The detective who knew too much
When Don DuPay found her in the Plaid Pantry store, the woman was sprawled on her back, her clothes torn from her body. She’d been raped and then knifed to death.
A week earlier -- the first week of September in 1975 -- the Portland police detective had taken on another distressing case, this one involving a Black teenager shot to death in his bedroom. DuPay showed up late for the autopsy, hoping to avoid seeing the medical examiner saw into the boy’s skull.
The 39-year-old cop didn’t know it, but he’d reached a tipping point.
One day at around this time, DuPay was sitting at his kitchen table when he began to sob. He couldn’t stop. After half an hour or so, he retreated to another room, where he continued to weep. His wife eventually called his precinct. DuPay ended up in the hospital.
His career was over, he decided. He’d seen too much. More important, he knew too much: about the pushed-aside murders that should have been solved, about police corruption that poisoned the city.
Years would pass before he realized he should write it all down.
Don DuPay hasn’t been a cop for decades. He’s often critical of law enforcement today, particularly the militarization of police departments and the power of police unions.
He also remains loyal to the job. The average citizen doesn’t understand what it’s like to be a police officer, the former detective says. Reform is necessary in policing, he adds, but most people calling for it don’t know what they’re talking about.
And they have no idea how bad things used to be.
A few years ago, DuPay started writing about his police career, intent on laying it all out, knowing there weren’t many people left who could tell the story. He doesn’t see it as score settling, though he does some of that. What he wants is justice.
There’s no statute of limitations on murder, he points out.
Sixty years ago, when he was hired by the Portland Police Bureau, DuPay proudly considered himself one of the “New Breed” of officers in the profession. They were young men -- still almost exclusively men -- who considered themselves thinkers, not brutes. They wanted to bring about a revolution in policing.
“I was pretty idealistic,” he says. “I thought if I put enough people in jail, I’d make the world a better place.”
Through much of the 1960s, DuPay worked Northeast Portland’s Albina district, where most of the city’s small Black population lived. He said that, after getting the lay of the land, he started to do something unusual for the neighborhood: police work.
“I got a good view of what was going on in Albina, which is they weren’t doing anything,” he says. “There was no law enforcement happening there.”
The policing problems in the district were entrenched and varied, but one man embodied them: Jim Purcell.
Purcell had been Portland’s police chief in the mid-1950s until corruption allegations broke into the open. But he wasn’t booted out of the bureau. Instead, he was knocked down to captain and sent to North Precinct. He now ran Portland’s north and northeast quadrants like he once ran the entire city -- as his own personal fiefdom.
“They called him Diamond Jim,” says Clyde Harmon, a retired lieutenant who as a young cop in the 1960s served under Purcell. “We didn’t see the captain very much. He was into horses. I believe he had his own horse.”
Purcell’s attitude seemed to be that Albina didn’t need to be policed -- that as long as the drug-dealing and killings stayed in the Black community, there was nothing to worry about.
The captain apparently wasn’t the only one who thought this way.
North Precinct at that time was a “dumping ground for old and tired cops,” Harmon says. There were crooked ones too, guys “with their hand out.” Harmon says he and other good officers tried to avoid them.
This meant Albina was Portland’s Wild West, a dangerous district largely abandoned to rival criminal factions, with residents who had “straight” jobs stuck in the middle.
DuPay tried to change that. He made the rounds of nightclubs and other neighborhood establishments every day, building relationships, trying to figure out what was going on, making arrests when he could.
King’s Tavern on North Williams was the “absolute worst” -- a den of drugs and prostitution, he says. Red Sands at Union and Shaver had a “fight and a shooting every night.” The Paragon Club wasn’t much better. He got each of them temporarily shut down, he says. Red Sands lost its liquor license just months after DuPay started working in Albina.
Farther north, DuPay wasn’t allowed to close up “Fat Mary” Williams’ brothel, he says, because Purcell protected it. But he sat in front of the dilapidated house in his squad car, doing his daily reports, his presence discouraging business.
Along the way, DuPay found something strange and unexpected happening to him.
He liked being in Albina. He enjoyed the people. He saw there was a real community in the district that couldn’t be dismissed. He found himself questioning some of his own prejudices, inculcated by his mother.
For most young cops, Portland’s Black neighborhood served as a way station, but “I wanted to work Albina,” DuPay says. “That’s where my heart seemed to be.”
DuPay is a loner by nature; his performance reviews pointed out that he tended to “have difficulty with his personal relations with other police officers … due to a rather cool personality.” Still, other young cops noticed what DuPay was doing in Albina, and they liked what they saw.
“He did a lot of good stuff there,” Harmon says. “He was a hard-working son of a gun.”
The younger police officers in North Precinct, like DuPay, “wanted to do what we were supposed to be doing,” Harmon adds. “They wanted to serve the people.”
The precinct’s captain, however, wasn’t similarly impressed with Don DuPay. He harassed the patrolman, berated him, made him direct traffic in front of the precinct. In 1967, Jim Purcell wrote in a bureau memo that “it was felt in the best interest of the department … to remove him from the area” -- the area being Albina. Purcell cited “repeated complaints lodged against him.”
Though still just a junior officer, DuPay dared to rebuke the powerful captain, writing to Chief Donald McNamara that Purcell’s aspersions clearly were not true, seeing as complaints had not been “called to either my attention or my relief commander’s attention.” He also noted that his last performance evaluation had rated him “excellent.”
If DuPay was worried about getting blowback from Purcell, Fate soon intervened.
In March 1968, five months after DuPay wrote to the chief, 59-year-old “Diamond Jim” Purcell suddenly died.
DuPay asked to be a pallbearer at Purcell’s police funeral. The reason, he told anyone who asked: “I want to carry that bastard to his grave.”
The request was denied.
One afternoon when Don DuPay was 9 years old, his mother frantically called him out to the windmill on the family’s Montana farm. She pointed, and he looked up and saw his father dangling about 10 feet up, his head squeezed between two sections of the support structure.
“You’ve got to get him, Don!” he remembers his mother telling him. “You’ve got to climb up and get him!”
DuPay scrambled up the windmill, managed to pry his father free, and the two of them tumbled to the ground, huffing, moaning in pain.
This wasn’t the first time his father had tried to commit suicide.
More than 70 years later, DuPay’s third wife, poet and editor Theresa Griffin Kennedy, is convinced the experience is the reason DuPay became a cop: “He had a need to save people.” She believes it’s also why he had trouble dealing with the tragic events almost every cop witnesses on the job.
DuPay, for his part, isn’t so sure.
“Maybe on some sublevel that could be true,” he says. “I don’t know.”
Despite the stress and trauma brought on by his father’s depressive periods, DuPay insists he had an idyllic childhood. In 1947 the family moved to Portland, where his parents opened a drive-in restaurant.
“I spent Saturdays watching matinees at Hollywood Theatre,” he says. “I learned to ride my bike backwards, which kind of made me the talk of the neighborhood.”
He could have gone into the restaurant business with his parents. (That’s how he met his first wife, Nanci -- she was a carhop at the drive-in.) He could have finished college, having put in two years at Lewis & Clark before joining the Navy.
But policing called to him. He thought he could make his community better by putting on a badge.
He doesn't believe he was right about that, but he did move up the ranks quickly. By the time he was 31, he’d been promoted to detective. He was so much younger than the other detectives in the burglary unit that they all called him “The Kid.”
DuPay enjoyed working burglary. This was the era of the safecracker. Before commerce went digital, businesses large and small had safes filled with cash. And every city had burglars intent on busting them open.
In one high-profile case, DuPay and his partner John Wesson figured out who had emptied the Portland Zoo’s safe one night in 1969 -- a cocky yegg named Billy Lewis -- and managed to tie evidence directly to the man’s new wife. Lewis ended up with a 10-year sentence.
Then there was an ingenious 1973 diamonds robbery that went unreported to the police because, the FBI noted, “the owner was not aware the diamonds were taken.” Wesson and DuPay managed to uncover the scheme anyway, leading the feds to bust a traveling salesman, Charles Eugene Wright, in Las Vegas. The G-man in charge of the case wrote to Chief McNamara to commend the detectives’ work.
These were the glory years: Harmon remembers DuPay striding around Central Precinct in a suit, a smirk pasted on his face, his tight gaze seeing only the business at hand. He didn’t begrudge the detective his swagger.
“You work long hours, and you’re not home as much as you’d like to be,” Harmon says. “But it’s a great job if you put your mind to it, your heart. He did that.”
But those long hours -- and the stress of the job -- had begun to carve away at DuPay’s emotional defenses. His marriage to Nanci, the former carhop, crumbled in the wake of relentless infidelities.
DuPay then met Artent Thomas, a beautiful young woman who had “perfect disco hips” -- this was the late 1970s -- and “charisma to burn.” Except this was exchanging one fraught relationship for another. He says Thomas was addicted to cocaine and turned tricks to feed her habit.
“I thought maybe I could reform her,” DuPay says.
Instead, struggling with depression and nightmares, he ended up dipping into her coke stash himself.
“When you get involved with cocaine, it’s very exciting,” he says. “At first.”
DuPay pulled himself together after about a year, but not in time for a happy ending with his girlfriend.
Thomas was discovered in Seattle’s Frink Park on a gusty day in May 1980. She’d been stabbed more than a dozen times. Another of her boyfriends confessed to the murder.
Don DuPay is still haunted by dead bodies.
Barbara Jean Carrico was the name of the woman murdered in the Plaid Pantry on Sunday, Sept. 14, 1975.
“It was one of the worst things I’ve ever seen,” DuPay says. “I’ll never forget it.”
For decades he avoided 53rd and Burnside, the convenience store’s location.
That day of the murder, a patrolman came upon the suspect, a drifter named Donald Ray Rister, and shot him, wounding the man in the neck. Rister was taken to a nearby hospital.
DuPay had wanted to make the arrest himself, but in retrospect he’s glad he wasn’t there.
“If I’d have found him, I probably would have killed him,” he says. “I saw what he did to her.”
DuPay wasn’t on the Homicide Detail for long, and he closed almost all of the murder cases he handled. But he never did arrest anyone for killing Zebedee Manning, the teenager DuPay found in a bedroom with a gun blast to the head.
The scene at the small, Northeast Hancock Street house was hinky.
The boy was on his bed, on his back, eyes closed. He had his hands folded over his chest, funeral-style, a sawed-off rifle tucked into an arm. DuPay looked long and hard at the boy, at the room. Something was obviously wrong here.
Yet the next day, DuPay’s boss said Manning had been declared a suicide, case closed.
DuPay protested. People who shoot themselves don’t look like they’re peacefully napping, he pointed out. They’re flopped awkwardly. Eyes snapped open.
Not to mention the gunshot holes in the bedroom’s walls, and various other evidence in the house that indicated multiple people had been there with Zebedee around the time of the death.
Didn’t matter. It was done. The boy’s name already had been erased from the Homicide Detail’s chalkboard. DuPay was told to “move on to something else.”
DuPay had been teetering on the edge for months. He had a bleeding ulcer and high blood pressure. The Manning case pushed him over.
“That was the end of it for me,” he says. “If they can say I can’t investigate a murder, I’m done.”
He checked out, glazed over, punched the clock. A little over two years later, he resigned from the police bureau, taking no pension. He made a clean break, accepting an offer to become security chief at the Benson Hotel.
But he didn’t move on from Zebedee Manning. He still hasn’t.
In 2017, with the police shooting of 17-year-old Portlander Quanice Hayes roiling the city, DuPay wrote on Facebook: “Say his name: Zebedee Manning. Say his name: Zebedee Manning. Say his name: Zebedee Manning. Say his name: Zebedee Manning. This 15-year-old Black youth actually WAS murdered by police.”
Four years later, he again wrote about Manning on the social-media platform: “This boy 15 years old was murdered by Portland Police for some drugs he was hiding for his uncle. He is interred at Rose City Cemetery.”
DuPay had now reinvented himself as a writer, with his wife’s enthusiastic encouragement.
“He’s had the most amazing, tragic life,” Theresa says of her 84-year-old husband. “He has stories he has to tell.”
In 2015, DuPay published “Behind the Badge in River City” through the boutique press Theresa runs. The Manning case was a key chapter. A follow-up memoir is coming later this year.
J.B. Fisher, a local historian and author of the 2019 book “Echo of Distant Water: The 1958 Disappearance of Portland’s Martin Family,” says DuPay’s writing counts as valuable historical documentation, capturing “a gritty, pre-gentrification Portland and all of its uncomfortable realities.” He adds that DuPay’s recounting of Manning’s death hits especially hard.
“He knew that it was a racially motivated set-up, and he also knew that such things were not isolated incidents in 1970s Portland,” Fisher says.
But writing about the Manning case didn’t exorcize this particular demon for Don DuPay. He continued to investigate the teenager’s death on his own. He now believes he knows what happened and who’s responsible.
He says dirty narcotics cops found out that Zebedee was hiding heroin for his uncle, a drug pusher well known to Portland police. These officers went over to the Manning family home, but Zebedee wouldn’t give up the drugs, DuPay surmises. They tried to intimidate the boy, scare him, and things got out of hand.
This theory isn’t necessarily as outlandish as it might sound. The 1970s saw the war on drugs running white hot. Vice cops at the time sometimes used illegal drugs when working undercover, to prove their bona fides to the dealers they were trying to bust. Some of the officers became addicts themselves. And addicts -- even cop addicts -- often end up committing crimes to fuel their habit.
DuPay can picture the scene at Manning’s home that day in September 1975.
“The officers were probably high,” he says. “They just lost control and shot him in the head. And tried to cover it up.”
DuPay says some of the cops he believes were involved in Zebedee Manning’s death later got caught up in a police scandal that followed a deadly 1979 raid on a motorcycle gang’s hangout. The resulting official investigation concluded that a group of Portland vice officers had planted drugs on suspects, stolen money from them, fabricated evidence and committed perjury.
DuPay says he took his work on the Manning case to Portland city officials in the 1990s and received a promise that it would be taken seriously. Nothing happened.
“I know who did it,” DuPay says of Zebedee Manning’s killing. “But I can’t say [publicly] until he dies.”
The fallout from Don DuPay’s final, traumatic years as a Portland police detective proved long-lasting.
He continued to wrestle with depression, crying jags and sudden anger, until a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder led to some self-forgiveness -- and a search for treatment. He married again, to a woman named Merrilee Smith, and they had a son, Lee. The interracial couple moved into a new home in Northeast Portland, DuPay’s old professional stomping ground, but they didn’t feel welcome. One day they found a small wooden cross burned into their front yard, DuPay says. The marriage imploded in an ugly fashion. (In the years that followed, Lee grew up largely rootless -- and spiraled out of control, becoming a meth addict. He’s now in prison in Washington state.)
DuPay ended up running a homeless shelter for Transition Projects. He finally felt comfortable in a job.
“It was kind of a natural for me,” he says. “Addicts, drunks. I know how to talk to them.”
He was a pot-smoker now -- it helped the PTSD. In fact, the former cop who’d made dozens of marijuana-possession busts in the 1960s became a vocal marijuana advocate in the 1990s, backing legalization for medical purposes. He hosted a cable-access show called “Cannabis Common Sense.”
This raised his profile, and so, with prodding from friends and fellow pot activists, DuPay launched a longshot 2006 bid for Multnomah County Sheriff.
He wore T-shirts on the campaign trail, along with a bandana wrapped around his head to hold back his long hair.
And he didn’t skimp on his opinion of the incumbent, Sheriff Bernie Giusto, who faced sundry allegations of ethics breaches.
“I knew he was unfit,” DuPay says.
He promised to be a very different kind of sheriff.
DuPay advocated for bringing on “citizen observers” in jails and to ride along with the deputies. He called for the unused Wapato Jail to be remade into a homeless shelter.
The press loved covering him -- he was colorful. One account described him as a “pot-smoking grandfather” and pointed out that he “wears no undershirt beneath his oxford shirt, which makes it easy to show off the blurry blue Navy tattoo on his left pectoral.”
DuPay told reporters he kept a .38 Smith & Wesson in his car, and that they should pack heat too.
“The police are not your bodyguards,” he said. “Nobody can protect you but you.”
He didn’t win. He scored more than 21,000 votes, a decent haul for an oddball political newcomer with no money, but that wasn’t even half as many as the much better-known Giusto garnered.
It was just as well. Who knows, being sheriff might have brought bad memories -- and their attendant anxieties -- flooding back. He was glad he had quit his police career when he did.
So again he was done with being a cop. But the cops weren’t done with him.
In 1998, Oregon voters followed his advice and passed a medical marijuana law, but that meant nothing to federal authorities. The Drug Enforcement Agency announced that, at its Portland office, “marijuana is not viewed as medicine, period.”
Just months after the sheriff’s election, DEA agents raided DuPay’s home, seizing guns and marijuana growing equipment. The guns were legally owned, and DuPay was growing weed for registered Oregon medical marijuana patients.
As the feds tromped through his home, DuPay made plain what he thought of them.
“As far as I’m concerned, you’re a baldheaded punk,” he said to one of the cops.
The agents told him to cooperate with a larger marijuana investigation or he’d be arrested and prosecuted. DuPay refused. No prosecution followed.
Five years later, however, Portland police arrived at the apartment building where he was living after reports of possible shots being fired from somewhere nearby. DuPay, now in his 70s, told them to get lost when they tried to question him. He says he’d learned one important thing from his 17 years as a cop: Don’t talk to cops.
They arrested him. He spent a couple nights in the Multnomah County Jail and faced a bench trial for recklessly endangering another person and discharge of a firearm in the city. The evidence hovered between scant and none. The judge found him not guilty.
Convinced the police bureau had retaliated against him for long-ago grudges, as well as for his marijuana advocacy, DuPay filed a complaint with the Independent Police Review Board.
So it’s probably no surprise that Don DuPay still has harsh words for the police. But at the same time, he admits, “once a cop, always a cop.”
His former colleague Clyde Harmon, who retired in 1999, says that “things changed a lot” in the Portland Police Bureau over the 35 years he worked there. “It got better and better.” DuPay acknowledges this is probably true.
DuPay wants to see meaningful police reform. He recognizes that there are a lot of good cops who suffer because the bad ones get the public’s attention. But the police union, he says, “allows bad cops to remain.”
“Nothing is ever going to change until you get rid of Internal Affairs,” he insists, referring to the police division tasked with policing officers. “There shouldn’t be special justice for the police.”
DuPay may have his issues with the police, but he also recognizes how important the job is, how crucial it is to a functioning society. And how difficult and emotionally draining the work can be.
He looks at Portland’s cops today, after a year of street protests calling to “defund” or even abolish the police, and sees strikingly low morale. He sees officers unwilling to do their jobs because they know the politicians won’t back them up.
He points to the “Red House on Mississippi” incident late last year, sparked by activists swarming officers who were trying to evict squatters from a foreclosed home. The officers fled. When the city then allowed protesters to barricade North Mississippi Avenue in front of the house, with the standoff lasting for days, DuPay knew what that meant.
“Portland,” he says, “is screwed.”
-- Douglas Perry
Published in The Oregonian in 2021.