Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper The Spokesman-Review

Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
Partly Cloudy Day 44° Partly Cloudy
News >  Pacific NW

Two teen hitchhikers were slain in Oregon in 1978. Now cops have ID’d a suspect

UPDATED: Wed., Jan. 12, 2022

By Don Sweeney Sacramento Bee

For decades, Oregon detectives puzzled over the brutal slaying of two teenagers hitchhiking across the Pacific Northwest in 1978.

Cynthia Frayer, 17, and Kirk Wiseman, 19, of Southern California, were found dead after being shot in the head “multiple times” in a wooded area near Lake of the Woods, Klamath County sheriff’s officials said at a Jan. 6 news conference. Frayer had been sexually assaulted.

“I would love to say it’s just another case, but it’s not,” detective Dan Towery said.

Forty-three years later, advanced DNA testing of Frayer’s clothing identified Ray Whitson Jr., who died in Texas in 1996 but previously lived in Oregon, as the suspected killer, authorities said.

Whitson’s family cooperated with the investigation and confirmed that he often traveled with a .22-caliber pistol, which was the kind of gun used to kill Frayer and Wiseman, Towery said during the news conference.

It’s still unclear how Whitson, a lumber yard worker at the time, encountered Frayer and Wiseman but Towery said he believes Whitson offered them a ride.

“That’s always going to be an unknown,” Towery said. “At this point, we just will never know.”

The unsolved case weighed on investigators over the years.

“It was a very gruesome scene,” Dan Tofell, former Klamath Falls police chief, told the Herald and News. “It’s not every day you find two young people killed in the way they were … I still remember it vividly. I can still picture it.”

Howard Wiseman, Kirk Wiseman’s father, congratulated detectives for answering at least some questions about the slayings, KPIC reported.

“They went way above and beyond the call of duty in closing this case for us family members,” he said, according to the news outlet.

Towery said he plans to return a letter written by Frayer about the couple’s journey and their “hopes and dreams” to her family now that the case has been suspended.

“We have been able to bring closure for a family,” District Attorney Eve Costello said at the news conference.. “Because when somebody dies and you don’t know really what happened. You just left this universe in a really awful way. It leaves you with a huge hollow feeling. This work has allowed that family to have some degree of peace.”

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

Local journalism is essential.

Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.

Active Person

Subscribe now to get breaking news alerts in your email inbox

Get breaking news delivered to your inbox as it happens.