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Crime News Murders

Suspected Serial Killer Warren Forrest Found Guilty In 1974 Murder Of Martha Morrison

Warren Forrest, who's already served 40 years of a life sentence for the murder of Krista Blake, was identified as a suspect in the killing of Martha Morrison when her blood was found on a dart gun he used to torture a third woman.

By Christina Coulter
Killer Motive: What Drives People To Kill?

A southwest Washington jury found suspected serial killer Warren Forrest guilty of first-degree murder in the 1974 cold case killing of Martha Morrison on Feb. 1 after deliberating for just 90 minutes.

Forrest, 73, is already serving a life sentence for the 1974 murder of 20-year-old Krista Blake, who was last seen climbing into his blue Ford Econoline cargo van near downtown Vancouver on July 11, 1974.

He was charged with the murder of 17-year-old Morrison in 2019 after her blood was found on an air pistol in his home, according to CBS News.

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The remains of two women were discovered side by side in a densely wooded area of eastern Clark County by a members of a search party on Oct. 12 of that year. The first was identified immediately as 18-year-old Carol Platt Valenzuela, who had been reported missing in August, according to The Oregonian.

However, Morrison’s remains went unidentified until 2015, when her DNA was discovered on the grip of the pistol. According to the Associated Press, Forrest has denied killing the two women.

With this new evidence, prosecutors filed the new murder conviction against Forrest in 2019. Before investigators narrowed their sights on Forrest, serial killers Ted Bundy and Randall Woodfield had both been considered persons of interest in Morrison’s disappearance.

A forensic scientist with the Washington State Patrol Lab in Vancouver testified Wednesday morning that the partial DNA profile she generated from the weapon matched the partial DNA profile from Morrison’s remains with a probability of 1 in 30 billion, according to The Columbian.

That pistol was used that month to torture Norma Jean Lewis, who managed to survive the attack and testify against Forrest in court last month. Through Lewis’ testimony, prosecutors aimed to demonstrate the now-73-year-old’s pattern of abducting, abusing and leaving women for dead in the early 1970s.

Clark County prosecutor Lauren Boyd said in her closing statements that this pattern, along with the DNA evidence, proved beyond a reasonable doubt that Forrest killed Morrison.

“It’s not a mistake that Martha’s blood is on the grip of this gun,” she told the court. “There is no other explanation for that except that the defendant is the killer.”

But Sean Downs, Forrest’s attorney, said the state failed to meet its burden of proof because there was no evidence showing when, where or how Morrison died — or even the exact date she went missing.

“[Forrest and Morrison were] perfect strangers,” he said in court, according to The Columbian. “It’s just unknown, so we’re left to speculate.”

He further argued that differences existed between Morrison’s case and Forrest’s former attacks. Morrison’s remains were found in a different area not associated with Clarks County Parks, unlike the sites of Blake’s remains and where Lewis was rescued. Forrest was an employee of the Clarks County Parks Department.

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More than 30 witnesses testified against Forrest during the six-day trial. Family members of 16-year-old Jamie Grissim, 14-year-old Diane Gilchrist and the other six girls and women suspected to have died at Forrest’s hands heard his guilty verdict in court on Wednesday.

“Justice for her is as much as the rest of us can get now,” Starr Lara, Grissim’s sister, told The Columbian outside the Clark County courthouse. “We can rest easy and never have to hear from him again ... All I want is the truth, the simple truth.”

Lewis, who shambled out to a road for help after Forrest bound her to a tree and left her for dead in 1974, told CBS affiliate KOIN-TV that she “just want[s] answers for those families that don’t know what happened to their loved ones.”

“So many of those young girls, their parents died without knowing what happened to their daughters,” she said. “I don’t care about anything else.”

She said she hoped that Forrest could now “firmly go down in history as a serial killer, instead of an alleged or suspected serial killer.”

Lewis testified that Forrest approached her as she left her shift at the Oregon Environmental Council to walk to her next volunteer assignment and asked if she was available for a modeling gig. She agreed, hopping into Forrest’s blue van. The pair drove to Washington Park in Portland, where Forrest allegedly attacked her with a knife and strangled her until she was unconscious.

After binding her in his trunk, raping her and shooting her multiple times with the dart gun used as evidence in Morrison’s case, Lewis told the court, he led her out of the car with a noose around her neck. He allegedly strangled her to unconsciousness again, covered her with logs and left her for dead.

Forrest was never charged with any crimes against Lewis, The Columbian reported.

Morrison’s brother, Michael Morrison, told KOIN-TV that there is still further work to be done for Forrest’s other suspected victims.

“This isn’t about just killing Martha, it’s about all the rest of us that have had to deal with this for years and years. That’s hard on people,” he told the outlet.

Forrest, who has already served more than 40 years in prison since he was convicted for Blake’s killing in 1979, will be sentenced in this case on Feb. 17.

Oxygen.com could not reach the Portland branch of the Federal Bureau of Investigation for updates on the cases of the other women Forrest is suspected of killing. 

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