Nothing in the five-paragraph obit indicated that when she died, Dunham took with her a troubling piece of Oregon history.
Although she has remained anonymous until now, Elizabeth Dunham was the victim whom former Gov. Neil Goldschmidt raped in the mid-1970s, beginning when he was mayor of Portland and she was a young teenager. As long as she was alive, the media withheld her name.
We’re identifying her now—after much internal discussion—for two reasons.
First, the list of things Goldschmidt stole from Dunham should not include her identity. Second, the story of this powerful man’s abuse can be more fully told now that his victim can no longer suffer from it.
(For what others think of that decision, see “Naming Names” below).
Dunham died Jan. 16 after spending most of the last month of her life at Hopewell House, a hospice in Southwest Portland’s Hillsdale neighborhood. Her death came after decades of battling substance abuse and mental illness.
Dunham’s mother, who had worked for then-Portland Mayor Goldschmidt in the mid-’70s, told WW she was at her daughter’s side when she died.
The tragic arc of Dunham’s life was not preordained.
A 1975 yearbook photo at Portland’s St. Mary’s Academy shows a ninth-grader with wavy chestnut hair, big glasses and the final traces of the pudginess that in elementary school earned her the nickname “short and fat and curly toes.”
But in high school, the onetime ugly duckling became a beautiful young girl. Her transformation did not escape the notice of teenage boys, according to Anne Grgich, a Portland artist and Dunham’s friend since fifth grade.
“She was very pretty and had so much potential,” Grgich says.
She also captured the attention of Goldschmidt, a family friend 21 years her senior.
Goldschmidt, a handsome and charismatic married father of two young children, was putting Portland on the map and becoming a national political player.
He transformed a downtown expressway into Tom McCall Waterfront Park and a surface parking lot into Pioneer Courthouse Square, and engineered the beginnings of Portland’s light-rail system.
As mayor, Goldschmidt worked only five blocks from St. Mary’s, where Dunham went to high school, and his home was only six doors away from the Dunham family’s in Northeast Portland’s Alameda neighborhood.
He saw Elizabeth at political events—her mother was a City Hall aide and campaign staffer—and she also served as a City Hall intern and as his children’s baby-sitter (Goldschmidt’s ex-wife disputes that Dunham baby-sat for the couple; others, including Dunham, say she did).
When Dunham was a St. Mary’s freshman and classmates were stressing over homework and dances with boys from Jesuit and Central Catholic, Goldschmidt lured her into a sexual relationship.
Dunham confided to friends that she had met Goldschmidt for sex dozens of times. The meeting places were many—in her basement, at the Hilton Hotel, at a downtown apartment and at friends’ houses on Alameda Ridge.
Illicit sex with a political powerhouse would be a lot for anybody to process, let alone a young teen navigating adolescence.
People who knew Dunham well say she never came to terms with the impact Goldschmidt had on her life.
“She wasn’t able to contend with issues of abuse she’d suffered and still feel OK about herself,” says former boyfriend Zorn Matson, a Portland photographer who lived with Dunham from about 1979, when she was 18, until 1982.
“She tried to ignore negatives in her life,” Matson says. “But they eventually destroyed her.”
Only snippets of Elizabeth Dunham’s story saw publication during her lifetime (see “The 30-Year Secret,” WW, May 12, 2004).
One of the questions the previous coverage left unanswered was how long Goldschmidt’s abuse of her lasted.
When WW first reported the story, we referred to Dunham by the pseudonym “Susan” and wrote that the sexual abuse started when she was 14 and continued for three years.
(That abuse would have constituted statutory rape, but the statute of limitations expired before Goldschmidt’s actions came to light.)
That chronology of abuse came from court records related to a $350,000 settlement Dunham and her lawyer, Jeff Foote, reached with Goldschmidt in 1994. In return for the payment, Goldschmidt required Dunham to never speak of his abuse.
When WW broke the story, Goldschmidt tried to soft-pedal his conduct. He said the abuse, which he called “an affair,” lasted “nearly a year.”
Mitru Ciarlante, director of the Teen Victim Initiative at the National Center for Victims of Crime in Washington, D.C., says the word “affair” is inappropriate.
“First of all, we’re talking about a crime,” Ciarlante says. “But we are also talking about an imbalance of power and exploitation at a time in a child’s development when she is particularly vulnerable.”
Since that time, Dunham, in conversations with WW and others, has said the abuse started not when she was 14, but rather 13. She also said the relationship continued not for three years but through Goldschmidt’s divorce in 1991, until she was nearly 30 (although after she turned 18, legal issues would have ceased to apply).
Dunham’s account to WW is consistent with what she had told close friends before and after the story became public.
A former boyfriend, Portland lawyer Mark Smolak, with whom Dunham lived from 1989 to 1993, confirms that’s what Dunham told him as well.
“Apparently it was a 14- or 15-year event,” Smolak says.
Another unanswered question is when Elizabeth Dunham’s troubles with substance abuse, mental illness and despair—a descent counter to Goldschmidt’s continued rise to influence and wealth—began.
Classmates say Dunham, who was born in Eugene, was among the brightest in her class at All Saints Elementary in Northeast Portland.
“She was really charismatic and smart and had a lot of savvy,” says Grgich.
Dunham spent her eighth-grade year in Zaire, where her parents temporarily relocated. (After working at City Hall, Dunham’s mother, Pamela, later served as a TriMet spokeswoman and then joined the Foreign Service, where her postings included stints in Bangkok, the Bahamas, Rome and Ankara, Turkey).
But by the time Dunham entered high school, she’d lost interest in academics.
“She skipped a lot of school but skated on the homework because she was so smart,” Grgich says.
At 15, Dunham dropped out of St. Mary’s. She later earned a GED and briefly enrolled at the University Oregon, but she was primarily self-taught.
“She had books all over the place,” says Philip Sawyer, a Portland real-estate agent who says he first met Dunham in 1979. “She was extremely well-read and she knew so much.”
In her late teen years, Dunham ratcheted up her consumption of booze, speed and cocaine, Grgich and others say.
“It’s hard to put a date on when things went wrong,” says Matson, the Portland photographer.
There were times during the 1980s when Dunham functioned well enough to hold a job.
She waitressed at the now-defunct Pink’s, a bar on Southwest Jefferson Street near I-405, and at the Lovejoy Tavern on Northwest 21st Avenue, now Swagat, an Indian restaurant.
“Pink’s was her best time,” says Sawyer. “She had a small French car and a nice apartment. She was happy and went to work on a regular basis.”
Sawyer says that on good days, Dunham was “as charming as you can imagine.”
“She was very polite, extremely funny and solicitous,” Sawyer says. “She knew everything about music and was a phenomenal cook.”
On at least one occasion, Dunham tried to put Portland and her increasingly complicated entanglements behind her. She moved to New York in 1982, when she was 21, and enrolled at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts.
That experiment did not last long.
“I was good at improvisational comedy, but I could not sing,” Dunham told WW in 2004.
Dunham’s inability to focus or follow through is typical of victims of teenage sexual abuse, says Ciarlante.
“Teen sexual abuse victims are very likely to develop PTSD, depression and alcohol problems,” Ciarlante says. “All of those on top of the trauma of sexual abuse make it very difficult for teen victims to have goals and succeed in life.”
Another attempt on Dunham’s part to break away from Portland ended in disaster.
In 1988, in the middle of Goldschmidt’s term as Oregon governor, Dunham’s erratic behavior in Portland became increasingly threatening to his career. She was simply talking too much.
Goldschmidt arranged a job at a Seattle law firm where a former colleague at the U.S. Department of Transportation (Goldschmidt was secretary of the department under President Jimmy Carter for two years) worked as a senior partner.
In Seattle, on Dec. 13, 1988, a man named Jeffrey Jacobsen abducted Dunham at knifepoint, took her to her apartment and raped her. Jacobsen was convicted and sentenced to 53 years in prison.
Suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, a condition for which she would receive monthly Social Security payments, Dunham moved back to Portland, where her life continued to spiral downward. It was about this time, when she was in her late 20s, that her sexual relationship with Goldschmidt ended.
Over the next four years, she would be arrested more than a dozen times, mostly for drug- or alcohol-related offenses.
For part of that time, she lived with Smolak, a criminal defense lawyer.
“She was curious about my work, and for a while she tried working with my private investigator,” Smolak recalls.
But Dunham could not stay focused. “She was a roller-coaster gal,” Smolak says. “She could be on top of the world one minute and in the depths of hell the next.”
After her four-year relationship with Smolak ended in about 1993, Dunham entered an in-patient facility for substance abuse. But she was soon on the street hanging out with a rough crowd.
A 1992 police report described her being found face down in a pool of blood on the South Park Blocks near the exclusive Arlington Club, the epicenter of Goldschmidt’s sprawling network of corporate and civic leaders.
In 1992, Dunham pleaded guilty to cocaine distribution. She served five months at a federal penitentiary in California.
The prison time and the monthly $1,500 check resulting from Dunham’s 1994 financial settlement with Goldschmidt prompted a stretch of relative stability.
In 1996, she married Steven Cummings, a sometime taxi driver and air-conditioning contractor from California. The couple relocated to Las Vegas, where she stayed out of trouble. Living off the monthly settlement check and a monthly$400 Social Security stipend for PTSD, she helped Cummings raise his daughter, devoted herself to her dogs, Zoe and Harley, and rode horses.
But Dunham and Cummings divorced in 2006 and she moved back to Portland, where she continued to struggle with alcohol until her death.
Whether Dunham’s parents knew about Goldschmidt’s abuse of their daughter while it was occurring remains a matter of speculation.
People who knew the Dunhams say that when Goldschmidt “adopted” Elizabeth as his protégée, it was a point of pride for Pamela Dunham.
Whether the Dunhams ignored or overlooked the evidence that Goldschmidt’s mentoring of their daughter went much further, only they know.
Barbara Bingham, Pamela Dunham’s niece, says that based on conversations she had with Elizabeth and Elizabeth’s late maternal grandmother, and Bingham’s own observations, she believes Pamela Dunham knew Goldschmidt was having sex with her daughter by the time Elizabeth was 16.
Bingham is less certain about Arlyss Dunham, Elizabeth’s father, who Bingham says was only sporadically present during her teenage years.
Bingham says she once witnessed Elizabeth sitting on Goldschmidt’s lap and making out with him in the Dunhams’ basement when Elizabeth was 15 or 16.
She says she asked Pamela Dunham’s mother, who lived in the house, whether Pamela knew about Elizabeth and Goldschmidt spending so much time alone.
“She [the grandmother] said, ‘I’ve told Pam, and nothing happens,’” Bingham recalls.
Asked when she learned of the abuse, Pamela Dunham told WW, “That’s none of your business.” Asked what she did when she learned Goldschmidt abused her daughter, Dunham said, “I confronted him,” but declined to answer further questions about what she did.
In 1986, when Elizabeth was 25, her mother took a paid position with Goldschmidt’s gubernatorial campaign.
Bingham’s outspokenness on what she perceives as the Dunhams’ failure to protect Elizabeth has caused her estrangement from the family.
“The way I see it, they let that girl down, and it got to the point where there was nothing left of her to save,” Bingham says.
Although her adult life was a chronicle of nearly uninterrupted misery, Dunham expressed a range of conflicting feelings about Goldschmidt.
As a young girl, friends say, she was thrilled to be the object of a powerful leader’s attention.
Later, she would come to blame him for her problems. But, according to friends, there was always a part of her that was lovestruck, a part that felt he was, in her words, “a savior.”
WW first interviewed Dunham in April 2004, when she was prohibited by the terms of her legal settlement from speaking honestly about her sexual abuse. Even so, Dunham referred to Goldschmidt as “a mentor” and “a visionary” to whom she and all Oregonians owed “a debt of gratitude” for his public service.
She also talked about the impact Cry, the Beloved Country, a 1948 novel about pre-apartheid South Africa, had on her. Goldschmidt gave her the book when she was a teen, and she said it remained among her favorite books.
Smolak says the relationship with Goldschmidt dominated Dunham’s life, and her unresolved feelings about him plagued her.
“Neil Goldschmidt was her savior one moment and the devil incarnate the next,” Smolak says.
“Goldschmidt had an enormous impact on her life,” adds Matson, a former boyfriend. “She was probably in love with him as a teenager and flattered by his attention. But she was very damaged, and she was a person who could not help herself.”
Ciarlante, whose group works with victims all over the country, says predators manipulate teens to create a sort of psychological dependency.
“What we’ve seen is that children can form very unhealthy attachments to their abusers,” Ciarlante says. “The abuser creates a dominance and may frame himself as a protector. The victim may have conflicting feelings and a resentment and shame that they are never able to resolve.”
One of the many medical professionals who treated Dunham over the past four decades says this of Goldschmidt: “He took everything from her except her life.”
And now, that is gone as well.
There will be readers who ask, “Why name Elizabeth Dunham now?”
Part of the answer is her death. The journalistic convention of protecting sex crime victims’ identities aims to spare them anguish while they are alive—not afterward. When murder victims are also raped, the latter crime is often disclosed and, of course, the victim is identified.
During her life Dunham agreed not to talk about Goldschmidt in exchange for a $350,000 settlement. In effect, he purchased her silence, her story and her right to use her own name. But there is ample evidence Dunham wanted her story told. After “The 30-Year Secret,” WW’s 2004 report of Goldschmidt’s sex abuse, Dunham gave lengthy interviews to WW and others. She also worked extensively with Hollywood screenwriter Bryce Zabel, a former Oregon television reporter. He wrote and sold a script for a TV movie that has never been produced. He met repeatedly with Dunham and spoke to her dozens of times.
“She wanted to tell her story, fully and completely, to somebody,” Zabel says. “She wanted to go on the record, almost as an act of cleansing.”
Still, journalism ethics experts disagree on naming Dunham.
“My personal opinion is that the story has been told. Goldschmidt has suffered the consequences,” says Tom Bivins, chairman in media ethics at University of Oregon’s School of Journalism and Communication. “I don’t see any justification for exposing her memory and her family and friends to further inquiry and potential embarrassment this far after the fact.”
But professor Stephen Ward, director of the Center for Journalism Ethics at the University of Wisconsin, says preserving Dunham’s anonymity beyond her death would be dishonest.
“It is time to name the victim, to put a human (and specific) face on an anonymous victim,” Ward wrote in an email. “Putting a name on the victim adds strength to your story—it allows you to tell readers about a real, identifiable person. Specifics in stories of this kind can be very important.”
On Tuesday, The Oregonian published its profile of Goldschmidt’s victim but did not name her.—NJ