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On the Town

You're not afraid of ghosts, are you?

Well, kiddies, looks like it's Halloween again. Time to dress up so no one will know you and go traipsing through the dark Portland night, knocking on strangers' doors.

But don't worry - there's nothing to be scared of. I'm almost certain you'll be safe.

In fact, you'll probably find it comforting to know that, according to the Portland Police Bureau's cold-case squad, over the past 30 years or so, there have been only about 280 unsolved murders in Portland. Now that's not very many, is it?

Unless, of course, you allow yourself to imagine all those corpses lined up one after another on slabs in the county morgue.

In fact, as you already may know, one of Portland's oldest nicknames was Slabtown - first used back in the 1880s for the North End of the city where most of the saloons and brothels were located.

No reason to wonder why: If you went there, you had a good chance of ending up in the morgue. Or at least cut up into smaller pieces and thrown into the cold, dark waters of the Willamette.

No wonder we call it the Rose City these days.

• • •

Although, come to think of it, there was that gym bag with the man's torso inside that a couple fished out of the Columbia River last month. Then a few days later, his leg turned up. It was all pretty ghastly - but really, nothing you should be worried about. As the newspaper stories pointed out, the poor soul had a long criminal history, leading one to believe that this may have had something to do with his untimely end.

And then, of course, there's my own personal favorite, Willy Nelson, aka Harold Penland, who was discovered in his home on North Vancouver Avenue some 23 years ago, shot to death and hanging upside down in his gravity boots.

Whatever else you might think about him, Nelson liked to stay in shape.

But there's no getting around the fact that his long-standing associations with some of the town's leading drug merchants may have hastened his demise as well.

How many bullet holes there were in him, the cold-case squad is unwilling to say at this point. But everyone involved agrees that it was extremely gory.

• • •

So if you want my advice on how to have a safe and happy Halloween this year, by all means, stay out of the drug business.

Second thing is - and this applies especially to you women out there - don't hang out at truck stops. As you probably know, this is where serial killer Keith Jesperson picked up most of his victims, then bound and gagged them with duct tape before strangling them to death and leaving them beside the highway.

For all I know, one of those gruesome deaths may have occurred at Halloween time. Or if it didn't, it should have.

Finally, don't accept shiny red apples from women who wear pointy black hats and have a big wart on the ends of their noses, because they might be witches.

The same goes for candy, if they try to get you to take that, too.

Just turn and run as fast as you can back to your parents - who, with any luck at all, will be waiting for you on the sidewalk - and tell them:

'Mom, Dad, I think maybe we should give the next house a try.'

Other than that, have a happy Halloween.

Contact Phil Stanford by phone at 503-546-5166 or by e-mail at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .