Chapter Nine

Lava Lakes

When all that is known about Ray Van Buren Jackson and Charles Hyde Kimzey is put together in one base of knowledge, the possibility that Jackson was Kimzey’s accomplice in the Lava Lakes triple murder cannot be ignored. Their family ties and mutual friends made it possible, and so did the fact that both lived in Lake and Harney counties at the same times. Remember Jackson’s broad criminal versatility, including armed robbery, his love of money and material gain, and the fact that Jackson was always away from his Wagontire ranch from October through April. Then, there was the matching description of the partner as a glib and fast talking charmer who was hedonistic, neat and clean cut. If the Lava Lakes murders are approached with the supposition that Kimzey was one of the killers, then Ray Jackson is certainly worthy of consideration as his accomplice.

The 1924 investigation into the disappearance of three men at the Lava Lakes, about 25 miles southwest of Bend, was actually hatched in the worried mind of a mother. Sarah Wilson, mother of Roy Wilson, knew that something was wrong. She also knew how reliable her son was, and remembered that Roy said he would return home to Bend in February. She knew that Roy’s real reason for being at the lake was to protect Ed Nickols from Charley Kimzey, the criminal, who was still at large. “Mrs. Wilson, who was severely shocked by the tragic death of her only son, has stated from the first that the three men had been murdered and would not listen to the consolation of her daughters and friends, who tried to persuade her the missing men were out on their trap line,” was the version of the story told by the
Oregonian. Sarah Wilson must have known that Ed Nickols was concerned about what might happen if Kimzey resurfaced, and that was the primary reason that he had asked Wilson and Morris to spend the winter with him.

“Reports are current that Kimzey had sworn to have revenge on the men at the lake for giving information to the authorities which nearly resulted in his capture in Boise,” reported the
Oregonian in the wake of the murders. “Kimzey still has a 14 year sentence waiting to be served in the Idaho penitentiary.” That article referred to the events of the previous summer, when Ed Nickols reported that Kimzey had robbed his cabin at Little Lava Lake, and probably also told the sheriff what he knew about Kimzey’s past, that he was from Idaho, and where he might be found.

All of the folkloristic writing about the triple murder at Lava Lakes has romanticized the story by describing the victims as “trappers.” But careful examination shows that trapping was only a recreational pastime for the three men. Morris and Wilson were both loggers by trade, and had worked together for about five years with Brooks-Scanlon Lumber Company. Indeed, the census of 1920 and the death certificates for both men gave their occupations as “logger.” Nickols himself does not seem to have been much of a trapper either.

It was difficult to make a living solely from trapping in 1924, especially for novices. That was why Nickols also had the job caring for Logan’s foxes, and why Kimzey and Nickols made moonshine to supplement their income. A somewhat comical photo, taken at the Little Lava cabin, tells the story that the trapping aspect of their stay was more for recreation than anything else, and may have been taken by Hervey D. Innis, Roy Wilson’s brother-in-law, when he delivered the two young men to Little Lava Lake in October of 1923.

The cabin where Ed Nickols, Roy Wilson, and Dewey Morris stayed during that winter no longer exists, and the exact location of it is not known. But, the approximate location of it can be extrapolated from old newspaper articles, maps, and photographs. One of the articles published in the wake of the crimes described the location as one half mile from the main boat launching area at Big Lava Lake. The shadows cast behind the trapper’s cabin and trees in old photographs show that the cabin faced south, more or less. And, since it was located at the edge of Little Lava Lake, that would mean that the cabin was probably somewhere on the northern shore.

For reasons of convenience, it would have made the most sense to place the cabin on the west side of the lake, for easy access to fishing opportunities at Big Lava Lake, and entry via the main trail into the area. That final consideration was probably the most important one, because of the difficulty of getting supplies and feed for the foxes to the cabin site in the winter. If the cabin had been on the south side of the outlet of Little Lava Lake, the channel would have cut off access to the main trail.

Combining all of those ideas narrows the probable location of the trappers’ cabin down to the northwest corner of Little Lava Lake and, on the north side of the outlet of that lake where it forms the source of the Deschutes River. That spot is the current site of Little Lava Lake Campground, and the development of that area helps to explain why no trace of the cabin remains. On a fine summer day, the spot where the bodies were found can be reached by an easy half mile walk from the campground at Little Lava in just under 20 minutes.

The cabin itself was probably one of those built by Logan’s former partner, trapper Robert A. Lewellen, around 1918. A photo of Bob Lewellen, published in
American Magazine in 1922, shows him standing in front of the identical cabin where the triple murder took place.

Victims (from left) Dewey Morris, Roy Wilson, and Ed Nickols clowning around at the cabin. Note the the
differences between this sled, probably stolen by the killers, and the bloodstained one on page
that was left at the body disposal site.

The last time that Sarah Wilson saw her son alive was over the Christmas holiday, when he and Ed Nickols traveled out from the lake to Bend for a visit. At that time, Roy told his mother that he would be home in February. No detail remains of how Dewey Morris spent the holidays, but it seems likely that he would have visited one or more of his brothers, who still lived in Deschutes County.

I spent three winters in this immediate area and at times
was almost overcome by the knowledge that three men
had been brutally murdered by a fiendish monster.

Wayne Negus

The investigation began as a missing persons case, and because Willcoxon was the last one to have definite knowledge of the whereabouts of the three men, the coroner’s jury concluded that the date of death was “about the 15th day of January, 1924.”

By April 13 the weather had started to warm a little and the roads had cleared enough that Owen Morris, Dewey’s brother, and Hervey Innis gave in to the supposition that something must be wrong. The two men drove out to the nearest access point on Snow Creek Road, seven miles to the south of Little Lava, and snowshoed the rest of the way. In 1924 the popular loop drive of the Cascade Lakes Highway did not exist. The snow was still four feet deep in places when they arrived. They found the cabin deserted, with extra clothing and abundant provisions still there. Although they arrived in the middle of April, the calendar still showed the January page.

“Innis and Morris at the cabin Sunday, found every indication that the men had not been there for about two months. Their last meal judging from the dishes left on the table, was breakfast, and molded cooking utensils showed that food had been left simmering on the stove,” reported the
Central Oregon Press. “Rifles, traps, and heavy clothing were found in the cabin. No signs of preparation for a trip were evident.” According to the Oregonian, “The place was not in orderly condition in which the trappers had always kept it.... Refuse had been thrown on the floor, magazines and papers scattered about, and the skin racks and dryers were in a neglected condition.” Despite the mess, Innis said that he saw no indication of violence inside the cabin.

The valuable foxes were all missing from their pens, located at a spot only described as “nearby.” Also missing were all of the furs that the men had harvested from their trap lines over the early part of the winter. Owen Morris and Innis knew that food had been delivered for the foxes on about January 13, but only two days’ rations of it had been consumed, and the last ration was still in the feed pans, indicating that the theft occurred shortly after the foxes were last fed.

Innis and Morris noted that the trappers’ boots and snowshoes found about the cabin were clean, and from that they gathered that the men had cleaned their footwear in the evening, then disappeared the next morning, before those items were used. Their things seemed to have been prepared and left in readiness for the next day’s excursion over the trap line.

They noticed a large blood stain in the snow at a point 30 feet west of the trappers’ cabin. In another area, described only vaguely as “in front of the cabin,” were five shotgun shells and three pistol shells. What appeared to be skull fragments were found about 10 feet east of the cabin. None of the evidence was really crystal clear, however, because a light blanket of snow covered up the blood stains, shells, and footprints.

The only other trace of the missing men was one of their wooden tote sleds, about six feet long and similar to a child’s sled, that could be pulled by hand. Hervey Innis and Owen Morris found it by following a distinct set of tracks from the cabin all the way to Big Lava Lake, about a half mile away. It sat on the shore at the edge of the ice, and was stained with blood.

Meanwhile, Deschutes County Sheriff Bert Roberts launched his own investigation on the 15th of April, and Deputy Sheriff Clarence A. Adams of Redmond was assigned to the case. Adams was the best man for the job because he had previously been the district game warden and was very familiar with the area around the lakes, knew where cabins were located, and even knew the general layout of the trap lines of the missing men. His first assignment was to follow the trap lines and to try to determine if the foxes had truly been stolen, or if they had escaped from their pens.

The sheriff also contacted Herbert Lansing Plumb, Supervisor of the Deschutes National Forest, for assistance, and the Forest Service began contacting all of the ranger stations and fish hatcheries, and everyone else in the general vicinity of the Cascade Lakes. It was probably through Plum’s phone canvassing that the last man to see the three men, Allen Willcoxon, was located. When Roberts interviewed Allen Willcoxon, he told the sheriff that there was nothing out of order at the cabin at that time of his visit, and that the trappers had collected about three thousand dollars in furs over the early winter.

On the 15th, Donald and Ben Morris, Dewey’s other brothers, and the fox owner, Ed Logan, set out for the lakes from Bend because they were even more concerned now, since Innis and brother Owen had not returned. Sheriff Roberts decided to head off in the direction of Crane Prairie, and searched that lake with a motor boat. The sheriff theorized that the missing men had accepted Willcoxon’s invitation to meet those other trappers.

The Brooks-Scanlon Lumber Company newsletter in Bend,
Deschutes Pine Echoes, seems to have contained the first published account about the missing men in a short article, probably written by Editor Paul Hosmer, on April 15. “Dewey Morris, who used to run the jammer at Camp 2 for a number of years, has mysteriously disappeared from his trapping camp at Lava Lake, and a crew of searchers have been in the woods for several days trying to discover some trace of the trappers. That search party found things in their cabin in such a state that the conclusion is they had left the lake in a hurry, but nothing was missing except their furs. Seven pairs of webs, three or four pairs of skis, all their guns except one revolver, and their entire camping outfits were still in the cabin and it is thought that they may have all perished. At this writing nothing definite has been established. Owen Morris, who is running the Camp 2 jammer, has left to help in the search for his brother.”

Deputy Adams returned briefly to Bend on the 16th to pick up supplies and to make a short report to the sheriff. He brought with him a sample of blood from the trappers’ sled that the sheriff sent off for an ‘analysis’ that consisted of someone viewing it under a microscope, probably a local physician. The carcasses of Ed Logan’s five foxes seem to have been located during that second search effort, minus the pelts, in the brush near their pens. On April 18, Sheriff Roberts received the results from the blood test that was negative for human blood. Despite that finding, Roberts suspected that the bodies of the three missing men would be found in Big Lava Lake, and decided to try sending a second sample off to the University of Oregon Medical School. By that time, Adams and his party had completed their search of the first of the two trap lines, without result, other than the conclusion that the traps had not been tended for quite some time.

The sheriff and his men got their first decent clue in the case on April 19 when they learned that four of the missing fox pelts had been purchased by the Schumacher Fur Company, at the intersection of Third and Main, in Portland. The
Oregonian had begun covering the story of the three missing men and the stolen foxes on April 16, and Carl Schumacher, being in the fur business, was naturally interested in the story. Then, Schumacher’s store was visited by Edward H. Clark, a deputy game warden who noticed four fox pelts that seemed out of place and asked Schumacher where they had come from. Clark had apparently also heard of the theft of the valuable pelts near Bend, and the missing trappers. “I told him that I got them from a trapper from Bend,” Schumacher told the Oregonian. “We began comparing notes and in my purchase book I found the entry on January 22 that showed that the furs were sold by a man purporting to be Ed Nichols (sic).”

When Schumacher contacted the police department at Portland, news of the sale of the stolen furs reached the ears of a traffic cop by the name of Walter C. Bender, who recalled that he had chatted with a couple of trappers back in January. “W. C. Bender, police officer, said he talked on a street corner with two men who carried furs and asked directions to fur dealers’ establishments.”

Bender had been on duty and stated that the two men first stopped at a fountain at Third and Morrison, took a drink, and then walked out to his semaphore. Bender remembered that the men were neatly dressed, but looked like men who had “lived out in the open.” He also remembered that he had chatted with the men about hunting and trapping, understood that they were just in from the mountains west of Bend, and that neither of them appeared nervous or in a hurry.

The witnesses were able to provide partial descriptions, and were shown a photograph of Ed Nickols. Both Bender and Schumacher stated that Nickols was definitely not one of men that they had met. The Portland end of the case was turned over to the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Department, under Thomas M. Hurlburt who, incidentally, does not seem to have been related to the Hurlburts of Harney County. “The trail is an old one and it is cold,” said Multnomah Deputy Christopherson to the
Oregonian. “The fact that the murders were committed about January 15 and that the furs were sold here a week later would indicate that the man who sold the furs and who exhibited Nichols’ (sic) trapper’s license is the man responsible for the triple killing.”

On the same day that Schumacher contacted the police, and despite the observation that the ice was beginning to melt, Ed Logan decided to venture out onto the frozen surface of Big Lava Lake, following the trace of the sled’s runners. About 100 yards from shore, Logan found a hole, that had not been broken, but had been deliberately chopped in the ice with some instrument, like a hatchet. There was blood around the hole, and Logan noted the diameter of it was about right to shove a body through. He called out to Deputy Adams, Owen Morris, and Innis, who were watching from shore, and Adams came out onto the ice to have a look. At the edge of the hole, stuck in the blood, Adams found a single hair that appeared to be human. It was light brown in color and rather fine. It now became pretty plain that one or all of the missing men had been killed and then shoved through that hole in the ice, and the difficulty of recovering the bodies was discussed. Because of his intimate knowledge of the seasons around the Cascade Lakes, Logan told Adams that he believed the ice would start to break up and go out of the lake in about four days, so the men decided to wait it out.

The next day, April 20, Sheriff Roberts received a tip from an unnamed person that the fifth fox pelt, previously unaccounted for, had turned up in Klamath Falls. deputies Adams and Stokoe went to investigate on April 21, leaving Logan and Innis at Big Lava Lake. On April 21 the search of the second trap line was begun, probably by Ben and Donald Morris. On Tuesday the 22nd, the party returned from their trap line search with no news. They found remains of twelve marten, four wild foxes, and a skunk in the traps, that had obviously not been tended for quite some time. And, Adams and Stokoe came back to Bend with the word that the trail to Klamath Falls had been a false one.

The three bodies were “sighted” some distance from the shore of Big Lava Lake, at the present-day location of the main boat ramp, at 5:30 p. m. on April 23 by Deputy Adams and Hervey Innis, who had just spent another day searching one of the trap lines. They walked over from Little Lava to catch some fish and to check the lake surface again when they saw three dark objects floating close together off shore. Adams and Innis got into a small boat and set about the awful task of trying to identify the bodies. Ed Nickols and Roy Wilson were found floating face downward, in the way that human bodies typically float in water, but Dewey Morris was found floating on his back. After making a quick identification, they put ropes around the bodies to keep them fromdrifting away and towed them to within 16 feet of shore. Deputy Adams went off to Bend to report what had been found, and Logan and Innis stayed behind to make sure the bodies were not tampered with.

Sheriff Bert Roberts told the newspapers what he had learned in the first days of the investigation. That some unsubstantiated rumors were circulating that the three missing men had been seen around the lakes or in Bend since January, and that he was checking into that mysterious horseman who had appeared at La Pine. Roberts had also received a report of a ‘Kimzey sighting,’ with the information that Kimzey had spoken to “a trapper who knew him well,” around January 12 near Prineville. Kimzey told that man that he was going to Cultus Lake. The lake referred to lies at the end of the same road that was used to access the Lava Lakes, known today as Road 40, that crosses Snow Creek about seven miles south of the victims’ cabin.

Both the Oregonian and the Bulletin reported the discovery of the bodies and both articles were based on information provided by Deputy Adams, who arrived at Bend around 10:30 p.m. Adam’s handled the bodies first, and given his duty to report findings with accuracy, his observations should be taken literally. However, it is not known exactly how the information in the articles was obtained. Adams was paraphrased, although not quoted. And, there were some discrepancies between the two versions, so they seem to have not been based on an official, written report.

In the Oregonian version of Adams’ story, “two of the bodies were coatless, two of the men had their hats on, and Nichols’ (sic) glasses still were in place. The third hat was found in the ice a short distance from where the bodies were sighted.”

Bulletin version of Adams’ account was that “a cap and a hat floated nearby” and, “Nichols (sic), the oldest of the three, still had his glasses on.” Those details about who was wearing what are useful information for anyone trying to piece together the chain of events on the day of the murders. It is interesting to note that Coroner Niswonger, when he examined the bodies the following day, said that Nickols’ “reading spectacles were on his body when it was taken from the lake.”

Gravestone of victim Dewey C. Morris at Greenwood Cemetery, just south of Pilot Butte in Bend, Oregon.
Morris was a Brooks-Scanlon logger and the youngest of the three victims.

The Oregonian article stated a mistaken opinion of Adams,’ that “each of the victims had been shot in the back of the head.” And, that observation in itself tells a story about the limited extent to which Adams examined the bodies. Adams also reported that he believed the men had been shot from ambush by a high-powered rifle, suggesting that he had seen at least two severe gunshot wounds. He and Innis would have seen the horrible state of Dewey Morris’ face, because he was found floating face up, and was probably unrecognizable. At any rate, Adams did not examine Morris closely enough to understand the nature of his injuries. The bodies of Nickols and Wilson were probably turned over briefly in an effort to identify them. Nickols would have been barely recognizable because of the shotgun blast to his face, and if Adams only saw part of the injury, it might have been mistaken for a shot from behind that left considerable damage as it exited. Innis would have recognized Wilson’s face when his body was turned over, and would have seen the bullet hole behind his ear. Those were very bad things to see, to say the least, and both Adams and Innis must have been very shaken by the experience.

On April 24, Sheriff Roberts named Charles Kimzey as a suspect in the murders. Perhaps feeling the strain of the investigation of the horrific crime, Roberts told the
Oregonian that he believed the killers had lived in the cabin at Little Lava for a time after they had committed the murders. Roberts already knew from questioning Willcoxon that the victims were seen alive on the 15th, and had the report that Schumacher gave to the police, that the killers reached Portland by the 21st of January. That time line gave the killers only six days to make the rather arduous trip out of the mountains and half way across the state, and eliminated the possibility that they had lingered around the crime scene. Looking back on the investigation now, it seems remarkable that the sheriff did not conclude that the cabin, which was also the scene of a robbery, was in disarray because it had been searched by the killers.

On the 24th, the day that the bodies were pulled from the water, Multnomah County Deputy Sheriff Roy Kendall met Officer Bender at Portland and showed him a photo of Kimzey. Bender said that he recognized Kimzey as one of the men who had approached him back in January. Deschutes County Coroner C. P. Niswonger went to the recovery scene to conduct an initial examination, but county doctor Ray W. Hendershott seems to have remained in Bend. That evening, Niswonger returned to Bend with the bodies and told reporters that a shotgun, revolver, and hammer were the murder weapons, and that the victims’ clothing was in good condition, other than showing the effects of having been in the water for over three months.

Photographs were taken at the scene by Paul Hosmer, Editor of Pine Echoes, as Niswonger examined the bodies. A few of those photos survived and eventually made their way into the collection of the Des Chutes Historical Museum in Bend, probably via Phil Brogan of the Bulletin, and through the hands of another journalist, Mary Fraser. That collection includes a group photo of a bunch of men gathered around the recovery site, looking on as Dewey Morris was wrapped in a body bag; another photo of the three bodies floating near shore; a picture of Niswonger examining Roy Wilson’s shoulder wound; and a close-up of Wilson’s face and shoulder.

When we compare the injuries of the three Lava Lakes victims, the injuries of Dewey Morris far exceeded those of Ed Nickols or Roy Wilson in both number and severity. Someone put considerable effort into killing Morris, whereas the other two met death at the pull of a trigger. “His head practically had been beaten to a pulp with a hammer,” wrote a reporter for the

It is clear that multiple blows were dealt to Morris, far beyond what was necessary to kill him, in what is commonly referred to as “overkill.” Why did that happen? What made Morris different? Was it because his size and youth made him seem threatening to the killer? Could there have been some motive or malice behind it? Or, was Morris’ killer a malicious psychopath with poor impulse control who simply ‘lost it’ when the attack began? Morris died during that attack, and blunt force trauma to the head was given as his official cause of death.

Dewey was the 24 year-old son of John A. and Hattie Morris, and the youngest of four boys. He had told his mother that he would see her again at Easter. According to family folklore, when he did not arrive home, his mother became concerned and sent his oldest brother, Owen, to go to the lake with family friend, Hervey D. Innis, to search for Dewey and the others. Owen Morris and Innis did, in fact, arrive at the trappers’ cabin on April 13. But, 1924 was a leap year, so Easter came late, falling on April 20th, so that family tale cannot be true. Also, Morris’ mother lived in Portland at the time, so it seems much more likely that Innis and Owen Morris actually embarked on their search at the urging of Mrs. Wilson, who had stated that she believed Roy had met with harm when he failed to return home in February, as promised.

Dewey Morris was born in Iowa on February 12, 1899. His sister, Janeva B., was the wife of Charles Carroll, a well-known real estate developer of Bend. Two brothers, Ben of Odell Lake, and Owen, were also loggers for Brooks-Scanlon. Brother Donald R. Morris had a ranch near Bend. Dewey had a thirteen year-old sister, Vera, who was living with their mother in Portland at the time of the murders.

Hattie M. Wood married John A. Morris in 1888 and the couple lived in South Dakota until about 1895. John’s sister, Anna A. “Effie” Morris, who was born in New York in 1851, married Thomas R. Negus, who lived in the Dakotas from at least 1880 through 1929. The marriage of Anna Morris to Thomas Negus explains the relationship of writer and trapper, Wayne Negus, to Dewey Morris, who referred to Dewey as a “cousin,” and Dewey’s mother, Hattie, as “aunt.”

In 1900, the Morris family was living on a farm near Little Sioux, in Woodbury County, Iowa. Hattie had lost two children by that time, and the remaining five lived at home, including baby Dewey, who was 4 months old when the census was taken. They lived next door to John Henry and Elizabeth A. Wood, Hattie’s parents.

The family arrived in central Oregon about 1903, and lived in the Lytle development north of Bend. Dewey’s father, John A. Morris, invested in a freight team and went to work hauling freight from the rail head at Shaniko to Bend. Hattie’s parents seem to have arrived in Bend about the same time, and lived near the Morrises in the Lytle neighborhood. The youngest child, Vera, was born in Bend on August 3, 1906. The Morris children all attended public school in Bend, and John Morris passed away around 1915.

The 1920 census found Dewey Morris living in southern Deschutes County, where he boarded at the house of Max Berger, and gave his occupation as “foreman in a logging camp.” The rest of the census page was populated with many other laborers and teamsters who were residents of Brooks-Scanlon’s Camp Two.

The grief-stricken, surviving family members of victims of violent crime have the unfortunate habit of lapsing into sentimentality in the wake of their tragedy. Overwhelmed as they are with feelings of remorse and love for those that they have lost, their statements do nothing to forward the purposes of a serious and careful investigation. For example, during the inquest in the Lava Lakes case, Hervey D. Innis testified that, as far as he knew, none of the trappers had any enemies.

One little known detail about the short life of young Dewey Morris is that he was tried for rape less than nine months before the Lava Lakes murders. In November of 1922, Dewey Morris had allegedly attacked a young widow from Sisters by the name of Mary Pednault. The trial took place on April 11, 1923. “Sordid testimony marked the entire case,” reported the
Bulletin. The prosecution presented their material to the jury in under 15 minutes, and five character witnesses appeared for Dewey Morris, who was not required to take the stand. The attack, according to the prosecution, had taken place in Morris’ automobile, and although very few details of the alleged assault survive, but if it happened today, it might be characterized as ‘date rape.’ The jury deliberated for only seven minutes, and found Morris not guilty of the crime.

The trial was the subject of crude jokes and foul humor all over the county, and must have been a source of great pain and consternation for Mary Pednault’s family. Even Morris’ employer, the Brooks-Scanlon company, dealt with the subject in a biased and unsympathetic manner. “The camps were greatly interested in the Dewey Morris case in circuit court last week,” wrote Paul Hosmer in
Pine Echoes, “as Dewey is an old hand around all the camps and well known. Dewey was arrested and charged with a statutory crime, but when the case finally reached a jury it only took them seven minutes to bring in a verdict of not guilty.” Perhaps Hosmer would have dealt with the matter in a more serious and unbiased way if he had known that, one year later, he would be writing about the brutal murder of the young logger. It is not known exactly why Morris chose to spend the winter at that isolated cabin, but he may have welcomed the opportunity to get away from some of the gossip and unwanted attention that came after the trial.

Mary Pednault was about five years older than Morris, and was the youngest child of the prominent Peter J. Leithauser family of Sisters. Her real name was Gertrude, but she preferred to be called by her middle name, “Mary.”

It appears from the photographs taken at the recovery scene that Coroner Niswonger removed the body of Dewey Morris from the lake first. An
Oregonian article also offered the detail that “Morris, who was a man of powerful physique, and who had suffered only an arm wound from the shotgun, was believed to have fled east after his companions fell. Fragments of his head were found 10 feet east of the cabin.”

The death certificates were comprised of three basic sections. At the top was the most basic information, such as the name and address of the deceased, certificate number, and place of death. The left side of the form, “personal and statistical particulars,” contained sex, race, marital status, age, date of birth, and occupation of the deceased, as well as the names and birthplaces of the parents of the deceased. At the bottom was a space for the name of the person who supplied the information, usually a family member, and the signature of the person who filed the certificate with the county and the date filed.

The right side of the form, headed “coroner’s certificate of death” held the date of death, cause of death and contributory causes, and the method used to determine the cause of death, by inquest, autopsy, or inquiry. On the right was also the signature of the examining physician, the place and date of burial, and the name of the undertaker.

Morris’ certificate was very badly botched, and why neither the county coroner or the county doctor considered it objectionable is not known. There was no birth date given, other than the year, 1900, although his brother, Owen was present. The left side, personal information about Dewey Morris, was typewritten, but contained three typographical errors, with his sex given as “Mail,” and birthplace given as “South Dakato.”

County doctor Hendershott failed to mention the arm wound at all when he filled out the right side of the form, although the handwriting was plainly his. Worst of all, Hendershott recorded the cause of death as “gunshot wound by unknown person. Homicide,” when Morris had clearly died of blunt force trauma to the head. The certificate stated that gunshot as the cause of death was determined by an inquest, when the true inquest finding was that Morris “was killed by being hit on the head with some blunt instrument.”

Additionally, when Coroner Niswonger brought the bodies to Bend on the evening of the 24th, he told reporters that Morris “had been shot with a shotgun, the charge entering his left forearm above the elbow” and “his head practically had been beaten to a pulp with a hammer.” The first observation was a bit confusing, because the forearm of the human body is not located above the elbow, but below it. So all we can really say for certain is that the blast struck somewhere near the middle of Morris’ arm.

As County Physician, Hendershott was required to examine the bodies himself, and he testified at the inquest that Morris had been killed by a blow from a blunt instrument. It might be safe to assume that both the county doctor and coroner were so emotionally disturbed by what they saw that they found it difficult to perform even their most basic duties. Bend was just a sleepy little town in 1924, barely over 20 years old, and the gruesome triple murder was probably the worst thing that either of those officials had ever dealt with.

Edward D. Nickols was born in Ohio on June 12, 1870, and was the oldest of the eight children of Thomas and Rachel A. Nickols, who were also Ohio natives. The family farm was located near Marion, in Morgan County.

Nickols was married in 1895 to a Canadian woman named Elizabeth or “Liza” Ann Young, and in 1896 their first daughter, Anna Belle, was born at Lake City, Michigan. After leaving Michigan around 1899, the family lived in Harlem, Montana, in Chouteau County, for a few years, and their second daughter, Jannetta, was born there in 1904. Ed worked as a blacksmith in Harlem with a man named Ellis, and lodged above the saloon of Gerald Ringwald.

Gravestone of Edward D. Nickols, who invited two younger men to spend the winter with him at an isolated
cabin at Little Lava Lake in 1924. Nickols was worried that his former partner, Charles Kimzey,
might return and cause trouble.

The 1910 census found Nickols and family in Whatcom County, Washington, in the town of Deming, where Ed worked as a donkey engineer for a logging company. That same year, Roy Wilson’s sister, Leoella, who liked to be called by her middle name of “Margaret” also lived in Deming with her husband Dan McLennan, and it seems that Nickols became friendly with the Wilson family during that period. At the time of the Lava Lakes murders, Nickols’ sister, Estella A. Marquette, and brother, Cliff, still lived near Bellingham, Washington.

Ed Nickols came to north Lake County, Oregon in 1913 from Washington, and filed on a homestead on April 16. In October of that year, he established residence on his claim. That “residence” consisted of a 12’ x 16’ box house, outhouse, a well that was 24 feet deep, and fence posts on the corners of his 320 acres. His younger brother, Guilford J. Nickols, can be found in the Silver Lake census for 1910. Ed Nickols proved up on his homestead claim in township 26 south, range 19 east, section 32 on November 14, 1916, and his younger brother, Guilford J. Nickols, proved up on a claim, that adjoined Ed’s to the south, in 1914. Both claims were located about five miles east of Christmas Lake. “Ed Nichols (sic) and Roy Wilson were known to many in Silver Lake,” reported the Silver Lake Leader in the wake of the murders, “both having resided here ten or twelve years ago.”

Nickols’ marriage seems to have ended about the same time that he arrived in Lake County in 1913. Perhaps Liza decided that the windblown and gritty life of the “Great Sandy Desert” was not right for her. In any case, she divorced Nickols and married an older man by the name of Sylvester Burns from Bellingham, and Ed Nickols never remarried. In 1920, Nickols lived alone in Bend, Oregon at the Bartlett Hotel on Hastings Street, between Franklin and Hill. He seems to have quit working for the big mills by that time, and gave his occupation as “general laborer” when the census was taken. His brother, Guilford, also lived in Bend, next door to Roy Wilson’s mother, Sarah, and worked as a laborer for one of the lumber mills.

At the time of his death Nickols was 53, and his daughter, Jannetta, was living in Bellingham, in Whatcom County, Washington, and Anna Belle was married to Jerome E. Ward, a teamster for Brooks-Scanlon at Camp Four. Guilford later went back to live in Whatcom County, and was buried there at Bellingham when he died in 1970.

The close ties between the three victims are made obvious by their backgrounds. The author found several suggestions that the Wilson and Nickols families may have been more than just good friends, and may have been remotely related by blood, but was unable to definitely prove that connection. For example, both Roy Wilson and Ed Nickols had a sister with the first name “Leoella.” That name was very rare, and a variant of the slightly more common name of “Leonella,” with an “n.” Uncommon names such as that are often handed down through the generations of a family. Also, during the time around 1900 when Nickols lived in Harlem, Montana, he lodged with a man named Frank Wilson, although no definite connection was discovered between that man and Roy Wilson’s family. Ed Nickols had married a Canadian, and so had Wilson’s sister, Leoella, who married Dan McLennan.

From photos taken at the second crime scene, the ‘dump site’ at Big Lava Lake, it appears that Nickols’ body was the second pulled from the water. When Niswonger returned to Bend that evening, he told a reporter for the
Oregonian, “Practically the whole of Edward Nichols’ (sic) jaw had been carried away by a shotgun charge, part of which entered his neck. A .38-caliber revolver bullet had wounded him in the throat.” That article also contained the information that “Nichols (sic) owned two pairs of spectacles, one of which he wore in the house, and the other outside. His reading spectacles were on his body when it was taken from the lake. Nichols’ (sic) watch, found in his pocket, had stopped at 9:10 o’clock.”

It is worth noting that the slug found in Nickols’ neck must have later been determined to be a slug of heavy game shot, because after the autopsy and during the inquest, no mention was made of a pistol bullet, and there was no such wound on Nickols’ death certificate either. At the inquest, Dr. Hendershott told the jury that Nickols had been killed by “a shotgun wound of the right lower jaw and breast.”

Nickol’s daughter, Anna Ward, provided the personal information for his death certificate. The cause of death, in Hendershott’s handwriting, was given as “gunshot wound by unknown person. Homicide.” The only real irregularity in Nickols’ certificate was that Coroner Niswonger forgot to date his signature when he signed it.

At the age of 29, on May 26, 1917, Harry LeRoy Wilson enlisted in the United States Marine Corps and stated that he was a resident of Silver Lake, Oregon, but was born near Rifle Creek, Colorado. He was working as a logger for the Brooks-Scanlon Lumber Company when he enlisted, and stated that his mother was solely dependent on him for support. The registration card gave few other details about Wilson, other than his physical description, 5’ 9 1/2”, 165 pounds, light hair and blue eyes, and his birth date of January 12, 1888. He was called “Roy” by his friends and family.

Wilson served in the Eighth Regiment of the 108th Company of the Marine Corps, and despite his rather small size, he was described as “a very rugged individual” by writer Wayne Negus in his book,
Wilderness Tales and Trails. As we wade through the details of the Lava Lakes murders and try to reconstruct events, we must bear in mind the problem of Roy Wilson. That problem being, just how does one go about murdering a marine? The life of a marine is not an easy one to take, even for an armed assailant. His death certificate gave his official cause of death as a bullet wound to the head (behind the right ear, to be exact). He had only one other wound, from a shotgun, fired at point blank and from the rear, that took off the point of his right shoulder.

The Eighth Regiment of the Marine Corps was originally activated in October of 1917 at Quantico, Virginia, about six months after the U.S. entered into World War I. On October 13, Roy Wilson’s company, the 108th, joined the regiment at Virginia, after two months of basic training at Mare Island, California. His commanding officer was Major Ellis B. Miller.

The 108th was not deployed to Europe, but was sent to Fort Crockett near Galveston, Texas on November 9 to stand ready in case the U.S. needed to protect oil fields at Tampico, Mexico. Relations between the U.S. and Mexico were rather strained at the time, and the allied forces were dependent on the flow of oil from Tampico. Wilson and the rest of the 108th arrived at Galveston in the Gulf of Mexico on November 16 on the U. S. S. Hancock. The company remained stationed at Galveston until the end of the war to remind Mexico that the US was ready to intervene if oil interests were threatened, and the 108th functioned as a typical garrison force until it was decommissioned on April 25, 1919.

According to
A Brief History Of The 8th Marines, by James S. Santelli, Wilson’s unit did not see combat during World War I. But, the case could easily be made that all of the men of the 108th, who filled most of one and a half years with drilling for a possible intervention in Mexico, were very thoroughly trained. When confronted by an attacker, Roy Wilson’s reaction to the threat would have been automatic, programmed into his muscle memory and his subconscious mind. He would have simply reacted, quickly and without thinking.

The gravestone of Harry LeRoy “Roy” Wilson matches those of his two friends, who were murdered on the same date,
except for the Marine Corps insignia at the top. The life of a marine is not an easy one to take, and Wilson’s murder
posed a problem for the killers, and the author as well.

Before moving to Roy’s birthplace in Colorado, the Wilsons had lived in Nebraska, and moved to Colorado around 1887. Roy’s parents were Lavina S. Jones, who liked to be called by her middle name of “Sarah,” and Charles Wilson. He had two sisters, Leoella Margaret, who married Dan McLennan, and Rose B., who married Hervey D. Innis. The family lived in Washington state from about 1895 to about 1909, and the 1900 census found the Wilsons in Bellingham, Whatcom County, with Charles Wilson working as a mine prospector there.

In 1910, Wilson’s family was living at the homestead of his brother-in-law, Hervey Innis, outside of the homestead era town of Viewpoint, located in north Lake County, seven miles east of Christmas Valley at a spot known as “Vaughn Well.” The well got its name from Albert and Jennie Vaughn, who were an aunt and uncle of Roy Wilson. Ed Nickols’ brother, Guilford, lived nearby. Coincidentally, another resident of the Viewpoint area at the time of the 1910 census was Mrs. Samson, who lived on the claim of her deceased son, Julius Wallende, who was identified in The Sandy Knoll Murder, as another probable victim of Ray Jackson’s, having been murdered in 1907.

Charles Wilson, Roy’s father, filed on a homestead before 1914 in township 28 south, range 15 east, sections 13 and 14. The claim was just southwest of Table Rock, a familiar landmark northeast of the town of Silver Lake, and only about 10 miles from where Creed Conn had operated his mercantile store. Charles Wilson died in 1915, and was buried at the Silver Lake Cemetery.

In 1920, Roy’s mother, Sarah, was living in Bend on Division Street with her mother, Mary A. Jones, next door to Guilford Nickols. That last census before the murders found Roy working at Brooks-Scanlon’s Camp Two in southern Deschutes County with another of the Lava Lakes victims, Dewey C. Morris and his brother, Owen A. Morris, as a logging camp laborer.

A brief bio at the time of the funeral for the three victims offered the details that Wilson was a member of the Moose Lodge. “Innis, whose wife is a sister of Wilson, and Owen Morris, a brother of the trappers, visited the lake April 13,” reported the
Oregonian. “They had feared that the men had met with trouble, for Wilson and Nichols (sic) had spent the Christmas holidays in Bend, and at that time had announced their intention of coming out in February.”

Roy Wilson’s military training and close friendship with Ed Nickols probably strongly influenced Nickols to ask him to spend the winter with him at the isolated cabin at Little Lava Lake. Roy Wilson was 36 years old when he was killed.

The body of Roy Wilson was apparently removed from the lake last. Niswonger, after his initial examination, told the
Oregonian, “a shotgun charge had carried away the point of Roy Wilson’s right shoulder, and a revolver bullet had entered his head back of the right ear. Evidently both shots had been fired from behind.”

At the inquest, Dr. Hendershott told the jury that Roy Wilson “had a shotgun wound in the right shoulder and back of the shoulder and what appeared to be a bullet wound in the back of the head in the region of the right ear.” Then clarified that statement with “a bullet killed Wilson.” On Wilson’s death certificate, Hendershott gave the cause of death as “gunshot wound by unknown party. Homicide.” No mention was made of the shoulder wound on the certificate.

The entire top and left hand sections of Wilson’s certificate were very carefully filled out with what was obviously the handwriting of his brother-in-law, Hervey D. Innis, who was named as providing the personal information. That seems a bit unusual, because the same sections of the certificates of the other two victims were typewritten. Innis obviously paid careful attention to all matters connected with the investigation, and was actively involved throughout.

The inquest took most of Friday the 25th, and while it was going on, the bodies were prepared for burial, which took place at the end of the day at Greenwood Cemetery in Bend. Also, toward the end of the day, the coroner’s jury released its findings to the public. Despite their having fixed the approximate date of death at January 15, that date did not appear on any of the death certificates of the victims. The date of the inquest, April 25, 1924, was recorded as the official date of their deaths.

Additional findings during the inquest and autopsy were that the shotgun wounds were inflicted with heavy game shot, and it was believed that the trappers’ own weapons had been used to kill them. The information about the ownership of the weapons used in the murders was later contradicted at the crime scene.

Oregonian noted that the hole in the ice had been rather small, and just big enough to shove a man through. It was not until April 24, the day after the bodies were found, that the Deschutes County officials heard back from the University of Oregon Medical School about the test of the blood taken from the trappers’ sled. No one was surprised at the result. Pathologist R. L. Benson reported “stain on wood gives test for human blood.”

In the matter of the deaths of Ed Nichols (sic), Roy Wilson, and Dewey Morris, deceased.

We, the jury impaneled and sworn to inquire into the cause of the death of the above named deceased persons, find that they all came to their death about the 15th day of January, 1924, in the following manner:

Ed Nichols (sic) was killed by a shotgun wound.

Roy Wilson was killed by a bullet wound through the head. He was also shot with a shotgun.

Dewey Morris was killed by being hit on the head with some blunt instrument. He was also shot with a shotgun.

All these men were killed by a person or persons unknown to this jury.

Foreman A. B. Taylor
Leroy Fox
Ora D. Ollingham
Lavorn Taylor
William N. Box

This fisherman was kind enough to position his canoe in the outlet of Little Lava Lake at the source of the Deschutes River.
Photo was taken from the probable location of Logan’s cabin. The killers chose not to place the bodies here,
even though the current would have carried them down the Deschutes River and away from the crime scene.

Bodies of Dewey Morris, floating face up at left; Roy Wilson, second from right; and Ed Nickols, far right,
just before they were removed from Big Lava Lake. Ropes were placed on the bodies the day before
by Deputy Adams and Hervey Innis when they towed them to shore .


U. S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management, General Land Office Records, Homestead patent of Ray B. Jackson, T 26 S, R 24 E, sections 8, 9, and 17, ORLAA 1066515, patented October 13, 1933. National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D. C.

“Trail of Murderer Ends at Fur Store,”
Oregonian, April 25, 1924.

“Captive Taken in Death Case Not Identified,”
Bulletin, January 22, 1925.

“Slain Trappers Shot to Pieces,”
Oregonian, April 25, 1924.

Photographs 12302, 6162, 6425 and 6310. Collection of the Des Chutes Historical Museum, Bend, OR.

Fourteenth Census of the United States, Oregon, Deschutes County, Bend.

Field research conducted by author, summer 2012.

“Trapper is Injured at Lava Lake Camp,”
Bulletin, October 30, 1919.

“He Enjoys the Thrills of a Trapper’s Life,” by Fred Lockley,
American Magazine, October, 1922, p 6263.

Wilderness Tales and Trails, by Wayne Negus, 1990, Maverick Publications, Bend, OR, p 157-162.

“In Re: Charles Kimzey, Number 12585,” a report to the Oregon State Parole Board for their meeting of April 18, 1940. Inmate record of Charles Kimzey #12582, Department of Corrections, OISC, Wilsonville, OR.

Historical Writeup of the Deschutes National Forest, 1950, by Gail C. Baker, unpublished manuscript, p 27-29.

“3 Slain Trappers Buried at Bend,”
Oregonian, April 26, 1924.

“Bodies of Trappers Found in Lava Lake,”
Silver Lake Leader, May 1, 1924.

“No Trace Found of 3 Bend Trappers,”
Silver Lake Leader, April 24, 1924.

“Foul Play Fear Grows,”
Oregonian, April 16, 1924.

Untitled article,
Deschutes Pine Echoes, vol 5, No. 12, April 1924, p 12.

“Murder Theory Upset,”
Oregonian, April 19, 1924.

“Fox Hides Sold Here,”
Oregonian, April 20, 1924.

“New Clew is Found in Trapper Mystery,”
Oregonian, April 21, 1924.

“Fox Pelt Sale Probed,”
Oregonian, April 22, 1924.

“Clew Proves Fruitless,”
Oregonian, April 23, 1924.

“Trappers Shot, Bodies in Lake,”
Oregonian, April 24, 1924.

“Three Lured From Cabin to Meet Fate, is Theory; Lava Lake Gives up Dead,”
Bulletin, April 24, 1924.

“News From the Camps,” Phil Brogan, editor,
Deschutes Pine Echoes, vol 5, No. 13, May 1924, p 12.

“Kimzey Not Alone in Triple Slaying,”
Oregonian, March 12, 1933.

“The Little Lava Lake Murders,” by Don Burgderfer,
Little Known Tales From Oregon History, Vol. III, No. 61, Cascades East Magazine, Bend, OR, p 27-33.

Twelfth Census of the United States, Iowa, Woodbury County, Little Sioux Township.

Oregon State Board of Health, Certificate of Death #43, Dewey Morris, filed April 25, 1924, Deschutes County, Oregon State Archives, Salem, OR.

Fourteenth Census of the United States, Oregon, Multnomah County, Portland.

“Local Bits,”
Bulletin, August 10, 1906.

“News From the Camps,” Phil Brogan, editor,
Deschutes Pine Echoes, vol 4, No. 12, April 1923, p 10.

“Pick Jury for Morris Case; Garage Wins in Damage Suit; Car Was Too Old to Insure,”
Bulletin, April 11, 1923.

“Dewey Morris Case Will Go to Jury Today,”
Bulletin, April 12, 1923.

“Morris Freed by Trial Jury,”
Bulletin, April 13, 1923.

“Central Oregon Neighborhood News, Sisters,”
Bend Bulletin, August 2, 1917.

Fourteenth Census of the United States, Oregon, Deschutes County, Sisters.

Tenth Census of the United States, Ohio, Morgan County, Marion Township.

Oregon State Board of Health, Certificate of Death #42, Edward Nickols, filed April 25, 1924, Deschutes County, Oregon State Archives, Salem, OR.

Homestead patent application file of Edward D. Nickols, serial #ORL 0006587, Township 26 south, Range 19 east, section 32, Bureau of Land Management, records of the General Land Office, National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D.C. Patented April 14, 1917.

Homestead patent of Guilford Nickols, serial #ORL 0002743, Bureau of Land Management, records of the General Land Office, National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D.C., Township 26 south, Range 19 east, section 32, . Patented June 11, 1914. Available online at: 413128&docClass=SER&sid=pssyiqsx.4vf

Snohomish County Auditor, Marriage Records, 18672008, Liza Young Nickols to Sylvester Burns, August 26, 1916, document #nwsnomc8512. Washington State Digital Archives: 49D538A61FCBF94A9BF8CAB89DD77D0B

Find A Grave page for Guilford J. Nickols, Bayview Cemetery, Bellingham, Whatcom County, WA. Available online at: Nickols&GSbyrel=all&GSdyrel=all&GSst=50&GScnty=2989&GScntry=4&GSob=n&GRid=7820142&df=all&

Twelfth Census of the United States, Montana, Chouteau County, Harlem Township.

Draft Registration Card of Harry LeRoy Wilson, May 26, 1917, P. J. Hardisty, Registrar, Bend, OR. National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D. C.

Oregon State Board of Health, Certificate of Death #44, Harry LeRoy Wilson, filed April 25, 1924, Deschutes County, Oregon State Archives, Salem, OR.

A Brief History Of The 8th Marines, by James S. Santelli, 1976, History and Museums Division, Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps, US Government Printing Office, Washington D.C., p 13.

Twelfth Census of the United States, Washington, Whatcom County, Bellingham.

Thirteenth Census of the United States, Oregon, Lake County, Silver Lake (and Viewpoint area).

Find A Grave page for Charles Wilson, Silver Lake Cemetery, Lake County, OR. Available online at: GSfn=Charles&GSbyrel=all& GSdyrel=all&GSst=39&GScnty=2223& GScntry=4& GSob=n&GRid=13078223&df=all&

Homestead patent of Charles Wilson, serial #ORL0004304, Bureau of Land Management, records of the General Land Office, National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D.C., township 28 south, range 15 east, sections 13 and 14. Patented September 9, 1914. Available online at &docClass=SER&sid=wnh5eqqw.r4i

Fourteenth Census of the United States, Oregon, Deschutes County, South Side #6, (Brooks Scanlon Camp #2).

“Friends Pay Honor to Slain Trappers,”
Oregonian, April 27, 1924.

LL5 copy
Deschutes County Coroner removing the body of Marine Corps veteran Roy Wilson from Big Lava Lake.
The killers shoved the bodies through a hole in the ice, just off shore from the main boat launch area.

LL3 copy
A group of family members and other searchers look on as Deschutes County Coroner Niswonger examines one of the three victims.