Fifty years ago this week, two 19-year-old lovers were brutally murdered in Portland on a Saturday night while parked off Northwest 53rd Drive in Forest Park. Portland State University student Larry Peyton was found slumped behind the wheel of his 1949 Ford, stabbed 23 times. Washington State University student Beverly Allan’s blood-stained jacket was in the car, but her body wasn’t found until six weeks later, dumped off Sunset Highway 40 miles west of Portland. She had been raped and strangled.
Drawing from news reports, interviews and detectives’ files, longtime local newspaper columnist Phil Stanford tells the story of the murders and the tortured eight-year investigation that finally accused three men of the killings. But The Peyton-Allan Files (Ptown Books, 192 pages, $15.95) is more than a work of history. Stanford lays out a compelling case that then-Multnomah County Deputy District Attorney Des Connall (who still practices law but did not reply to requests for comment)—assisted by two detectives from the sheriff’s office (both now dead)—framed the men. One suspect was acquitted. Two were sentenced to life in prison but soon paroled by the state.
Stanford is no newbie to conspiracy circles. After seven years as a columnist, he was canned by The Oregonian in 1994 due in part to his fixation with proving the wrong man was in prison for murdering Oregon Department of Corrections boss Michael Francke. Stanford’s fascination with the city’s darker corners was apparent in his now-discontinued column for the Portland Tribune and his 2004 book, Portland Confidential.
Stanford isn’t the first writer to tackle the Peyton-Allan slaying. Local lawyer and crime writer Phillip Margolin fictionalized the case in his 1978 novel Heartstone. Stanford can’t match Margolin as a writer, but his passion for the case and for Portland bleeds through the pages. As he expertly describes each twist and turn in the investigation, Stanford evokes the atmosphere of the Rose City in the 1960s and how the city changed, subtly but indelibly, as the result of this heinous and seemingly random double murder.
SPOILER ALERT: Moreover, what Stanford lacks in lyricism, he more than compensates for with investigative zeal. In the final pages, he builds a case for who the real killer in the Peyton-Allan killings may be—a man still very much alive. Both the district attorney’s office and the sheriff’s office tell WW they see no reason to reopen the Peyton-Allan case. But 50 years on, Stanford shows he is one local investigator still clearly haunted by their deaths.
READ: The Peyton-Allan Files is now available at local bookstores.