Henry W. and Ann M. Peterson were found murdered in their two-bedroom apartment around 10am on April 3, 1978. They worked as on-site residential managers of the 36-unit Canterbury Apartment complex on 875 Liberty St, SE in Salem, Oregon.
Henry Peterson had retired from the US Army Corps of Engineers. They were ‘avid bowlers, square dancers, and they managed several local apartment complexes.’ At the time of death Henry “Hank” was 75 and Ann Peterson was 71 years old. Nobody was ever arrested; their murders were never solved. The murder weapon was never found.
One of their grandchildren reached out to see if I would write about them. As with all writing requests, I added the victims’ names to my lists. I started researching about a year later. Yes, I am still backlogged but, I found something that can turn the case around.
Autopsies were performed by Dr. Roy Patton of Salem, Oregon. The exact time of death is unknown as is, unfortunately, the exact cause of death. So, it is possible the victims died of a fatal stab to the heart or of exsanguination. The Petersons both had defensive wounds on their arms.
According to the Statesman Journal of April 4, 1978, we are dealing with multiple stab and knife slashings. This spells rage to me.
We do not know what kind of knife was used, how many stab wounds each victim suffered, how long the knife’s blade was, the depth of the stabbing wounds, which one was fatal, and if more stabbing happened post-mortem. Were the bodies moved or did they die where they were found so I am looking for dragging signs, lividity, etc.
The Crime Scene
The bodies were found by Janice Southworth who worked for a Portland management company in charge of several apartment complexes. She used a passkey to open the door ‘just enough to see [Henry] Peterson lying face down in the doorway leading to a bedroom.‘
The rooms were ransacked. That does not surprise me. I would like to know exactly what was stolen from the desk.
Ann Peterson was found near the desk in the office part of the apartment. Her murderer may have tried to mask the crimes by setting the room on fire as the carpet behind her, was charred.
Did the killer hope that if the fire burned fast enough and nobody came looking for the Petersons, that their deaths could be contributed to accidental fire? That is panic logic as the Petersons were on-site apartment managers so there are always people around.
It is exactly this line of thought that makes me doubt that robbery was the motive. More about money below but bear with me: we have a clear case of rage and in my opinion, overkill, more details below. The murder weapon could have been brought in by the killer as a pocket-knife. Since we do not know how deep the wounds were, you cannot rule it out. You cannot even rule out a letter opener that might have been on the desk hence my question, what was stolen?
So, did an argument occur? Did it flare up and the killer grabbed a pocket-knife from their pockets or the letter opener from the desk and went into a stabbing/slashing frenzy? If so, it was not premeditated, and I am leaning towards that due to the clumsy attempt to cover up a crime with fire.
There is a chance that Ann Peterson was murdered first and that Henry interrupted the killer when he came in the apartment. It explains where he was found.
The authorities thought that the Petersons were murdered several days before, maybe dead for four days. So, possibly murdered March 29/30, 1978. The Petersons were seen by people, bowling around 4pm, on Wednesday March 29, 1978.
What did the tenants notice?
The tenants told police that since Thursday March 30, they got a busy signal when they called the Petersons. Nobody heard anything but tenants saw several things: mail piled up outside the apartment, notes taped to their front door, and the entrance light was left on since Wednesday.
According to the Statesman of Sept 18, 1995, the couple was ‘repeatedly hit with a softball size river rock in addition to slicing them numerous times with a knife.’ In other words: overkill. But it is the rock that drew my attention.
How was it determined that the rock was a river rock? Was it brought into the apartment or was it maybe a paper press that was on the desk? was it found near the victims? Was it properly preserved?
If that rock was preserved it must be examined with the M-Vac. They have experience with extracting touch DNA from various materials including rocks. Just check the Krystal Beslanowitch case. I have contacted the CEO of M-Vac Systems, Jared Bradley. He is a guest blogger here on my website. He is ready to jump in. The M-Vac showed in the Beslanowitch case that is capable of finding touch-DNA, that is is accurate, and with the conviction, it sets a precedent.
New Managers Information
According to the Capital Journal of June 26, 1978, the then-new Canterbury Apartments managers, Bob and Edith McCoy, said that the Petersons ‘had $35 in a desk drawer of their apartment and it was not touched by the murderer. But some rent receipt books were thrown into the Petersons’ fireplace and partially burned.‘
So, did the killer tried to cover up the crime by arson or, did the killer wish to destroy a paper trail that could lead to their identification? Who moved out around the time that the Petersons were killed? Did any of the tenants sub-lease their apartment? Who had guests? Who suddenly canceled their planned lease?
In the same article, one of the McCoys stated that ‘both the Petersons reportedly were stabbed at least once each in the back.’
According to friends, the Petersons were not known to have large amounts of money. As mentioned above, the then-new managers found cash untouched.
It is always possible that someone thought that the Petersons, as managers, had a good amount of money in their apartment. This means the killer could have been a (former) tenant or someone taking a chance. As some rent receipts were burned, I am leaning towards tenant, former tenant, or guest. However, there is another option.
Maybe those rent receipts carried the killer’s identifiers such as blood spilled during the fight, a bloody fingerprint, etc. and they knew enough about investigations to destroy everything that could be traced back to them. DNA was not yet a house-hold word, but this person knew enough about blood or fingerprints, to destroy them.
The authorities were overwhelmed in 1978. From the Capital Journal of Jan 8, 1979: It turned out that 1978 was a record-setting year of crime for Salem, Oregon. In the preceding decade, there were just 24 reported murders. Twenty-three were solved.
In 1978, only 1 in 6 murders was solved. Around the time of the Petersons’ murders, police were investigating the April 19 abduction and murder of Stephanie Ann Newsome (11), the April 15 disappearance of Ann Ellinwood (12), and the disappearance of Tommy Joe Wagoner (28) clogging up the lab and spreading officers thin.
Even if police never took officers off the Petersons case you can imagine that a sudden influx overwhelms the labs, the courts, the detectives, etc. Everything took a hit.
The Marion County Sheriff’s Office has a cold case website however, the Petersons are not listed. The CrimeStoppers of Oregon website has no index for easy searching by keyword or name. I scrolled down all the pages but the cases do not go back further than 1980. We are just two years shy of having the Petersons’ included on that website. If you have information, please contact authorities.
Rest in peace, Henry W. and Ann M. Peterson.