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Oregon Police Identify Suspect In 43-Year-Old Double Murder Of Teenage Hitchhikers
Oregon Police say they now know who murdered two teenage hitchhikers, Cynthia Frayer and Kirk Wiseman, in 1978 — but that he died 25 years ago.
More than 40 years after the bullet-riddle bodies of two teenagers hitchhiking through Oregon were found, police said they finally have identified a suspect with DNA technology and genetic genealogy.
Cynthia Frayer, 17, and Kirk Wiseman, 19, of southern California were shot multiple times in the head with a .22 caliber gun in 1978 after hitchhiking from Eugene to Klamath County. Police said Frayer was sexually assaulted. The remains of a small dog were also found at the scene.
“You could tell that whoever did it didn’t have much respect for human life, the way the bodies were disposed,” former Klamath Falls Chief of Police Dan Tofell said at a press conference on Thursday. “It seemed like it was a callous murder.”
Current and retired officers with Klamath County Sheriff’s Office announced that the case was now closed at the news conference, where they identified Ray Mason Whitson, Jr., as the teens' killer.
Police said Whitson died in Texas in 1996, but relatives said that he'd lived in the Klamath Falls area from 1976 to 1982. He worked at a local lumber mill and his children attended school in the area.
“We had no connection at all from the victims in the Klamath Falls area, from what we were able to determine at that time,” former Klamath County Sheriff Carl Burkhardt said. “The only connection to Klamath Falls was a hitchhiking sign (found at the scene) that said, 'KFalls.'”
Klamath County District Attorney Eve Costello said there would be enough evidence to prosecute Whitson if he was still alive.
Police aren’t sure how the murders took place, but believe Whitson probably offered the victims a ride.
“That’s always going to be an unknown,” Klamath County Sheriff's Det. Dan Towery said at the press conference. “That’s one of the questions I wish I could have sat down with Mr. Whitson and asked him. To get those final clarifications. At this point, we just will never know.”
Burkhardt worked the case until he retired in 2001 — but they didn't get a break in the case until 17 years after his retirement
In 2018, police submitted evidence collected from Frayer, including some of her clothing, to the Oregon State Police crime lab in Bend hoping it would lead to a suspect.
One year later, Towery was told by the crime lab that they had a new lead and a DNA hit from the items submitted in 2018 as “unknown male number 1.”
That DNA evidence was entered into the national database of convicted offenders but didn’t lead to another hit.
Towery reached out to the Parabon Nanolabs, and they were able to identify a suspect over the summer.
“I gave the report to D.A. Costello to confirm what we had,” Towery said. “At that time based on our suspect, Whitson being deceased, we have suspended the case at this time — based on his DNA being on the female victims body.”
“I would love to say it’s just another case, but it’s not,” Towery added. “I am just lucky enough to be the last one in the chair to take it across the goal line.”
Now that the case has been closed, Towery said he plans to return the remaining evidence from the case to the victims’ families.
“There’s a letter from Cynthia to her mom and dad a few days prior, it was never mailed, it talked about what they were doing in Washington, talked about their hopes and dreams, and never got mailed,” Towery said. “I’m going to give it to her mom.”
Howard Wiseman, Kirk Wiseman's father, congratulated the Klamath County Sheriff’s office and said his family can find some peace now that they know who the killer is, according to KVAL.
“They went way above and beyond and beyond the call of duty in closing this case four us family members,” he said.