HILLSBORO, Ore. — The middle-aged woman with the sad face and graying hair slips items out of tucked-away envelopes and spreads them on the table:
A half-dozen photographs.
A sheaf of school records.
A tiny Christmas card, signed in a child’s block letters.
A sketch of a woman’s features.
To Starr Grisim Lara, these things are more precious than gold. They prove that her older sister Jamie Grisim once walked this Earth.
Today, she will relive that cold morning 31 years ago when 16-year-old Jamie left for Fort Vancouver High School and never came home.
Starr was only 14, and no one would tell her the truth. She went on to live her life as best she could. At times it felt as if all the pieces of her family had flown away from her.
And at the heart of her life there was always this mystery: What happened to her sister, Jamie, as she walked home from school on that chill December day?
Her foster mother, Grace, told her that Jamie had run away, that she didn’t want anything to do with her ever again. Starr never believed that. She didn’t know what to believe.
It was a month before Jamie was reported missing. It was 17 years before Starr learned that police had found her sister’s identification in remote Dole Valley five months after she disappeared, and that two years later hunters had discovered the bodies of two young women in shallow graves a mile away in the isolated valley near the Skamania County line.
Finally, last April, Starr learned more: Police and prosecutors believe Jamie Grisim, a slender girl with brown eyes and brown-bleached-auburn hair, was the first of several teenage girls abducted by Warren Leslie Forrest.
Warren Forrest-High School Photo
Forrest, a Vancouver native and an Army veteran, was 22 when Jamie disappeared. He worked for Clark County parks. He had a wife and two kids in Battle Ground and a key that opened the gate to every park in the county.
Forrest is serving a life sentence at the Washington State Penitentiary for the 1974 murder of Krista Kay Blake. He is linked to the disappearance of at least six other young women between March 1972 and October 1974.
Two managed to escape with their lives after harrowing attacks. Both eventually identified Forrest as their abductor. The remains of five were found in remote areas of the county. Jamie Grisim’s identification and other personal effects surfaced in Dole Valley, but her body was never recovered.
Forrest pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to the kidnap and rape of one of his surviving victims and spent 3 1/2 years at Western Mental Hospital in Steilacoom. Meanwhile, sheriff’s detectives began putting together the pieces of a macabre puzzle that led them to conclude Forrest was a serial murderer.
In 1978, shortly before he was to be released from the hospital, Clark County prosecutors charged Forrest with the 1974 murder of Krista Kay Blake. The two women who had identified him as their assailant provided testimony that led to his April 1979 conviction for first-degree murder.
A detailed crime synopsis filed with Clark County Superior Court in January 1979 by then-Chief Criminal Deputy Dennis Hunter in connection with the Blake case made it clear that Forrest was a suspect in several other ongoing criminal investigations, and in the disappearance of Jamie Grisim:
“To fully understand the complexity of this case as well as the ongoing nature of said investigation, any inquiry relative to the (Blake case) must begin with the Jan. 10th, 1972 (report of the) disappearance of Jamie R. Grisim,” Hunter wrote.
Though he remains a leading suspect, Forrest never was charged with Grisim’s murder or with any other murder. Officially, those cases remain open but inactive.
Cases not forgotten
Within the sheriff’s office, the grisly string of homicides has not been forgotten.
“It was the first anybody ever talked about a serial killer that operated here in Clark County,” said Sheriff’s Sgt. Dave Trimble.
At first, detectives worked hard to uncover evidence in the other cases that would hold up in court.
“There was a lot of communication with other agencies when the cases were active,” Trimble said. “In the 1980s, when I worked homicide, we talked about getting some information together and going to talk to Forrest. It never happened. That was back when we still had detectives here who had worked on those cases.”
Hunter, who led the team that won Forrest’s 1979 murder conviction, officially considers Forrest a “person of interest” in the other murders.
“There are evidentiary issues, and those cases are still in the hands of law enforcement,” Hunter said. “But (Forrest) has never been eliminated as a suspect, and if evidence is forthcoming, we would prosecute.”
Trimble is more blunt: “Based on what I know, I would say it’s very likely (Forrest) committed all these crimes. But it’s all circumstantial evidence.” To get a conviction, he said, “We would need a whole lot more.”
Sad young lives
Some hurts never heal. Start with the sad facts of Jamie and Starr Grisim’s young lives.
Their mother had 10 children but was unable to care for them. When Starr was 3 and Jamie was 4, she turned them over to the state for foster care placement. Two younger half-sisters were adopted. Starr never knew what happened to the others. She and Jamie lived in a series of Clark County foster homes, some good, some awful. One of their foster mothers ran a small nursing home and forced the sisters to work there as unpaid maids until the state intervened.
Jamie loved to draw and write. She was bright and quick to make friends. As a teenager, she joined 4-H and learned to ride horses.
But even in elementary school her unstable home situation cast a shadow.
“Jamie’s reactions have been most unpredictable in class response and with other children,” a teacher at Hough Elementary wrote in her record. “She is withdrawn much of the time, most likely because she doesn’t hear. She has fine possibilities, shown by art and music contributions and her completed assignments. Judgment of Jamie should be withheld until the physical and emotional problems are solved. I find her a pathetic child deeply in need of adult acceptance and love.”
The family that adopted their twin half-sisters refused to let Starr and Jamie have anything to do with them. As they grew up, the sisters, just 13 months apart, clung to each other. They became each other’s family.
Starr, now 47, tries to remember the good times: The year they were 4 and 5 and their foster mom made them matching red dresses with fur collars for Christmas. Their last summer together, when they went swimming every day and roller skating at a Hazel Dell rink every Saturday night.
After Jamie disappeared, for a while Starr continued to buy her sister gifts at Christmas and birthdays.
“Finally it got to the point where I had to stop thinking about her,” she said.
But there was no closure. “No one said, I’m sorry. It was like it never happened.”
The one exception was the girls’ caseworker, who refused to believe that Jamie was a runaway. For one thing, her savings account was left untouched.
“At the time, I turned against God,” Starr said. “I didn’t get any answers. Was she dead or alive?”
A month after Jamie disappeared, Starr ran away from her foster home and moved in with some hippies in downtown Vancouver.
“They smoked pot all the time,” she said. “They had no food.”
Starving, Starr returned to her foster mom, Grace. But then she got pregnant, and Grace died.
At 17, Starr was on her own, single, with an infant son. She tried to raise Michael, but his father had enlisted in the Navy and she could not support him.
“I thought, in six months I’ll have a car, a house, furniture, medical insurance,” she said. “But in six months I was still working a minimum wage job and getting my GED.”
When her son got sick, she asked the state to place him in foster care. Then she put him up for adoption. There would be no string of foster homes for Michael.
“I couldn’t do what my mother did to us,” she said.
Gradually, Starr’s life stabilized. She moved to Portland, attended college, found work.
In time, she went in search of other pieces of her missing family.
At 23, she visited her mother in Onalaska and met a half-sister, 16 years older, whom she had never known. They hit it off, and she went to stay with her in California for a few months.
After she returned to Portland, she met a man she wanted to share her life with. She found out she could not have any more children, and accepted that.
When she was 26, she wrote to the woman who had adopted her twin half-sisters.
“I told her, ‘It was really hard to grow up and have friends who knew my sisters when I couldn’t see them. If you didn’t want us to see them, why didn’t you move to another town?’ “
Afterward, one of the twins contacted her.
In 1998, while moving her mother into a nursing home, Starr discovered a box of her mother’s papers. Reading through the letters and documents, she realized for the first time that her mother had followed her children’s lives closely even after they were placed in foster care, and had fought the court’s decision to terminate her parental rights.
In 1996, Starr posted information about herself with a registry for adopted children. Two years later, Michael got in touch with her. They were reunited in Spokane and have stayed in touch. At Michael’s request, she even contacted his father, to find out whether he had had other children. (He hadn’t.)
Help from the Sheriff’s Office
Then, one day last April, she got up her nerve, called the Clark County Sheriff’s Office and talked to Trimble. She said she wanted Jamie’s purse and clothing and whatever else of hers the police still had. Trimble was kind. He said it would take a while, but he would get back to her.
Trimble searched the evidence rooms. He found the 1978 crime synopsis that linked Jamie’s disappearance to Warren Forrest. He found Jamie’s school records. And that was all.
“You have to feel sorry for her,” Trimble said. “She lost a sister years and years ago and was never told much about what happened. I was happy to do whatever I could to help her. Unfortunately, it wasn’t much.”
Someday, Starr hopes Forrest will tell the truth about her sister’s murder.
“I want to know where my sister’s bones are. I would like to know how she died, if he even remembers her. I was actually relieved to know he was still alive, because he has that knowledge.”
She knows it’s unlikely Forrest will talk. He has denied through a prison spokesman that he had anything to do with Jamie Grisim’s disappearance. And he has no incentive to confess: Because he was sentenced to life in prison before Washington’s mandatory sentencing laws took effect, he will be eligible for parole in 2014, when he is 65. Still, Starr hopes the publicity might trigger long-buried memories that could provide prosecutors with the evidence they need to charge Forrest with other murders.
“I think that Warren Forrest committed far more than one murder,” she said. “It’s not right that he shouldn’t be prosecuted for them.”
Speaking out, even after all this time, is something she owes Jamie, she says.
“Someday I will face her,” she said. “I want to feel that I did something, that I cared about her, that I didn’t forget her.”
Chronology Of Murder
Dec. 7, 1971:
Jamie R. Grisim, 16, leaves her foster home, attends classes at Fort Vancouver High School and disappears.
Feb. 11, 1972:
Barbara Ann Derry, an 18-year-old Clark College student last seen hitchhiking along state Highway 14 disappears.
March 29, 1972:
A woman hunting for antique bottles finds Derry’s body, covered with boards and debris and partially undressed, at the bottom of a silo at the Cedar Creek Grist Mill, in northern Clark County. Police say she died from a stab wound to the heart.
May 1, 1972:
Grisim’s wallet, containing her identification, is discovered beside a road in Dole Valley in east Clark County.
May 31, 1974:
Gloria Nadine Knutson, age unknown, is last seen in downtown Vancouver.
July 11, 1974:
Krista Kay Blake, 19, is last seen getting into a 1973 blue Ford van in the area of 29th and K streets in Vancouver. Two witnesses report seeing Blake and Warren Leslie Forrest in the van near Lewisville Park before her disappearance.
July 17, 1974:
A 15-year-old girl is picked up east of Ridgefield by a man she later identifies as Forrest. He is driving a 1973 blue Ford van. She is held at knife point and driven 13 miles to county property near Battle Ground. Her assailant beats her, takes her into the woods, gags her and ties her, hogtie fashion, to a tree. After her attacker leaves the scene, she chews through her bonds and escapes, hiding in a field until daybreak. Witnesses confirm seeing Forrest’s van in the area at the time the crime was committed.
Aug. 2, 1974:
Carol Valenquela, an 18-year-old Camas wife and mother of 10-month-old twins, disappears while hitchhiking.
Oct. 1, 1974:
A 20-year-old Camas woman agrees to accompany a man in a blue van from downtown Portland to Washington Park, where he threatens her with a knife and binds her with tape. He drives her to Lacamas Lake Park, unlocks the gate to the park with a key, forces her to commit sodomy, then rapes her and shoots her in the breasts with hand-honed darts from a .177 caliber pellet pistol. He leads her down a path with a rope around her neck, chokes her until she is unconsciousness, stabs her five times in the chest and leaves her naked body beside a log, covered with brush and debris. But the woman is not mortally wounded, and after two hours she is able to make her way to a public road and get help. She identifies Forrest in a police lineup, and her possessions are found in his van. Her testimony later helps convict Forrest of the murder of Krista Blake.
Oct. 12, 1974:
A hunter finds skeletal remains of two women in shallow graves in the Dole Valley area, 100 feet apart, a mile from where Jamie Grisim’s identification and personal effects were discovered in May 1972. One body is identified as that of Carol Valenquela. The other body is never identified.
Oct. 3, 1974:
Warren Leslie Forrest is charged with first-degree rape, assault and armed robbery in connection with the Oct. 1 abduction. Forrest pleads not guilty by reason of insanity.
Jan. 31, 1975:
Forrest is acquitted of the charges by reason of insanity and committed to Western State Hospital.
July 11, 1976:
A woman’s bound and partially clothed body is found in a shallow grave on Clark County parks property at Tukes Mountain, just 100 feet from where the 15-year-old girl abducted on July 17, 1974, was taken by her assailant.
July 14, 1976:
The remains are identified as those of Krista Blake.
July 25, 1976:
Sheriff’s deputies use German shepherds to search six remote areas of Clark County for other undiscovered bodies.
Jan. 25, 1978:
Forrest petitions for conditional release from Western State Hospital. A psychologist warns that Forrest “was and remains a dangerous individual.”
The Clark County Sheriff’s Office prepares a crime synopsis to support prosecution of Forrest in the murder of Krista Blake.
May 9, 1978:
Human remains are found near Lacamas Lake. The bones are later identified as those of Glora Nadine Knutson, missing for nearly four years.
Warren Leslie Forrest- Current Prison Photo
April 26, 1979:
Forrest is convicted of Krista Blake’s murder and sentenced to 36 years in prison.
Forrest was convicted before mandatory sentencing laws, so he will be eligible for parole in 2014.
Sources: Clark County Sheriff’s Office, Columbian files
Article from:The Columbian (Vancouver, WA) Article date:December 7, 2002 Author:KATHIE DURBIN, Columbian
Document from the Parole Board recently sent to Jamie Grissim’s family
You can help keep this murderer behind bars..
You can help keep this convicted killer in prison by writing a letter to the parole board:
Indeterminate Sentence Review Board
4317 6th Ave. S.E.
P.O. Box 40907
Write to them about Warren Forrest . DOC # is 287319
You are no longer alone, You have us and we are here for you always. You can do this and we will stand tall beside you. Do not hesitate to ask for WHATEVER you need. We understand your pain and the crazy hurt of not knowing. Standing together makes us all stronger, so Sister, Get ready cuz we are going to keep this murdering SOB in prison
Julie and the FindLindseyBaum crew