Last Tuesday, 15 Indian men who knew Ilaben Patel approached the door of a room at the Madison Suites Hotel, took off their shoes, laid them neatly at the doorstep and stepped inside.
Patel, 45, was part of an extended Indian family that operates what were once tourist motels in and around Portland.
Two days earlier, Patel's body had been found 10 blocks away, under the Northeast Halsey Street overpass near Interstate 205.
While the dangers to tenants are widely known, what many fail to realize is that motel owners or managers--and their families--often live there, too.
The Indian men (as per Hindu custom, women met in a separate unit) were in the third day of their traditional 12-day mourning period, during which they gather to pray every day for an hour. They sat with legs folded, bowing forward or leaning back against the motel suite walls as they silently meditated on the death of Patel, who left behind two young children and a grieving husband.
When their hour of prayer came to a close, they shifted and began to chat. Soon, an animated debate broke out over the question of security in old motels such as Madison Suites, a complex of nine buildings clustered along Northeast 82nd Avenue.
"It's no more risky than any other business!" insisted one manager who wouldn't give his name. "These things happen. It's terrible, but it could happen in any business."
Others, however, shook their heads, reluctant to argue with their friend just now despite the fear that was palpable in the room.
Indeed, when Patel disappeared July 9 on her way to the motel's supply room, her friends and relatives suspected the worst. For those who make their living in the "no-tell motel" business in Portland and other cities, the risks are an accepted, if rarely acknowledged, part of the job.
Patel, her husband and their two young children occupied a suite in the complex, which charges $200 a week and is considered one of the nicer low-end motels in town. Police would not release crime reports related to Madison Suites, but such businesses draw an unhealthy dose of ex-cons, predators, drug addicts and drug dealers, according to police and social workers (see "Home Sweet Home," WW, April 14, 2004).
"Felons, pedophiles, drug addicts and dealers--the motel managers work with those people every day in the lower-end motels," says Cassandra Garrison, public-policy manager for the Oregon Food Bank. "This is where the hardest-core of the mentally ill are living, and now we are forcing young mothers with children into the units right next door."
Last month, Nirmal Singh Thind, the owner of a low-end motel in Kent, Wash., also was murdered. Police there believe his assailants had been preying on motel managers and clients in the area for weeks. In Portland, police haven't announced any leads in Patel's case.