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August 29th, 2001 John Schrag | News Stories
 

Trib reporter Jim Redden

The big break in Oregon City.

     
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By the time the FBI searched Ward WeaverÕs Oregon City home over the weekend, few people had any doubts about what theyÕd find. Sure enough, the remains of Ashley Pond and Miranda Gaddis, two girls who had disappeared from a nearby housing complex earlier this year, were buried there. Weaver, 39, first emerged as a suspect, not from police reports, but in the pages of the Portland Tribune. Staff reporter Jim Redden had been tipped off to WeaverÕs odd relationship to the girls after writing a couple of stories that outlined some of the problems Pond and Gaddis had experienced in their homes. On Monday Redden, a former WW reporter, talked with WW news editor John Schrag.

Willamette Week: What prompted you to jump into this story?

Jim Redden: I got a tip phoned into me that Michelle Duffey [GaddisÕ mother] and Terry Duffey [her aunt] showed up for a sentencing hearing of a convicted murderer in Clackamas County, to lend support to a convicted murderer. And this person thought this was strange, with her having a missing child that we all thought was probably dead, at that point. I started calling around and I got ahold of Michelle and she said, 'Oh yeah, heÕs a friend of the family, a really great guy and a positive influence on my daughter,Õ and I thought, 'ThatÕs really weird.

So what happened next?

I also got ahold of a law-enforcement official who was familiar with the case, who unloaded on both families. This personÕs quote to me was, "They give white trash a bad name." They had convicted felons hanging around the house all the time. These mothers are dating sex offenders. One goes to jail, they hook up with another one. This person told me about Wesley Roettger [PondÕs father] molesting Ashley and Brett McEnnany [Michelle DuffeyÕs boyfriend] molesting all of DuffeyÕs children, and blah blah blah blah. And this was right after the People magazine story had come out.

Which was a sympathetic portrayal.

Yeah. I think that was the key. That pissed off the law-enforcement people working on this case. They knew what was going on from the get-go, and here these people are portrayed in People magazine as soccer moms. I think I just hit a pissed-off law-enforcement person. I went and talked to [Tribune executive editor] Lora Cuykendall and she said, "Well, of course, anyone watching TV can tell these are not your normal families, but no one is writing about that, so go ahead."

So who was the guy at the sentencing hearing?

Brian Daniel is his name. HeÕs a meth addict, a petty criminal whoÕd moved to Oregon City and hooked up with the Duffey family and murdered a guy. Stabbed him in the stomach, took him out in a field and buried his body. Even after he was arrested, they kept in touch with him. Michelle let Miranda correspond with him in the joint. This is the kind of judgment we have with these women.

Did you think he might have killed them?

He was in jail at the time that the girls disappeared, but at first I wondered. HereÕs someone, a sex offender, whoÕs had close relations with Miranda. He could have told a cellmate about her. WeÕre talking about a nest of vipers here. ThatÕs where I was going when I got the call.

What call?

Someone close to one of the families called up and said, "Since youÕre a reporter whoÕs actually telling the truth about whatÕs going on, have you heard of Ward Weaver?" And I said, "No, whoÕs Ward Weaver?" So I go out and talk to Weaver, and he tells me heÕs the prime suspect. And IÕm going, "OK, thereÕs the prime one, but thereÕs all these othersÑget in line, buddy."

Most people deny theyÕre suspected of crimes. HereÕs a guy whoÕs insisting heÕs the prime suspect. Did he come off as goofy? Scary? Both?

No, I went out there on a Sunday morning, and he opens the door and is standing there in his wife-beater shirt and cut-off jeans. I introduce myself, and he invites me inside. He was a little nervous, but a lot of people arenÕt used to dealing with the press, so I didnÕt think it was significant at the time. What did he think of the story? He was not happy with the story. He thought I made it sound like he was complaining about the investigation, when he said he was only complaining about them crossing the line. He really wanted to come across as a stand-up guy.

Did you ever, in your gut, think there was a good reason he was the prime suspect?

I could see why he was a suspect. But did Ward Weaver strike me as a total psycho sex-maniac serial killer at the time? No. He came across as what he claimed he was: someone whoÕd been in trouble with the law but had been working hard to get his act together.

This wasnÕt the first time you were chasing an unsolved murder investigation that seemed to be going nowhere. You were the only one who stuck with the Tim Moreau murder, which years later was finally pinned on nightclub owner Larry Hurwitz.

Déjˆ vu all over again.

What was the biggest difference between the two cases?

Obviously, the biggest difference was the speed with which this one has progressed. Ten weeks versus 10 years. The other difference is that I knew Larry did it immediately. I had reported on Larry on two previous stories in which he was engaged in very sleazy activities. IÕd interviewed him and gotten the chance to size him up. So when I got the call that Tim had disappeared, I knew instantly it was Larry.

In that case, you had the benefit of being familiar with the subculture in which you were reporting. I imagine it was a bit different dropping into Clackamas County.

YouÕve got to remember, I grew up in Southern Oregon. I drove Firebirds. ItÕs not completely alien.

And yet it wasnÕt exactly a sympathetic portrait.

Oh God, no. Michelle has called up many times and screamed at us. But IÕm not the only reporter who knew this stuff. When I went down and checked out files from the Clackamas County Courthouse, I found that The Oregonian had already checked them out months ago. They knew all this stuff. In fact, if you read their early stories, they drop little hints here and there, you know, "Both of their fathers have had encounters with the law," weird shit like that. So they knew this stuff and chose not to pursue it. And the TV people know all the stuff that everybody else knows, and theyÕre reporting less than everyone else.

WhyÕs that?

I think theyÕre nervous about dealing with the unpleasant stuff with these families. And some people will be offended; theyÕll say, "How can you dare criticize these mothers, just because they made some mistakes?" But I say, "No, mixing stripes and polka dots is a mistake. Moving a violent sex offender into a house with small children ought to be against the law." I think the majority of the people want to know and need to know this stuff. They want to know that there are ways I can minimize the risks to myself and my child. I think thatÕs an important message to get across. This is a teachable moment, or whatever that phrase is. And if the press isnÕt willing to address this, itÕs lost.

Was that risky?

We took some risks in saying what we did about the families, but we did it at a time when people were groping for explanations and answers, and the coverage broke loose more information. The Oregonian has dumped on the families when it doesnÕt matter. I do feel bad about the mothers. TheyÕre victims and theyÕre really, really in bad shape right now, but I do believe people can learn from it.

 

 

 

EditorÕs note: This transcript has been edited for brevity and clarity. A shorter print version appears in the Aug. 28 WW.

 
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