On the Town

It's a late spring night in 1978, and a team of narcotics detectives from Portland's Special Investigation Division is waiting outside a house in Lake Oswego for a heroin deal to go down.

Top narc Neil Gearheart sends his snitch in to make the buy - and then before you know it, the dealer comes running out of the house, jumps on a motorcycle and vanishes into the night.

The snitch, a curious fellow by the name of Jack Rowlands, comes back to the car and hands Gearheart the heroin.

'What am I going to do with that?' says Gearheart in disgust.

'I'll sell it,' says Rowlands - and Gearheart tosses him the dope. As far as Rowlands is concerned, he's dealing for Gearheart now.

Think of it, if you will, as another 30th anniversary tale that no one in P-town wants to talk about. Can't say that I blame them, either. Especially considering what allegedly happens next.

• • •

From Lake O, they head back downtown, and they're sitting in the narcotics squad room when who should burst into the room but a big burly detective - no need to name names - waving his service revolver and shouting that he's going to kill himself because a street girl he's been taking care of has just died of an overdose in Laurelhurst Park.

Yes, of course, it sounds crazy, but these were crazy times. If it helps to put things in proper perspective, consider the following:

The mayor is sneaking in and out of motel rooms with an underage girl.

The town's top call-girl operation maintains an ongoing business relationship with City Hall.

And the most effective drug gang in town, as would later become evident after an illegal raid and shootout at a biker clubhouse, is probably the SID itself.

In any case, Rowlands' story continues, Gearheart manages to wrestle the gun away from the burly detective, and that seems to be that. Then a few nights later, there's a knock on Rowlands' door, and it's one of the narcotics detectives, asking him for help in disposing of a body.

They sank it that night, in a crab pot, anchored off the Oregon Coast, Rowlands says. He claims he can lead investigators to the spot.

• • •

When this story, as well as questions about the adequacy of the Multnomah County district attorney's original SID investigation, surfaced more than a year ago, the DA's office bucked the matter over to the FBI. Six months later, the FBI announced that while it hadn't actually gone looking for the remains, it had found no credible evidence that anything had ever happened in the first place.

As the special agent in charge noted at the time, after all this time, he believed probably nothing would be left - so, apparently, why bother looking?

Left unmentioned was the DA's original request to have the FBI look into allegations that the original SID investigation might have left something to be desired. Who knows, maybe the FBI actually investigated and found that everything was just peachy.

If so, they obviously didn't talk to a police official who recently told me how, after a chance meeting at the LA airport, Gearheart once laid it all out to him - including the names of his superiors at the bureau who were running the crooked operation.

No disrespect intended, but it seems to me that if I can find that out, the FBI should have been able to do it, too.

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

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