred briefly with Sergeant Prouty and Officer Riegel, then ordered the carpenter picked up for questioning. “Bring him to my office, and while you’re getting him I’ll talk to District Attorney Kenneth Brown,” the sheriff said.
Casper (Cap) Oveross had lived in the Silverton area all his life. Unlike Kaser, the thin, gum-chewing carpenter was generally well liked by his neighbors. His habitually friendly grin and youthful ways belied his 44 years.
As he entered Sheriff Young’s office and was introduced to District Attorney Brown and State Officer Dunn, Oveross appeared only mildly concerned over being taken from his home in the middle of the night and hustled to the county seat.
The officers wasted little time in obtaining preliminary information from their plaid-shirted subject. He had been born near Rocky Four Corners on Abiqua Creek north of Salem, had graduated from Silverton High School as had his wife, Ethel, and, for 20 years, had lived less than a quarter mile from the murder scene in the Evergreen community.
Did he like Erv Kaser? No. He blamed Kaser for breaking up his marriage. Yes, he had sued his wife for divorce last fall, just a couple of weeks after Mary Kaser filed for divorce from Erv.
Was he glad Kaser was dead? No more so than probably a lot of other husbands in Silverton.
“Where were you when Kaser was killed?” Sheriff Young asked.
“What time did it happen?” Oveross countered.
The sheriff estimated Kaser died about 10:55 p.m.
“I was probably in a tavern over in Silverton about then,” Oveross said, taking a hitch in his blue jeans. “I was in a couple of them during the evening. I hadn’t even got home when your men came to my place.
“Can you fix the exact time when you were in those taverns?” Brown asked.
“Nope, don’t think I can,” the carpenter replied. “Never looked at the clock.”
“You own a gun, don’t you?” Dunn interrupted.
“Not now,” Oveross replied.
The questioning continued several hours, but Casper Oveross stuck to his story concerning his whereabouts during the evening. He steadfastly denied any part in the killing of Kaser.
At midmorning, weary and disgruntled, Young and Brown retired to another room to talk over what had transpired. They agreed that they were getting nowhere; that Oveross should be set free. Certainly he had a motive, but apparently dozens of others in Silverton also had a motive.
“Let him go,” Brown ordered, “but better check on his wife and Kaser’s wife. Maybe they can offer some hint as to who might want Kaser dead.”
“That’s right,” Young agreed. “From what Oveross tells us, Mrs. Kaser divorced Erv because he was chasing around. She just might know of any threats made against her husband.”
“Yes, and if Oveross is right in thinking his wife was going with Kaser, she might be able to suggest a possible suspect,” Brown commented. “Also, maybe Kaser wasn’t romantically interested in Mrs. Oveross but in some other woman.”
The two lawmen returned to the interrogation room and told Oveross he was clear of suspicion; they suggested, however, that he not leave Silverton for the time being.
“It would help us,” said District Attorney Brown, “if you could fix the time more exactly when you were in those taverns.”
“Sure,” the carpenter replied as he took his departure.
With Oveross tentatively cleared, the officers turned their attention toward other suspects. They also decided to check the divorce complaints in the Kaser and Oveross cases.
On August 6, 1954, they learned, Mary Louisa Kaser, wife of the Silverton hop grower, had filed suit. She charged, among other things, that the “defendant does associate with and keep company with another woman or women from time to time.” Unfortunately she didn’t name names.
On August 20, Oveross sued his wife, Ethel, for divorce, alleging that “for the period of several years, the defendant has associated herself with other men, and particularly one other man to such an extent that such association has become public scandal and gossip in the community in which the plaintiff and defendant live.” Neither did he list names, but Oveross had told police he referred to Kaser.
The Kaser divorce trial had been set for March 17, but the murder changed the situation. Defendants in both actions had entered general denials of the allegations in the complaints.
It was evident the women had to be talked to, so interviews were set up.
Mrs. Kaser was contacted at her Salem apartment where she had moved pending settlement of the divorce action. The trim, 40ish blonde told her interrogators that she had no reason to kill Erv. Certainly she was unhappy about his associations with other women, but she had already handled that matter by filing suit for divorce. She indignantly asserted she would never stoop to murder. Before the officers left, Mrs. Kaser had convinced them she knew nothing of real value to aid their search for the killer.
No better luck was encountered in the questioning of the ex-Mrs. Oveross. Obviously overwrought by all that had happened, she nevertheless tried to be cooperative.
The slender divorcée insisted she knew nothing about the killing; she also didn’t think her ex-husband would have done it even in a moment of jealousy. She startled her interrogators by stating that her twin sister was married to Harvey Kaser, a brother of the slain man.
Saturday afternoon, February 19, nearly 40 hours after the killing, District Attorney Brown announced, “This thing is beginning to go around in circles. We’re getting nowhere. Possibly we’ve been concentrating too much on the Kaser-Oveross situation and the real killer is somewhere laughing at us.”
Arrangements were made with state police headquarters to assign Sergeant Wayne Huffman and Officer Lloyd Riegel to work with Sheriff Young and Deputy Amos Shaw until the case was solved, no matter how long it took.
The authorities went into a huddle and sifted through the information already at hand: Kaser was killed at 10:55 p.m., and a dark car had fled from the scene. So far as was known, only Emanuel Kellerhals and his wife had seen that car, and their look at it had been hindered by darkness. Perhaps someone else had seen it under better conditions.
With the help of Silverton officials, a map was drawn which listed every house in a five-mile radius of the Kaser home, particularly those along the Silverton-Stayton highway. Huffman and Riegel were assigned to check each of the houses to determine whether anyone else had seen the murder car. They also decided, for a few nights at least, to stop every car on the highway on the theory that people have pretty definite habits, and some motorist who normally traveled between Silverton and Stayton at that time would have seen something significant.
Sheriff Young and Deputy Shaw, meanwhile, agreed to check other possible suspects. They already had learned that the shot which killed Kaser was fired from a .30-caliber rifle and that the fatal bullet had been either a “lucky” shot or aimed by a perfect marksman.
The rifle slug had punctured the left lung and the arch of the aorta, the great trunk artery from the heart.
“Let’s go over to Silverton and see what we can learn about marksmen,” Young said to his deputy.
Several hours later the two teams met over a cup of coffee to compare progress.
Huffman and Riegel so far had found no one other than the Kellerhalses who had seen the killer’s car, but they had some other interesting information.
“We kept getting the story that Kaser was involved with other men’s wives,” Sergeant Huffman reported. “He also had money problems. He was a hard bargainer with people who worked for him in his hop yard, and there’re stories going around that he didn’t pay some of them.”
“Say, that’s worth checking further,” the sheriff interrupted. “Maybe he fought with one of those workers and the fellow he fought with went for him with a gun.”
“We’re way ahead of you there,” Riegel said. “We’ve been busy compiling a list of former employes and have talked to some of them. Haven’t come up with anything definite yet. However, it should be pointed out that we’re checking stories circulated by people who don’t like Kaser. We’ve heard some good things about him, too, that indicated some of the stories might be distorted.”
Young and Shaw had something to report, too. They had learned that Kaser received a telephone call from eastern Oregon the day before the shooting.
“The phone company is looking that up for me now, and when we’ve got the information, I think someone had better go over to eastern Oregon to see what it’s all about,” the sheriff said. “That call may tie in with the murder.”
The teams separated again, Huffman and Riegel to continue looking up former employes of Kaser; Young and Shaw to make a round of taverns where Oveross said he had been at the time of the murder.
The latter team ran into something at the first tavern they visited. James Lowrie, bartender, said Cap Oveross was an excellent shot – one of the best in the area. He didn’t believe the carpenter had killed Kaser, however –“even though he had good reason” – because Cap was too easy-going to be a murderer. Further, he had been in the tavern the night of the shooting.
“Why do you say he had good reason to kill Kaser?” Shaw asked.
“Because everyone knows Kaser was making a play for Mrs. Oveross. Why, they were together just before the shooting,” Lowrie retorted.
“How do you know that?” Young shot back.
“One of my customers saw them in Kaser’s car driving along the road to Silver Creek Falls State Park,” the bartender replied.
Young and Shaw questioned Lowrie further, learning that he could not definitely fix the time Oveross had been in the tavern. Thanking the bartender for his help, the officers proceeded toward the state park. En route they called for Huffman and Riegel to join them.
Arrived at the popular park grounds, the officers again compared notes and then set about checking nearby houses to determine if anyone had seen the dark sedan that had been at Kaser’s farm. The theory had been suggested that the killer was trailing Kaser on the fatal night. Nothing significant was turned up, so back to Silverton the lawmen went. There questioning of townspeople disclosed that, on the night of the shooting, Mrs. Oveross had been at a lodge meeting, had left for a time, presumably to meet Kaser, and then had returned to the lodge.
“This thing keeps leading right back to the Overosses,” Sergeant Huffman told his fellow officers. “I’ll bet Cap Oveross heard about them meeting Thursday night and trailed Kaser home and killed him.”
“We found out he was a crack shot, too,” Sheriff Young added, “and he’s wrong when he said he had no gun. He’s said to have several. Let’s go talk to him again!”
This time Casper Oveross was not so friendly when police arrived at his home. He grudgingly admitted he had access to some rifles, but said, “You’re mistaken if you think I told you before that I don’t have a gun.”
“Why don’t you tell us about killing Kaser?” Young demanded.
“Listen,” Oveross retorted indignantly, “I’m getting tired of all this monkey business. We went all through it the other night. Now you birds lay off or I’m calling in my attorney.”
“If you’re innocent, then let’s run a lie detector test and prove it once and for all,” Shaw suggested.
“Why should I? It’s just more of the same old malarky. I’m not having any part of it,” the carpenter lashed back.
Basically, the interview produced no more results than the first one, but three rifles Oveross had access to were rounded up for examination by ballistics experts at the crime laboratory.
That night in Salem the officers related their findings of the day to District Attorney Brown.
“It’s getting more complicated all the time. Looks as if a batch of people, not only Oveross, had motives,” Brown commented when they were through.
“You know, I think the key to this whole thing is the murder gun. We’ve got to find it, then we’ll know who the killer really is,” Young said.
“What about the guns you got from Oveross?” Brown asked.
“They’re being checked, but we don’t think any of them is the right one,” Huffman informed the DA.
Before the meeting broke up, it was decided to pick up every .30-caliber weapon in the area for checking by ballistics experts and to drag every stream and pond in case the killer had disposed of the gun.
Sunday, February 20, 1955, saw policemen knocking at every door asking for guns. Residents were surprisingly cooperative and soon a sizable arsenal was on its way to Portland to the crime lab.
Other officers in boats probed all local bodies of water. Dragging operations on two ponds within earshot of the death scene were discontinued when a farmer reported no cars had used the road on Thursday night.
Meanwhile, State Officer Dunn, who had been sent to Madras in eastern Oregon to investigate the Kaser telephone call, returned to report it had no connection with the murder.
Late Sunday, Sheriff Young learned that Oveross had a target range behind his home where he test fired rifles for several of his friends. The sheriff directed that bullets be dug from the range and compared with the one taken from Kaser’s body.
Monday the search for the gun continued, and again on Tuesday morning.
It was late Tuesday afternoon that District Attorney Brown received a call which set him wondering about Paul Hatfield, a friend of Oversoss’ pretty 17-year-old daughter, Colleen. The person who called said the youth knew something.
Young Hatfield was extremely nervous and reticent when police started talking to him. He denied having had anything to do with the murder, but when the questioning swung to Oveross, he became agitated.
“I guess I’d better tell you,” the youth is alleged to have answered. “Cap came to my place a few minutes after the shooting. He said, ‘Kaser’s got three slugs in him and you’ve got to be my alibi. If anybody asks, I was with you last night.’”
Brown jerked his head for Young and Huffman to follow him into another room.
“If what the boy says is true, it looks as if we’ve hit pay dirt,” he said. “Bring Oveross in.”
A short time later, armed with a Marion County District Court warrant charging first-degree murder, Deptuy Sheriff Amos Shaw and State Patrolman Lloyd T. Riegel located Casper Oveross at the home of his niece in Silverton.
Oveross indignantly refused to accept his copy of the warrant, but he offered no resistance as he was taken back to Salem and booked into jail. The officers also impounded his 1950 black Ford coach and stored it in a Silverton garage.
All the way to Salem, the rough-clad carpenter refused to answer questions, and when he arrived at the sheriff’s office all he had to say was: “I’m waiting for my attorney.”
It wasn’t long before Defense Attorney Bruce Williams appeared and, after a brief conference with his client, told newspaper reporters there was no evidence whatsoever against Oveross and he would demand the earliest possible preliminary hearing or, failing that, a writ of habeas corpus to free his client from custody.
The next morning, Oveross was arraigned before District Judge Edward O. Stadter Jr., and was granted a March 2, 1955 preliminary hearing. He displayed the same unruffled composure as had marked his behavior almost from the beginning.
That same day, in Marion County Probate Court, Kaser’s widow, Mary Louisa Kaser, was appointed administratrix of her dead husband’s estate. Probable valuation was listed as $10,000 in real property and $1,000 in personal property.
Later, District Attorney Brown called the officers together. “Just because that boy claims Oveross wanted him to serve as an alibi doesn’t mean that Oveross is guilty. Oveross could have heard of the shooting and have known he would be the logical suspect,” the DA said to the gathered men.
When Huffman and Riegel returned to Silverton they found the town buzzing. Some people refused to believe that likable, easygoing Casper Oveross could have had anything to do with the crime. They said they would never believe it until the sheriff’s office proved it beyond a doubt.
Others said that if Oveross did fire the fatal shots, he only did it to scare Kaser – not to kill him. “Why, those shots came so fast that it should prove the rifleman had no intention to hit anyone,” a service station attendant said. “Anybody who deliberately was trying to kill a man under starlight would take a long time between shots.”
Thursday, February 24, 1955, one week after the murder, Dr. Harris and his assistant, Sergeant Prouty, returned to Silverton from Portland to pick up clothing found in Oveross’ car and to examine the interiors of both the Oveross and the Kaser cars.
The next day, District Attorney Brown again conferred with his officers, reviewing all of the evidence that had been collected. There still were some unanswered angles and the murder weapon still had not been discovered, but the DA decided to take the case to the grand jury on the following Monday.
Defense Attorney Williams objected bitterly when he heard the news, then said he would not permit his client to appear before the jury.
A parade of 17 witnesses started going into the grand jury rooms at 9:30 a.m. It included Sheriff Young and Dr. Harris, plus relatives of both Kaser and Oveross. At 4 p.m., the jury made its report to Circuit Judge George R. Duncan.
The jury failed to find the evidence sufficient to support an indictment. Oveross was released, completely exonerated.
District Attorney Brown summoned the police authorities to his office. “We’ve got to start all over again. The murder of Ervin Kaser has got to be solved.”
The Officers reviewed again the facts and rumors they had gathered. Finally Riegel spoke up:
“It still goes back to that missing gun. We’ll have to find it.”
“There’s more to it than that,” the DA said. “Since Oversoss isn’t the guilty party, then it means there’s a killer loose somewhere around here. We still don’t definitely know he’s a jealous husband. He could well be a trigger-happy madman and he may strike again.
“I suggest we call for public help in locating that gun. Maybe the American Legion or the Boy Scouts or some similar group can help search.”
“We’ll keep on looking,” Sheriff Young promised grimly. “We’ll check every hardware store from here to Portland if we have to, and find out who bought 30-30 shells. Then we’ll go to their homes and look at those rifles. We’ll find that rifle and we’ll get the killer!”
The days changed to weeks and the weeks to months, and still the search went on. By the first of May, 1955, more than 100 persons had been talked to. Dozens of ponds were dragged. Dozens of hardware stores were checked. Still no luck.
Then Sunday afternoon, May 8, Larry Wacker, 12, of Salem, was playing along the banks of the Pudding River near the small community of Pratum. The spot was five miles by road from Kaser’s farm. Suddenly the boy pulled what he thought was an iron rod from the river. It was a .30-30 rifle.
The boy excitedly turned to his companions, Neil Beutler, 11, and Roger Beutler, 8, and said, “Look what I’ve found!”
The gun was crusted with rust, but young Wacker managed to work the lever. The gun ejected an empty cartridge. A live cartridge still was in the chamber.
The boys rushed to the John Ross home where their parents were visiting. When the fathers examined the gun, they immediately notified the authorities.
Sheriff Young examined the rifle, and was elated. “There is a good possibility this is the murder weapon,” he declared.
The gun and cartridge were immediately sent to the crime laboratory and now the officers redoubled their efforts, this time to determine whether anyone had seen the dark-colored murder car in the vicinity of the Pudding River bridge at any time after the shooting.
On May 12, Sheriff Young received a telephone call from the crime laboratory. When he hung up the phone, he turned to his co-workers and said:
“That’s the death weapon. We’ve got the gun now, the right one. Now all we’ve got to do is prove ownership.”
When District Attorney Brown was informed, he said, “I don’t think we’ll have any trouble showing that Oveross had that gun. I’ll call the grand jury into session again.”
He was even more certain later that afternoon when the sheriff called him to report that a witness had been found who claimed he had seen Oveross near the Pudding River bridge the night of the murder.
On Monday, May 16, 1955, a new grand jury heard the now mountainous pile of evidence in the case. This time police were able to produce a murder weapon. Because of their exhaustive canvass of hardware and sporting-goods stores, they had reason to believe that Oveross had bought one like it; the district attorney was able to present ballistics findings that were not available for the first grand jury.
The jury did not take long to indict Cap Oveross with first-degree murder.
Then the officers got a shock. Oveross was not in Silverton. He reportedly was somewhere in northern California visiting relatives. Defense Attorney Williams, however, was unconcerned. He told police he was certain his client would return home as soon as he heard of the indictment.
The attorney was correct. A few days later, at Fairbanks, Alaska, where he had been working on a construction job, Oveross walked into the office of the U. S. Attorney and identified himself. He had just learned of the indictment and was anxious to prove his innocence. Sheriff Young and Sergeant Huffman soon went to Alaska to accompany the carpenter back to Silverton.
Oveross still maintained the same calm as before when he was returned to Salem. He still declares he is innocent and is ready to clear himself of the murder charge in court.
NOTE: The names James Lowrie and Paul Hatfield, as used in the foregoing account are fictitious to protect the identities of the persons innocently involved in the investigation.
NOTE: Obviously, Paul Hatfield was really Dan Gilham.
And that’s it for the second magazine. Next up, the third magazine, Real Detective.
In every era, there is always some form of mass entertainment masquerading as news or true stories. Today we have reality TV and endless forms on the internet. In the 1950s, there were at least three “true crime” magazines that carried the ‘story’ of Ervin’s murder. Each of them sensationalized the story to a certain degree, some more than others. They all re-arranged the sequence of exactly what happened (in order to make a better story for their readers), made up dialog they couldn’t possibly have known (as if they had been in the room while the police were interrogating people), and sometimes just got the facts wrong. So, the stories in these magazines should be read with that in mind. These should be the last resort for information about the murder and thrown out entirely when they contradict the police reports.
With that said, here’s the first of them: Official Detective Stories from the August 1955 issue. This would have been written in early June of 1955, as Cap Oveross was returned from Alaska in the very last days of May, and the trial started just over three weeks later, June 21, and this magazine story ends with Oveross awaiting trial. Magazines are generally “post-dated” by about 2-3 months in an effort to keep them on the newsstands longer, so this issue would have appeared in either June or very early July 1955.
The cover is apparently the east-coast publisher’s idea of what shoplifting in Mexico looked like: let’s throw in a few pots and baskets, a few seemingly Mexican wraps or blankets, what looks like a businessman in a poor-man’s Halloween costume, and what appears to be a Doris Day want-to-be as a southern senorita. I guess they didn’t have much of a budget for their cover art…
Detective Stories – August 1955
“Me, I Shoot. Anything Wrong With That?”
Ervin Kaser “Associated with Other Women” the Bill of Particulars Said. Who Could These “Women” Be? Was This Connected With His Slaying From Ambush Near Silverton, Oregon?
The first shot brought Emanuel Kellerhal upright in his bed. He and his wife had retired at 10:30 Thursday evening, February 17, 1955. It was now 25 minutes later.
The second shot took him to the window, where he could see across the highway to the ranch home of his neighbor, Ervin O. Kaser.
A pair of headlights illuminated the driveway, garage and front of the Kaser house.
The third and fourth shots exploded and Kellerhal could see the dirty orange flame of the blasts, for they were fired just beyond his window from a car parked in his own driveway.
A car motor roared. Tires whined and there was a hailstone sound of gravel being thrown by the spinning wheels. And then the silence of night that comes to those who enjoy the seclusion of country living.
The Kellerhal and Kaser hop-growing ranches are in the rural district of Evergreen, three miles south of Silverton, Oregon.
“What is it?” Mrs. Kellerhal asked.
“I don’t know,” her husband answered, still peering out of the window. “I can see Kaser’s car in his driveway. Somebody must have been shooting at him.”
“Shooting at Mr. Kaser? Why?”
Kellerhal turned away from the window and picked up his trousers.
“What are you going to do?” his wife demanded.
“I’d better get over there and see what’s the matter. Nobody’s moving around. Maybe Kaser was hit.”
“Please don’t,” Mrs.
Kellerhal said. “Call the police.”
“You call them.”
“No, you call. It’s their business. Please stay here until they arrive. If some fool is shooting out there –”
“They’ve gone. I saw them leave.”
“It makes no difference. Call the police and we’ll wait.”
Silverton Marshal Harley DePeel was the first to arrive. He was followed shortly by Marion County Deputy Sheriff R. C. Boehringer. Within a few minutes more sheriff’scars and State Police rushed into the area.
The Plymouth sedan owned by Kaser was parked almost beside the front door of his neat, nearly new white frame cottage. Its motor was stopped but the headlights and the dome light inside the car were burning.
Kaser was slumped on the right side of the front seat. Blood had spilled onto the floor mat.
A hole was drilled through the glass of the front door on the left side of the car. It probably had been made by a shot that had struck Kaser in the shoulder and penetrated his heart, killing him instantly.
Three other holes made a tight pattern in the frame of the front door, the post and the forward edge of the rear door.
Boehringer eyed the 75-yard distance across the front yard and the highway to the spot where Kellerhal said he had seen the other car. “Whoever he was, he was a marksman,” the deputy said. “That kind of shooting would win a medal on a target range.”
Kellerhal was questioned. He could not name the make of the car he had seen. “All I can be sure of is that it was a dark color. Maybe it was a Ford, but I couldn’t be certain.”
And he had not seen the killer, nor anyone else in the automobile. “Its lights were off and I didn’t notice it until I heard the third and fourth shots. I was looking over at Kaser’s place. Then this other car sped away.”
“How long after the shots?”
“There wasn’t any pause?”
State Police Patrolman Robert Dunn was trying to determine if enough time had elapsed for the person who fired the shot to put down the gun and then start the car.
“It didn’t seem like any time at all.”
“Then two persons must have been in the car,” Dunn surmised. He radioed State PoliceHeadquarters and asked for a road block around the area. All cars would be stopped and their occupants questioned. The officers would search each automobile for the gun that had been used in the slaying.
Why had Kaser been ambushed?
The police officers readily realized that the killing had not been motivated by robbery. This was something personal between the victim and his slayer.
No attempt had been made to burglarize Kaser’s house or rob his person. The killer had fired the shots with the sole purpose of getting Kaser.
Kellerhal could tell the officers little about his neighbor, although Kaser had lived in the area all of his life. About four years previously, he had built his home, where he, his wife and a step-daughter had lived.
“His wife and daughter moved out about six months ago,” Kellerhal said. “We understand Mrs. Kaser is getting a divorce. I think she’s staying in Salem with the daughter who’s been married since.”
“Has Kaser been living here alone?”
“What about the divorce?”
Kellerhal said he and Kaser never had been on intimate-enough terms to discuss the dead man’s private life. Although most farm families in the district were close and visited one another frequently, the Kasers had remained aloof from the community.
“Since his wife’s been gone,we’ve seen some men there at nights. We guessed maybe they were having a poker party. I’ve heard talk that Kaser liked to gamble.”
This could be a motive. The officers quickly seized upon it to ask more questions. They wanted to know if Kellerhal had recognized any of the men who had come to the house in the evening.
Kellerhal said that while he had paid no particular attention to the visitors at Kaser’s house and the men usually arrived after dark, he was almost certain they were not residents of the community. “Otherwise, we’d have heard talk.”
“How about the cars? Do you recall any in particular?”
Kellerhal could give no help on this point either.
About this time, Sheriff Denver Young and State Police Sergeant Wayne Huffman arrived on the scene. They examined Kaser’s car without disturbing the interior for Doctor Homer Harris, a pathologist, and Ralph Prouty, a criminologist with the State Police Crime Laboratory, were on their way.
Of the four shots that had entered the side of the car, two had gone out through the front windshield. One had struck the windshield and lay spent on the floor. The fourth was in Kaser’s body.
Sheriff Young directed a search for the two slugs that had gone through the windshield. A second search was started for any shell casings at the place where Kellerhal had seen the bullets fired.
However, no casings were found. Either the slayer had used a gun that did not eject its empty shells or he had fired from inside a car and the ejected shell casings were still in his auto.
Inside Kaser’s car was a sack of groceries on the back seat and the dead man clutched a carton of cigarets in one hand.
Apparently Kaser had turned on the dome light of his car and slid over to the right side of the front seat, preparatory to lifting the sack of groceries, when he was shot. The light inside the car had given the slayer an illuminated target.
Sheriff Young wanted the answer to one question right away. Had the killer been waiting in ambush for Kaser to return home, or had he followed Kaser’s car?
To the Sheriff, the answer meant a difference in the theories that could be formed for a motive.
Anyone planning the crime in advance, which would indicate a motive of long standing like a grudge, would have known where Kaser lived and his habits. He could have waited for Kaser to come home.
But if Kaser had been followed, then the motive might be a spur-of-the-moment decision, based on something that had happened during the evening. The slayer could have followed him from wherever he had been during the evening and used the first opportunity to send home the lethal slug.
Kellerhal had said that he heard Kaser’s car turn into the driveway across the highway and had heard the second car follow it within a few moments.
“I though the people in the second car also had gone into Kaser’s place,” Kellerhal said. “I remember thinking at the moment that Kaser probably was going to have another of his poker parties.”
Doctor Harris and Prouty arrived during this questioning. They recovered the spent slug inside the car and Prouty examined it carefully.
“I’d guess it to be about a thirty-caliber rifle slug,” he said. “It’s pretty badly mushroomed, but we may find enough land and groove marks on it to identify the gun if it can be located. We’ll also have a chance from the slug in the body.”
Photographs were made of the scene. The officers went over the area where the killer’s car had been parked in hopes of obtaining imprints of the tires but the graveled surface foiled this attempt.
A few minutes later Marshal DePeel came up to Sheriff Young and Huffman with some information. “I’ve been canvassing at the edge of town,” he said, “and I heard that two fellows who live out on this road left town at about the time that would bring them past here when the shooting took place. They are Ray Jackson and Fred Barto.”
“Do you know anything about either of them? Anything that might connect them to a feud with Kaser?”
“I know both of them. They’re nice fellows with families. We can go out and talk to them and then, on the way back, I guess we’d better notify Kaser’s relatives, his brother and his mother.”
Kaser’s brother, Harvey, had a ranch about a half mile down the road. His mother also lived near by on the old family farm. Kaser’s father, who had passed away, had been one of the pioneers in the section. Two other brothers also lived in the area; a fourth brother lived in Bay City and a sister in Salem.
“The Kasers are a fine old family in this section,” DePeel said. “Folks aren’t going to take it kindly that Ervin has been killed.”
“It’s a break that he’s an old-timer,” Huffman said. “Maybe from all the friends and relatives we can come up with a motive.”
The officers went to see Ray Jackson first. The young farmer was already in bed. Barefooted and in his nightshirt, he invited the officers inside, expressing shock at the news that Kaser had been slain.
“What time did you get home?” Huffman asked.
“Ten fifty-five exactly,” Jackson declared.
Huffman’s eyes narrowed at the answer. Kaser had been killed at exactly 10:55, according to Kellerhal.
“How are you so sure of the exact time?”
“I looked at the clock when I came in.”
“Where were you tonight?”
“At the wrestling matches.”
DePeel said: “They weren’t over by that time. I was at the matches when I got the call Kaser had been shot.”
“I know. But I promised my wife I’d be home by eleven and I left before they were finished.”
Jackson claimed that he had seen nothing unusual along the highway on this way home and had not noticed any cars parked at Kaser’s place as he went by. If his story were true – and the officers had nothing to disprove it –he must have passed before Kaser and his slayer had arrived.
At the Fred Barto ranch, Barto told the officers that he had seen Kaser’s car parked in the driveway at the time he had gone past.
“I saw the headlights and slowed down, thinking he might be backing out,” Barto declared. “But the car was standing still so I went on by.”
Kellerhal had told the officers that he had not heard any other cars come down the highway after the slayer’s machine had left. But he might have been telephoning at the time Barto had passed, or Barto might have scooted by before the shooting.
Someone already had telephoned Harvey Kaser with the news that his brother had been killed when the officers reached his home and Harvey was getting ready to leave.
He drove to the scene with the officers while Huffman and Young questioned him. He claimed he knew of no reason for anyone to kill his brother.
Questioned about the divorce, Harvey said the only dispute still involved in the separation of his brother and sister-in-law was over a property settlement.
“Their marriage just didn’t work out,” Harvey declared.
Pressed for any other possible motives, Harvey recalled that his brother had been involved in a dispute with a bulldozer operator who had done some work on the ranch.
“This man didn’t do the job the way Ervin wanted it done and Ervin said he wouldn’t pay him unless he did it over. The guy refused and threatened to sue Ervin,”Harvey said. “I heard he threatened to punch in Ervin’s head.”
The man was Sam Lord, a contractor of Salem, the state capital, only fifteen miles from Silverton.
Huffman radioed State Patrol Headquarters in Salem to have Sam Lord questioned at once to determine the man’s movements during the evening.
Harvey was asked about the poker parties at his brother’s home.
“Ervin liked to play cards, but the stakes weren’t big,” he replied. “I doubt if that could have anything to do with this. All the fellows he played with were his friends.”
Harvey gave the officers the names of a number of the players. They would be questioned later to determine if any quarrel had developed as the result of the card games.
Back at the scene, Docter Harris and Prouty had concluded their investigation of the physical evidence and had the victim removed from the car. With Harvey’s permission,the body was taken to a mortuary in Salem where an autopsy would be performed in the morning.
The road blocks around the Evergreen area were maintained throughout the night and although several hundred cars were stopped and searched and the occupants questioned, no one was found who could be considered a suspect in the slaying.
One lead was reported by a motorist who said he had seen a dark Ford sedan speed through a stop sign at the Paradise Alley intersection on the way to Silverton at about ten minutes after the slaying. It might have been the fleeing killer but the motorist had been unable to get the license number and no further trace of the car could be found.
At a conference in the morning, after working through the entire night, Sheriff Young, Deputy Amos Shaw, Sergeant Huffman, Patrolmen Lloyd Riegel, Stan Barron and Robert Dunn, and District Attorney Kenneth E. Brown formed plans for continuing the investigation.
“The case amounts to this,” Huffman declared. “Kaser was killed by somebody who had a pretty strong motive. You don’t follow a man and mow him down with a rifle unless you’ve worked up a big hate.”
The others agreed. But how find the motive? How solve the killings?
“There are enough riflings on the slugs to identify the death weapon,” Prouty said. “Find the motive and that will give you the killer. The gun will be the evidence to convict him.”
It was that simple.
But where to start?
The report from Salem on Sam Lord was negative to the extent that police had been unable to find the man. He had left on a job three days previously. Friends thought he had taken his equipment to The Dalles area but did not know the exact location.
A rumor came in to the officers that despite Fred Barto’s statement that he and Kaser had been on friendly terms, the men had quarreled over marketing their crop the previous Fall.
Barto had no alibi from the time he had left Silverton until he had reached his ranch. By his own admission, he must have passed Kaser’s house around the time of the slaying.
Deputies were assigned to investigate further on the rumor. Two rifles owned by Barto were brought in to be tested by ballistics experts at the State Crime Laboratory.
The pending divorce between the slain man and his wife was examined to determine if it could hold a clue to the motive. The charges and counter-charges were examined.
They found the complaint by Mrs.Mary Louisa Kaser charged her husband with cruel and inhuman treatment, staying out all night on occasions and sometimes remaining away from home for days without explanation. She further charged that he had failed to support her, refused to buy food or clothing for her, refused to associate with her friends and locked her and her daughter out of their home.
The charges also declared that Kaser had associated with other women and had refused to speak to her, refused to share information about family finances and had struck and beat her.
Mrs. Kaser requested an undivided half interest in his property or a cash settlement of $15,000.
In his answer to the suit, Kaser had denied all of his wife’s charges.
The action had been started on August 6, 1954, and was scheduled to be heard in court on March 17,1955.
The officers drove to Salem, where Mrs. Kaser was living with her daughter and son-in-law, Mr. and Mrs. Virgil Boyd.
She was asked about the charges she had made in her divorce complaint, particularly those stating that Kaser often had stayed away from home overnight and had associated with other women.
The widow, an extremely attractive woman with close-cropped curly hair, wearing ornamented glasses and dangling earrings, declared that all the charges she had made were true.
“Who were the women he assocaited with?” Sheriff Young asked. “you did not name them in the complaint.”
“I don’t know. That’s why they weren’t named.”
“But if you don’t know, how can you be sure that he ever saw any other women?”
Mrs. Kaser hestitated a moment. “You ask his brother, Harvey,” she said. “He knows. Or Cap Oveross. I haven’t any proof but I’m sure of it.”
Huffman told Mrs. Kaser, “You don’t have to give us proof. But you can tell us whom you suspect. It could be a motive for the killing.”
As Mrs. Kaser hestitated again, Young pressed: “Why would his brother Harvey know about it?”
“Because Harvey is married to Edith Knight, and she has a twin sister Ethel, who was married to Casper Oveross. They all went to school together, the Kaser boys, the Knight girls and Casper Oveross.”
But who is the other woman?”
Mrs. Kaser shrugged. “When Ethel and Cap – that’s what they call Casper – were divorced last year, Ethel got the family ranch and custody of their two children. They lived just a quarter of a mile down the road from us. Ethel has been living there with the children ever since while Cap moved in to Silverton.”
That was all she would say except, “Ask Harvey or Cap Oveross.”
The officers drove back to Evergreen to talk with Harvey Kaser. On the drive, they discussed possible angles.
“It sounds interesting, but when you analyze it, we don’t have much there,” Huffman pointed out. “The Overosses are divorced and everything is final. The only one with a motive from this would be Casper Oveross. And since everything is settled, his motive isn’t very strong.”
Harvey Kaser and his wife, Edith, were questioned about the possibility of a triangle existing between his brother and the Overosses.
“I think both Mary and Cap had some ideas about that,” Harvey declared. “I’m sure it wasn’t true, but Cap kept saying it until he got Mary to believing it.”
“Did your brother go to see Mrs. Oveross frequently?”
“We’ve all grown up together,” Harvey explained. “We’ve been friends since we were little kids. Ethel is my wife’s twin sister. We all live right here near each other and we’re bound to be good friends.”
“Whether there was any truth in it or not, could Casper Oveross have believed your brother was responsible for breaking up his marriage?” Huffman asked bluntly. “The truth would make no difference to a man blinded by jealousy.”
“Yes,” Harvey answered. “Cap blamed Ervin. I even heard that he threatened Ervin. But Cap was born right down at Rocky Four Corners on Abiqua Creek. We’ve all been like one big family since we were kids.”
The officers next stopped to see Mrs. Oveross. She repeated what they had heard from Harvey Kaser. The suspicions concerning herself and Ervin Kaser, she declared, were unfounded.
But she did admit that the suspicions were held by both her former husband and Mary Kaser.
“I don’t see any reason, though, why Cap would still have it in for Ervin,” Mrs. Oveross declared. “our troubles have all been settled.”
Casper Oveross was found in a small cabin in Silverton, where he lived alone. The former farmer, who has a local reputation as a hunter and woodsman, had turned to carpentry after his divorce.
“I filed the divorce and I got it,” the slender, gum-chewing man told the officers. “But the judge gave her the kids and our home out at Evergreen. I got twenty acres near Abiqua Creek.”
“You were sore at Ervin Kaser,” Young said flatly.
“I’m not denying it,” Oveross replied. “I said he broke up my marriage. And I’ll say it now. He used to be my best friend. We’ve gone hunting and camping together and we were neighbors for about twenty years. But just because he’s dead is no reason for me to change my mind. I think he was a dirty skunk while he was acting like my friend.”
“We also heard you’re an excellent marksman,” Huffman said. “And I see you have a number of rifles.”
Cap Oveross tucked his plaid shirt tighter into the beltless top of his blue jeans and smiled. “I guess it’s natural I’d be suspected.”
“Where were you last night?”
“Was anyone with you?”
“Nope. If I’d known somebody was going to kill Ervin, I’d have invited half the town in so’s I could have had a good alibi. But I didn’t know it.”
Oveross gave the officer the three hunting rifles that he owned so they could be test fired at the Crime Laboratory. “These are all my guns,” he said. “I never owned a thirty.”
“Who do you think killed Ervin?” Young asked Oveross. “You knew him well. Maybe you can help us.”
Cap chomped on his gum for several seconds. Looking squarely at the Sheriff, he said: “Let me put it this way. I don’t know who killed Ervin, but to be truthful with you, even if I did I reckon I wouldn’t tell you. In my book,he got what was coming to him.”
Meanwhile, additional patrolmen brought into the area by Huffman were aiding the Sheriff’s deputies in searching the entire area around the Evergreen district on the theory that the slayer might have disposed of the death weapon in one of the many ponds, creeks and wells in the district.
Ponds had been dredged on almost every farm to collect the Winter rain and hold it to water the cattle in Summertime. Rowboats, carrying officers with grappling hooks and magnets, covered all the ponds along the road from Silverton to Stayton, in the direction Kellerhal had seen the killer’s car take from the slaying scene.
The poker-playing pals of Kaser were questioned. No game had been planned for the night Kaser was slain. All denied that any arguments had cropped up during the card games that would provide a motive for the killing.
At the request of Sheriff Young, those who had been at the poker parties surrendered their rifles for ballistics examination.
Numerous other acquaintances of Kaser were asked to turn in their guns for the ballistics test.
Sam Lord was located at The Dalles. He readily admitted that he and Kaser had had violent differences concerning the job and payment for the work Kaser had hired him to do. But Lord had an airtight alibi of being in The Dalles at the time Kaser was killed.
The rural community seethed with excitement over the first slaying that ever had been committed in that area. Rumors kept the officers busy investigating leads that all eventually petered out to be only gossip.
On Sunday afternoon, Mrs. MaryLouisa Kaser moved into the farmhouse where her husband had been slain. This started more rumors, but the widow explained that she was the sole heir of her husband’s estate and she intended to live at the farm.
Funeral services were conducted for Ervin Kaser in Silverton at two o’clock on Monday afternoon. The town was jammed with ranchers who put aside their farm tasks and came dressed in their Sunday best to pay their last respects. So many persons attended the services at the funeral home that a loudspeaker was placed outside the chapel so the huge crowd gathered on the lawn and in the street could hear.
But no arrest had been made.
The newspapers from Salem, which carried daily headlines on the slaying, had been hounding Sheriff Young, District Attorney Brown and Sergeant Huffman for facts on the progress of the case.
Young gave out a statement that made new headlines on Monday afternoon. The story quoted him as saying the officers had a suspect and as soon as a certain piece of evidence was uncovered, an arrest would be made.
When the other officers questioned Young about the story, he told them: “It’s half true. The piece of evidence we’re looking for is the gun.”
“How about the suspect?”
“I’m hoping the killer will see that and run. We’ll keep our eyes open. If anyone leaves the area in a hurry it could be the slayer thinking we are getting close to him.”
But no one ran.
Search for the rifle used to kill Kaser continued, for both Young and Huffman felt certain the slayer would attempt to get rid of the damning evidence.
“Whoever it is, he knows we have the slugs that can prove it’s the death weapon,” Huffman reasoned. “And he’s smart enough to conceal it because he took pains to make sure the cartridge casings couldn’t be found.”
“And the the chances are he got rid of it shortly after he killed Kaser,” Young added. “He’d know we’d put up road blocks. The logical place would be in one of the ponds or creeks near the Kaser farm.”
Deputy Shaw said: “We’ve just about covered all of them. But if he took time out to bury it, he may have us whipped. We’ll only get it if somebody should stumble onto it.”
One strong clue to the slayer was the tight grouping of the rifle shots into the car. Only an expert marksman could make a pattern so small. Oveross was an expert marksman: the officers investigated him as closely as they could Tuesday morning. A neighbor near the farm Oveross owned at Abiqua Creek reported that Oveross had a rifle range on his property.
“I’ve seen Cap out there practicing the past few weeks,” this neighbor said. “He’s been using up a lot of ammunition and it’s a long way until hunting time. Maybe you’d better ask him about it.”
Before requestioning Oveross, the officers went out to the farm to look over the rifle range. It had a number of old logs as backstop for the bullets.
Criminologist Prouty carefully dug some of the spent slugs from the logs. He came up with several he identified as .30 caliber.
“Cap told us he didn’t own a thirty-caliber rifle,” Young said. “those three guns he gave us were of a different size than this.”
The slugs from the rifle range were rushed to the State Crime Laboratory where they were put under a comparison microscope with the spent bullet found in Kaser’s car and the one removed from the body. Enlarged photographs were made so that every mark on the lead could be examined closely.
“I have found enough similarity in the samples to indicate that the bullets taken from the rifle range might have been fired from the same gun used in the killing,”an expert declared.
Was it enough to charge Oveross
with the slaying?
“We have a motive,” Young explained to District Attorney Brown. “Cap thought Ervin had broken up his marriage. We have the evidence of the slugs.”
“I’ll issue a warrant,” Brown said. “we can bring him in and see what he says about it. But, of course, we can’t prove yet that Oveross owned such a gun. Anybody could have used his range.”
Oveross was arrested at the home of a relative.
“You guys are nuts,” Oveross told the officers. “I didn’t kill Ervin. I’ll admit I think he deserved killing, but I didn’t do it.”
Told about the slugs found at the rifle range on his farm, Oveross said: “I don’t know nothing about ballistics. Maybe you can tell if a gun shot a certain bullet.But it don’t mean it was my gun, or I did the shooting.”
“You were seen out there practicing.”
Calmly chewing gum, Oveross shrugged. “Sure, I shoot all the time. It’s my sport. Some men play golf. Some men bowl. Me, I shoot. Anything wrong with that?”
“You are going to be charged with killing Kaser.”
“In that case, I guess I’d better keep my mouth shut,” Oveross said. “I know you got good reason to suspect me, so it’s no use me helping you any. All I’m going to tell you is I didn’t do it.”
District Attorney Brown announced that Oveross refused to take a lie-detector test and quoted him as saying: “I’m just going to sit tight. You can’t prove a thing.”
Brown filed a charge of murder against Oveross in the court of District Judge Edward O. Stadter,Jr., and called a special session of the Marion County grand jury to hear the evidence that had been collected.
On Monday, February 28, he summoned seventeen witnesses before the jury.
At the end of an all-day session, the jury ruled that Brown did not have sufficient evidence to indicate Oveross should be held to answer the charge in court. Brown withdrew the charge before the district court and Oveross was released.
Brown announced immediately, “If I get additional evidence later, I’ll call the grand jury into session again.”
Pressed by reporters for a further statement, he said: “We have no other suspects at this time. All I can say is that the Sheriff and the State Police will continue to work on the case until it is solved.”
What could be done?
“Find the gun,” Brown said.“Find the gun and we’ve got a case. It may not be against Oveross, but if you can find the gun, I can make a case against whoever owns it.”
In a rural district like Evergreen, nearly every farmer has several hunting rifles. The .30-caliber gun is a favorite for hunting.
A tedious canvass began of all sporting-goods stores in the area to find out if anyone had purchased a .30-caliber rifle recently. It was a nearly hopeless task, but no other leads were open.
The gun might have been bought locally, or it could have come from Portland or some other big city. It might have come from a mail-order house or even have been bought secondhand.
Weeks went by and the excitement in the rural community that had experienced its first slaying failed to subside. It was the prime topic of conversation at every gathering.
The curious still drove out on the the highway and paused to look at the house where the widow of Kaser was living and to examine with interest the spot where the slayer had waited in ambush to slay Kaser.
Rumors grew rather than died as time lapsed. Sheriff Young and Sergeant Huffman constantly were investigating some new angle that was brought to them because of talk in the area.
Then, on Sunday, May 8, Larry Wacker, a Parrish Junior High School student, and two chums, Neil and Roger Beutler, were fishing in the Pudding River not far from the junction of the Pratum-Silverton-Sublimity roads, about five milesfrom Ervin Kaser’s farm.
Larry found a rifle in the river. An empty shell was in the chamber and a live shell in the magazine. The boys took the gun to the home of John Ross, where their parents were visiting. The Sheriff was notified.
Young asked the boys and their parents to make no mention of the rifle until he was ready to release the news.
The gun was rushed to the State Crime Laboratory. Ballistics tests, according to the police, gave definite proof it was the rifle that had fired the slug that killed Kaser.
Next came the serial numbers on the gun. Could it be traced to the last owner – the person who had used it for a killing?
The factory was called. Records there supplied the name of the wholesaler in Portland who had received it, way back in 1948.
The wholesaler had a record of the dealer to whom it had been shipped.
The hardware store dealer did not have a record of the purchaser of the serial number of the gun. (Records are required only on handguns.) But the owner of the store recalled that he had received only two guns of this caliber and model during that entire year, since the wartime shortage of sporting guns still existed then.
He had sold both of these guns shortly after he had received them in Jarnuary of 1949. One of the purchasers, according to the police, had been Casper Oveross.
Young first questioned the man who had purchased the second rifle. This man still had his gun.
Casper Oveross had disappeared from Silverton. After being freed from the murder charge by the grand jury, he had announced he was going to Southern California to work. He was believed to be in Santa Barbara.
District Attorney Brown once again called a session of the grand jury. He presented the evidence including the new facts about the gun and this time the jury, on May 16, returned an indictment charging Oveross with the murder of Kaser.
An all-out search was started for him. On May 21, the Territorial Police in Fairbanks, Alaska, located Oveross working as a carpenter on a construction job. He was arrested on a bench warrant issued from Salem, Oregon, charging him with first-degree murder and unlawful flight to avoid prosecution.
“I didn’t even know they wanted me again,” Oveross said. “I wasn’t running away, I just happened to land a good job in Alaska. I told them once I wasn’t guilty, but I guess they won’t be satisfied until I go to trial and prove it.”
At the present time, Oveross has been returned to Salem from Alaska and is being held in custody pending further legal action. Watch the department entitled “Up to the Minute” in a future issue for the results of this action.
The names of Ray Jackson, FredBarto and Sam Lord in this story are fictitious.
And here’s the conclusion of the trial, though not (entirely) the conclusion of the story.
The Statesman morning newspaper, Salem, Tuesday, July 12, 1955
Chemist Declares Murder Rifle Not In River 80 Days
A Portland chemist testified Monday that in his opinion the rifle which the state claims killed Ervin Kaser couldn’t have been in the Pudding River for some 80 days as attorneys opened their fight in defense of Casper Oveross, on trial here for the murder. A rusty rifle of the same type as the 30-30 Winchester carbine pulled from the river last May 8 was admitted as evidence for the defense after the chemist, E. Nealley Wood, testified that he had conducted tests on it to see how fast it would corrode. Defense questioning of Wood and of Sheriff Denver Young who followed him to the witness chair set off some of the hottest debates of the trial thus far. Judge Duncan at one point threatened to clear the courtroom of spectators after they had vocally sounded opinions against the merits of prosecution objections and the judge’s rulings on them. Wood, qualified as a chemical and metallurgical expert, was a surprise witness Monday afternoon when the defense began its presentation.
Capital Journal photograph — Dr. Homer H. Harris of the state crime laboratory, on the stand as he testified briefly. He said Ralph Prouty, ballistic expert of the crime laboratory would not be able to make further testimony in the case. Prouty was injured when he apparently went to sleep while driving from Portland to Salem last week.
The state rested its case Monday morning after Dr. Homer Harris, director of the state crime laboratory, appeared to report that Ralph Prouty, state ballistics expert, was still in no condition to testify as the result of a Friday motor mishap. Harris said he doubted Prouty would be able to testify before trial’s end, ruling out the possibility of the state having entered as evidence the results of tests conducted last Thursday in the chambers of Circuit Judge George R. Duncan. End of the state’s direct presentation came at 9:39 a.m. Monday after 12 days of testimony from 54 witnesses. At that time Defense attorneys Bruce Williams and Otto R. Skopil Jr. made a motion for a directed verdict of acquittal and for dismissal of the first degree murder indictment against the 43-year-old Silverton carpenter stating the prosecution had failed to prove the allegations of its opening statement. The motion was denied by Judge Duncan who granted the defense until 1:30 p.m. to begin its own presentation.
Members of the Oveross family were first to take the stand as the defense sought to emphasize that Oveross had apparently left this area about the middle of April and had gone to Alaska by way of Tacoma. This line of testimony, Williams asserted, was intended to link with the testimony of Wood to show that it could not have been Oveross who tossed the murder gun into the Pudding River near Pratum. During the first day, the defense aimed all its questioning at this contention and it raised numerous objections from Special Prosecutor Charles Raymond and District Attorney Kenneth O. Brown. The defense will continue its case at 9:15 a.m. today.
Defense Witnesses Tell of 2 Men ‘Shadowing’ Ervin Kaser in Car
Reference to an old car occupied by two men who had reportedly “shadowed” Ervin Kaser before his murder was brought out again Monday in testimony of witnesses for the defense of Casper Oveross. Oveross, whose ex-wife Ethel Oveross has admitted going with Kaser for some three years, is on trial in Marion County Circuit Court here for the slaying.
Mrs. Oveross was one of those testifying to the presence of the old car as defense counsel Bruce Williams and Otto R. Skopil opened their defense presentation Monday afternoon. Kaser was considerably excited about being followed, Mrs. Oveross said. She told of seeing the old car in the cutoff road north of Silverton where she had parked her car to meet Kaser. She said she had seen it again last January and last October. On the October occasion she said she was driving in her car, followed by Kaser when she had noticed the third car following. She said she pulled off the highway near the Evergreen School and watched Kaser drive into his driveway and to the rear of his house. The old car went on by and then returned, she said, and when Kaser drove back along the road looking fro her she could see that two men were in it. Mrs. Oveross also told of seeing her former husband follow when she was out with kaser on one occasion.
Efforts of two school teachers at the Evergreen School, just a few hundred yards from the Ervin Kaser home where he was shot, to testify that they had seen an old car parked near the scene on the day before the slaying were beaten down by prosecution objections. The teachers were Mrs. Emma Wolfard, Silverton, sister of the defendant, and Mrs. Gertrude E. Twohy, now of Clackamas.
Testifying to the date Oveross was last seen in the Silverton area last April were his niece, Mrs. Jean Moon, her husband Robert Moon, Ruth M. Schubert, another sister of Oveross, Ed W. Schubert, her busband, Karen J. Oveross, the defendant’s 14-year-old daughter, Colleen Oveross, 19, another daughter, Henry Anunson, Oveross’ brother-in-law, and Mrs. Wolfard. All had indicated the defendant had left about April 17 to find work and they did not see him again until he was returned from Alaska in custody.
Karen and Ila May Moore, 17, daughter of Wayne Moore who lives next door to the Oveross home south of Silverton, testified they had been to Salem rollerskating on Feb. 17, the night Kaser was shot in the driveway of his home. They both told of returning home about 10:40 p.m. past the Kaser home and said they couldn’t recall seeing any cars along the way.
Defense witnesses up to its metallurgical expert were called in rapid fire order by the two attorneys. Beginning with Mrs. Moon the average stay of witnesses was something slightly over three minutes as the prosecution limited cross examination. The trail of witnesses slowed when Mrs. Wolfard took the stand, opening a bitter fight between the defense and prosecution over admissibility of evidence concerning the old car. Testimony on this count was interrupted by Special Prosecutor Charles Raymond who cited cases stating defense attempts to prove someone else committed the crime invalid. Defense Attorney Skopil countered with several other cases which he said showed testimony which might show someone else guilty should be admissible. Raymond’s objection was sustained and subsequent questions by Attorney Williams on the same point brought a request from District Attorney Kenneth O. Brown that he be admonished for the tactics. That began a series of maneuvers which saw the jury in and out of the jury box with almost comic regularity or trips to the judge’s chambers by counsel for the defense and prosecution during the rest of the afternoon so the two sides could argue the merits of their positions.
Portland Chemist E. Nealley Wood examines rust on the barrel of a Winchester rifle which he testified Monday was the result of an 11-day test in water taken from the Pudding River. Wood’s testimony was part of the defnese effort to show that a rifle taken from the river May 8 could not be linked to Casper Oveross who they claim left the area April 17.
A roof-top rust test on a model 94 Winchester 30-30 carbine provided the most interest of the day. Portland Chemist E. Nealley Wood testified he purchased such a gun, the same type the state says is the murder weapon and which it says Oveross owned, for the test. Wood told of drawing five gallons of water from the Pudding river near the point where the murder gun was found and of placing the gun in some of the water and some soil July 1 for the test. He said the test was conducted on the roof of the Charlton Laboratories in Portland where he works. The rusty rifle, which Woods testified was taken from the water at 1 p.m. Monday, was presented as evidence by the defense. He said he had fired three or four rounds through the gun to try and duplicate the condition of the murder rifle. Prosecution offered no objections to admitting the test rifle as evidence, but immediately rose to protest defense questions concerning which rifle had been in the river longer. Raymond’s objection was sustained.
On cross examination Raymond asked these questions: How much are you being paid to testify? Wood answered that his standard fee was $50 a day. What was the consistency of water of the river when you took the water for the test? Amber but not muddy. Wood answered “no” to Raymond’s questions of whether he knew what weather and water conditions were in the river between Feb. 17 and May 8, whether he had positive knowledge of the gun’s position in water, whether the two guns were manufactured from the same steel, how much mud was on the murder gun when found and what the gun’s condition was when put in river. His closing question of “You don’t know much about it then?” brought an objection from Williams and the question was stricken from the record.
Some of the spectators who had been making their defense sympathies known vocally throughout the afternoon questioning became abusive to the court during the examination of the final witness of the day Sheriff Denver Young. At that point Judge Duncan threatened to have the court cleared and later voiced his impatience by ordering the bailiff to keep the spectators in the courtroom and in their seats until all members of the jury had cleared the room. After Sheriff Young had testified that he had not determined the exact date of Oveross’ arrival in Alaska, Attorney Williams requested the right to recall Young today. In the meantime, Williams said an effort would be made to subpoena records of the Canadian customs authorities and border officials at the Alask line who had checked Oveross through on his way to Fairbanks.
This picture of Casper Oveross talking with his attorneys Bruce Williams, left, and Otto Skopil, Jr., was taken just before the three went into Judge George Duncan’s chambers to argue on the defnse motion of a directed verdict of acquital. The motion was denied by the judge and the trial of Oveross for first degree murder of Ervin Kaser continues with the defense beginning its case.
Williams motion for a directed verdict of acquittal at the morning session was denied by Judge Duncan after both defense and prosecution had cited numerous cases for and against. Duncan stated that the rule in Oregon is that a motion for directed verdict is not proper at this time without the defense resting. Then Williams went on to assert that the state had failed to prove the indictment and the allegations in the opening statement by Special Prosecutor Raymond. He stated that four witnesses for the state placed Oveross at four different places at the same time. Reports of threats were too remote to have bearing in this case, Williams said. Allegations that Oveross was at his old home looking for his ex-wife the night of slaying, that he had laid in wait for Kaser once before, that the death car had laid in wait for Kaser and Oveross’ arrival at the Gilham home just after crime also were not substantiated, Williams claimed.
Attorney Skopil took up the argument to attack the inferences brought in by the state, asserting they were not consistent with each other. He said the state had failed to link the defendant with the car at the scene, failed to connect up the murder gun, and failed to place Oveross at the scene at the time of the slaying. After Judge Duncan denied the motion, Williams indicated it would take the defense only about one day to present its case. When the defense began its presentation Monday afternoon, Williams filed a motion to strike all testimony by Ralph Prouty from the record on the grounds he was not available for adequate cross examination. Judge Duncan took the motion under advisement after hearing Attorney Raymond state that the defense had had opportunity to cross examine Prouty on every phase to which he had testified so far. Raymond said the state had reserved the right to recall Prouty to testify solely to the results of the Thursday comparison tests with the murder gun.
The Statesman morning newspaper, Salem, Wednesday, July 13, 1955
Jurors Bed Down at County Courthouse
Twelve jury members and two alternates hearing the first degree murder charge against Casper Oveross were bedded down in Marion County Courthouse for the first time Tuesday night. The jury is housed on the mezzanine floor which contains dormitory space for men and women. Efforts to get facilities ready were not without pitfalls. The women’s dormitory will hold only nine bedgs; one alternate, a woman, will therefore sleep just inside the entrance to the dormitory. This move meant Oliver Rickman, building superintendent, had to change a lock on the entrance door so that the door would not open form the outside. Only one bailiff, Mrs. Ervin Ward, will stay with the jury at night. She will sleep in the hallway which separates the two dormitories.
The usual tomb-like quiet of the mezzanine floor was replaced Tuesday afternoon by hurried and harried activity as building employes made up beds, provided soap, face and bath towels for jurors, and installed a telephone on the mezzanine floor. Families of the jury were also busy bringing suitcases of clothing and other necessary items to them.
The jury was taken to dinner at the Marion Hotel “so they could get a little more fresh air and exercise,” according to Mrs. Rose Howard, head bailiff. The evening was to be spent either in dormitory rooms or in the court room. Both dormitories are on the west side of the building and were “warm” from afternoon sun. The jury quarters are equipped with rest rooms, including shower stalls, but otherwise contain only beds and a small chest. No reading material will be provided.
Oveross Case May Go to Jury Today; Testimony Completed
After 13 days of testimony both the prosecution and defense rested Tuesday in the first degree murder trial of Casper Oveross, and it appeared that the jury would begin deliberation late today on whether or not he shot and killed Ervin Kaser last Feb. 17. At 10:22 a.m. Tuesday, after recalling only one of 13 witnesses, Defense Attorney Bruce Williams announced with dramatic suddenness: “Your honor, the defense rests.”
Apparently caught by surprise by the short defense presentation, Special Prosecutor Charles Raymond and District Attorney Kenneth E. Brown asked for a recess until 1:30 p.m. before making their rebuttal. At that time they called to the witness stand Joseph Schulein, an associate professor in chemical engineering from Oregon State College who testified there was no way to determine how long a gun had been exposed to the water short of exhaustive tests. The testimony was aimed at refuting that of defense witness E. Nealley Wood, a Portland industrial chemist, who told Monday of taking water from the Pudding River to make an 11-day corrosion test on a Winchester 30-30 carbine. Wood had stated in his opinion a gun which the state claims belonged to Oveross and killed Kaser could not have remained in the Pudding River from the time of the crime until it was found May 8. Schulein was the final witness of 68 called to testify in the 16-day-old trial.
After that testimony the state rested and Defense Attorneys Williams and Otto R. Skopil Jr. motioned again for a directed verdict of not guilty. The motion was denied by Circuit Judge George R. Duncan who announced that final arguments would be heard beginning at 9:30 a.m. today. Defense arguments will be presented first, and following prosecution arguments, Judge Duncan will give his general and special instructions to the jury. It seemed likely that the jury, which was kept in the courthouse overnight would begin its deliberation sometime this afternoon. Included in its instructions from Judge Duncan will be the five possible verdicts it may return. The jury may find Oveross guilty of murder in the first degree as charged, guilty in first degree with recommendation for life imprisonment, guilty in second degree, guilty of manslaughter, or acquit him.
Defense Rests Case in Trial Of Oveross in Surprise Move
In a move which apparently took the prosecution and spectators by complete surprise, counsel for Casper Oveross rested their defense Tuesday after only 2 hours and 29 minutes of testimony. Fate of the 43-year-old Silverton carpenter, charged with shooting his one-time neighbor Ervin Kaser with a high-powered rifle last February, will probably pass to the Marion County Circuit Court jury late today.
Almost as much a surprise as the shortness of the direct presentation by the defense was the decision by Defense Attorneys Bruce Williams and Otto R. Skopil Jr. not to put the defendant on the witness stand in his own behalf. By law, however, this decision cannot be legally held as evidence against him.
Burden of the defense testimony, given by 13 witnesses of which 9 were members of Oveross’ family, was aimed at two positions maintained by the defense. One of these was that testimony by several persons indicated that Kaser had been followed and shadowed on several occasions by two men in an old model car variously described as a coupe and a sedan. The second is that condition of the murder weapon at the time it was found in the Pudding River near Pratum May 8 was such that it could not have been placed there by the defendant before he left for Alaska about April 17.
Only defense testimony offered Tuesday centered on the reported presence of the old car near the Evergreen School the day before the crime. Again efforts to have the testimony of Mrs. Emma Wolfard, sister of the defendant, convering the car admitted as evidence were beaten down by prosecution objections. Attorney Williams succeeded, however, in getting into the record just before the defnse rested the testimony of Mrs. Wolfard that Mrs. Edith Kaser had told of stopping at the crime scene before police arrived and of continuing on home. During cross examination, Mrs. Kaser, wife of Harvey Kaser who is a brother of the murdered man, denied making the statement or of having stopped. Williams asked Mrs. Wolfard if Mrs. Kaser hadn’t told her on Feb. 23 that she had seen the lights on the Kaser car, stopped her pickup at the scene, walked over to the car, seen Kaser slumped in the seat, returned to her truck and continued on home. Mrs. Wolfard answered with a firm “yes.” Williams then asked the judge if it was the ruling he could not pursue the testimony concerning the old car further. When Judge Duncan reaffirmed his earlier ruling concerning the matter, Williams stated, “Your honor, the defense rests.”
At that point Williams asked that all final arguments be held to a single day. Special Prosecutor Charles Raymond arose to express surprise at the early completion of the defense presentation and to announce that the state had one rebuttal witness to call, but that he was not then available. Then the jurors, who through the 22 days since the trial stared had been permitted to go home at nights, were advised by the judge that from now on they would be kept together until they had reached a verdict. He reminded them not to read newspaper accounts of the trial or to discuss the case with anyone. After the jury has heard the final arguments and the judge’s instructions today it will begin its deliberation. If not needed at that time the two alternate jurors, Mrs. Pearl Gwynn of Salem Route 6 and Walter Oldenberg, Clear Lake farmer, will be excused. Only the 12 original jurors will deliberate.
The regular jury consists of nine women and three men. They are Mrs. Louise Franzen and Perry Baker, both of Turner, Mrs. Myrtle Rogers, Mrs. Delores Throneberry, Mrs. Doris McMullen, Mrs. Bessie Edwards, Mrs. Helen Taylor and Mrs. Norma Lawless, all of Salem, Mrs. Evelyn Beard, Aurora, Mrs. Margaret Edgell, Woodburn, David H. Barnhardt, Gates, and Harry Oldenberg, Jefferson.
The state’s rebuttal testimony was also brief, taking about 20 minutes. Prof. Joseph Schulein who said he had been in the chemical engineering profession since 1928 and had testified as an expert witness several times before was the only rebuttal witness. Shown the 30-30 Winchester rifle which the state says is the murder gun, he said, “I’m sure I’ve nver seen it before.” Prof. Schulein said it was his opinion that the gun had been subjected to moisture, but that he wouldn’t have any idea how long. He explained that to tell how long would require knowledge of the nature of the water, temperature, acidity, concentration of oxygen, volume, motion and other materials in contact. “Even then I would hesitate to make an opinion without making tests.” Under cross examination by Attorney Skopil, Schulein stated he would probably need hundreds of like pieces in similar situations to make a specifical analysis of the length of time the gun had been exposed.
Spectators, jammed into the courtroom for the brief morning and afternoon sessions Tudesday, got another lecture on decorum from Judge Duncan, this one preventative. Before the jury was brought in for the morning session, Judge Duncan reminded the spectators that the relations for most of the trial had been good despite the intense feeling in the case. But he stated that any repetition of Monday’s actions by a few spectators would lead to removal by the bailiff if it could be determined who the individuals were. If this could not be determined he said the courtroom would be cleared of all spectators for the balance of the trial. Tuesday’s audience, largest of the trial, was extremely quiet throughout the sessions.
A witness-by-witness and point-by-point attack on the evidence presented by the state is expected in the defense final arguments beginning this morning. This was indicated in the arguments of the two defense attorneys for acquittal Monday and Tuesday. At that time Williams stated the state had presented “not an iota of evidence” to link this weapon to Oveross. Williams moved again Tuesday to have the testimony of Ralph Prouty stricken from the records on the grounds the state’s ballistics expert was not available for adequate cross-examination by the defense. Judge Duncan denied this motion stating that Prouty had been cross examined on every phase of his testimony.
In Tuesday’s arguments for a directed verdict Williams asked “brevity of remarks not to be taken as retreating from our position” of the “absolute insufficiency of the state’s evidence.” Voluminous special instructions for the jury, requested by both sides in the case, were presented to the judge Tuesday afternoon. They will be presented along with general instructions required by law.
The Statesman morning newspaper, Salem, Thursday, July 14, 1955
Oveross Jury Quits for Night After Deliberating 3 Hours
Final Pleas of Prosecution, Defense Heard
A jury of nine women and three men retired for the night late Wednesday after failing in the first few hours of deliberation to reach a verdict in the first degree murder case against Casper A. Oveross. Circuit Judge George R. Duncan ordered the jurors to their dormitory rooms at 11:22 p.m. after they had deliberated a total of three hours and 16 minutes. There was little indication of votes or progress by the jury. When Judge Duncan sent the order for them to cease deliberation until 9:30 a.m. today Mrs. Bessie Edwards, who has apparently been chosen foreman, was overheard to say, “We’re not getting anywhere.”
Only members of the Oveross family, newsmen, counsel for the defense and a half dozen other spectators were still in the courtroom when the jury retired for the night. The jury received the case at 5:56 p.m. after hearing final arguments of defense and prosecution throughout the hot, humid day. Temperatures, like the voices of pleading counsel, had risen in the courtroom far beyond the 91 degrees registered as Salem’s official reading.
Despite the heat which prompted a number of improvised fans among spectators and members of the jury, defendant Oveross remained apparently calm and impassive during the final hours of the trial. Oveross, 43-year-old Silverton carpenter and father of two daughters who were in the courtroom Wednesday, is charged with shooting Ervin Kaser to death in the driveway of Kaser’s home last Feb. 17.
Capital Journal–The Oveross jury is shown here listening to an argument by District Attorney Kenneth Brown, standing at right. Front row, left to right: Mrs. Bessie Edwards, Salem; Mrs. Norma Lawless Salem, Mrs. Evely Beard, Aurora; Harry Oldenberg, Jefferson, Mrs. Helen Taylor, Salem; Mrs. Margaret Edgell, Woodburn rural. Back row: David H. Barnhardt, Gates; Mrs. Doris McMullen, Salem; Mrs. Delores Thorneberry, Salem; Myrtle Rogers, Salem; Perry Baker Turner, Mrs. Louise Franzen, Turner. (Alternates seated out of box are Walter Oldenberg, Clear Lake, and Mrs. Pearl Gwynn, Route 2, Salem).
Recounting of the state’s case against Oveross was District Attorney Kenneth E. Brown who was first to speak for the prosecution. The evidence shows, Brown said, that Ervin Kaser was “shot down, shot in the back, dry gulched, shot down like a dog without a chance to turn on his attacker.” Then he recounted the testimony offered by state’s witnesses — the bullet which killed Kaser, testimony of the Kerllerhals, the Gilhams and the Barnes relating to threats by and location of the defendant. Oveross’ activities of the murder night, traced in testimony of witnesses, was reconstructed by Brown. He said he was first at Shorty’s Tavern, then at his former home about 8 o’clock, then driving slowly past Kaser’s place, at Frank’s Grocery store, at LeGard’s service station, at his own cabin for a few moments at 8:30 p.m., back at Shorty’s which he left again after 10, then near the scene again about 10:30 p.m., about 10:45 to 10:50 to do the killing and about 11 p.m. at Gilham’s calling to Danny.
Brown hit the defense failure to explain where Oveross’ gun was. “Where is his gun?” he asked. Then pointing to the state’s exhibit No. 21, “It’s obvious, that’s his gun.” He emphasized the motive, that Kaser had been going out with his wife. “Consider the implications of the statement about three slugs,” Brown told the jury. “Why three, not four? Because his first shot missed. Nobody but the man who killed Ervin Kaser would have said, ‘Ervin’s got three slugs in him.’ That man is this man,” Brown said, pointing his finger at Oveross across the counsel table.
Defense Attorney Otto R. Skopil Jr. opened final arguments for the defense. Referring to “red herrings” which Brown had accused the defense of throwing into the case, Skopil said, “I’m not going to talk about 17 red herrings, I’m not even going to talk about pink elephants. I’m going to talk about facts.” Skopil charged that the prosecution had failed to prove its allegation that the defendant had “laid in wait,” had come “looking for his ex-wife.” There was no evidence to show that Oveross was at the scene Skopil asserted. “He would have to be there in order to shoot someone,” he said. “How could he shoot the deceased Ervin Kaser when he was not there.”
Attorney Bruce Williams took up the defense argument from Skopil, making an impassioned plea for acquittal of Oveross. “This is no Sunday school picnic, a man’s life is at stake,” he stated. He rapped hard at the presence of Special Prosecutor Charles Raymond in the case, and at the actions of police officers both at work and as witnesses. Williams pointed to Oveross and said, “I think he still loves Ethel Oveross. He’s been stripped of everything; all he has is the love of his two daughters.” “I think he was a lonely little guy. I know I’m a better man for having known Cap, and Karen.” As he closed his arguments he approached the bar between him and the spectator seats where Oveross’ family sat in the front row. “We know, each and everyone of us, that Cap is not guilty,” he concluded. A short burst of applause shocked the courtroom. One man who had apparently begun the clapping was escorted from the courtroom by the bailiff at the direction of Circuit Judge George Duncan. He was identified as a Mr. Sleighter.
Trial Evidence Taken To Deliberation Room By Oveross’s Jurors
Statesman–Camera Catches Glimpse of Jury Deliberation. Casper A. Oveross, on trial for murder, spent Wednesday night in Marion County jail while three floors below these juurors debated the firsdt degree murder charge against him. Taken with the aid of a telephoto lens from the Grand Hotel building, this photo looks through windows in the jury room which are normally curtained. Extreme heat in the courthouse Wednesday night probably caused jurors to open them. The jury of nine women and three men retired late Wednesday night without reaching a verdict.
Some 44 separate items of evidence, including the 30-30 Winchester rifle which the state claims is the murder weapon, were taken into the jury room with the jury considering the case against Casper Oveross. During the state’s case, which took 13 days to present, a total of 53 separate items of evidence were offered and 41 of them admitted as evidence. Three exhibits of defense evidence were admitted.
Going into the jury room along with the material evidence were the detailed instructions of Circuit Judge George R. Duncan. He told the jury they could return one of five verdicts. They are first degree murder with no recommendation, first degree with a recommendation for life in prison, second degree, manslaughter or acquittal. Judge Duncan instructed the jury that to return a first degree verdict the decision must be the decision of all the jurors. For any of the other verdicts 10 of 12 jurors must concur in the decision.
All members of counsel participated in the closing arguments which took all the day Wednesday. Defense Attorneys Bruce Williams and Otto R. Skopil Jr. teamed in a scathing attack on the state’s case. Special Prosecutor Charles Raymond and District Attorney Kenneth E. Brown teamed in a broad review of the case and in criticism of the defense for failure to explain away evidence. District Attorney Brown, who had generally taken a secondary role during the rest of the trial, took the major role in the final arguments. However, Raymond carried the burden of final summing up for the prosecution and the final refuting of defense statements.
Defense arguments centered on the testimony of Ralph Prouty, the state’s ballistic expert, who appeared as a witness three times during the course of the trial. Pointing to Oveross, Skopil stated, “If you send this man to the gas chamber it will be on the basis of Officer Prouty’s testimony.”
The Statesman morning newspaper, Salem, Friday, July 15, 1955
Jury Frees Oveross of Murder Charge
Jurors Consider Case 24 Hours Prior to Verdict
Cap Oveross, the man almost no one wanted to see convicted, went free Thursday night. It was the second time the lean-faced Silverton carpenter had been cleared of a murder charge since Ervin Kaser was found shot to death in his car last Feb. 17, but this time it was by the conclusive, unanimous vote of a hot, tired and solemn-faced jury.
Jury Foreman Mrs. Bessie Edwards read the verdict at exactly 5:26 p.m., just 30 minutes short of 24 hours after the Marion County Circuit Court jury of nine women and three men began deliberation. Oveross heard the verdict “Not Guilty” with little outward emotion, but tears moistened the eyes of many of the 44 spectators, most of them members of his family who were on hand for the jury decision. Defense Attorney Bruce Williams hugged Oveross’s shoulder at the verdict, almost it seemed to keep him from sliding back into the chair he had occupied during the 18 days of the trial.
Statesman–Family Rushes to Congratulate ‘Cap’ on ‘Not Guilty’ Verdict. A relieved family, led by his two daughters, surrounded Casper Oveross Thursday evening when a jury returned a verdict of not guilty in his trial for the murder of Ervin Kaser, a one-time neighbor. Here left to right in the courtroom a few seconds after the jury decision was read are Oveross, his brother-in-law, Henry Anunson, daughters Colleen, and Karen, siter-in-law Mrs. Henry Oveross, and sisters Mrs. Lillian Anunson and Mrs. Ruth Schubert.
When Circuit Judge George R. Duncan told Oveross he was released, he walked back to the second row of spectator seats and sat down with his relieved family. Then they all filed quietly out of the courtroom. Some five minutes after the verdict Oveross, with daughter Colleen on one arm and daughter Karen on the other, walked out of the courthouse, presumably to a family reunion at the home of one of his sisters or his brother. All had kept an unbroken vigil outside the courtroom while the jury was deliberating.
Oveross, forever free of the charge of slaying Kaser, plans to stay a few weeks in the Silverton area with his family. Then he intends to find a job to prove himself to his daughters, his family and to the 12 jurors who acquitted him. he says he wants to work to provide a college education for Colleen and Karen. He didn’t say whether his plans would take him back to Alaska where his car and his carpenter tools are.
Statesman–Oveross Daughters Grip Freed Father. Colleen Oveross had a proud grip on one arm and Karen had a firm hold to one hand as they escorted their dad Casper Oveross from the Marion County Courthouse Thursday. A few minutes before the poicture was taken Oveross was freed of a first degree murder charge by a tired jury of nine women and three men. Oveross said he planned to go to work to provide a college education for the two daughters, who stayed by him faithfully through two arrests and a long trial for the shooting of Ervin Kaser.
Judge Duncan thanked the jury for its public service. “No other jury will be called on probably for many years to come to hear such a difficult case,” he said. Then the judge excused the jurors, Mrs. Edwards, Mrs. Louise Franzen and Perry Baker, both of Turner, Harry Oldenberg of Jefferson, Mrs. Myrtle Rogers, Mrs. Delores Throneberry, Mrs. Doris McMullen, Mrs. Helen Taylor and Mrs. Norma Lawless, all of Salem. Mrs. Evelyn Beard of Aurora and Mrs. Margaret Edgell of Woodburn.
Defense attorneys Williams and Otto R. Skopil Jr. were jubilant over the verdict. District Attorney Kenneth E. Brown appeared satisfied that the long deliberation of the jury was indicative of careful consideration of all the evidence. Special Prosecutor Charles Raymond, contacted in Portland, said, “The jury has spoken. We presented all the evidence available. Judge Duncan gave us a very fair trial.” At 5:28 p.m., only four minutes after the jury had filed back into the jury box, Judge Duncan recessed the court in the case of State vs. Casper Arnold Oveross.
Acquittal of Oveross Adds Kaser’s Death To Unsolved Crimes
Acquittal of Casper Oveross Thursday of the charge that he killed Ervin O. Kaser adds the Silverton area shooting to the list of unsolved mysteries. Oveross, himself, by law can never be retried for the crime. The kaser murder case, which since the first areest of Oveross had become the Oveross case, has commanded the highest interest of any criminal case in recent Marion County history. The quiet little Evergreen Community some two miles south of Silverton was torn in two by the rifle shots that ripped through the frosty, starlit night last Feb. 17.
One of the four slugs tore through the doorpost of Ervin Kaser’s Plymouth sedan, tore a gaping wound in Kaser’s back and killed him instantly. Across the Silverton-Stayton Highway from the white frame house where Kaser lived alone, Mr. and Mrs. Emmanuel Kellerhals had just retired for the night. They told of hearing the first shot, of rushing to their bedroom window, of seeing the last three flashes, and of seeing a dark sedan speed off south into the night. It was only a matter of minutes before police, called first by Kaser’s brother Melvin, began the search for “Cap” Oveross, who many knew had blamed Kaser for breaking up his home. Cap, a slender, taciturn carpenter, had lived alone in a small cabin apartment in Silverton since he moved out of his Evergreen home last August. There, about three hours after the slaying, police found him and began a night-long interrogation which became a temper point in the investigation and trial to follow.
Evergreen community was made up for the most part by residents who had lived all their lives in the area. Melvin and Harvey Kaser, both brothers of the slain man, lived within a short distance of the murder scene, Melvin just next door to the south. Ethel and Cap Oveross, both born within a few miles of Silverton, had lived there for many years. Both their pretty young daughters, Colleen 19, and Karen 14, had attended the two-room Evergreen school where Ethel was the clerk of the school board. Mrs. Oveross had been Ethel Knight before her marriage to Cap twenty years ago. She was a twin sister of Edith Knight who married Harvey Kaser. The Kellerhals, the Wayne Moores, the Barnes families–all of them were long-time residents of the community, all of them were to play roles in the tragedy.
Sympathies of the community mostly went to Cap Oveross. Ervin Kaser, described as a “lone wolf” was not on speaking terms with his two nearby brothers, hadn’t been for over a year. He was described as a man who feared for his life, careful of his actions, driving behind his home so he could enter the house from the rear. Since 1952 he had been seeing Ethel Oveross. She said they had met frequently at a trysting place north of Silverton. Last year Kaser’s wife Mary moved out and started a suit for divorce. Earlier Cap had taken steps to divorce Ethel, blaming her associations with Kaser in the complaint. Their divorce, result of a countersuit by Ethel, was granted in October.
Oveross made damning denials during that night and morning of questioning, police said. Sheriff Denver Young, who direct the investigation, testified Oveross had denied owning a rifle, denied being south of Silverton that night, told of spending the evening between two Silverton taverns. After some 10 hours, during which time he was questioned at his cabin, enroute to the sheriff’s office, back to the scene and in Silverton, Oveross was taken back to his cabin. The 10 hours, because of the testimony and through accusations of defense counsel, played a heavy part in the trial. Oveross’ attorneys Bruce Williams and Otto R. Skopil Jr., who he had retained shortly after his release, accused police of gestapo tactics, of denying constitutional rights to a free American. They said his cabin was entered and searched without benefit of a search warrant in violation of the bill of rights. They said he was held through those hours without a warrant being issued for his arrest, without being able to contact an attorney. They fought the admission of evidence based on that period.
For five days the Silverton seethed with rumors, of a rendezvous near Silver Falls, of two men in an old car, of the unexpected death of one of Kaser’s one-tim friends. Ponds and streams, wells and brush in the vicinity of the crime were searched for the murder weapon. Then, after a long session with an unnamed witness, a deputy sheriff and a state policeman went to Oveross’ niece’s home with a warrant for his arrest on a charge of first degree murder. A week later, after 17 witnesses had testified, a Marion County Grand Jury declined to indict him and Oveross walked unbelievingly and happily from the jail a free man. Police went back to work investigating. Oveross went back to work as a carpenter.
Then after about six weeks he paid up his bills, said goobye to his daughters, his sisters, his brother and his friends and drove his 1950 Ford to Alaska where he got a job carpentering. In the meantime voices of complaints were heard that District Attorney Kenneth E. Brown, himself a Silverton resident, hadn’t called all his witnesses for the grand jury. possibility of a special prosecutor was raised. And police kept looking for the murder gun, the one piece of evidence they felt they needed to break the case. That break came on May 8. It was Sunday, Mother’s Day, and Larry Wacker, aged 12, was down on the Pudding River near Pratum looking for crawdads. He spotted the butt end of a .30-.30 Winchester carbine sticking out of the muck and the water, so he pulled it out and carried it up on the bridge to show his two young friends Neil and Ralph Beutler. They carried the rifle home and the sheriff’s office was notified. Next day the gun was at the State Crime Detection Laboratory where Ralph Prouty conducted some tests and said it fired the bullet which killed Ervin Kaser.
Police had already checked through Silverton hardware and sporting goods store records. They knew Cap Oveross had bought a gun from the Ames Hardware Co. in 1949 about the time the store got a shipment of two .30-.30 Winchesters. One of those guns had the same serial number as the murder gun. WIth this new evidence District Attorney Brown took the case to the grand jury again and came away with a first degree murder indictment against Oveross. Police began a widening search for the defendant. So did his attorneys who found him first through a letter he sent Colleen from Alaska. Oveross, notified of the indictment, turned himself in to authorities at Fairbanks, Alaska, and a week later was returned to Marion County by Sheriff Denver Young and Sgt. Wayne Huffman of state police to stand trial.
The trial began on June 21, 24 days ago. It took three days and 123 prospective jurors to get a jury. It took 13 days for the state to present its case. It took 13 witnesses and 2 hours and 29 minutes for the defense. It took 23 hours and 30 minutes for the jury to deliver a verdict.
[undated, unattributed newspaper article, from June/July 1957]
Gun Presented in Murder Trial Now Used by Deputies
A 30-30 rifle which played a major role in the Kaser murder trial here two years ago this month was released by court order Tuesday to the Marion County sheriff’s office for use in the sheriff’s official business.
The Winchester carbine, which allegedly was the weapon used to slay Ervin Kaser, had been held by the Marion County clerk’s office since the conclusion of the trial in which Casper Oveross was acquitted in June, 1955.
Release of the gun was ordered on a motion by the district attorney’s office pointing out that the weapon had never been claimed by its rightful owner.
And that concludes the trial. Next up: The Idiot Magazines
The murder and trial was such popular fodder for the local newspapers that even when there was nothing new to report, because court had been adjourned on Sunday, the Monday paper had a “human interest” story about the trial, and the Tuesday paper, because Monday was the 4th of July and court was adjourned that day, too, had a brief story speculating about what was to come next. So, here’s the week’s action in court, exactly 59 years ago this week.
The Statesman morning newspaper, Salem, Monday, July 4, 1955
Oveross Trial Draws Crowd of Spectators
As door bailiff during the Casper Oveross first degree murder trial, Bill Barlow, Willamette University law student, has something many courtroom spectators must have envied since the trial began June 21–he has a good seat for every day of what promises to be Marion County’s lengthiest trial in recent history. It’s Barlow’s job to handle the standing-room only crowds which have been packing Circuit Judge George R. Duncan’s courtroom daily since opening day. The crowds have been so large, in fact, that Judge Duncan has set an age limit for admittance. Only those over 15 years old can attend.
“Twice,” Barlow said, “I’ve had to turn away the nine-year-old son of one of the attorneys on the case.” The first few days, he said, weren’t too bad as far as the crowd was concerned. But the day they started calling witnesses, spectators were packed in the hallway.
“I couldn’t even get both courtroom doors open because they started pushing and shoving to get in just as soon as I opened one door,” he said Saturday. During the past 10 days of the trial, Barlow has spotted many regular attenders. In fact, two gray-haired ladies occupy the same seats nearly every day. One arrives before the doors open each morning and never leaves, even during a recess, until about 10 minutes before the day’s session ends. One old gentleman who arrives late each day has yet to hear any of the trial. He comes in, looks around, observes that there are no seats and stomps back out with the comment, “I can’t hear what they say anyhow!”
During the first few days of the trial one of the door bailiff’s biggest headaches was separating the spectators from the witnesses, who are not allowed inside the courtroom except while testifying. One witness, however, got by him and Barlow had to take him out of the courtroom, much to the witness’ annoyance. Another witness got bored just waiting in the hallway to be called. When his turn finally came to testify, Barlow found him riding up and down in the elevator. Most of the spectators, Barlow said, appear to be retired elderly people with nothing else to do but listen to the testimony. Many, of course, come from Silverton where both Oveross and Ervin Kaser, the man Oveross is accused of murdering last February, are well-known.
Some of the people really get carried away in their interest in the trial. The other day, Barlow said, a man stopped by his chair on the way out and whispered, “I sure hope nothing much happens this afternoon, I’ve got to go to the dentist, but I’ll be back just as soon as he’s finished with me.”
The Statesman morning newspaper, Salem, Tuesday, July 5, 1955
Detective Work to Unfold at Casper Oveross Trial Today
Details of long weeks of detective work by sheriff’s deputies and state policemen are expected to be unfolded today as the first degree murder trial of Casper A. Oveross opens its third week in Marion County Circuit Court here. The prosecution will probably put Deputy Amos Shaw on the stand first today as it begins it attempt to link the rifle which it claims killed Ervin Kaser last Feb. 17. Much of today’s testimony is expected to be built around the investigation of Shaw and State Policeman Lloyd Riegel, concerning ownership of the 30-30 Winchester carbine which has been admitted as evidence in the trial.
Among those witnesses who may also testify in the half-day of court are Marion Zahler and Omer Bailey, both employes of a Silverton hardware store which had reportedly sold Oveross such a gun in 1949. The trial resumes at 1 p.m. after a Fourth of July holiday recess. Just how detailed the chain of evidence is concerning the ownership of the murder gun has been a closely guarded prosecution secret. The gun ownership, the motive for murder and the expected testimony of persons who saw Oveross the night of the slaying have been labeled the key points in the state’s case against the 43-year-old carpenter. Oveross, who witnesses have testified blamed Kaser for break-up of his marriage and threatened to kill him for it, is accused of firing four shots into Kaser’s automobile at the victim’s home south of Silverton. One of the bullets struck Kaser and killed him instantly.
The Statesman morning newspaper, Salem, Wednesday, July 6, 1955
Ex-Store Clerk Says Oveross Bought Rifle
Ownership of a rifle of the same type as the weapon which killed Ervin Kaser was linked Tuesday to Casper Oveross, now on trial here for Kaser’s murder. Mrs. Marion Zahler, now of Eugene but formerly of Silverton, testified in Marion County Circuit Court that she sold a 30-30 Winchester carbine to Oveross on March 5, 1949, when she was an employe of the Ames Hardware store at Silverton.
Linking Oveross to a gun of the type which state’s testimony indicates was the murder weapon was the major evidence presented Tuesday, the 11th day of the first degree murder tiral before Circuit Judge George R. Duncan. Police officers who interrogated Oveross after the Feb. 17 slaying at Kaser’s home south of Silverton testified earlier that the defendant had denied ever owning a 30-30 rifle. Defense Attorney Bruce Williams states Oveross has never made such a denial.
Testifying also in connection with the reported sale of the gun to Oveross were Deputy Amos Shaw, State Policeman Lloyd T. Riegel, Norris Ames, Omer Bailey and Carl Handy. Shaw and Riegel told of finding the sales slips, invoice, letter and account sheets in the records of the Carl Handy Hardware store, owned in 1949 by Ames. Bailey was also an employe of the store at the time Oveross is reported to have made the purchase. All of the records except the invoice were admitted as evidence Tuesday. The prosecution is expected to call Steve Zolotoff and Casper Towe, both of Silverton, to the witness stand today in an attempt to shorten the link of ownership and establish the invoice, which contains serial numbers of two rifles, as evidence. The trial will resume at 9:15 a.m. today.
More Kaser Slaying Scene Photos Offered
A second set of murder scene photographs, aimed at countering defense counsel hints that the death car may have been moved prior to complete investigation, was admitted as evidence Tuesday in the murder trial of Casper Oveross here. Deputy John Zabinski of the Marion County sheriff’s office testified he took the several pictures of the scene of the slaying of Ervin Kaser about an hour and half after the crime. He testified that the car was not moved or touched to his knowledge before Ralph Prouty of the state crime laboratory took other pictures several hours later. The pictures taken by Prouty were the first seven exhibits submitted in the prosecution’s case over a week ago.
Zabinski was the last of seven state’s witnesses called during Tuesday’s session and he was still on the stand when court recessed for the night. At the time of the recess defense attorneys Bruce Williams and Otto R. Skopil Jr. had opened a battle against further testimony by Zabinski relating to some measurements made by him at the crime scene last week.
Bulk of Tuesday’s testimony centered around the sale of a 30-30 Winchester rifle by the Ames Hardware store of Silverton in 1949. Mrs. Marion Zahler, then a bookkeeper and clerk at the store, said she sold such a gun to Oveross at that time. Mrs. Zahler identified sales slips and invoices involving receipt and sale of the rifle and testified she had actually concluded the sale to Oveross. Records of the store show Oveross bought a rifle on March 5, 1949 for $62.45, charging it to an open account.
Testimony of Mrs. Zahler, Omer Bailey, another employe at the same time, and Norris mes, then owner of the store, indicated that guns were then in short supply and that rifles were bought almost as soon as they arrived. Ames said the invoice, offered for evidence Tuesday, indicated that two .30 caliber Winchester were received at the same time. Testimony indicated one of the two, listed on the invoice by serial numbers, was sold to Oveross by Mrs. Zahler, and the second was sold to Steve Zolotoff by Casper Towe, also a store employe at that time.
Special Prosecutor Charles Raymond and District Attorney Kenneth O. Brown said Zolotoff and Towe would be called to testify today to show that the second gun is still in Zolotoff’s possession. They say this will prove that the gun sold to Oveross is the same gun which was found May 8 in the Pudding River and which ballistics tests prove was the murder weapon.
First on the stand for the state Tuesday was Deputy Amos Shaw who testified he was called to the Pratum home of John Roth the afternoon Larry Wacker and two companions discovered the rifle in the river. He said he took possession of the gun, taking it the next day to the state crime laboratory in Portland for examination by Prouty. Shaw said he did not attempt to look through the barrel of the gun when it was turned over to him. He described the gun as being muddy with some rust on it at that time. He would make no estimate under cross-examination as to how long the gun had been in the water. Shaw also testified to a search of records of the Ames Hardware store back in March when documents showing the sale of a rifle to Oveross were located. He said he, Officer Lloyd Riegel of the state police and Carl Handy, present owner of the store, made the original search March 10, about two weeks after the slaying. A letter found in the letter file of the Ames’ records only Tuesday morning, was among the records offered in evidence during the day by the prosecution.
Which is the heavy end? Officer Lloyd Riegel of the State Police attempts to ascertain the balance of a 30-30 Winchester Carbine while testifying as state’s witness in the first degree murder trial of Casper A. Oveross Tuesday. Riegel made the tests on the stand after Defense Attorney Bruce Williams asked him on cross-examination which end of the rifle he though was the heavier. The rifle which the state claims is the murder weapon in the Ervin Kaser case was reportedly found muzzle down in the mud of the Pudding River near Pratum. Riegel decided the muzzle end was heaviest.
Riegel corroborated Shaws’ testimony concerning the records and testified also to the location of a sales slip showing sale of a 30-30 Winchester also to Zolotoff. He said that the slip was found in the records by him and Sgt. Wayne Huffman of the state police on the same day the gun was found. Riegel also testified that several empty rifle cartridges entered as state’s evidence were the same ones turned over to him by Harvey Kaser, brother of the slain man, and which Harvey’s 10-year-old son testified he had found in the neighborhood. Under cross-examination by Williams, Riegel spent 15 minutes in a search of several report books to answer Williams’ question as to how many times he had visited the Harvey Kaser home during the course of the investigation. At the end of the search in which the court was recessed he noted that he had been there twice. Williams questioned Riegel closely also on condition of the rifle which Riegel said he saw for the first time on May 9, the morning after it was found, when he and Shaw took it to Portland. he declined to estimate how long the gun had been in the water, saying, “I wouldn’t say it was in very good condition.”
The Statesman morning newspaper, Salem, Thursday, July 7, 1955
Mrs. Oveross Tells of Meeting Victim on Night of Slaying
Mrs. Ethel Oveross testified in circuit court Wendesday that she was with Ervin Kaser a short time before he was slain near Silverton. Her former husband, Casper Oveross (back to camera at right) is on trial for first degree murder in the Feb. 17 slaying.
The curtain of rumor covering the activities of Ethel Oveross and Ervin Kaser on the night Kaser was slain was pulled back Wednesday when Mrs. Oveross took the stand as state’s witness in the murder tiral of her former husband Casper Oveross. Mrs. Oveross, poised but soft-spoken during her testimony, was one of 18 witnesses called by the prosecution Wednesday as the tempo of the trial picked up in Marion County Circuit Court here. Appearance of Mrs. Oveross on the stand opened a running battle between defense attorneys Bruce Williams and Otto Skopil Jr., and prosecution counsel Charles Raymond and Kenneth O. Brown, Marion County district attorney over admissibility of evidence. Mrs. Oveross told of meeting Kaser north of Silverton about 7:45 p.m. Feb. 17, the night of the slaying. She said they drove onto Monitor highway in Kaser’s car and around toward Mt. Angel before parking on a side road for about an hour and a half. No other details of the evening were given except the return home, which she said was made in their separate cars about 10:40 p.m. She said she never saw Ervin Kaser again after they drove away from their rendezvous place on the north side of Abiqua Creek. Attempts by the defense to ask several questions about the family relationship of the Oveross couple in the past three years were beaten down for the most part in objections by the prosecution. Twice, however, Mrs. Oveross answered defense questions during cross-examination before the objections could be heard.
Activities of Oveross during much of the night of the murder were traced by nine of the witnesses appearing Wednesday. They were called after defense counsel blocked attempts by the prosecution to enter testimony about a second 30-30 Winchester rifle reportedly on the same shipment as the one which witnesses said Tuesday Oveross bought back in 1949. A new effort to have the testimony entered will probably be made today when Steven Zolotoff, reportedly the owner of the gun, is called back to the witness stand. The trial, starting its 13th day today, resumes at 9:15 a.m.
Oveross, Former Wife Meet During Murder Trial
Casper Oveross and his former wife Ethel faced each other Wednesday for the first time since Oveross was charged with slaying Ervin Kaser, the man he blamed for breaking up his marriage of nearly 20 years. They faced each other across a scant 10 feet of courtroom, Oveross at the counsel table as defendant in a first degree murder trial, and Mrs. Oveross on the witness stand as a witness in the state’s case against him. No sign of recognition crossed Mrs. Oveross’ features and Oveross retained the same expressionless composure he has held through the twelve days of the trial. Only once did Mrs. Oveross appear to take a fleeting look at her former husband. Mrs. Oveross, who divorced her husband last Oct. 7, was on the stand for 21 minutes, relating mostly the events of the night of the slaying last Feb. 17. In a voice so barely audible that Circuit Judge George R. Duncan requested her to speak louder and address her answers to the jurors, Mrs. Oveross told of her activities during the evening in answer to District Attorney Kenneth Brown’s questions.
Question: Did you see Ervin Kaser on the night of Feb. 17, 1955?
Answer: Yes, I did.
A: At a place about 2 miles north of Silverton on the north side of Abiqua Creek.
Q: What time did you arrive at that place?
A: About a quarter of eight in the evening.
Q: How did you get there?
A: I drove in my car.
Q: And how did he arrive?
A: In his.
Q: And what did you do then?
A: I left my car there. We drove onto the Monitor highway, around toward Mt. Angel and back toward Silverton. We drove up a side road and stopped for awhile.
Q: About how long were you there?
A: I couldn’t say how long we were there, probably about an hour and a half. Then we drove back to my car.
Q: And then what did you do?
A: I drove home in my car by the way of the lower bridge (James Street bridge).
Q: What time did you arrive at your home?
A: I got home about 10:40 p.m.
Mrs. Oveross said the last she saw of Kaser was just this side of their rendezvous spot when he took a different route into Silverton. She said she never saw him again. At that point Mrs. Oveross was turned over for cross-examination which touched off a series of objections by prosecution which continued through the examination of Mrs. Mary Kaser, widow of the slain man, who followed Mrs. Oveross to the stand. Questions by Defense Attorney Bruce Williams on circumstances surrounding the Oveross divorce and family life in the years immediately preceding the divorce, brought rapid fire objections by Brown who during one period of the cross-examination objected to six defense questions in succession. Two questions, one on whether the Oveross couple were “very happy until a point in 1952 when you stared seeing Ervin Kaser,” were answered “yes” by Mrs. Oveross before Brown could voice his objections. The series of objections came on the following questions: “Isn’t it true Ervin Kaser could not open the front door of his house?” “Didn’t Ervin tell you he had reported to police about being followed by two men in an old car down near his mother’s place?” “Where did Colleen (the Oveross’ daughter) park her car in Silverton on her way to work in Salem?” “Was it a common practice to meet there north of Silverton?” “You were submitted at one time by Sheriff Young to a lie detector test?”
Preceding Mrs. Oveross to the stand was an Evergreen Community couple who testified they had seen Casper Oveross at his former home the night of the slaying. Robert Barnes and his wife Sibyl, who reside about a mile and half south of the Ervin Kaser home, told of seeing Oveross’ car back out of the driveway as they headed for Silverton enroute to a Woodburn Grange meeting shortly after 8 p.m. that night. They told of following behind Oveross car until in front of the Kaser home where they said Oveross slowed down to 10 to 15 miles an hour and appeared to be leaning over in the driver’s seat to observe the house. [EK_NOTE: this would have been when Oveross was, as Collen Oveross and Danny Gilham told police, visiting her at her home, and both cars were now traveling north toward Silverton, so Ervin Kaser’s house would have been on their right-hand side.] They returned after 11 p.m. they testified, relating that several cars were at the murder scene at that time. Barnes estimated the time at about 11 p.m. and Mrs. Barnes 11:30 p.m.
A visit to the Barnes home by Oveross on the day his divorce settlement was made was also recounted by the couple who testified Oveross had made the statement then, “One thing, if I catch Ervin Kaser under any roof I’m working on, I’ll kill him.” Barnes told also of a visit paid by Oveross on the day of the slaying, but didn’t recall that Kaser was mentioned on that day. Mrs. Barnes said the first they knew that a shooting had occurred was when they dropped her mother-in-law off at her home between Kaser’s and their home. She said Mr. Barnes remarked about hearing shots, but she didn’t recall any mention of Kaser being shot at that time. First knowledge of the slaying was later that night when her brother, who had baby sat for them, returned after taking his girl friend home. Her husband had made no mention of this during his testimony.
Mrs. Kaser, separated but not divorced from Ervin Kaser at the time of the murder, appeared to be quite emotionally disturbed during her testimony. She related of talking briefly to Oveross on Jan. 27, 1955 at the state capitol building where she works concerning her divorce. She said she had also talked to Oveross at other times about the possibility of his becoming a witness in her suit. A string of objections met defense cross examination of Mrs. Kaser and twice led to mild admonishments by Judge Duncan against the line of questioning by Defense Attorney Otto R. Skopil Jr. Objections rose over questions regarding when Mrs. Kaser had stared going with Ervin, whether she had had any difficulty with Kaser regarding her daughter and if it hadn’t been necessary to call police to protect her daughter. A photostatic copy of Mrs. Kaser’s divorce complaint was offered as evidence by the defense, but was not admitted after Special Prosecutor Charles Raymond objected the complaints were not substantiated by legal action. Further objections were voiced to defense questions “Haven’t police officers accused you of seeing Oveross up near Silver Creek Falls? Did you ask for a special prosecutor? and were you given a lie detector test by Denver Young?”
Oveross’ activities for part of the evening of the crime were traced in testimony of several state’s witnesses. Richard (Shorty) Kiefer, owner of Shorty’s Tavern near Silverton, stated Oveross was in his tavern at 3 p.m., again between 6 and 7 p.m. and from about 7 to about 10 p.m.
Rodney Oster testified he talked to Oveross during the evening at Shorty’s. He said Oveross told hiim some of his troubles, stating his wife was supposed to be out to lodge but he knew she was not. “They’re out together,” he was quoted as saying. he also remarked about a friend who was serving 99 years for murder and that it wasn’t worth doing anything about. Oster and his wife both told of going to the Town House, a combination bar and restaurant in Silverton, where they were from about 10:30 to 12:30 o’clock that night. Both stated they did not see Oveross there during that time. They said they heard of the shooting while there, but couldn’t recall the time.
Mrs. Rose Mary Teglund of Silverton testified she saw Oveross at Frank’s Grocery in Silverton about 8:15 p.m. that night. She recalled the time because they had rushed downtown between TV programs which they wanted to see.
Denny Legard, who operates Legard’s Union Service station in Silverton, testified Oveross bought $2 worth of gasoline at his station about 8:30 p.m. that night. On cross examination he reported he didn’t recall Oveross’ car making any undue noise as it arrived or left the station. He said he thought Oveross drove toward town when he left.
George L. Hopkins and his wife, Shirley, who occupied the cabin adjacent to Oveross at the Holland Apartments, and Mrs. Hopkins’ brother, Duane L. Mattox who was at their home during part of the evening, testified about comings and goings at the Oveross place. All stated a car came to the cabin about 8:30 p.m. and another time a car came shortly after 11 p.m. Hopkins insisted that lights were not on at the Oveross cabin when he arrived home at 10:30 p.m. He said newspapers had been over the windows of the Oveross cabin since he had moved in.
Wayne Moore, next-door neighbor to Oveross for several years, told of going hunting with Oveross in 1951-52-53. He said Oveross owned a 30-30 carbine but he didn’t know what kind of a gun it was. When shown state’s exhibit No. 21, the gun fished from the Pudding River, he said it looked lie the gun but, “I couldn’t swear it was the gun.” Moore said the last time he saw the gun was in the spring or summer of 1954 when he saw it standing in the corner of the kitchen at the Oveross home. He testified also Oveross had talked to him in the spring of 1953 about Ervin Kaser, stating that his wife was stepping out with Ervin Kaser. Just before the divorce Moore said Oveross told him if “I didn’t quit associating with Ervin Kaser we weren’t going to be very good friends.” He also said an Oldsmobile is mixed up in it and he hoped it wasn’t mine. “I would consider him a good shot,” said Moore when asked by District Attorney Brown on that matter. Moore said he had never heard Oveross deny owning a 30-30 rifle and had no knowledge that he had ever denied it to anyone else.
At the close of the trial day, Silverton policemen James Painter and Merle Bethscheider were called back to the stand to testify concerning their entry of Oveross’ cabin during the night of the slaying. Both stated they entered the cabin because they considered the possibility there may have been a suicide. They said the lights were on, newspapers over the window, key in the outside of the door and they knew the cabins were equipped with gas. They stated that a box containing .30 caliber shells, shotgun shells and other items which were later found in the cupboard were on the draining board when they entered the cabin the first time. Both admitted they did not have a search warrant at the time and Oveross was not there, but said they felt that knowing Oveross was a suspect in the crime that there was a possibility of suicide.
The Statesman morning newspaper, Salem, Friday, July 8, 1955
Rifle Fired as Test In Trial of Oveross
Chambers of Circuit Judge George R. Duncan became an unprecedented rifle testing area Thursday as the state sought to bypass defense objections to evidence in the first degree murder trial of Casper A. Oveross. Materials for the test were rushed to the Marion County Courthouse from the State Crime Detection Laboratory in Portland in order to permit use of the 30-30 Winchester carbine which the state claims is the gun with which Ervin Kaser was slain last Feb. 17. The test, conducted by Ralph Prouty of the crime laboratory, climaxed the 13th day of the trial in which one state’s witness asserted two others had lied, and another couple testified Oveross paid a nighttime visit to their home on the night of the slaying.
James Gilham and his wife Jennie Gilham, who reside about seven miles south of Silverton, testified Oveross was at their home to see Gilham’s son Daniel the night Kaser was shot to death at his home. Mrs. Gilham fixed the time as 11:15 p.m. by her clock “which always gains a little.” Gilham said the clock was 15 minutes fast when he retired at 9:30 p.m.
“That’s a lie, yes!” Gerald (Jerry) Hoyt, Silverton bartender, said on the stand Thursday when Bruce Williams, defense counsel for Oveross, asked what would you say if I told you two Silverton policement quoted you as saying Oveross was a good suspect in the murder.
It was a day of some frustration for prosecutors Charles Raymond of Portland, and Marion County District Attorney Kenneth O. Brown. They were blocked on attempts to have admitted as evidence what was described as two key exhibits in the case. One of these blocks they hoped to get around with the test firing Friday night. Attempts to have the Ames Hardware Company invoice, showing shipment of two 30-30 Winchester rifles to the store in 1949, admitted as evidence for the state were blocked by sustained objections of the defense. The invoice contains serial nubmers of the two guns, one of which was sold to Steven Zolotoff of Silverton. The state contends the second rifle was sold to Casper Oveross and is the rifle with which Kaser was slain. The serial number of the murder weapon is the same as the one of those appearing on the invoice.
An attempt to enter a test-fired cartridge from the murder gun which the prosecution said would compare with one taken from a target range in back of the Oveross home was also blocked by the defense on the grounds the test was not made by legal standards.
Court resumes at 9:15 a.m. today in what may be the windup of the state’s direct presentation of evidence. Only a handful of witnesses remained to be called. One of these, however, is Daniel Gilham who his parents testified talked with Oveross outside their home on the murder night.
Ballistics Expert Makes Rifle Test At Oveross Trial
A third long battle of wits developed Thursday between Defense Attorney Otto R. Skopil Jr. and Ralph Prouty, the state’s ballistics expert, during the trial of Casper Oveross, charged with the first degree murder of his one-time neighbor Ervin Kaser. Prouty, making his third appearance as a witness in the trial, was on the stand for 2 1/2 hours during the day, much of it under sharp cross-examination by Skopil. During Prouty’s stay on the stand the state succeeded in having two 30-30 cartridges admitted as evidence, but lost out on attempts to have two others admitted. A live round, reportedly taken from the .30 caliber Winchester found in the Pudding River, was admitted over defense objection. Also admitted was around reportedly found under Oveross’ couch a few hours after the murder
Prouty told of comparing the round from the gun and two of those found in the Oveross cabin and said it was his conclusion they were the same type and make (Remington UMC). A third round was not the same, Prouty testified. An empty cartridge which Sheriff Denver Young had testified to removing from Oveross’ jacket pocket on the night of the slaying was withdrawn from consideration after Prouty testified his examination indicated it was fired from another gun. He said comparisons shoed the cartridge had been fired from a .30 caliber Savage owned by Virgil Huddleston of Silverton and which Oveross said he had test fired on Feb. 17, date of the slaying.
A cartridge from a round test fired through the murder weapon was brought in by Prouty who said it compared with another shell which Jeffery Kaser, young son of Harvey Kaser, told of picking up at the Oveross home some two or three years ago. He said it was his conclusion they had both been fired in the chamber of the death gun. Also offered were photographs aimed at showing points of comparison of the two shells. All of these exhibits were offered as evidence but were rejected when Skopil stated that one of the rounds was of Winchester make and the other of Remington. He quoted Oregon law to show that tests must be made with material as nearly identical as possible after drawing the admission from Prouty that he had Winchester cartridges with which he could have conducted the test. Prouty stated the reason he had not used identical brands was that it did not make any difference for this particular test.
The defense action brought a request from Special Prosecutor Charles Raymond that the state be permitted to use the evidence rifle to make tests with the similar cartridges. The permission was granted by Judge George R. Duncan over the objections of Skopil. The test was conducted in the presence of the defendant after court recessed Thursday night. A special box used at the crime laboratory for catching bullets without damage was brought to Salem from Portland and the test was made in the office of Judge Duncan’s secretary, Mrs. Rose Howard. It was expected the prosecution would make an attempt to have the new cartridges admitted as evidence for the jury sometime today.
Technique of photographing bullets for comparison purposes got some close examination from Counsel Skopil, too. He questioned Prouty for some 20 minutes at one time on the lighting used for microphotography. Prouty testified that every effort was made to have light strike both the evidence and test bullets in the same way, but that often the differences in coloration on the bullets did not indicate this. This was his explanation for the fact that what he had described as peak characteristics did not always appear to be the same color in the comparisons. Skopil asked Prouty why he didn’t use some cleaning solution such as a salt solution for cleaning foreign matter from the bullets. Prouty answered that he had not wanted to destroy any of the original characteristics of the bullet and thus be open to criticism on that count.
Prouty was one of 13 witnesses appearing for the state which appeared likely to wind up its case today. Bulk of the day’s witnesses testified to activities of Oveross on Feb. 17 or to knowledge of a gun. One of these, Gerald Hoyt, a bartender at the Town House in Silverton, denied testimony of two Silverton police officers that he had named Oveross as a suspect after hearing of the shooting. Hoyt also testified he had not seen Oveross during the evening of the crime, but that he came in about 12:45 a.m. the next morning and had a 7-Up highball. Hoyt’s wife testified Oveross had had a cup of coffee in the cafe portion of the Town House before leaving between 1 and 1:30 a.m.
Preceding the Hoyts on the stand were Ray Ruscher of Mt. Angel, M. G. Eisenhart, Silverton gunsmith, Charles Hopkins, formerly of Silverton but now of Salem, Sgt. Wayne Huffman of State Police and Joseph Walker, a Mt. Angel area farmer. Ruscher told of seeing Oveross at Shorty’s Tavern at Silverton until Oveross left about 10 p.m. Eisenhart recalled that Oveross had a 30-30 rifle, but he didn’t know what kind. Hopkins told of a sidewalk conversation with the defendant in the fall of 1954. He said Oveross had been drinking and was feeling badly about his family situation and remarked he though he should have killed both of them. Oveross also mentioned a friend who was doing 99 years for murder, and also about lying out all night watching while Kaser visited his former home, Hopkins said. Sgt. Huffman told of contacting Ethel Oveross, ex-wife of the defendant who was with Kaser until a few minutes before he was slain. He mentioned of contacting a Joseph Walker, a farmer near Mt. Angel during the investigation. Walker took the stand to report a conversation with Oveross near his farm about two miles south of Mt. Angel in which Oveross had stated he was looking for tire tracks in October of 1954. He mentioned something about his divorce and alimony, Walker testified. Walker said he observed a part of a case of beer and a gun in the car, but couldn’t say whether it was a rifle or a shotgun.
Some details of the night Oveross was first arrested in connection with the crime were reported in testimony of Lt. Farley Mogan of the Salem district office of State Police. he said he had asked Oveross if he wanted to make a statement when he first saw him at 8:50 p.m. on the night of Feb. 22, adding he declined to answer at all to this question or any others about age, physical description, etc. Mogan said Oveross was at the state police office for about 45 minutes and that he had personally made attempts during that time to contact his attorney Bruce Williams. During cross-examination he explained the presence of newspaper reporters by saying they had apparently sensed something was up and had been around the office for several hours.
Two other policemen followed Mogan to the stand. Frank Dederick now with the State Police at Eugene told of target practice at his uncle H. A. Barnes’ place south of Silverton which was joined by Oveross last September. Shown the 30-30 carbine, he stated “It looks like it; It was a gun similar to this…” Oveross used.
Lewis G. Johnson, assistant director of the state bureau of identification, testified he was not successful in securing any fingerprints of value at the crime scene the night of the shooting.
Marian Zahler, onetime bookkeeper for the Ames Hardware Co., returned to the stand during the afternoon as the prosecution attempted once again to have an invoice admitted as evidence. She testified that a jobbers’ invoice file shown was the file for the company for Jan. 1 to June 1949 and indicated that no other .30-.30 Winchester rifles than the two in question were received by the store during that time. Defense blocked the new effort charging there was no proof that Mrs. Zahler was the custodian of the records, and that the invoice in question was a copy.
The nighttime visit to her home by Oveross was related by Mrs. Jennie Gilham who testified he had been there for a few minutes Feb. 17, 1955 shortly after 11 p.m. She said she could see him arrange something in the back seat with a folding motion while he waited for her step-son Daniel Gilham to come outside. Part of her testimony was corroborated by her husband James Gilham, who said he recognized Oveross’ void when he called to Daniel.
The Statesman morning newspaper, Salem, Saturday, July 9, 1955
Oveross Sought Aid in Alibi, Youth Says
Daniel Gilham, 19-year-old boyfriend of Casper Oveross’ daughter, testified Friday under oath that Oveross had come to his home during the night Ervin Kaser was slain and asked him to be his alibi. “Ervin has three slugs in him and I was with you last night,” Oveross was quoted as saying by young Gilham. Oveross, 43-year-old Silverton carpenter, is on trial in Marion County Circuit Court here for the rifle slaying of Kaser at the Kaser home south of Silverton last Feb. 17.
Gilham, apparently torn between two allegiances, was on the witness stand for nearly an hour as the state moved toward the close of its case which has now taken 11 days to present. Prosecution plans to rest its case Friday were detoured because its final scheduled witness, Ralph Prouty of the State Crime Detection Laboratory, was involved in an automobile mishap while en route to Salem from Portland to testify.
Gilham, a husky looking blond who had been one of Oveross’ hunting companions last fall, related details of the night of the slaying, and of threats of arrest if he “didn’t cooperate” with police. Marion County Sheriff Denver Young threatened to “put me in the Marion County jail and hold me under $50,000 bail as a material witness” if he didn’t cooperate, Gilham asserted. Gilham said Young also accused him of driving the car for Oveross on the night in question and of getting rid of the murder weapon. He said he was later submitted to a lie detector test at Eugene but did not know the results.
Special Prosecutor Charles Raymond, who questioned Gilham about the events of the night, interrupted him once to say he was surprised at his testimony. Gilham was then shown a signed statement by Raymond to “refresh your memory.” This was apparently directed at Gilham’s testimony that he could not identify the driver and car which had honked at him as he backed from the Oveross driveway after spending the evening of Feb. 17 with Colleen, Oveross’ attractive young daughter. Gilham stated that the statement was written by Sheriff Young, but that he had signed it on Feb. 22 the same day Oveross was first arrested in connection with the murder of Kaser.
Final state’s presentation, which Prosecutor Raymond promised the court would take only ten minutes, was postponed until Monday because of the inability of Prouty to take the stand. Dr. Homer Harris, director of the crime laboratory who examined Prouty at Salem, said he was apparently suffering from exhaustion. he was taken to Portland where he was scheduled to be hospitalized for observation Friday afternoon.
State to Rest Case In Oveross’s Trial
The state will rest its first degree murder case against Casper Oveross Monday morning, prosecutors said Friday after an automobile accident forced postponement of testimony by the final state’s witness. Ralph Prouty, state ballistics expert who was scheduled to testify to the results of new cartridge tests Friday in the windup of the Ervin Kaser murder case, was hospitalized in Portland for observation following the mishap. Dr. Homer Harris, director of the State Crime Detection Laboratory, took the stand briefly Friday afternoon to tell the court that he had examined Prouty and considered it unwise for the young technician to testify at this time.
Prouty was the object of a valley-wide search by police Friday morning when he failed to appear at the Marion County Courthouse here to testify as scheduled. His wife had reported he had left his home in Portland to drive to Salem about 7:45 a.m. According to state police, Prouty was found at 11:54 a.m. either unconscious or asleep in his car where it had run into a ditch near the Wilsonville Bridge about midway between Salem and Portland. He had apparently gone to sleep and driven off the road, police said. Patrolman Malcolm Clarkson, who found Prouty, said he had considerable difficulty arousing him.
Dr. Harris explained that Prouty had been keeping a heavy schedule of work and had not had sufficient sleep for several days. He had spent much of the night completing comparisons on cartridges fired through a 30-30 carbine which the state claims is the murder weapon. The gun was test fired Thursday night in the chambers of Circuit Judge George R. Duncan after Defense Counsel Bruce Williams and Otto R. Skopil Jr. had objected to the legality of earlier exhibits presented by the state. Special Prosecutor Charles Raymond said Friday he had talked by telephone with Prouty at the crime laboratory at midnight relative to results of the test and that he had been told the test was successful but that comparison pictures had not been taken yet. Prouty, who has testified three times during the course of the 14-day trial, had been under close cross-examination by the defense regarding his expert testimony.
Though shortened by the mishap, Friday’s court action marked important developments and testimony for both the state and the defendant. The development evolved from the testimony of Daniel Gilham who said the defendant had asked him to be his alibi after stating “Ervin has three slugs in him…” Gilham said he had left his Victor Point home about 6:30 p.m. the night of Feb. 17 and had gone to Colleen Oveross’s home. He told of the arrival of Oveross there about 8 p.m. and his departure about half an hour later. Gilham stated he stayed at the Oveross home until about 10:30 when he left for home. As he was leaving he said a car went up the hill (toward Silverton) and honked twice at him. He said the car “resembled Cap’s.” Gilham said he went to bed right after getting home and was awakened by his step-mother, Mrs. Jennie Gilham, who said someone wanted to see him.
“Who was that someone?” Prosecutor Raymon asked.
“Cap,” Gilham replied.
Q. What did you wear outside?
A. My pajamas.
Q. Now, Daniel, what did Cap say to you?
A. He said, Ervin has three slugs in him and I was with you last night. He didn’t say what time or anything like that.
Q. Anything else?
“I am surprised,” Raymond exclaimed. At this point he had a signed statement handed to Gilham on the witness stand.
Q. Did you make that statement on the date mentioned which was on Feb. 22, 1955?
Before Gilham could answer Defense Attorney Williams arose as if to object and asked “Is it in his handwriting?”
“No, Sir, it isn’t in my handwriting,” Gilham answered. Gilham said the statement was written by Sheriff Denver Young. He said Young “told me at the time if I didn’t cooperate…”
“Wait a minute!” said Raymond. Later after Gilham had viewed the statement, again Raymond continued the questioning.
Q. Now Mr. Gilham hvaing refreshed your memory — Have you refreshed it?
Q. Is there anything you wish to add about what Mr. Oveross said to you at that time?
A. Well, he said I was his witness that he was with me that night.
During cross examination Gilham was allowed to extend his statement about a threat of arrest by Sheriff Young despite repeated objections by District Attorney Kenneth O. Borwn and Raymond. Williams asked “Is it not true that Sheriff Young stated that unless you cooperated you would be placed in jail as a material witness under $50,000 bond?” “That is right,” Gilham answered quickly. Gilham told of being followed from Silverton by Deputy Sheriff Amos Shaw and State Patrolman Lloyd Riegel when Colleen was with him and stopped about half way to the Oveross home. They said he had to go with them for questioning, Gilham said. “Did they have a warrant for your arrest?” Williams asked.
“No,” Gilham replied.
“Did you go on to Colleen’s home?”
“What happened at Colleen’s home?”
“They said I should go with them to make a statement,” Gilham said, adding thta he wanted to drive over in his car but they said he should go over with them.
“Then what happened? Was there an altercation between you and Deputy Amos Shaw?”
“Yes,” Gilham answered.
“They were standing in what I call the living room there and I said…” At this point Gilham’s testimony was interrupted by Judge Duncan who asked what the defense intended to show with the line of questioning. “To show that Mr. Gilham was taken without benefit of warrant,” Williams asserted. Prosecutor Raymond’s objection which had prompted the judge’s action was sustained and testimony was concluded on that question. Attorney Williams was reprimanded by the judge a few moments later after a series of questions in which he asked about the sheriff’s reported threat, the accusation about driving for Oveross and the lie detector test. Gilham answered all three before prosecution objections could be interjected. GIlham testified that Oveross had appeared calm during the two times he saw him that night. He said after talking to Oveross he had gone back to bed and went back to sleep after awhile.
Only other witness to testify Friday was Deputy Amos Shaw who pointed out to the jury the relationship of the Gilham home, the place where the rifle was found, Kaser’s residence, Shorty’s Tavern, the Joseph Walker farm, and the Holland Cabins where Oveross lived. Shaw stated he measured the distance from the murder scene to Gilham’s as 5.3 miles and the same distance from Gilham’s to the Pudding River bridge. He estimated it was about eight miles from the bridge to Silverton and about two miles from Shorty’s Tavern to Silverton.
And that concludes week three of the trial. Next up: The Trial’s Conclusion
The trial now really gets under way, with the prosecution trying to squeeze in every bit of evidence they have, and the defense doing everything they can to get evidence disallowed and witnesses discredited.
The Statesman morning newspaper, Salem, Tuesday, June 28, 1955
Bullet Expert Quizzed
Photos Admitted as Evidence in Murder Trial of Oveross
Testimony of the state’s ballistics expert was questioned critically Monday by defense counsel as the first degree murder trial of Casper A. Oveross resumed in Marion County Circuit Court.
Attorney Otto R. Skopil Jr., leading the defense cross-examination of state’s witnesses, challenged crime laboratory technician Ralph Prouty repeatedly on the accuracy of his testimony relating to bullet holes in the automobile of the slain Ervin Kaser. Prouty, with the crime laboratory since July 1953, was on the witness stand most of the afternoon as the state sought to set the technical scene of the Feb. 17 murder south of Silverton.
The young Portlander was the sixth state witness to take the stand in the five-day-old trial, and the fifth called to the witness chair Monday. Previously Mr. and Mrs. Emmanuel Kellerhals, only known witnesses to the slaying, were among those offering testimony. They followed Deputy Sheriff Richard C. Boehringer to the stand and were followed by Melvin Kaser, brother of the dead man.
Mrs. Kellerhals, who has lived for 18 years across the highway from the Kaser home, was the first to recount details of the first few minutes following the shooting of Kaser. She told of hearing Kaser’s car pull into his driveway and of a car door slam about the same time a second car halted on the highway a few yards north.
“Mannie, someone’s shooting at Ervin,” she recalled saying after hearing one shot. She said both she and her husband jumped from bed to the front window of their home in time to see flashes of three more shots, and to see the second car speed away south. Mrs. Kellerhals testimony differed slightly from that of her husband on details of the second car’s movement. She said the car identified as dark in color, appeared to leave the scene about two or three seconds after the last shot, while Mr. Kellerhals said the car started immediately.
Police photo of tire tracks on the frozen shoulder of the Silverton-Stayton highway.
Additional photographs with which the state hopes to help build its first degree murder case against Casper A. Oveross were admitted as evidence Monday over the objections of defense counsel. Four colored slides of the slain Ervin Kaser’s car, and a black and white photograph purporting to show a tire track on the highway shoulder near the shooting scene were officially entered during the three-hour testimony of Ralph Prouty, state ballistics expert. Prouty, who was under close cross-examination by the defense attorneys, testified that his investigations at the scene indicated that the four shots fired into Kaser’s parked car came from a point at a 45 degree angle to the side of the car.
It was his testimony to width of the road shoulder where the killer’s car was believed to have halted, and to the location of bullet holes in the car that brought the sharpest examination by Defense Attorney Otto R. Skopil Jr. At one point Prouty was permitted to review his notes to give exact measurements. Then the defense ordered two pages of the notes admitted as defense exhibits to show that Prouty had given only approximations of distances in his direct testimony. Jurors spent some 15 minutes individually examining the notes which contained drawn diagrams of bullet holes in the car.
Prouty, whose testimony will resume at 9:15 a.m. today when court reconvenes, said he had taken the color pictures shortly after arriving on the death scene. Skopil objected to admission of each of the four slides on the grounds they were merely accumulative to black and white exhibits entered earlier, but was overruled by Circuit Judge George Duncan. The defense won its motion to have the individual pictures projected out of the presence of the jury, however, until their relativity to the case could be determined by the judge.
The four shots, one of which struck Kaser in the left shoulder and caused his death, apparently came from a point on the aline from about six feet above the far edge of the west shoulder of the highway, Prouty testified. This testimony also brought critical examination from the defense who asked Prouty how he could correlate this with the fact that the line of flight of one of the bullets was upward and at the same time entered the Kaser car about 50 inches above the ground. Prouty said the shoulder of the road which he was using for a reference point was considerably lower than the pavement and about three feet below the level of the ground where the Kaser car stood. He said he had chosen that point on the shoulder because he had detected a tire mark in the grass there. The tire did not make enough of an impression in the hard and frozen ground for making a cast, Prouty said.
Testimony of earlier witnesses, especially that of Mr. and Mrs. Emmanuel Kellerhals, fixed the scene of the Feb. 17 slaying. Mrs. Kellerhals, an Evergreen community Sunday school teacher, said she had just gone to bed and was not asleep when the shooting occurred. She looked from the front window of her home after hearing the first shot in time to see three more in rapid succession, she testified. After seeing the killer’s car race away and noting that lights were on the Kaser car and in the house, she said she telephoned the Kaser home but got no answer. She said she and her husband watched the Kaser car and after a couple of minutes when the lights were not turned out she called again to the Kaser home. Then she called the home of Melvin Kaser, brother of Ervin who lives on adjoining property to the south and through his wife advised him of the shooting.
Melvin called back in a few minutes and said he would call the Silverton constable to the scene, she testified. She said she and her busband watched the Kaser residence until Constable DePeel arrived on the scene about 15 minutes later. Both Kellerhals estimated the killer’s car had stopped at a point near the driveway north of their home. Mrs. Kellerhals answered questions by Defense Attorney Bruce Williams relating to what was termed a “episode which I didn’t like” involving Ervin Kaser before an objection by Special Prosecutor Charles Raymond halted the testimony. Mrs. Kellerhals explained outside the courtroom that the episode had involved an offer of a drink by Kaser. She said there had been no trouble about it.
Melvin Kaser admitted on the stand that he and Ervin had not spoken for about a year prior to the slaying. He did not say what the nature of the difficulties with his borther were. Melvin, second known person on the scene, testified it had been a habit of his brother for several months to park at the rear of his residence. Kaser told also of the discovery by Sheriff Denver Young some six weeks after the shooting of a spent bullet in the strawberry patch between his home and Ervin’s. This bullet, with the one found in the seat of Kaser’s car and the one taken from his body, is expected to support the state’s conclusion that a rifle linked to Oveross was the death weapon.
Burden of testimony by Deputy Richard C. Boehringer, also an early arrival on the scene, was that no one had touched the death car prior to its examination by Prouty and Dr. Homer Harris, head of the state crime laboratory. Boehringer said he had heard the report that Melvin and Ervin Kaser had not spoken for about a year, but had not heard a report that Ervin and Harvey Kaser, another brother, had had a violent fist fight a few days prior to the shooting.
The Statesman morning newspaper, Salem, Wednesday, June 29, 1955
Rifle Bullets, Car Testimony Added At Oveross Trial
Tempers Fray at Oveross Murder Trial
An empty rifle shell, a box containing two 30-30 cartridges and a witness’ assertion that Casper Oveross’ Ford was “definitely” not the killer’s car were startling developments Tuesday in Oveross’ trial for the murder of Ervin Kaser.
Testimony scene shifted Tuesday to Silverton and the apartment home of Oveross as the state continued the time sequence presentation of its case against the Silverton carpenter. It was in the Oveross apartment where Silverton Policeman James painter testified he saw Sheriff Denver Young take the empty shell from Oveross’ plaid jacket about three hours after the Feb. 17 slaying at Kaser’s home south of Silverton. Painter also testified he discovered a cardboard box in a cupboard at the apartment which contained two .30 caliber rifle cartridges. he told of finding another on the floor under the couch. Indications were that the state intended to show that the box had not been in the cupboard, but was visible elsewhere in the room about two hours before.
A longtime friend of both the Kaser and Oveross families testified, “I would say it definitely was not” Oveross’ car he saw leave the murder scene a few seconds after hearing four shots. The testimony came from E. A. (Ted) Finlay, witness called by the state, during cross-examination by Defense Attorney Bruce Williams. Finlay, who resides a short distance south of the Kaser home, fixed also the time of the shooting at 10:50 p.m., testifying he looked at an alarm clock in his bedroom at the time. He told also of seeing a pickup truck go by on the highway a few seconds after the killer’s car and identified it as being driven by Mrs. Harvey Kaser. Reportedly Mrs. Kaser’s sister, Ethel Oveross, former wife of the defendant, was a passenger in the truck. [EK_NOTE: that’s newspaper rumor, as Ethel Oveross was at home at the time of the shooting.]
Finlay, who said he had ridden in the Oveross car many times, said he based his statement about the killer’s car on his observation that the headlights were wide apart, indicating an older model, and the noise that it made. He said he was able to determing by sight only that the car was a sedan.
[EK_NOTE: In contrast to Ted Finlay’s testimony at the trial, another point of view from Calvin Kaser: Manny Kellerhal and Ted Finlay were scared shitless that Cap was going to come back and shoot them. I was working at the S&M Truck Line, and Ted Finlay had an electrical shop and would come down there all the time to pick up his freight. He’d say, “I knew who the hell that was, hell, that was Cap, sure as hell. I heard those shots, and I heard that car come off, and I was up in the upstairs window.” Cap drove a Ford, I don’t remember what year Ford it was, and they had a round deal like this right in the grill, and Ted said, “I can still see that round emblem, and hell, it was Cap’s car. I couldn’t see him, but I’d bet my life that it was Cap’s car.” Manny Kellerhal seen the car take off, and he knew who it was. They were all saying this before they arrested Cap, “Hell, that’s Cap Oveross.” Then, when it came to testify in the trial, he didn’t know nothing. Manny Kellerhals, he didn’t know nothing, they couldn’t say who it was. Didn’t know. They were afraid Oveross was going to come back and shoot them. Connie Kellerhals, she was just scared shitless. She didn’t want Manny to testify about nothing. She told everyone out there, “Cap’ll come back and shoot us if you testify!” They knew goddamn well who it was, they’d told all of us, prior to the trial, that they knew who it was, that they recognized the car. But when it came to the trial, and they were asked if there was anything they recognized about the car, “Nope.” Now, back to the newspaper report.]
Counsel for both the state and defense were cautioned Tuesday to refrain from personalities as tempers began to fray in the first degree murder trial of Casper A. Oveross. The rebuke for both sides came from Circuit Judge George Duncan, in whose court the case is being heard, after a sharp exchange between Defense Counsel Bruce Williams and Special Prosecutor Charles Raymond over a speculated objection by Williams.
James Painter, Silverton policeman who testified to a search of Oveross’ Silverton apartment on the night of the shooting, was on the stand when Williams rose to say he was going to object to any testimony involving a converstation between Painter and Richard Keefer, operator of Shorty’s Tavern at Silverton. Williams took exception to Raymond’s remark of “I don’t blame you,” telling Judge Duncan it was the same type of remark the prosecution has been reverting to all through the trial. District Attorney Kenneth O. Brown entered the exhange to term Williams statement unfair.
Bulk of the testimony Tuesday centered on police activities in Silverton during the hours just after the slaying of Ervin Kaser. But before the scene shift, Defense Attorney Otto R. Skopil continued his critical cross-examination of Ralph Prouty, ballistics expert for the state crime laboratory. He challenged Prouty’s experience and knowledge in an effort to refute the state’s claim he was an expert. Skopil drew several admissions from Prouty that he was not sure of distances and angles which he had testified to earlier in establishing the direction from which bullets entered the Kaser car. He also admitted there was no way to state scientifically that the car had been moved. Monday he had said presence of glass particles on ledges of the windows and windshield was evidence to him that the car had not been moved from the time of the shooting to the time he investigated it. Skopil questioned Prouty also on the creditability of Stanley McDonald as a ballistics expert, indicating the defense may call the head of the Multnomah County identification bureau chief in an effort to refute further Prouty’s testimony.
Marion County Coroner Leston Howell followed Prouty to the stand to testify to his actions at the crime scene. his reference to a state crime laboratory report on the witness stand to refresh his memory on certain facts caused a subpoenaing of the report by the defense as part of the trial record. Attorney Williams took exception to a court ruling that the defense was entitled to see only that part of the report to which Howell referred, labeling the report a part of the public record of the county. Defense counsel subpoenaed the report during the noon recess, causing the recall of Howell to the witness stand for a few seconds as the afternoon session began.
Afternoon testimony was mostly that of Officer Painter, first policeman to go to Oveross’ home after the slaying. He told of approaching Cabin No. 6 at the Holland Court first about 11:40 p.m., knocking on the door and getting no answer though lights were on at the time. He said newspapers were over the windows so that he could no see into the cabin. Later entry of the cabin through the door was reported by Painter who was not permitted to testify to what he saw there because of defense objections. He told of going to the Town House in Silverton and asking if Ervin Kaser had been there during the evening and said it was there he was told by Gerald Hoyt, the bartender, of bad feeling between Kaser and Oveross. This, he said, led to his going to the Oveross home and later going inside.
Painter told of returning with several police officers to the Oveross cabin after Oveross himself had returned home. He said Oveross invited them in and said they could search the cabin after Sheriff Denver Young had asked for permission. He told of locating the box containing the two 30-30 cartridges, some shotgun shells and miscllaneous screws and nuts, on a cupboard shelf of the cabin. He said his inquiry of Oveross as to when he had last had the box was answered with the statement “not for a couple of weeks.”
Discovery of a third cartridge on the floor under a couch was reported also by Painter who testified that three cartridges entered as evidence by the state in the courtroom appeared to be the same as the three he found. Also entered as state’s exhibit was a diagram of the Oveross cabin which Painter said he had drawn from a preliminary diagram made a week ago. Painter said Oveross was questioned on his whereabouts of the evening and replied he had been to “just Shorty’s and the Town House.” When asked if he had been anywhere else he said, “No, just driving between Shorty’s and the Town House.” Asked if Oveross said anything else, he reported that Oveross was questioned on whether he owned a .30 caliber rifle and that he had replied he never owned one.
The fact that police spent the early part of their search for Oveross looking for the wrong license plate was brought out in cross-examination of Painter by Williams. Painter said the license number given them by the registration office of the secretary of state’s office was for the expired license while Oveross car carried new plates with the number 1A118. Apparently the defense intended to show later that Oveross car could have been parked or operated in Silverton without the search being able to recognize it. Painter admitted under cross-examination that his testimony that Oveross was wearing the plaid jacket from which Young extraced an empty cartridge may have been in error. He said it was his impression that Oveross had the jacket on at the time.
On the stand at the close of the day was Merle Bethscheider, also a Silverton policeman, who corroborated much of Painter’s testimony. He said he was on a “stake out” or watch near the Oveross cabin when Oveross returned about 1:25 a.m. in the morning following the fatal shooting. Bethscheider is expected to be first on the witness stand today and will probably be followed by Dr. Home Harris, head of the state crime laboratory. Harris is expected to testify to the cause of Kaser’s death and to the result of an autopsy performed on the dead man’s body.
A defense accusation that Oveross was being prevented from seeing his family was denied by Sheriff Young Tuesday night. Attorney Williams had prefaced the day’s trial activities with a motion for a half hour recess during the day to permit the defendant to see his family. He said, “Sheriff Young has consistently declined to permit him to do that…” before he was interrupted by Judge Duncan who said such a request should be made outside the courtroom. The request repeated in the judge’s chambers was approved and Oveross was permitted to see several members of his family including his daughter Colleen and two sisters during a half hour recess beginning at 3 p.m. Young said Tuesday night that Williams’ statement was a “deliberate falsehood.” He added that Oveross had been granted the same visitation privileges of all other county prisoners and that he had taken under consideration a request by Defense Attorney Otto Skopil Jr., to permit vistis outside the regular visiting hours. Regular visiting hours at the jail are from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. and 2 to 4 p.m. on Tuesday and Friday. He said Oveross had been in court during those periods last week.
The Statesman morning newspaper, Salem, Thursday, June 30, 1955
Police Interrogation of Oveross Pictured
Standing Room Only crowds jammed into Circuit Judge George Duncan’s courtroom again Wednesday for the seventh day of the first degree murder trial of Casper Oveross. At top a large group of spectators jams up outside the courtroom door awaiting court to reconvene Wednesday afternoon. Lower right, Dr. Homer Harris, director of the state crime laboratory, examines the jacket which he testified Ervin Kaser was wearing the night he was slain. The jacket had just been handed to him by Special Prosecutor Charles Raymond whose back is shown in the picture. On the stand also Wednesday was Harley DePeel, Silverton area constable, first policeman to arrive at the murder scene south of Silverton last Feb. 17.
Details of the interrogation of Casper Oveross after the fatal shooting of Ervin Kaser were brought out Wednesday in testimony of four police officers as the Oveross murder trial ground through its seventh day.
State Policeman Robert Dunn, who said he was present during a two hour “talk” with Oveross at the Marion County Sheriff’s office, testified he had heard Oveross say he had never had a .30 caliber rifle and had not owned any rifle for 2 or 3 years. Dunn also said Oveross had asked 4 or 5 times during the course of the interrogation at the courthouse and en route back to the Silverton area if he might contact his attorney. he said the request was not denied by Sheriff Denver Young; but htat he was asked if he wouldn’t wait until they got through talking. Oveross was not under arrest, Dunn testified, and as far as he knew was free to go at any time he was with the police officers from about 2 a.m. to 11 a.m. on the morning following the shooting.
Silverton District Constable Harley DePeel, Silverton Policeman Merle Bethscheider and Deputy Sheriff Amos Shaw also testified during the day to Oveross’ actions during the period he was being questioned. They, with Dunn and Dr. Homer Harris, director of the state crime laboratory, were on the witness stand during the day. Colored slides showing Kaser’s body in the car and wounds in his left shoulder were admitted as state’s evidence during the testimony of Dr. Harris, who also testified to the cause of Kaser’s death. Dr. Harris said the jagged jacket of a .30 caliber rifle slug had torn into Kaser’s back, lodging in the main artery to the heart. Asked if death was instantaneous, Dr. Harris said in his opinion the wound was the equivalent to decapitation in effect.
Police Tell Of Oveross Interrogation
Investigating police testified Wednesday that Casper Oveross, charged with the Feb. 17 slaying of Ervin Kaser, had acted normally during his long interrogation after the crime. Oveross was first questioned about his activities at his Silverton home, on the way to and from Salem and at the Marion County sheriff’s office on the morning following the shooting, officers testified.
The statement, “It’s a funny thing about these foxes running around here with their throats cut,” was attributed to Oveross in testimony of Deputy Sheriff Amos Shaw, one of the principal investigators of the Silverton area murder. Shaw said Oveross made the statement while they were enroute from the Kaser home to Salem. He said Oveross had also made some comment about a friend of his who was doing 99 years for murder at the state penitentiary. Shaw, 12th of the state’s 63 witnesses to appear, was still on the witness stand when Circuit Judge George Duncan recessed the trial until 9:15 a.m. today. The soft-spoken deputy told of going to the Oveross cabin in Silverton early on the morning after the slaying with Sheriff Denver Young and six other police officers. He said Young knocked on Oveross’ door and heard a voice say, “Who’s there?” He said after the sheriff had identified himself, Oveross came to the door and was asked for permission to come in and talk. Shaw said Oveross agreed to the request and to one to permit a search of the small cabin where he had lived since being divorced from his wife, Ethel Oveross. Shaw quoted Oveross as saying, “Help yourself” in answer to the request and “If it’s marijuana you’re looking for, I don’t know anything about it.”
State policeman Robert Dunn of Salem, preceded Shaw on the stand, and testified also to phases of the night’s activities involving Oveross. He said he had entered the Oveross cabin with other officers at the invitation of Oveross, but had gone back outside to look around because he felt there were too many there already. Dunn said he was in the cabin long enough, however, to hear Sheriff Young ask Oveross where he had been and heard Oveross answer something about being to a couple of taverns.
Dunn said he left the Oveross place with other officers and Oveross and went to Dick Huddleston’s home just outside Silverton where Huddleston substantiated Oveross’ story that he had test fired a rifle for him on the day of the shooting. He said they went then to the Huddleston lumber yard where they viewed the gun. It was the fact that Oveross had fired a gun on that day which headed off any attempt to take a paraffin test of Oveross’ hands, Dunn said. Earlier Dr. Homer Harris of the state crime laboratory had explained that a paraffin test involved making a paraffin cast of hands and arms to determine if any powder residue from a fired gun had collected there. Dunn said Oveross was not coherent in speech during part of the interrogation later, stating he wouldn’t stay on the subject, wouldn’t finish some of his sentences and appeared nervous. He stated that in his opinion Oveross was not drunk, but had “odor which I took to be liquor on this breath.”
Dunn, with the state police since 1950, said he was present during all but 5 to 10 minutes of the interrogation conducted at the sheriff’s office. He recalled Oveross was asked where he had been and had answered at two taverns. he denied being anywhere else between 8 p.m. on Feb. 17 and 1:30 the next morning, Dunn said. Oveross said at that time he did not own a 30-30 rifle and had never owned one, Dunn testified. he told of owning a 32-20 rifle which he said he had sold two or three years before, Dunn said. Dunn said Oveross was asked if he had been near Kaser’s place and answered he had not been that night, or during the daytime or morning. he told of wiring up the bumper of his daughter Colleen’s 1936 Chevrolet while it was parked on a Silverton street, Dunn said, but had first related that had been about 5:30 p.m., then said it had been in the morning. Oveross denied being south of Silverton anytime that evening according to Dunn.
Dunn also told of a conversation with Oveross about family troubles and reported he was asked if Kaser had any connection with breaking up his home. He said he considered his wife the finest woman in the world, but wouldn’t marry again in view of the circumstances. He said Oveross told of watching with the late Constable Emory Jackson and Harly DePeel while Kaser visited his wife. Oveross said he would have ikilled Kaser when that occurred and not now and considered it all “water under the bridge,” Dunn testified. Oveross also talked about going deer hunting, but was vague about the rifle he used, according to Dunn. Dunn said they had also talked about making venison hamburger, the remark sending a ripple of laughter through the packed courtroom. Under cross-examination Dunn said Oveross had shouted to Mr. Anunsen, a brother-in-law, to telephone Mr. Winslow during a stop at the home of Ed Shubert, brother of another one of Oveross’ sisters. Mr. Winslow was identified as a Salem attorney who had represented Oveross in the divorce proceedings with his wife last year.
Clothing which Kaser was wearing at the time he was slain was admitted as evidence during Dr. Harris’ testimony Wednesday morning. The torn red plaid jacket and blood-stained grey shirt were admitted over objections by defense counsel Attorney Bruce Williams and Otto R. Skopil Jr. Also admitted was the fragment of rifle bullet which Harris testified caused Kaser’s death. Two other bullet fragments taken from Kaser’s body were also admitted. Dr. Harris, who was on the witness stand for direct examination by Special Prosecutor Charles Raymond for an hour and a half, got the briefest cross-examination yet in the trial from the defense. Harris, testifying that he had conducted some 1,500 autopsies, was asked only one question by Attorney Williams. That was whether he had ever testified before for Mr. Raymond. He answered that he had on occasion.
Officer Merle Bethscheider of the Silverton police, who was on the stand first Wednesday, corroborated much of the testimony offered Tuesday by James Painter, also a Silverton policeman. His deliberate answers to both prosecuttion and defense questions on events of the night were substantially the same as those of Officer Painter on the same matters. Deputy Shaw is expected to resume testimony this morning, and it appeared likely that he would recieve close attention on cross-examination. The prosecution also will probably recall Officer Painter today.
The Statesman morning newspaper, Salem, Friday, July 1, 1955
Attorneys Charge Oveross Illegally Held After Killing
Defense attorneys charged Thursday that Casper Oveross was held illegally for some nine hours the night of the Ervin Kaser murder and asked that all testimony based on the period be stricken from the trial record. The motion came during the eighth day of the first degree murder trial of Oveross and was denied by Circuit Judge George Duncan just before the alleged murder gun was presented in evidence by the prosecution. Defense Attorney Bruce Williams moved to have the testimony thrown out because he said it was illegally secured during “the illegal detention and illegal search and seizure” and violates guarantees under the 5ht amendment of the constitution. The action followed by a few minutes the admission under oath by Police Chief Rell R. Main of Silverton that Oveross was “in custody at that time.” Other law officers who participated in the questions of Oveross, including Denver Young, Marion County Sheriff, had testified Oveross had voluntarily agreed to accompany them for questioning purposes.
Brought into court Thursday was the .30 caliber Winchester carbine which the state asserts is the death gun. Three boys, one from Salem and two from Pratum, testified the gun was the one found in the Pudding River near Pratum last May 8, nearly three months after the fatal shooting south of Silverton. Larry Wacker, 12, who will be in the eighth grade at Parrish Junior High School next fall, told how he found the rifle in the stream. He said he and Neil and Ralph Beutler of Pratum had gone down along the river “to look for fish and crawdads” when he spotted the gun lying partly in the water and mud. Wacker and the Beutler boys, aged 11 and 9, told also of working the lever on the gun and seeing an empty shell pop out. They told of playing around with the shell before Ralph threw it back into the stream. An unfired round, which the boys said was stuck in the gun, was also marked for identification as possible evidence.
The day’s action came as the prosecution speeded the temp of its case against the 43-year-old Silverton carpenter. Members of the Harvey Kaser family will probably be called first today and are expected to testify to the finding of other empty shells linked to the death gun. Testimony about the reported sale of a .30 caliber Winchester rifle to Oveross is also expectedd in today’s presentation by Special Prosecutor Charles Raymond and District Attorney Kenneth O. Brown.
Dramatic Development Hinted During Oveross Murder Trial
A dramatic development was hinted “in the next day or two” by Attorney Bruce Williams, who with Otto R. Skopil Jr., is defending Casper Oveross against a first degree murder charge in Marion County Circuit Court here. Williams’ hint of the surprise came after court had recessed Thursday on a day of dramatic developments, one of which was Williams’ own motion to have nearly all the testimony taken thus far in the case thrown out on the grounds it was illegally obtained. Williams’ motion was based substantially on a statement by Silverton Police Chief Rell R. Main, last of the state’s witnesses to testify on events surrounding the morning-long questioning of Oveross the day after Ervin Kaser was shot to death at his home south of Silverton.
Cross-examination of officers by Williams and Skopil had been directed at the questioning of Oveross from about 1:45 a.m. to about 10:30 a.m. the morning of Feb. 18, a few hours after Kaser’s death. Sheriff Denver Young, Deputy Amos Shaw, Silverton Policemen James Painter and Merle Bethscheider, Silverton Constable Harley DePeel and State Policeman Robert Dunn had each been cross examined closely on phases of the interrogation elarier and each had stated Oveross had come along voluntarily and was free to go at any time. Young, Shaw, Dunn and Main all said Oveross had asked several times if he might call an attorney during the questioning at the Sheriff’s office in Salem and en-route back to Silverton. Each had said Oveross was not blocked from calling, but had been asked to wait until they were through talking. Each of the four officers recalled that Oveross had called to his brother-in-law at the Ed Shubert place and asked him to contact Norman Winslow, a Salem attorney, who had handled his divorce case against his wife Ethel Oveross.
Expected fireworks failed to materialize Thursday during the cross-examination of Sheriff Young, who was on the witness stand for the first time during the trial. Young’s testimony was substantially the same as that of preceeding police officers testifying to events of the murder night. Young told of going to Silverton and talking to Oveross at his Holland cabin home and said he asked Oveross to accompany them to Salem where they might talk some more. The sheriff said Oveross agreed and that at no time was he under arrest.
Testimony of other officers concerning the finding of three .30 caliber cartridges and one empty shell at the Oveross cabin was corroborated by Young. Young told also of going to the home of Mrs. Ethel Oveross, about a half mile south of the murder scene, earlier where he said he learned Oveross had visited there during the evening of Feb. 17. Later, Young said, Oveross denied he had been to his former home and alos denied having been south of Silverton during that day or night. Oveross was asked point blank whether he had shot Kaser, Young stated. He said Oveross answered, “I didn’t shoot him, not old Cap.”
Chief Main’s testimony closely paralleled that of Young’s in most respects. At the conclusion of cross-examination on events concerning departure from the Oveross cabin Williams asked, “He was in custody at that time though?” Main answered, “Yes, sir!” It was the first police statement that Oveross was being held. After Williams’ motion to throw out police testimony based on the questioning period the prosecution called Larry Wacker, 12-year-old Salem boy, who found the rifle which the state asserts was the murder weapon. Young Wacker said he could tell the gun shown him in the courtroom Thursday was the same gun he found in the Pudding River May 8 because he remembered the serial number. He said only the butt of the rifle was sticking out of the water when he spotted it while “I was looking for fish and crawdads.” The boy drew a sketch for the jurors of the spot close by the bridge over the river just east of Pratum where he first spotted the gun. Larry answered questions of both prosecution and defense without hesitation in relating circumstances of the discovery.
Neil and Ralph Beutler, who had accompanied Larry on the Mother’s Day bicycle jaunt to the stream, testified they saw the rifle in the water after Larry had pointed it out to them. They told of seeing him pull it from the mud and examining it on the bridge. Neil said it was he who worked the lever, extracting an empty cartridge onto the road. Ralph picked it up he said and later threw it back into the stream. It was never recovered. Wacker and Neil Beutler differed somewhat in their estimation of the condition of the gun. Both agreed there was rust on the end of the barrel and on other parts of the gun, but Beutler said the inside of the barrel was clean.
Presentation of the rifle Thursday set the stage for the state’s plan to link Oveross to the murder gun. Young Jeffery Kaser, son of Harvey Kaser who is the brother of the slain man, is expected to testify today concerning finding other empty cartridges. His mother, Edith Kaser, a sister of Ethel Oveross, and Harvey Kaser are also expected to take the stand today.
The Statesman morning newspaper, Salem, Saturday, July 2, 1955
Attorneys Charge Oveross Illegally Held After Killing
A day long battle Friday over admitting a 30-30 rifle as evidence and over the qualification of a state’s witness to testify on comparison of bullets fired from it filled the ninth day of the first degree murder tiral of Casper Oveross in Circuit Court here. Except for one question asked of another witness, all testimony of the day came from Ralph Prouty, ballistics expert of the state crime laboratory, who said the bullet taken from the body of the slain Ervin Kaser was fired from a gun found later in the Pudding River. Kaser was killed Feb. 17.
The gun itself was admitted as evidence just before the noon recess over repeated ojbections from defense counsel Bruce Williams and Otto R. Skopil Jr., that no relativity to the crime had been established for it. At one time after a series of objections to each question concerning the rifle, Skopil asked that a blanket objection be applied to all testimony about it. Such a policy was established.
Prouty, testifying for the second time during the trial, was under stiff cross-examination agin but seemed to weather Skopil’s questions with much more authority than during the earlier phases. A question at one point on comparison of bullets, brought the statement from Prouty, “I’m confused.” Skopil quickly said, “Do you mean you are confused again today? Is that what you mean?” After hearing the question read back by the court reported Skopil stated, “I had better rephrase that question, I don’t believe I can even understand that.”
Prouty spent much of the day explaining how bullet comparisons are made, and explaining the comparisons on photographs which were also admitted as evidence. He noted that markings made on bullets by the lands and grooves (riflings) leave individual characteristics which are never identical in two guns. Normally at least 10 or 12 established characteristics are required for a conclusive comparison, Prouty stated. Photographic comparisons showed at least 45 such characteristics between the death bullet and one test fired through the rifle after it was found, he testified. “It is my conclusion they (the death bullet and the test bullet) were both fired through the bore of the same gun–state’s exhibit No. 21,” Prouty said.
Long Oveross Trial ‘Likely’ to Continue ‘Two More Weeks’
One of the longest criminal trials in recent Marion County Circuit Court history, the murder trial of Casper Oveross, moves into its tenth day today in an unusual Saturday session. Through nine full days, six of them for testimony by state’s witnesses, the prosecution had called only 18 of its list of 63 witnesses. “All of the witnesses will be called to testify,” District Attorney Kenneth O. Brown said Friday.
Considering evidence yet to be presented by the state and the presentation of witnesses for the defense it seemed likely the case would run two more weeks. The Fourth of July holiday Monday and a half-day schedule of other business Tuesday for Circuit Judge George Duncan will bite heavily into the trial time available next week. After all the evidence is in, both sides will be allowed time for a summation before the case is handed over to a jury. Adding to the unusual length of the trial was the testimony Friday which consisted almost entirely of direct and cross-examination of Ralph Prouty, fire-arms expert for the state crime laboratory.
Prouty took the stand at 9:41 a.m. Friday and was still there when the court recessed for the night at 4:53 p.m. Deputy Amos Shaw of the Marion COunty sheriff’s office was on the stand briefly at the beginning of the day, but was dismissed after one question when defense counsel Otto R. Skopil Jr. objected to it relevancy. The prosecution had planned to have the gun admitted as evidence through Shaw and Prouty before the defense objection. It was Shaw to whom the 30-30 Winchester carbine was turned over after it was fished from the Pudding River last May 8 by Larry Wacker, 12-year-old Salem schoolboy. Blocked in that sequence, Special Prosecutor Charles Raymond pushed the step by step admission of evidence through Prouty who came to court Thursday armed with a whole box of exhibits.
Prouty stated that through measurements and microscopic comparisions it could be determined if a certain bullet was fired from a certain gun. Then he testified he had determined by measurements and compairson with bullets of known standards that the bullet which caused Ervin Kaser’s death last Feb. 17 was .30 caliber. When Skopil objected to admission of the rifle at that stage, Raymond brought in six photographs, over objections, which Prouty said showed comparisons of a test bullet and the fatal shot. Then the test bullet, which Prouty testified was the same manufacture and caliber as the death bullet, was offered in evidence.
At that stage Skopil shifted tactics and pressed for display to the jurors of the six photographs which had officially been admitted as evidence. At the insistence of both Skopil and Bruce Williams, co-counselor for Oveross, the jury was permitted to view the photographs, which they did for several minutes. The pictures were then placed on a board and individually interpreted for the jurors by Prouty who pointed out a total of what he called 45 characteristic points of comparison for the two bullets. Prosecution again asked that the rifle be admitted as evidence. This time it was admitted over the objections of Skopil who said there was nothing to show how Prouty came into the possession of the gun. Three more photographs of a bullet which Prouty said he found in the seat of Kaser’s car after the shooting were then offered as evidence. Prouty said that this bullet also carried the corresponding characteristics to the death bullet and the test bullet.
Cross-examination of Prouty took most of the afternoon session and consisted principally of a point by point questioning by Skopil on the whole procedure of bullet comparisons. During this examination Prouty stated powder load made little change in the markings. He explained he made a total of seven test shots with the rifle before settling on the second of the series as the best basis for comparison. When Skopil attempted to read a statement from a book on ballistics he was blocked by Raymond that neither the book nor the author had been established as an authority. Prouty told Skopil he had never heard of the Maj. Gerard listed as the author. He cited several other persons who he felt in his opinion were experts on the subject. Prouty stated he felt a heavy responsibility on his part to determine that he was correct on the comparisons. He said he made more tests than were normally required to eliminate doubts. “Are you still doubtful?” Skopil asked. “No, I am not,” he replied.
Prouty explained that apparent differences in color between compared markings on the two bullets were caused by a number of factors including oxisation of metal and the way light struck the two under the comparison microscope. He admistted that it was much easier to compare the two in the microscope than from the photographs because the pictures did not show the indentations or elevations in three dimensions. Condition of the rifle was described as generally good by Prouty who said it had some moisture, mud and what appeared to be rust in the bore when he received it. he said he could not venture an opinion on how long the rifle might have been in the river on the basis of the condition.
In the half day session today members of the Harvey Kaser family, who were originally scheduled for appearances Friday, are expected to take the witness stand in connection with the finding of the other empty cartridges.
The Statesman morning newspaper, Salem, Sunday, July 3, 1955
Oveross Threatened Kaser, Brother Says
“I’ll kill him if I ever catch them together,” Casper Oveross was quoted as saying in testimony of Harvey Kaser and his wife Edith Saturday in Marion County Circuit Court here. Harvey, brother of Ervin Kaser who was slain at his Silverton area home last Feb. 17, said Oveross was referring to Ervin and to Oveross’ wife Ehtel when he made the threat in September or October of 1954. Oveross is on trial charged with the murder of Kaser.
Mrs. Harvey Kaser, believed to be the first person to drive by the murder scene, testified she noticed Ervin Kaser’s car parked in the driveway of his home as she returned from a lodge meeting in Silverton about 11 p.m. that night. She denied on cross-examination that she had stopped her pickup at the death scene, gone over to the car and then continued on home. Defense Attorney Bruce Williams asked her several times during eh questioning if she hadn’t told two sisters of Oveross that she had stopped. “That is not trued,” she answered. Williams asked if she was sure. “Absolutely,” Mrs. Kaser replied. Both Mr. and Mrs. Kaser recalled a visit late at night by Oveross to their home about a quarter mile south of the death scene. Mrs. Kaser, twin sister of Ethel Oveross, said Oveross had said then, “I don’t give a god damn if he is your brother, I’ll kill him if I ever catch them together.”
Testimony of Harvey Kaser was interrupted frequently by objections by Williams and by Special Prosecutor Charles Raymond. Three times during the half day session counsel conferences were held in Judge George Duncan’s chambers on defense objections. The first came when Harvey testified he had been shown a new 30-30 Winchester rifle by Oversoss at the Oveross home in 1949. The testimony was admitted as evidence along wth Harvey’s report that he had seen Oveross with a rifle on many occasions after that time including target shooting behind the Oveross home. It was at this target area that Jeffery Kaser, 10-year-old son of the Harvey Kasers, testified earlier that he had found an empty cartridge two or three years before and which was admitted as evidence Saturday. Several other cartridges which Jeffery said he had collected about the Evergreen neighborhood were also admitted. Ironicall, Jeffery Kaser is the nephew of both the murdered man and the man accused of shooting him. The trial was recessed at noon Saturday and will not resume until 1 p.m. Tuesday after the Fourth of July holiday.
Harvey Kaser Tells of Fight With Brother
A bloody fist fight between his brother Ervin and himself over settlement of their father’s estate was described Saturday by Harvey Kaser, witness in the trial of Casper Oveross who has been charged with Ervin’s murder. Harvey said the fight occurred Dec. 12, 1953 more than a year before the Feb. 17 slaying. He said he and his borther hadn’t talked since that time. The fight started after a discussion concerning a letter about settlement of the estate and began when Ervin took a swing at him, Harvey said.
Harvey denied during cross-examination by Bruce Williams, counsel for Oveross, that he asked that a special prosecutor be assigned to the case. He did say that there was dissatisfaction with the handlin of the first grand jury and “We asked after the grand jury that Mr. Brown withdraw.” Brown is Kenneth O. Brown, Marion County District Attorney who with special prosecutor Charles Raymond is handling the state’s case.
Oveross, who had been arrested a few days after the slaying on a criminal complaint for first degree murder, was freed shortly after when a grand jury declined to indict him. Brown was criticized at that time for handling of the grand jury in that all witnesses subpoenaed to appear were not called to testify. It was nearly three months later, after a rifle was found in the Pudding River near Pratum, that the case was agin presented to a second trand jury. This grand jury indicted Oveross for the murder and he gave himself up to Alaskan authorities to be returned to stand trial.
Harvey’s testimony Saturday brought a series of sharp objections by Attorney Williams. First was on his testimony he had been shown a 30-30 Winchester by Oveross in 1949. Shown the rifle recovered from the river, he said it was the same kind as the one Oveross had shown. Williams challenged the materiality of the testimony, stating it was too remote in time and asked to be heard by the judge in chambers. The objection was overruled by Juge George Duncan and a defense exception to the ruling entered in the record.
When Harvey Kaser began testimony concerning Oveross’ visit to his home back in 1954, Williams also objected, again was heard in chambers, again was overruled and an exception allowed. The third argument in chambers, again requested by Williams, came on Raymond’s objection to a defense question of kaser, “Whose idea was it to hire a special prosecutor? Was it yours?”
Harvey Kaser said his first knowledge of the slaying was about 11:30 p.m. that night when his brother Melvin called him. He said up until that night he had never believed that his brother and Mrs. Oveross had been going together. Ethel confessed to her sister Edith, wife of Harvey, that she had been out with Ervin that night, Harvey said.
Mrs. Edith Kaser detailed her activities of the murder night, stating she had attended a meeting of the Pythian Sisters in Silverton from 8 p.m. until just before 11 p.m. She told of driving home in their 1949 GMC pickup truck and noticing lights both in the Ervin Kaser home and automobile. She said she slowed down to an estimated 20 to 25 miles an hour as she drove by, but did not stop. She estimated that it had been about 11 o’clock when she drove by, apparently only a short time after the slaying.
Her testimony refuted earlier reports not a part of the testimony that her sister Ethel was a passenger in the pickup. She said Ethel was not at the lodge meeting and she had not seen her all that night until after they were notified of the slaying. Attorney Williams asked Mrs. Kaser several times during the questioning if she had not stopped at the scene, despite repeated denials. Then he asked her if she hadn’t said a few nights after the slaying in the presence of Mrs. Ruth Schubert and Mrs. Emma Wolford, both sisters of Oveross, “If I had been a few minutes earlier I could have prevented the shooting.” This she also denied after Attorney Raymond’s objection. She said she had talked to the two sisters about the matter. She said it was just before the Statesman-KSLM spelling contest in which Karen Oveross, daughter of the defendant, was a semi-finalist. They talked then also about whether the events might bother Karen in the contest, she recalled.
Mrs. Kaser was questioned at length by Williams on what she was able to observe as she drove slowly by the murder scene. She said she could see through the automobile windows because of the lights and dome light being on but could see no one in it. She said she could not see any bullet holes and did not notice the shattered glass of the window or windshield. She declined to venture an opinion on how far the car was parked from the highway at the time, after questions by Williams.
And that concludes week two of the trial. Next up: Week Three (imagine that!)
With the jury selection completed in the afernoon of Thursday, June 23, 1955, the jurors and the two alternates were sworn in by the end of the day. On Friday, the first day of the actual trial, the morning was spent taking the jury to see the scene of the murder, then the afternoon saw opening statements and the testimony of Officer Harley DePeel. I’ll let the newspaper articles give you the details.
Capital Journal afternoon newspaper, Salem, Friday, June 24, 1955
Oveross Jury Sees Scene of Kaser Murder
Accused Calm as He Watches Inspection of Death Premises
Members of the jury selected to try Casper A. Oveross on a first degree murder charge, visit the scene of the killing last February 17 of Ervin Kaser. Kaser was shot while sitting in his car in the driveway leading to the residence. The first witnesses in the trial were scheduled to take the stand Friday afternoon in Judge George R. Duncan’s court.
The 12 jurors and the two alternates who will sit in the trial of Casper A. Oveross, charged with the furst degree murder of Ervin Kaser last February 17, a few miles south of Silveron, visited the scene of the killing Friday morning. The jurors, accompanied by Circuit Judge George R. Duncan, were driven in a chartered bus to a point about 150 yards south of the Evergreen School, where they were shown the residence of Kaser and of Emanuel Kellerhals, Jr., immediately across the highway.
Attorneys for the defnse, Bruce Williams and Otto Skopil, asked that the jurors’ attention be called to the front window of the Kellerhals house, the drive that circles completely around the Kaser residence, and a point 26 1/2 feet east on the driveway from the Silverton-Sublimity highway. [EK_NOTE: this last is probably a muddled attempt to describe the point on the shoulder of the road across from the Kaser residence and north of the Kellerhals residence from which the shots were fired.] The prosecution had no particular points that they wished called to the attention of the jurors, with the exception of the Kellerhals front window.
It is understood the prosecution desired that the jurors be taken to a point on Pudding River where a rifle was found. However, Judge Duncan, the sole arbiter in the matter, ruled out any stops other than the Kaser residence.
Oveross made the trip to the point of inspection with his attorneys and E. J. (Bud) Boust, deputy sheriff. Oveross stood silently by the side of the road with the same calm demeanor that has characterized his appearance in the court room, smoking a cigarette. No one emerged from either the Kaser or Kellerhals residences while the jury was there.
Early Friday afternoon, opening statements of the prosecution and the defense were made in Judge Duncan’s courtroom. The parade of witnesses was expected to follow. District Attorney Kenneth Brown expressed the belief that the trial would no consume as much time as had been anticipated. However, he would not hazard a guess as to whether it could be concluded before July 4.
Selection of the jury to hear the case was completed Thursday afternoon afrter three days of questioning of prospective jurors. A total of 123 prospective jurors were questioned before the jury and two alternates were sworn in. The jury of nine women and three men were sworn in by Judge Duncan at 2:14 p.m. Selection of two alternate jurors who will sit outside the jury box and take a seat with the jury only if a regular juror is unable to continue was completed at 4:30 p.m. after 19 persons on the panel had been questioned by the defense and prosecution attorneys.
Upon motion of Defense Counsel Bruce Williams all witnesses who are to give evidence in the case will be barred from the court room except when they are giving testimony. The prosecution agreed with the defense motion except questioning whether the representative of the sheriff’s office who will have the defendant in custody might not be required to testify. The motion to exclude all witnesses was granted. Williams also requested to be heard in the judge’s chambers after the opening statements are presented and before the witnesses have been called. For the time being the jury will not be locked up. Judge Duncan cautioned the jurors against talking to any person regarding the case.
Oregon Statesman morning newspaper, Salem, Saturday, June 25, 1955
Mystery Driver Hinted In Opening Statement
The jury which will decide the fate of Casper A. Oveross, now on trial in Marion County Circuit Court for first degree murder, paid a brief visit Friday to the scene where Ervin Kaser was slain last Feb. 17. Here the jury stands in the driveway of the Kaser home 2 1/2 miles south of Silverton while surveying the area. Some of the jurors look across the highway to the Emmanuel Kellerhall home from which the Kellerhalls saw the flashes of the murder gun. In addition to the 10 women and 4 men, including the two alternates, making up the jury, two court bailiffs and Circuit Judge George Duncan are also in the photo.
A mystery driver who may have visited the death scene before the police arrived, and reports that the murdered Ervin Kaser had been watched by two men in a car in days before his slaying were hinted Friday in the first degree murder trial of Casper Oveross. The new elements were brought out in the defense’s opening statement made by Attorney Bruce Williams Friday just before the state began presenting its evidence. Williams said the defense would show in its case that an unidnetified driver stopped in front of the Kaser home, got out of the car and then continued on home between the time of the fatal shooting and the arrival of Harley R. DePeel, Silverton constable.
The state, with special prosecutor Charles Raymond of Portland handling the preliminaries, took only six minutes for its opening statement in which the prosecution claimed it would show every allegtation of its secret indictment against Oveross for murder. Raymond said the state will show Oveross had threatened to kill Kaser and at one time had laid in wait for him. He said the state’s case will include testimony that Oveross appeared at the J. R. Gilham home near Victor Point a few minutes after the shooting and called to Daniel Gilham, boyfriend of his daughter Colleen Oveross, that “Kaser’s got three slugs in him, and you’re my witness.” Oveross will be linked by ownership to the 30-30 Winchester rifle which the state claims was the murder weapon, Raymond said. The state will show Oveross bought the rifle from a Silverton hardware store in March 1949, he indicated.
Constable DePeel was the state’s first witness and the only one to testify during the fourth day of the Marion County Ciruit Court trial before Judge George Duncan. DePeel was the first police officer summoned to the murder scene 2 1/2 miles south of Silverton and was presumed to have been the first person on the scene.
Three full days were required to secure a jury for the case and the jury spent Friday morning at the murder scene to get a general idea of the lay of the land. A prosecution request was denided that jurors be taken to two taverns in Silverton which Oveross is reported to have visited on the night of the slaying, to the Gilham home 5.2 miles south of the scene and the Pudding River bridge near Pratum where the rifle was found.
Counsel for Casper Oveross, on trial for the murder of Ervin Kaser, opened the way to appeal Friday in case Oveross should be convicted by making a verbal motion objecting to testeimony of all witnesses on the record. The objection was based on the defense’s earlier motion that the first degree murder indictment against Oveross was illegal on the grounds District Attorney Kenneth O. Brown failed to get a court order for resubmitting the case to the grand jury. The motion offered by Defense Attorney Otto R. Skopil Jr. just before the state called its first witness Friday, was denied by Circuit Judge George Duncan in whose courtroom the case is being heard.
Constable Harley R. DePeel, 47-year-old Silverton district constable, was the first witness called, being sworn at 2:40 p.m. His testimony concluded just before the weekend at 4:55 p.m. The trial will resume at 9:30 a.m. Monday. DePeel testified he was summoned to the murder scene south of Silverton on the Cascade Highway by Melvin Kaser, brother of the dead man at 11:05 p.m. Feb. 17 and arrived there at 11:16 p.m. He said he parked his car immediately behind Kaser’s where it set in the driveway of the Kaser home with the headlights and domelight on.
DePeel testified he noticed the bullet hole in the left door glass of the 1949 Plymouth and saw Kaser’s body slumped off the front seat with his head angled back over the seat. He identified photographs of the car and the dead man as being the scene as he first saw it and they were entered as state’s exhibits 1 through 5. [EK_NOTE: see Not Innocent: The Murder (Part 1)] Frequent objections were made by both sides during the examination and cross-examination of the opening witness. One of these which was overruled by Judge DUncan was a defense objection to entering a photograph showing Kaser’s body in the car.
DePeel was questioned closely by both sides on the chain of events from the time of his arrival on the scene until he left it about an hour later. He told of crossing the highway to the home of Mr. and Mrs. Emmanuel Kellerhalls to telephone the Marion County sheriff’s office and to call his daughter in Silverton to bring his camera to the scene. [EK_NOTE: to those born after the mid-1970s, remember, no cell phones, no digital cameras everywhere, even the radios in the police cars were limited in their range and abilities!] Melvin Kaser, whose home is adjacent to the Ervin Kaser place on the south was the next person on the scene, DePeel said. His arrival was followed shortly by that of two Silverton policemen and by Sheriff’s Deputy Richard Boehringer. Sheriff Denver Young and Silverton Police Chief Rell (Buck) Main came to the scene a few minutes later as did State Patrolman Robert Dunn, and two other deputies, according to DePeel’s testimony.
During cross examination DePeel said Oveross had once come to his home in Silverton about a year ago and asked him if he could recall the exact date which he had discovered his (Oveross’) wife’s car parked on Bartlett Street in Silverton at 4:30 in the morning. DePeel said Oveross had also said, “What could you do with a man who breaks up your home?” He testified he told Oveross, “Cap, I don’t think a man should just blame another man. The woman is usually 50 per cent to blame.” DePeel said it was Kaser who was the man being talked about at the time.
Defense Attorney Bruce Williams closed his opening statement the jury with admission “The motive was there, we are not denying it. Cap Oveross had amotive, we do not deny that. It is certinaly true, too, he is not guilty. Williams had also brought out Oveross’ conversation with DePeel in his opening statement. But most of the defense opening statement centered on assertions by Williams that they would prove many people had reason to hate Ervin Kaser, that Kaser feared for his life and had once contacted state plice about being followed. Williams said a car with two men in it was seen parked near the Kaser home on the day before the slaying. He said the defense would show that Kaser had made propositions to Mrs. Kellerhalls, Mrs. Myrtle Schar and to other women, and had gone with Mary Kaser, his divorced wife, while she was still married to her previous husband. They would also show that Mrs. Kaser had threatened to have her husband followed, Williams said. Williams said the defense would show Kaser’s fear for his life in the fact he left the lights on in the house when away and sat in the dark when he was home; also that Kaser normally used the circular driveway which led to the back door of his home because of his fear of ambush. A defense witness, Ted Findley of Silverton who testified at the grand jury which first declined to indict Oveross, will testify he saw the flashes of the shots, saw the car and determined it was not Oveross’ 1950 black Ford, Williams said. [EK_NOTE: All of this is standard defense tactics–cast “reasonable doubt” by showing that someone else COULD have been the murderer. Also, of course, the defense is trying to paint a very bad picture of the victim. Keep in mind that the morals of the day were FAR stricter than now, that adultery and even divorce was much more of a stigma, and nine of the twelve jurors were women.]
Little detail of the evidence which the state plans to present through its 63 witnesses was revealed in the opening statement made Friday by Charles Raymond, special prosecutor hired by Marion County to assist Brown. Raymond said the state would show Oveross’ activities of the day and night of the crime including a visit to his former home during the evening of that day. Ethel Oveross, labeled by the state as the “Cause Celebre” of the case, will take the stand to testify she was with Kaser during the evening he was slain, Raymond said.
First witness to be called Monday when the trial resumes will probably be Deputy Boehringer, one of the early arrivals on the death scene. Also scheduled for questioning Monday are Mr. and Mrs. Kellerhalls who were reported to have seen the last three flashes of the four shots fired into Kaser’s car and then saw a car speed south into the starlit night. Mrs. Kellerhalls is reported to have stated after hearing the first shot, “Somebody’s shooting at Ervin.” The Kellerhalls phoned first to Kaser’s house and then called Melvin Kaser, according to reports. Other witnesses on schedule early in the testimony are Melvin Kaser, Silverton Policeman James Painter, Marion County Coroner Leston Howell, Dr. Homer Harris, head of the state crime laboratory, and Ralph Prouty, ballistics expert with the laboratory.
And that, being the end of the first week of the trial, is probably as good a place as any to stop this post. Next up: Week Two of the trial (or, at least, the beginning of it…)
Case No. 42100 of state of Oregon vs. Casper A. Oveross charged with the rifle slaying of Ervin Kaser opens at 10 a.m. today in Judge George Duncan’s Marion County courtroom.
A packed courtroom is expected this morning when District Attorney Kenneth O. Brown and his special Assistant Charles Raymond begin with Defense Attorneys Bruce Williams and Otto R. Skopil Jr. the preliminary task of picking the 12 or 13 jurors who will hear the case.
Estimates of attorneys indicated selection of the jury from a regular panel of 60 and reserve list of 100 may take two to three days. Examination of prospective jurors for the first degree murder case is expected to be a slow and careful process by both sides.
Casper A. Oveross, charged with the rifle slaying of Ervin Kaser, was brought to trial Tuesday morning when Judge George Duncan asked a panel of prospective jurymen to arise and be sworn in. Judge Duncan is shown on the bench, Charles Raymond, special prosecutor and Kenneth Brown, district attorney seated at the table on the right. At left is Oveross arrayed in white seated between defense attorneys Bruce Williams and Otto Skopil.
The morning of jury selection began Tuesday, June 21, 1955 at 10:30 a.m. The first prospective juror, Albert Alley, an employee of Salem Southern Pacific Co., was excused almost immediately because he said he had formed an opinion that would be difficult to change by the evidence. He was followed in the next hour and 15 minutes by sixteen more prospective jurors of whom only one, Fred A. Field, a retired farmer of Woodburn, was accepted. Court was recessed for lunch until 1:00 p.m.
By the end of the first day, 31 prospective jurors had been called, of which the defense and the prosecution objected to 11 each, leaving only nine who were not excused for cause, and some of those nine might yet get cut by peremptory challenges from one side or the other. The defense and prosecution each objected to 11 possible jurors. Approved for possible seats on the trial jury were:
Fred Field, Woodburn, retired farmer
Harry Baker, Turner, disabled
Myrtle Rogers, 236 Richmond Ave, Salem, foundation garment shop operator
Mrs. Delores Throneberry, 2415 N Church St, Salem, housewife
Mrs. Blanche Bandy, 455 Ratcliff Dr, housewife
Carl E. R. Johnson, Silverton, retired
Mrs. Gladys D. Bashor, Pratum, housewife
Mrs. Florence Hughes, Keizer, housewife
Harry Oldenberg, Jefferson, farmer
During the afternoon, two more had been added to the list of possible jurors:
Frank J. A. Remington, Salem
Mildred E. Gilmore, housewife, Salem
Also, excused by peremptory challenge was Fred Field.
Most of those excused claimed to have preconceived opinions based on newspaper stories and conversations. Conscientious objections to the death penalty got three of them excused, and a few others were excused because of being acquainted with one or more of the principals in the case. All of the defense’s examination was done by Bruce Williams, and prosecutions examination was handled by Kenneth Brown with the exception of two which were handled by Special Prosecutor Charles Raymond. The courtroom was filled with about 200 people, of which 160 were prospective jurors. The examinations were mostly calm and orderly with one exception. During questioning of Mrs. Bernice L. Blodgett, Williams alluded to the possibility that jurors might be required to be kept together for the duration of the trial. Special Prosecutor Raymond jumped to his fee in objection, asking the judge to have the innuendo that the prosecution might request the isolation of the jurors removed from the record. Williams stated that he wanted it clear that the defense would not require jurors to stay together for the course of the trial.
The courtroom was full Tuesday when the first degree murder trial of Casper A. Oveross, Silverton carpenter, got underway with examination of prospective jurors. Here Oveross (center foreground in white coverall) confers with his attorneys Bruce Williams (right) and Otto R. Skopil Jr. at a break in the day’s session. Most of Tuesday’s crowd was jurors waiting to be called.
Statesman newspaper, Salem, Thursday, June 23, 1955
32 More Prospective Jurors Excused In Murder Trial of Casper A. Oveross
Thirty-two more prospective jurors were excused Wednesday in close examination which threatened to exhaust the panel of 114 before a jury is slected to hear the first degree murder case of Casper A. Oveross. Oveross, 43-year-old Silverton carpenter, is on trial in Judge George Duncan’s Marion County Circuit Court on a charge he shot to death his one-time neighbor Ervin Kaser the night of Feb. 17.
At the end of two full days of juror examination, 44 prospective jurors had been challenged for cause, 7 others had been challenged peremptorily (without announced cause) and two others had been excused for physical reasons. Judge Duncan annound at the close of Wednesday’s session that court would reconvene at 9 a.m. Thursday, a half hour earlier than usual in an apparent effort to speed the jury selection to completion.
Special prosecutor for Marion County in the first degree murder trial of Casper Oveross is Attorney Charles Raymond of Portland. Raymond is show here in the Marion County Circuit courtroom where he is handling much of the state’s examination of prospective jurors. Selection of a jury was still going on when the trial recessed Wednesday night.
Of the 11 jurors in the jury box who had already been passed for cause it appeared likely that four or five of them would be removed by the 11 peremptory challenges left to the defense and prosecution. Examination of jurors seemed to become more careful Wednesday with District Attorney Kenneth O. Brown taking a more active part than he had during the first day of the trial. Prosecution examination was almost evenly divided between Brown and Special Prosecutor Charles Raymond of Portland. Attorney Bruce Williams continued to conduct all the defense examination but conferred frequently with his partner Otto R. Skopil Jr. and with the defendant.
Peremptory challenges removed three jurors passed for cause Tuesday and four added Wednesday. They were Fred Field, Woodburn, retired farmer; J. A. Remington, Salem, retired mail carrier; Carl E. R. Johnson, Silverton, retired; Mrs. Esther Croisan, SAlem, housewife; Giles Brown, Stayton farmer; Mrs. Elizabeth Robertson, Salem, housewife; and Mrs. Gladys Bashor, Pratum housewife.
In the jury box at the end of the day were Harry Baker, Turner, disabled; Myrtle Rogers, Salem, foundation garment shop operator; Mrs. Delores Throneberry, Salem housewife; Mrs. Blanche Bandy, Salem housewife; Mrs. Florence Hughes, Keizer housewife; Harry Oldenberg, Jefferson farmer; all carryovers from Tuesday, and Mrs. Louse L Franzen, Turner housewife; David H. Barnhardt, Gates school custodian; Mrs. Evelyn Beard, Aurora, title company employe; Mrs. Mildred E Gilmore, Salem, housewife; Mrs. Bessie Edwards, Salem, clerk for Marion County Tuberculosis and Health Assn; and Joseph Meithof, Brooks Route 1, section foreman. Only Meithof had not been examined.
Challenges for cause again were almost evenly split between defense and prosecution with the 12 for the DA and 9 for the defense. Judge Duncan rejected the prosecution’s challenge of Mr. Barnhardt. Again most prosecution challenges were because jurors reported scruples against the death penalty alternate in a first degree murder conviction. Defense challenges were mostly because of reported preconceived opinions or acquaintanceship with principals in the case.
Statesman newspaper, Salem, Friday, June 24, 1955
Oveross Jurors Chosen
A jury of nine women and three men was chosen Thursday to sit in judgment on Casper A. Oveross, 43-year-old Silverton carpenter, charged with first degree murder in the Feb. 17 shooting of Ervin Kaser. Only four prospective jurors remained on the panel Thursday night when the last of two alternate jurors, one man and one woman, was selected.
This morning the jurors will be taken to the Evergreen Community home south of Silverton where Kaser was slain by a high powered rifle. They will also visit the home of James W. Gilham near Victor Point which Oveross is reported to have visited on the night of the slaying and several points in Silverton where he was seen that night. They may also visit the site on the Pudding River where the rifle which the state claims is the murder weapon was found.
The tour is expected to consume most of the forenoon hours and it will probably be this afternoon before the state makes its opening statements in the case. It appeared doubtful that any witnesses would be questioned today. Half of the regular jurors were listed from Salem, two were from Turner, one from Gates, one from Aurora, one from Jefferson and one from the Woodburn area. Of the women, six listed their occupations as housewives.
A total of 123 prospective jurors were examined in choosing the fourteen to hear the case. The two alternates will hear all the evidence but will be used only in the deliberation if members of the regular jury are unable to serve. Chosen on the regular jury were:
Mrs. Louise Franzen, Turner housewife
Perry Baker, Turner, disabled
Myrtle Rogers, Salem, foundation garment shop operator
Mrs. Delores Throneberry, Salem, housewife
Mrs. Doris McMullen, Salem, housewife
David H. Barnhardt, Gates school custodian
Harry Oldenberg, Jefferson farmer
Mrs. Evelyn Beard, Aurora, title company employe
Mrs. Bessie Edwards, Salem, clerk for Marion County Tuberculosis and Health Assn
Mrs. Helen Taylor, Salem, housewife
Mrs. Margaret Edgell, Woodburn area housewife
Mrs. Norma Lawless, Salem, housewife
Coincidentally one of the alternates is a brother of one of the regular jury. He is Walter Oldenberg, Clear Lake farmer, brother of Harry Oldenberg. The second alternate is Mrs. Pearl Gwynn, Salem Route 6, a housewife.
The state is expected to start building its case against Oveross this afternoon after jurors are taken to several Silverton area scenes including the Kaser home where the slaying occurred. Evidence of the state is expected to be built around an attempt to show that Oveross blamed Kaser for breaking up his marriage to his wife of 19 years, and around the testimony of witnesses who were reported to have seen Oveross on the night of the slaying. District Attorney Kenneth O. Brown, who with Special Prosecutor Charles Raymond of Portland will prosecute the case, has indicated that the rifle which the state claims is the murder weapon can be linked to the defendant.
The 63 witnesses subpoenaed by the state appeared Thursday but were excused until today because of the long process of selecting a jury. After the jury was chosen Attorney Williams asked the court to exclued all witnesses from the courtroom except for the time they are on the witness stand. First witnesses to be called by the state will probably be those aimed at establishing a motive for the ambush slaying. It appeared likely that the prosecution would emphasize that Kaser was “shot in the back” by an assailant who apparently followed him home from Silverton some 2 1/2 miles away.
Examination of jurors to hear the case was speeded considerably Thursday at the request of Judge Duncan and a total of 46 prospective jurors were challenged or excused during the day in contrast to the 31 of Tuesday and 32 of Wednesday. In addition to frequent challenges for cause, principally on grounds of preconceived opinions, objections to the death penalty, or acquaintanceship with principals, a total of 21 peremptory challenges were used. Of these the defense exercised 15 of an authorized 16 and the state used up 6 of 8.
Judge Duncan took a more active part in the juror examination Thursday, questioning several prospective jurymen at length on their reported conscientious objections to capital punishment. During examination of Grace T. Hockett, Salem High School teacher, he denied the prosecution’s challenge for cause three times. She was later excused peremptorialy, presumably on a challenge by the state.
Task of selecting the jury took just over 14 hours over a period of three full days, longest at least in the recent history of Marion County. It brought scores of spectators to the courtroom, indicating that it will probably be jammed when the questioning of witnesses gets underway. The court is scheduled to reconvene at 9:30 a.m. today at which time jurors will depart for the Silverton scenes.
Judge Duncan advised the jurors that they would not be required to remain overnight in isolation at the courthouse, but would be permitted to go to their homes at least for the time being. He cautioned them against discussing the case with anyone including other members of the jury and against discussing any other matter with principals of the case.