Portland homicide detail takes case of JoAnna Speaks, one in series of women found dead in Oregon, SW Washington


The case of JoAnna Speaks, one of at least five women who went missing under suspicious circumstances and turned up dead across the metro area earlier this year, has been transferred to the Portland Police Bureau.

Homicide detectives believe Speaks, 32, was killed in Portland — even though her body was found April 8 in a derelict barn east of the Interstate 5 interchange in Ridgefield, about 20 miles into Washington state.

Speaks’ family is convinced her case is linked to four other women whose bodies were dumped in rural locations earlier this year.

Law enforcement sources have identified Jesse Lee Calhoun, 38, as a person of interest in the wider investigation. A prolific car thief and burglar, Calhoun was among 41 prisoners who had been selected to fight historic wildfires and whose sentences were commuted by Gov. Kate Brown as thanks.

A police spokesperson didn’t immediately respond when asked if investigators believe Speaks’ death is connected to the cases. Police initially denied any connection between the other four cases, but officials later acknowledged they were linked by a person of interest.

In an interview last week with The Oregonian/OregonLive, Speaks’ stepsister, Ariel Hamby, said Clark County Sheriff’s Detective Fred Harrison told her the case had been transferred to Portland, noting that it was cumbersome for the investigator to make inquiries well outside his jurisdiction.

Hamby said JoAnna Speaks, who had been staying in the Portland area, didn’t have any reason to cross the river into Ridgefield.

“She didn’t have any contacts out there, any business,” Hamby said. “All of the leads that we’ve gotten so far have been over here.”

Hamby and other family members of the deceased women have created a Facebook page, United Justice Group, where they are offering a $5,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the killer.

The Portland Police Bureau announced the case had been transferred to detectives Jeff Pontius and Steve Gandy on Monday following inquiries from the news organization.

The Clark County medical examiner determined Speaks, a mother of three, died of blunt force trauma to the head and neck in a homicide.

Speaks struggled with addiction, and was known to frequent the Clackamas Town Center area, as were several other of the missing women.

The four women linked by law enforcement are Kristin Smith, 22, of Gresham; Charity Lynn Perry, 24; Bridget Leann Ramsay Webster, 31; and Ashley Real, 22.

Authorities began suspicious death investigations after discovering the bodies of Perry, Webster and Real. No cause of death has been released in any of those four cases.

Smith was found Feb. 19 in a wooded area near Southeast Deardorff Road in Portland, Perry was found in a culvert near Ainsworth State Park in east Multnomah County on April 24, Webster was found in northwest Polk County on April 30 and Ashley Real was found in a pond in Eagle Creek in Clackamas County on May 7.

Calhoun has not been charged with any crime relating to the women. He remains in custody in Snake River Correctional Institution in Ontario after Gov. Tina Kotek revoked his commutation for parole violations in July.

His earliest release date is in June.