Before Oregonian reporter Les Zaitz retired, he and his colleague Noelle Crombie examined some cold cases that seemed linked to one incarcerated killer. After two years of reporting, research, and field work, Crombie and photographers Beth Nakamura and Dave Killen found the link: between the late 1970s and early 1990s, one man raped and killed multiple women along Highway 20, which crosses all of Oregon state. The team starts their five-part story with the one woman who survived her violent encounter with killer John Ackroyd. And for the first time, she tells the story of these other missing women.
Filled with photographs, maps, and documentary footage, this is incredible, necessary reporting. It’s also heart-wrenching. Reading about the young lives this man ended, the pain survivors endured: the mother who couldn’t discuss her daughter’s disappearance; the husband who imagined the great things his wife would have done had she not disappeared during a jog; the brother who laid in the spot in the forest where his sister’s body was found and imagined the last thing she saw. As one widow told the team, “These are important stories to be told.” Unfortunately, with Ackroyd dead, this is as close to justice as these women will get.
Despite all the tantalizing coincidences and Ackroyd’s apparent eagerness to place himself at the scene of the crime, investigators could find no physical evidence definitively linking him to the killing. He steadfastly maintained his innocence, admitting only that he had seen Kaye that morning and found her remains.
Then a confession by a convicted murderer sidetracked detectives before they determined he was lying.
Eventually, the investigation stalled. Ackroyd returned to the periphery.
It seems remarkable in hindsight that he managed to elude police despite such compelling circumstantial evidence and his rape a year earlier of another woman off Highway 20.
Yet Ackroyd went on working for the state, responding to broken down cars, clearing wrecks and fixing state rigs along the highway, alone.
He married a local woman named Linda and they lived with her young kids, Byron and Rachanda.
Beck left Oregon. He was convicted of a sex crime in Minnesota, served seven months in prison, and moved to California.
Kaye Turner’s killing became a faded memory. Her case remained unsolved. Detectives moved on.
Then Rachanda Pickle, Ackroyd’s 13-year-old stepdaughter, disappeared.