The following was reproduced with the permission of John Terry.

Who killed John Creed Conn?
Old Oregon murder mystery may finally be solved

Published: Sunday, May 08, 2011
John Terry, Special to The Oregonian

On April 21, 1904, John Creed Conn was spotted "as if repose" on a sandy knoll just outside the town of Silver Lake in south-central Oregon.

"The body was lying on its back, the arms thrown up over the head, the legs straight and feet close together, and the clothing neatly arranged ...," The Oregonian reported.

Conn's remains were found by a passing cowboy. "It could have been seen from any point for some distance," the report said. "... Why was it that the searchers did not discover the body sooner?" Good question.

A massive manhunt took place after Conn reportedly strolled out of town and vanished the morning of March 4. "Searching parties composed of every able-bodied man in the valley were organized, horsemen scoured the entire country to the snow line ...," the report said.

Then, 48 days later, there he was.

"If the body of J.C. Conn had lain on that knoll all that time, would it not, too, have become rain-soaked?" the paper asked. "He wore a white starched shirt and cuffs. Never a drop of moisture had touched those articles of apparel where he lay. They were as smooth as the day he put them on."

John Terry is a retired copy editor for The Oregonian and member of the Oregon Geographic Names Board. His previous columns may be found here.

Conn, 46, at the time, was a highly regarded Silver Lake businessman. He owned a mercantile and a thriving freight business. A brother, Lafayette Conn, was Lake County district attorney. Another brother, Virgil, ran a store in Paisley. The family was also prominent in the Roseburg area of Douglas County.

Two bullets had penetrated John Conn's body.

Two physicians agreed on the cause of death: The first bullet fatally "passed through the upper part of the heart, cut the spinal cord and ... lodged in the backbone. The second had struck about three inches above the first (and) passed entirely through the body." It would have not been fatal.

"Suicide" ruled a coroner's jury on April 24.

"What?!" responded incredulous friends and relatives. There was no way Conn could or would have killed himself, they argued, even though an ancient pistol he kept in his desk drawer was found by his side. The angle of the first shot and the absence of powder burns ruled against that. Beside, it was impossible that he fired the second shot, given the damage done by the first.

It was clearly and plainly murder, they said, and demanded justice.

Fingers were pointed in various directions, most notably to cattlemen who were in a sometimes pitched battle with sheep men over grazing rights. Starting around 1895, sheep on several occasions were slaughtered wholesale in what made headlines nationwide as the Oregon "Sheep War." Conn had catered to sheep men.

No suspects were ever identified, much less charged.

Several years ago, Melany Tupper, Christmas Valley writer turned amateur sleuth, began sifting through the records of both the Sheep War and the Conn murder.

She concluded the sheep shooters, as they were known, would not have used the ritual evident in Conn's death.

The position of the body "showed me it was an organized killing done by an organized killer, she said. "The body was stored in order to preserve it. It was deliberately posed. ... That points to someone who's a psychopath."

That psychopath, she said, was Silver Lake schoolteacher Ray Van Buren Jackson. Her indictment of Jackson is thorough, from his early days as a thief and embezzler through two terms in the Oregon State Penitentiary, to more thefts, forgeries and other killings.

"The more I dug, the more I found on this guy," she said. He shot himself to death in 1938 at his home in Wagontire.

Tupper lays out her case in "The Sandy Knoll Murder: Legacy of the Sheepshooters" (Central Oregon Books, Christmas Valley, 2010). It's available through Powell's, Amazon and directly from

John Terry 

The following article was reproduced with the permission of
The Lake County Examiner and Ryan Bonham.
It was originally published on June 23, 2010.

Christmas Valley author traces murder of Silver Lake man
by Ryan Bonham
Lake County Examiner

A new book recently published by Christmas Valley author Melany Tupper examines the history behind the recently solved 1904 murder of pioneering Silver Lake businessman John Creed Conn.

Conn, who owned a mercantile store in the northern Lake County community, disappeared inexplicably from Silver Lake’s streets before his body was found about seven weeks later on a sandy knoll located on ZX Ranch property.

Tupper’s book encompasses six years of researching a case deemed ‘cold’ by law enforcement for over a century. Her research included 80 other homicides and suspicious deaths during a period of central Oregon’s history enveloping a series of bloody wars over regional range land.

Prominent was not only Conn, himself, but also his family, according to Tupper’s account, as his family ties included his brother, a district attorney, and considerable political connections amongst his other relatives.

Tupper said that she took an interest in the case when she began researching Oregon’s range wars in 2004 for a series of articles on the centennial anniversary of sheep kills that occurred in Lake County.

“All of the accounts claimed that Conn had been an accomplice of the Sheepshooters who had double-crossed them, and that was why he was murdered,” she said. “But those stories just did not make sense to me because Conn, as a merchant, would have depended on the sheep industry for much of his livelihood.”

Tupper said that she delved into archives at the Oregonian and Lake County Examiner newspapers, where she found considerable details surrounding the crime scene. Through this research, the killer appeared to be a highly-developed criminal mind, which led her to believe that a paper trail existed as to the killer’s actions and whereabouts.

“Sociopaths and psychopaths leave a paper trail because they get in trouble a lot,” she said. “They get arrested and go to prison. People sue them. And, they like to communicate with the media and to involve themselves in the investigations of their own crimes.”

Tupper also said that her research seemed to indicate an effort on behalf of the Conn family to keep the murder quiet. A coroner’s jury deemed — fairly swiftly, in her opinion — the man’s death as a suicide, which was how Conn’s death was initially ruled.

Tupper said that these rulings did not fit in consistently with physical evidence from the crime scene.

In conducting her research, Tupper said that many were skeptical upon learning of her intent to determine Conn’s murderer more than 100 years later.

“I would have to look them right in the eye and say, ‘I am confident that I can solve it,’” Tupper said. “Turns out, I was right.”

“The Sandy Knoll Murder, Legacy of the Sheepshooters” is available at Howard’s Drugs and the Lake County Public Library in Lakeview,* and retails for $15.

For more information, visit

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