Retired cop solves 1978 cold case

Retired cop solves 1978 cold case »Play Video
Earl Fred "Woody" Chambers (center) was behind the 1978 disappearance of Ann Marie Ellinwood (left) and is suspected in the disappearance Stephanie Ann Newsom 4 days later. Chambers killed himself before he was scheduled to testify about the case but was never officially named as a suspect before a cold case investigator pieced the case together 36 years later.

CORVALLIS, Ore. - Ann Marie Ellinwood was participating in a March of Dimes walk-a-thon on April 15, 1978, when she encountered a man with a small dog and a pickup truck who told her he was the chief of police, witnesses later told police.

The 12-year-old was never seen again.

Last month, James "J.R." Miller met with Ellinwood's parents to tell them he knew who was responsible for their daughter's disappearance.

The retired Salem Police sergeant researches cold cases.

Here's how he solved Ellinwood's disappearance - and why the suspect can never be brought to justice.


Second girl disappears

Ellinwood's disappearance April 15 was the first of two such cases that spring in the Willamette Valley.

On the afternoon of April 19, 1978, 11-year-old Stephanie Ann Newsom was walking door-to-door in Salem near Walker Middle School delivering advertisements.

Witnesses saw her walking home empty handed by way of the trail just east of the school.
Another witness later looked over as an off-white sedan with loud exhaust passed by. He recognized the girl in the passenger's seat as Stephanie Ann Newsom.

Eight days later, Newsom's body was discovered by two farmers in a field about a mile north of Talbot.


A hair cut, a new car - and a suicide

Meanwhile in Corvallis, the Benton County District Attorney's Office released a description of the pickup truck, camp trailer and driver seen the day Ellinwood disappeared. The man with the dog had earlier approached another girl and asked her to put his dog in the camp trailer. She had tossed the dog in and got away.

Almost immediately people began calling in reporting that the description matched 42-year-old Earl Fred "Woody" Chambers.

Chambers, a convicted sex offender, had long strawberry blonde hair and a thick mustache. He worked in the Willamette Valley as a roofer. Two friends of Chambers even reported that he had told them he had been in Pioneer Park with his pickup, trailer and small dog at the time Ellinwood disappeared.

Less than two weeks later, people who knew Chambers said they barely recognized him because he was suddenly clean shaven and his hair was short and dark.

Chambers had stopped driving his Ford pickup and was now driving his off-white 1970 Ford Torino - with a body style very similar to the car Newsom was last seen in.

On May 7, 1978, Chambers left his Ford pickup at a car dealership to be sold on consignment.

On June 6, 1978, the same day Chambers had been subpoenaed to appear before the Benton County Grand Jury to answer questions about the disappearance of Ann Marie Ellinwood, the Linn County Sheriff's Office discovered Chambers had committed suicide on a remote logging road southeast of Lebanon.


The cold case heats up

The case ran cold - until cold-case sleuth Miller recently happened upon a 1978 newspaper article from 2 days after Chambers was found dead.

The June 8, 1978, edition of the Oregon Statesman newspaper carried an article in which then-Marion County District Attorney Gary Gortmaker announced that two Salem attorneys had appeared before Judge Richard Barber to obtain the court's permission to disclose information about a former client who was recently deceased.

Gortmaker said that the information disclosed would result in him convening a Marion County Grand Jury investigation into the disappearances of Stephanie Ann Newsom and Ann Marie Ellinwood.

Miller contacted one of the attorneys and confirmed that Chambers had asked them to represent him because he was under subpoena to testify before the Benton County Grand Jury concerning the disappearance of Ann Marie Ellinwood. The attorneys had learned that he was responsible for the disappearance of Ellinwood.

Unfortunately, there are no reports that Marion County DA Gortmaker ever told the police or the Benton County District Attorney's Office about the information he had learned concerning Chambers.

The Marion County Grand Jury investigation into the disappearance of Stephanie Ann Newsom and Ann Marie Ellinwood never occurred.

Miller recently contacted the now grown woman who Chambers had asked to place his dog in his trailer the same day Ellinwood disappeared.

He showed her a photograph of Chambers with his long hair sitting in his pickup and she immediately recognized him.

She said that she had been shown photographs in 1978 but did not identify anyone. Miller learned that she had been shown a photograph of Chambers after he had changed his appearance, not before.


Case closed? Not for Miller

Miller still wants to prove beyond a reasonable doubt who was responsible for Newsom's disappearance.

And even though Chambers is clearly behind Ellinwood's disappearance, her remains have never been found.

Anyone with information concerning either of these cases is asked to telephone Salem Police Special Investigator James Miller at (503) 540-2348.