Send your questions about The Sandy Knoll Murder to Melany Tupper through the ‘contact’ form, and find your answers here.

Q: I spoke to an enthusiastic crowd at Burns who asked me many questions. One of the more interesting questions was why I so readily accepted the suicide verdict in the case of Jackson’s death (or words to that effect), but rejected the suicide verdict in the death of Creed Conn.
A: It is important to remember here that Conn’s injuries could not have all been self-inflicted, and that Jackson’s could have been self-inflicted. Remember, in deductive reasoning it is important to shape your hypothesis to fit the facts, and to always keep the facts foremost in your mind. I did actually believe for about five years that Jackson had been killed by one of the many people who held him in visceral disdain. But, because of what the sheriff said about the scene, and because it is common for psychopaths to end their own lives, my money is on suicide. Ray would have been plagued with a horrible self-loathing all of his life. And, moreover Ray Jackson loved a good game. All of us familiar with the story should understand how much Ray loved to arrange a crime scene. Food for thought--chow down.

Q: I don't understand how Jackson could have hauled Conn's body from it's storage place at the school to the knoll after a snow fall and not leave tracks. Even frozen snow would reveal tracks. Maybe I missed something in all of the details, but the snow would have to have been totally melted not to indicate some sign. What means of transportation for the body;horse, horse & rig ??? Curious about your speculation concerning these details.
A: I believe that Jackson transported the body in the very early morning hours on horseback. I do not believe the body was frozen at this time, because he was able to position the arms and legs at the Sandy Knoll. Jackson was a large man, and I believe that he carried the body the last short distance to the knoll. He may have traveled the highway, which would have had other tracks on it before and after his, which would have disguised his tracks that far. In the early morning hours, it was very cold, in the 20's, and had stopped snowing. That is why the clothing, at least on the top of the body, was not wet or wrinkled. If the snow was fine and powdery, which I believe it would have been on a night that cold, he could have easily dusted out his tracks as he left with anything like a jacket or blanket that the body may have been wrapped in. Any remaining trace would have been wiped out in the morning when the snow melted and the road turned to mud.

Q: How did you become interested in solving the murder of Creed Conn?
A: I was writing a series of feature articles on the range war period, and the two big sheep kills that happened in Lake County, Oregon in 1904. I started that research just before the 100 year anniversary of the range wars, and found several accounts that mentioned the Conn murder. Pretty early on, I learned that Creed Conn was a merchant and owned a freight team, and made a considerable part of his living from hauling wool to the railhead, and hauling grain and supplies out to the sheep camps on the desert. Every account of the murder that I read claimed that Conn had somehow been an accomplice of the Sheepshooters, who had double-crossed them, and that was why he was killed. That answer just simply did not ‘wash.’ Why would that man have worked to damage an industry upon which his livelihood depended?

Q: What made you think you could solve a murder that happened 100 years ago?
A: I found some articles that appeared in the Oregonian. They were the Series of Four that I describe in the book, and they all were on the front page, the last one appearing in December, nine months after Conn disappeared. Those articles gave a lot of detail about the condition of the body and the crime scene around the Sandy Knoll. They told me that the killer was very organized, and there were several peculiar things that just seemed like ‘overkill’ and ‘signature aspect.’ I believed that the killer was probably a psychopath, a man that had been a friend of Conn’s for a short time. Sociopaths of any kind usually leave a paper trail through history. They get in trouble and cause trouble. They get arrested, go to prison, people sue them, their names get in the newspaper. Psychopaths are all that, and they are also predatory. They like to involve themselves in the investigation of their own crimes. All I had to do was look for someone close to Conn who had left that kind of paper trail.

Q: What made the Conn murder such a high-profile case in 1904?
A: There were several factors. Probably the main one was the articles in the Oregonian and other papers that laid the blame on the Sheepshooters. Conn’s celebrity and prominence were another factor, and he was just a widely known and respected figure because of his fine freight team and because of his political connections. The circumstances of his disappearance and what was found at the Sandy Knoll just contained a lot of stuff that a lot of people found really intriguing--I mean--the guy vanished in broad daylight from the main street of the town of Silver Lake. Then when the governor got involved, and overturned the suicide verdict of the coroner’s jury, that just pushed it over the top.

Q: What process did you use to find the killer of Creed Conn?
A: I used any printed source I could find from Creed Conn’s lifetime and the period, starting with anything printed in Lake County. I studied everything for the names of anyone who had any connection to Conn at all, and collected everthing I could on all of them. Newspapers, local history books, homestead and land records from the General Land Office, the census tables, tax records, records from the Oregon State Archives, biographies, court records, geneaological material, etc. I took notes and cross-referenced all of it in big notebooks. I also collected everything I could on the sheep kills and the early forest reserves in Oregon.

Q: How did you come up with the title for the book?
A: It came from an Oregonian article, that said “the body lay on a small sandy knoll within a fenced field.” I also sort of liked the way that it harkened back to the Kennedy assassination, and thought that the reader would realize from the title that I was questioning the whole ‘party line’ about the Sheepshooters.

Q: Do you think that Ray Jackson stold that money from Creed Conn?
A: Yes, I certainly do. But I don’t think he held him up, or opened his safe, or anything like that. I believe that, because he had a history of fraud and forgery, that he forged Conn’s signature on a promisory note, and got access to the money that way. After collecting a large amount of material on Jackson, it became apparent to me that he was a hedonistic killer, that he always killed for some kind of material gain.

Q: Do you think that Ray Jackson raped Ethel Martin?
A: I don’t really. However, I do believe that he was sexually aggressive, as many psychopaths are, and had the bad habit of overpowering women. With children, his cruelty was of a different character. It would not surprise me if he had raped a child, but I never found any evidence of it. I believe that he killed Ethel Martin because she had discovered the hiding place of Conn’s body.

Q: Who were the Sheepshooters?
A: I believe that the ring leaders of the gang that did the sheep kills in north Lake County were members of the Crook County law enforcement community, and some of their friends and relatives. They were also constituents of John ‘Newt’ Williamson.

Q: What was your approach to the writing of this book?
A: I wanted to present all of the facts to the reader. The facts about the sheep kills, and about the murder, and everything that I had learned about Ray Jackson, but to do it in such a way that the reader could go through the process of deductive reasoning with me as I worked to solve the crime. I really wanted to respect the mind of the reader, and allow him or her to identify the things that just did not make any sense, and to make the guilt of Jackson obvious through a better knowledge of him. Chapter one starts with the crime scene, and the important clues left there.

Q: Why were they killing sheep down in Lake County?
A: The sheep kills were a graphic propaganda tool developed by supporters of Williamson and his partners in land fraud to create the illusion of a massive range war going on in central Oregon. Most of their activity took place as the attorneys for the defense of Williamson, Gesner, and Biggs prepared their case for the first land fraud trial. They knew that, and made sure that, the sheep kills got news coverage in Portland, the place where the trial would be held. I also believe that, because several of the Sheepshooters were well known in their own county, they wanted to do their dirty work far from home where they were less likely to be recognized, and less likely to be blamed for it.

Q: Do you think that Jackson had other victims, other than those in the book?
A: I definitely do, and I am planning a sequel to The Sandy Knoll Murder that will deal with the ‘middle years’ of his life. I have several others in mind that I believe were his because of the signature aspect of the crimes.

Q: What was the most difficult thing about writing this book?
A: The hardest thing was sorting through all of these murders and trying to decide which were Jacksons. In the end, I selected only the ones that I was most certain of, because I wanted to present the reader with a strong case against Jackson. I found other killers, too, and that was really creepy. At least two others.

Q: What are you working on now?
A: A sequel to
The Sandy Knoll Murder, that will probably be released in early 2012, and volume two of High Desert Roses, which will probably have the subtitle of “Lake County for the Curious.”

Q: Aren’t you afraid that someone will sue you?
A: No, I’m not. And, that’s because everything was so carefully researched. The information in the book came from printed sources, not speculation or hearsay. When I put something in the book that was taken directly from a newspaper article or a public record, then I can’t be sued for slander because I am stating that a certain source ‘said this.’ Which is true--they did say it. As far as the Jackson family goes, it is pretty evident that he was estranged from his family and that they did not have much use for the man after he went to prison the second time. I think they knew what kind of person he was.

Q: How many sheep were killed in Lake County in 1904?
A: Around 900 at Reid Rock, and around 2,000 at Benjamin Lake. The papers gave the number killed at Benjamin Lake as 2,300, but the newspapers almost always exaggerated the number dead in the sheep kills. I was never able to come up with corroboration on that number, or able to find a court document or eye witness statement to the contrary. Total head count for Lake County was probably close to 3,000.

Q: What is your background, and how did you start writing?
A: It seems like I have felt compelled to write forever. Even when I was a little kid, and before I learned how to actually write, I would attempt to write. I wrote a lot of poetry as a kid. Then, I wrote articles for my middle school and high school newspapers. I took some journalism classes after high school, but then worked in sales for a few years. I wrote a journal while living on the road in a Volkswagon bus, and that became the book called Trip, Nomadic in America. When I moved to Lake County 10 years ago, I started writing freelance and publishing feature stories in several newspapers around the area: the Bulletin in Bend; the Herald and News in Klamath falls, our own Lake County Examiner and Desert Whispers, my home town paper; and a couple of others. The High Desert Roses series is a compilation of my feature stories, and I still write for the Lake County Examiner.

Q: Do you have any words of advice for anyone who want to take on a similar project of their own?
A: Yes! Cross reference everything. Support your local historical societies. Keep a list of the names of all the people who tell you that you are attempting the impossible, so that you can send them a gift copy of your book when it is done.
And, I will see you at the microfilm reader!

Q: What is the ISBN number of The Sandy Knoll Murder?
A: The ISBN is: 978-0-615-36077-5

Q: Regarding my ancestor, Philip P Barry, the picture you used was of his father, Philip K Barry. You can read his history in by googling up "Irish Sheepherders of Lake County." Anyway....I enjoyed your book. I wished there were more pictures of Jackson. Also, what became of his estate and wife and child? Does he have a headstone in the Burns cemetary? I'd like to visit it someday. Again....thanks for writing a wonderful book!
A: Thank you for the tip about the Barry photo. You will see a correction in the photo caption of subsequent printings of the book. The only photos of Jackson that I could find were from prison! His wife, Jessie, continued teaching for quite a few years. I was not able to find any trace of their child in later years. Jackson is buried at the Burns Cemetery.

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