March 9, 2008 in City

Prime suspect

Candy Rogers’ 1959 rape and murder is still unsolved, but one man thinks he knew her killer
By The Spokesman-Review
 
Video: Cold Case: Candy Rogers
CHRISTOPHER ANDERSON photo

Dan Hite poses with his motorcycle in this photo from the 1960s.
(Full-size photo)

Cold Case update

DNA evidence in the Nov. 7, 1995, double homicide of 19-year-old Angela Stewart and 23-year-old Ronnie Armstead is in the beginning stages of being analyzed at the Washington State Patrol Crime Lab in Cheney. Spokane police detectives learned last week that the evidence, which was submitted three years ago, will finally be processed.

The 1959 rape and murder of 9-year-old Candy Rogers, arguably Spokane’s most infamous unsolved crime, has haunted Dan Hite.

Now 74, the former Spokane Motorcycle Club secretary remembers the day 49 years ago when he drove past the isolated spot where Rogers’ body would be found less than a month later.

Hite believes the man riding in the sidecar of his Harley 74 – a likable, “clean-cut guy” who turned out to be a serial killer – made a mental note of an abandoned rock quarry and returned with Rogers less than a week later.

“You’d never know it, to talk, that he was off his rocker,” Hite said of his companion, Hugh Bion Morse, whom he knew as Chris.

Hite and Morse had been marking the course for a “hare-and-hound” motorcycle event. Spokane Motorcycle Club members had to track the bags of red lime that Morse tossed out of the sidecar.

Rogers disappeared the evening of March 6, 1959, while selling Camp Fire Girls mints near her home at 2106 1/2 W. Mission Ave.

The Holmes Elementary School student’s body was found about 3 1/2 miles northwest of Spokane Falls Community College – five miles due north of Spokane International Airport – that March 22. The body was under a pile of pine needles and boughs about 200 yards south of the quarry and 130 feet off Old Trails Road.

Police later discovered that Morse lived within a couple of blocks of Rogers’ home.

Similarly, Morse lived within a few blocks of two Spokane women he later admitted beating to death and a third whom he nearly killed. And Morse vanished after each crime, popping up later at a different address.

Hite said he thought nothing of it at the time, but Morse’s first disappearance was on the day Rogers’ body was found.

Morse was helping the Spokane Motorcycle Club search for the missing girl when two marmot hunters found her shoes. Rogers’ body was found the next morning, and Morse was gone when Hite went to Morse’s home to tell him the search had been called off, Hite said.

That and other circumstantial evidence against Morse is so strong that Spokane police Detective Brian Hamond isn’t willing to dismiss him as a suspect even though comparatively recent DNA evidence seems to clear him.

Hamond is the latest in several generations of detectives to work the Rogers case. He’s the only person assigned to a case that originally was investigated by dozens of police and sheriff’s officers.

DNA identification wasn’t possible when Rogers was murdered, but Rogers’ clothing yielded her rapist’s genetic profile in 2001 and it didn’t match a 2002 sample from Morse.

Morse died in a Minnesota prison in April 2003 while serving two life sentences for a September 1961 rape and murder in St. Paul. The Minnesota conviction ended a two-year, cross-country spree that put Morse on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list.

‘Right on the money’

Eight women or girls were beaten, sexually molested or killed before Morse was caught.

Hite is “right on the money” in suspecting Morse, Hamond said last month. Coincidentally, the detective had just received a big box of prison medical and psychological records on Morse.

“I can’t wait to read it,” Hamond said. “That’s what I’m going to do this weekend.”

Hamond said his interest in Morse “blossomed all over again” about two months ago when someone called to tell him about Morse’s connection to the now-defunct Spokane Motorcycle Club. Detectives who investigated the Candy Rogers crime scene photographed what appears to be a motorcycle tire track in the vicinity.

Hamond’s tipster mentioned Hite as a motorcycle club member who might remember Morse. Hite now lives in Springdale, Wash., where he has operated a septic-pumping business and served as mayor.

Independently, Hite called The Spokesman-Review to pass along his information about Morse.

“I’ve been trying to find somebody to tell it to,” Hite said. “I don’t want to go to my grave knowing nobody knew about it.”

He bows only grudgingly to DNA evidence that someone else killed Candy Rogers.

“I know, I just KNOW, that it was Chris,” Hite said. “But,” his voice trailing off, “I don’t know.”

Hamond knows the feeling.

He knows something else about Morse: “He had a penchant for grape gum. He chewed grape gum all the time.”

Investigative files indicate grape gum was found at the scene of attacks in which two Spokane women were murdered and a third was severely beaten. Grape gum also was found in Morse’s room when he was arrested.

And grape-smelling gum was smeared on Candy Rogers’ sweater, coat and, possibly, her corduroy jumper. There was “quite a large quantity of this on her white sweater,” sheriff’s Capt. James Allen reported in March 1962.

Hamond said he plans to submit the gum for DNA testing.

Long hours investigating

Long before Hamond got the case and long before DNA testing was possible, other officers had difficulty abandoning Morse as their prime suspect when evidence led them in different directions.

By the end of 1961, Morse had admitted to murdering the two adult women in Spokane nearly killing a third. .

His first admitted Spokane victim was Gloria J. Brie.

The 28-year-old woman was raped and severely beaten in her apartment at 527 S. Lincoln St. on Nov. 7, 1959, eight months after Rogers was killed. Brie died 10 days later at Deaconess Medical Center.

Blanche E. Boggs, 69, died hours after a similar beating in her home at 807 E. Euclid Ave. on Sept. 27, 1960. An autopsy indicated she was the victim of an attempted rape.

A month later, on Oct. 26, 1960, 23-year-old Beverly A. Myers was awakened in her apartment at 1128 W. Eighth Ave. by blows to her head and face. Morse fled and the gravely injured Myers recovered.

“I … beat her with a metal object while I was attempting to rape her,” Morse later confessed.

He said he broke into Brie’s and Boggs’ homes to rape them, and beat them with a pipe wrench.

When Morse was caught, Spokane police Detective Capt. O.K. Sherar credited motorcycle Patrolman John Grandinetti with identifying Morse as a suspect. Acting on a tip from Hite, Grandinetti spent more than 100 hours of his own time investigating Morse.

Hite was a mechanic at a shop that maintained the police motorcycle fleet, and the murders came up in a conversation with Grandinetti and other motorcycle officers.

“Well, you know, we’ve got this guy that joined the club,” Hite recalls telling Grandinetti. “Real nice guy, he’s clean-cut and everything, but after every one of these killings he disappears.”

Grandinetti asked where Morse was living, and Hite directed him to an apartment near the current Maple Street exit on Interstate 90 – not far from where Myers had recently been assaulted. The apartment had been vacated when Grandinetti checked it.

Long list of victims

Morse became a suspect in the Candy Rogers murder as well as the attacks on Brie, Boggs and Myers when police discovered he had attempted to molest two 8-year-old girls while they sold Girl Scout cookies in Fairfield, Calif., in 1955.

Morse was committed to the California State Hospital at Atascadero as a sexual psychopath in August 1955, and was released in January 1957. He was arrested four months later in Burbank, Calif., on suspicion of sex crimes, but no charge was filed.

Records also showed Morse had been dishonorably discharged from the Marine Corps in 1951 after he was arrested in Wilmington, N.C., on suspicion of assaulting a woman and indecent exposure.

Morse apparently came to Spokane because his mother lived here. Hite recalled that she was “really excited that we were accepting him into the motorcycle club” because Morse had few friends.

Hite said Morse avoided being photographed at club events and “was always hanging with the women folks. He never associated with the men too much.”

In 1979, while serving the two life sentences in Minnesota, Morse returned to Spokane and pleaded guilty to two counts of first-degree murder and one count of first-degree assault in the attacks on Brie, Boggs and Myers. He agreed never to return to Washington without permission, and was sentenced to a lifetime of probation.

According to newspaper and crime magazine reports, Morse admitted the Spokane crimes shortly after his October 1961 arrest for murdering a woman in St. Paul, Minn. He reportedly also admitted:

•Breaking into an Atlanta woman’s apartment in April 1961 to terrorize her and her three daughters with a knife and molest one of the girls.

•Breaking into another apartment in the same building a week later to rape an 18-year-old woman at knifepoint.

•Breaking into a Dayton, Ohio, woman’s apartment in May 1961 to beat, rape and stab her. She survived.

•Crushing 31-year-old Bobbi Ann Landini’s skull with a pipe in Birmingham, Ala., in July 1961 and sexually molesting her after she was dead. The FBI put Morse on its Ten Most Wanted list in August 1961.

Morse was wanted on a federal fugitive warrant charging him with attempted murder of his estranged wife in Reseda, Calif., on Oct. 28, 1960 – two days after the attack on Myers in Spokane.

Inside Detective magazine reported that Morse was dressed in a cape and mask, and claimed the incident was a prank. Authorities said he had a knife and tried to strangle his wife. He was driven off by his mother-in-law.

FBI agents said Morse also was wanted for questioning in the murder of a St. Louis woman.

By September 1961, Morse was living in a St. Paul rooming house under an alias: Darwin J. Corman. Social worker Carol Ronan lived four blocks away.

Morse later told police he was calling residents of Ronan’s apartment building in search of unoccupied units he could burglarize when Ronan answered and he was aroused by her voice. He entered her unlocked apartment on Sept. 19, 1961, and raped her.

She had been severely beaten and strangled when co-workers went to her apartment the next morning because she failed to show up for work. Morse said he used a homemade sap – a big padlock in a sock – to fracture Ronan’s skull.

Morse was caught on Oct. 13, 1961, after someone recognized him from an FBI poster.

When FBI agents arrested Morse in his room, they found a loaded .25-caliber pistol, a knife, a straight-edged razor and a dog-eared book of French pornography under his mattress.

Edmund Tallarico identified Morse as the stranger who had been hanging around in Ronan’s apartment building shortly before she was killed. Tallarico, the building’s caretaker, had ordered Morse to leave.

Confessed to all but one

News accounts said Morse confessed to all the crimes in which he had been suspected – except the murder of Candy Rogers.

Authorities in Spokane said Morse passed two lie-detector tests about the Rogers murder, and a detective magazine report that he admitted raping Candy Rogers without killing her proved false. Morse consistently told investigators he had nothing to do with Rogers.

Spokane Police Chief Clifford Payne said in 1967 that he was attempting to contact the magazine writer who said Morse admitted raping Rogers. But Payne no longer believed Morse was “much of a suspect.”

With Morse already serving two life sentences and having confessed to so many other murders, Payne could see little reason for him to lie about Rogers.

However, Spokane County Sheriff William Reilly still considered Morse “a prime suspect.”

And Morse was still “the No. 1 suspect” for sheriff’s Capt. Allen, who interviewed Morse in the Minnesota State Prison at Stillwater, Minn., in 1962.

Allen told the Spokane Daily Chronicle that Morse denied killing Rogers, but was reluctant to talk about her.

He said Morse told him, “If I did rape and kill Candy Rogers, I would probably be too ashamed to talk about it.”


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