; Phantoms and Monsters: Pulse of the Paranormal

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Looking Back: Cowden Family Massacre Mystery

I wanted to look back at this terrible multiple murder that occurred in Oregon in 1974. It has never been solved because of the lack of evidence, motive and overall strangeness of the case:


Tri-City Herald
Thursday, September 19, 1974


Medford, Oregon (AP) Investigators still have no solid clues as to the whereabouts of a Medford area family who disappeared from a campsite at Copper on September 1, a state police officer said late Wednesday.

Lt. Tom Phillips said several detectives are assigned to the case and they have many leads but nothing firm.

Missing are Richard Cowden, 28, White City, his wife Belinda, 22, and their two small children.

The family vanished from their campsite in a rugged mountain area 25 miles southwest of Medford near the California border.

An official search of the area was suspended Sept. 7, but friends and relatives of the family that live nearby have been devoting many weekends and vacation time to continue looking, Phillips said.

The family was to visit Cowden's mother in Copper the evening of Sept. 1, but never arrived.

Police said although they have no evidence of foul play, the campsite showed indications that the family had left abruptly, some wearing only swimsuits.

The Cowden's pickup truck was left behind with camping gear and other belongings, police said. Their dog was found unharmed about five miles from the camp. - Tri-City Herald


Tri-City Herald
Wednesday, July 9, 1975


Medford, Oregon (AP) - Quietly, and without fanfare, investigators here continue to pour over clues in the Cowden family murder case, one of the more bizarre multiple homicides in Oregon history.

It will be one year ago this Sept. 1 when Richard Cowden, his wife, Belinda, and two small children vanished from their campsite near the town of Copper in southern Oregon's Siskiyou Mountains.

The four bodies were found by prospectors last April 12, 7 1/2 months after the family vanished.

Lt. Mark Kezar of the Oregon State Police has coorinated the investigation, which he says remains very much active.

"The whole nature of the thing smacks of a weirdo," he said recently, adding that the police know alot they don't feel free to discuss at this point.

Cowden, then 28, was a log truck driver from White City, Ore. He had taken his family camping in the Siskiyous over Labor Day. He had planned to work around his house, but plans to borrow a truck he needed had fallen through.

So, they went camping, and on Sunday, September 1, Cowden and son David, 5 went from the camp to Copper to buy milk.

It was 9 a.m.

None of the family was reported alive again.

A massive search for miles around the campsite turned up nothing, although it is now known that the searchers were as near as 100 feet from the small cave into which the bodies of the family had been crammed.

Lt. Kezar said an extensive investigation has put together this chronology.

Cowden returned with David to the camp, and the family went swimming in adjacent Carberry Creek later that morning.

A short time later, probably before noon, the family was abducted, probably at gunpoint, and most likely probably by someone they did not know.

Kezar surmises they were probably driven some distance away, forced up the steep slope where they were found, and at least three of them were shot.

Medical authorities have been unable to determine how Richard Cowden died. "It's a presumed homicide," said Dr. William Brady, state medical examiner. "I'm sure he was shot, even though we can't prove it."

The skeletal remains of Cowden were found on a steep hillside. The bodies of the other three were placed in the small cave, and the entrance was sealed with rocks to disguise it and hide the bodies.

"We're sort of settled on our own ideas", Kezar said. "Whether it's enough to go to grand jury with is another matter."

Cowden's father, who committed suicide some months ago, after the family vanished, has been cleared, Kezar said.

"You have to remember, it was summer and there were all sorts of people in that area--- so-called hippie types, a motorcycle group and so on."

He said the time lapse between the murders and discovery of the bodies has hobbled the investigation but that some evidence still is being evaluated by his office, the FBI and others.

The file on the case long ago outgrew it's folder and now overflows a large cardboard box.

It includes hundreds of letters, some from mystics, some from people who solved the mystery in a dream, and many more from people with a hunch or an idea that might have been overlooked.

But, Kezar said, none have shed any light on the case, which, he hints, may be but a small, but vital link from being solved. - Tri-City Herald


The Cowden Family Massacre

Richard Cowden and his wife Belinda June lived together with their five year old son David James, and their five month old daughter Melissa Dawn. They owned a small cozy house in White City, Oregon, a perfect place to raise a young family.

The Cowdens loved to camp, but they had not planned to go camping that Labor Day weekend of 1974. Richard had planned to haul a load of gravel for his driveway and spend the weekend getting the job done. Unexpectedly, the truck broke down, so without thinking twice, they decided to go up to the Siskiyou Mountains for a family camping trip.

They had planned to camp out until Sunday September 1st and then stop at Belinda’s mother’s house for dinner before heading back home. Belinda’s mother lived only about a mile away from the campground. Early on Sunday morning, Richard and David were seen at the general store which was only less than a mile away from their campsite. There they bought a quart of milk, then they were seen heading back in the direction they had come from. It was the last time they were seen

After waiting for her daughter and her family for hours, Belinda’s mother became worried that they had failed to show up. She then grabbed her keys and decided to pay the campsite a visit to find out what was holding them up. When she arrived, she saw the family’s car parked and the campsite undisturbed. On the picnic table she found the quart of milk, Belinda’s purse and Melissa’s diaper bag. It was as if the family had just stepped away momentarily. As she walked around the campsite, she discovered both Richard’s expensive wristwatch and wallet containing $23 laying on the ground by the creek. She tried to keep her calm and waited for them, thinking they would be back any minute.

After waiting for about an hour, she finally decided to call the Sheriff. Officers searched the area until it grew so dark they couldn’t see a thing. The area was searched everyday for over a week, but not even the smallest clue suggesting a possible scene arouse. There was no sign of a struggle, it was as if they had just disappeared out of thin air. Robbery was obviously not a motive since everything was left at the campsite. If they had drowned in the creek nearby, there bodies would have surfaced by then.

Could they have vanished voluntarily? Richard and Belinda had no more debts than the average couple, they were not behind on any payments and Richard made more then enough money to support his family. So if not robbery, and both the possibilities of them having drowned or voluntarily disappeared out of the way, What happened to the Cowdens? Officers could not figure it out.

Seven months went by without any explanation of their disappearance. When the case started to feel like it was going nowhere, Oregon officers caught a break. In April of 1975, two men hunting deep in the Siskiyou woods came upon remains of what looked to be human bones. Officers were quickly called to the scene and an investigation began.

Four corpses were found, that of a man, a woman, a young child and an infant, the remains of the Cowden family had been finally found. Belinda and David’s remains were found stuffed in a small cave, they both had suffered from several .22 caliber gunshots. Baby Melissa’s remains were also found in the cave but the autopsy showed she had died from severe blows to her head. Richard’s body was not found inside the cave with the rest of his family, but several feet outside. His body was too decomposed to tell exactly how he had died.

Thinking of the possibility that Richard could have murdered his own family, detectives searched the area for a gun or other weapon. If Richard was indeed responsible for the death’s of his family and his own suicide, then some sort of weapon would still be around. No gun or weapon were ever found, not even the smallest clue to give the officer’s of White City a lead.

It has now been 37 years since the young family from Oregon went on the camping trip that would end their lives. The questions are still on the surface waiting to be answered, what happened to the Cowden family? Who murdered them and why? Sadly, we might never know the answers. - Gracy Rodriguez - 'Unsolved Mysteries: Family Massacres' - nmchs.com

Universally frustrating for police officers, family members and the community are Southern Oregon's ... UNSOLVED MURDERS

Missing Oregon family found slain

The 'cold cases' of Jackson County

NOTE: Dwain Lee Little (pictured left), the man suspected in these murders, had been convicted of 1st degree murder in 1967 at the age of 15. He had been paroled from the Oregon State Penitentiary on May 24, 1974, less than four months before the Cowdens vanished. Now 60, and is back behind bars after numerous suspected murders. Dwain Lee Little was never cooperative with mental health treatment and refuses to discuss any of the murders he is accused of...Lon

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