The Lava Lake Murders is one of the most disturbing murders in Oregon history. The weather in Oregon’s Deschutes National Forest on an April morning in 1924 could only be described as ideal. The sky was a brilliant blue, and the winter frost was turning a lush green. The weather was perfect. Little Lava Lake, a charming body of water in the middle of the forest, had thawed and was once again navigable for boats.
On the lake’s edge that morning, a group of men assembled. The men looked around the lake but not for the ideal fishing site. They had come to remove the three slain men’s bodies from the lake.
The Lava Lake Murders rocked Deschutes County. Morbidly, they’re unsolved to date.
What happened in Lava Lake?
Three men were killed three times in the Lava Lake Murders, which occurred earlier that year close to Little Lava Lake. The three males, Dewey Morris (25), Edward Nickols (50), and Roy Wilson (35), were natives of Bend, Oregon, the county’s largest city. The three men entered the park the year before to operate as fur trappers during the fall and winter close to Lava Lake.
The trappers had made reservations at a log cabin owned by Bend-based logging contractor Edward Logan. Logan had agreed to allow the men to use his cottage as a base camp for their fur-trapping operations close to the forest.
The three guys promised to take care of five priceless foxes Logan had been breeding for fur on his property in exchange for a place to stay that winter. The trappers moved into the cabin once the arrangement proved successful for all parties.
In 1923, Edward Nickols returned to Bend to sell his furs a few days before Christmas. Locals reported that Edward appeared content and informed them that the fur trapping was doing exceptionally well so far after he sold enough fur to fill an entire sled.
On January 15, 1924, vacation camp owner Allen Wilcoxen was snowshoeing from his home in Fall River to the resort he owned at Elk Lake, a distance of 28.6 miles (46 km). This is when the men were last seen alive. After stopping and spending the night in the cottage, Allen continued his journey to his resort the next day.
Allen claimed that the men were “in high spirits and good health” when questioned by the police later. During his nighttime stay in the men’s cabin, nothing unusual happened. The men had mentioned another successful trapping mission, Allen said to the police.
They were last seen alive at this point.
The Murders of Lava Lake
Toby Owen After hearing nothing from Dewey for around two months, Morris, Dewey’s brother, started to worry. Morris was worried because, despite the cabin’s relative isolation, there was no explanation for the silence.
To search the cabin and locate the men, Innis asked Pearl Lynnes, the Tumalo Fish Hatchery’s superintendent. The dining room table was set for a meal at the cabin, and pots with burned food were discovered on the stove. Whatever had occurred had been abrupt and unanticipated.
There were no indications of a struggle, but the cabin was full of abandoned traps, food, winter gear, and firearms. But the soldiers had used the sled to haul supplies, and gear was gone. The men quickly moved to the fox enclosure after learning they could only stay at the lodge if they took good care of Edward Logan’s foxes.
The pen contained a claw hammer covered in blood, and the five foxes were all missing.
Deschutes County Sheriff Clarence Adams visited the cabin after learning of the missing men to look into possible scenarios for what might have happened to the three trappers. Adams knew the cabin’s vicinity since he had previously worked as a game warden.
He watched as the sled the trappers had been using was discovered half-buried in the snow and marked with a dark substance. The cops saw a hole that had been made into the frozen lake nearby, which had now refrozen.
A front tooth, hair clumps, and a patch of snow stained with human blood were discovered. Five foxes’ expertly-skinned bodies were nearby. A search of the lake had to be postponed until the thaw because little could be done in the frigid weather.
The bodies of the three men were discovered in the water once the lake had thawed enough for a boat search.
Investigation Into the Lava Lake Murders
Gunshot wounds and blunt force trauma with a hammer were the three men’s official causes of death in the Lava Lake Murder case. According to the autopsies, Ed Nickols was shot dead at close range with a shotgun, losing his bottom jaw and a portion of his chest in the process.
Dewey Morris has a hole behind his right ear that was probably caused by a hammer to his head, and he has been shot in the left elbow. Roy Wilson, the final trapper, had nearly had his right shoulder removed when he was shot in the shoulder. He had also received an execution-style shot behind his left ear.
According to the medical examiner, the males were reportedly killed sometime in January. Allen Wilcoxen would have stayed at the cottage after this; perhaps the resort owner chose to ignore what had transpired.
The police assumed the murderer was local because of the secluded location and the expertly-skinned foxes. The authorities focused their attention on Lee Collins, a trapper who had threatened to kill Nickols the year before after receiving a tip from a man by the name of Edward Logan.
The Mystery Deepens
It was discovered that the man’s real identity was Charles Kimzey and not Lee Collins. Kimzey was a convict who was on the run after breaking out of the Idaho State Prison, where he had been given a 15-year term.
In addition to being an accomplished outdoorsman, Kimzey was described as “a person so abhorrent that no crime is beyond him, even a triple murder.”
Most recently, Kimzey had been accused of trying to kill a stagecoach driver who had been hired to take Kimzey back to Idaho. The driver was ambushed by Kimzey halfway through the trip, who tied his hands and feet together and threw him down a well.
The driver could free himself from his bindings, climb the neighboring wall, and seek assistance at a nearby residence. He was able to recognize Kimzey as his assailant. Kimzey was accused but left the area before his trial began and vanished.
Kimzey was located and apprehended by the authorities in Kalispell, Montana, after a search that lasted nine years in total. He provided an alibi when questioned by authorities, saying that he was working on constructing the Moffat Tunnel in Colorado at the time of the killings and that he had never heard of the three men or their deaths.
Even though Kimzey could not establish his alibi, the authorities could not file charges against him since there was only indirect evidence connecting him to the killings.
But Kimzey was not a free man; he was given a life sentence and transported to the Oregon State Penitentiary for his attempted murder of the stagecoach driver.
Kimzey has long been considered the perpetrator of the Lava Lake Murders despite never officially being charged. In her 2013 book The Trapper Murders, crime author Melany Tupper asserted that Kimzey had a partner.
Tupper thinks that Kemzey’s accomplice in the killings was a guy named Ray Jackson Van Buren. Van Buren had been implicated in several unsolved homicides around Oregon, but any evidence had not supported Tupper’s claim.
Van Buren committed suicide in 1938, five years after Kimzey was apprehended, erasing all traces of his involvement in the Lava Lake Murders.
Van Buren was a well-educated man who had gone to college and earned a teaching credential. He did, however, experience tragedy firsthand in 1895 when a train struck his uncle’s wagon. Tupper retracts his claim that Van Buren saw the train run over his relative’s head and abuse the horses.
His life appears to have taken a terrible turn after this episode since he was shortly arrested for forgery. A life of crime started after being sentenced to state prison for two years.
His ability to find employment as a teacher despite his transgression is astounding to us in modern times. He gained notoriety for carrying a baseball bat and a handgun to class and enjoying administering corporal punishment.
He repeatedly found himself on the periphery of enigmatic killings, frequently committed for financial gain and typically including a beating and a handgun.
He was always available to lend an investigator a friendly helping hand in a dozen murder cases, and his charm seemed to dispel any suspicion that he might be connected to the deaths of numerous associates.
In 1938, he shot himself in the chest with his own rifle to end his life. He was never accused of killing anyone.
One of the oldest unresolved murder cases in Oregon history, the case is still open. It will never be known what happened or who killed the three trappers at the cabin in 1924. The actual murderer might have remained undetected in the nearby woods or vanished into the crowd in Bend, Oregon.
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