March 9th, 2005 Audrey Van Buskirk, Michaela Lowthian | Special Section Stories
 

1990

     
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It took 10 years for prosecutors to prove that Starry Night owner Larry Hurwitz (above) murdered his employee Tim Moreau.

The Hunt for the Starry Night Killer

BY AUDREY VAN BUSKIRK

They finally got him.

It took 10 years, thousands of dollars and uncountable vats of ink, but in the end, Larry Hurwitz, the impresario of the nightclub Starry Night, was convicted in the murder of Tim Moreau.

The case became one of Old Town's enduring mysteries. Moreau was a likable 21-year-old Reedie who vanished on Jan. 23, 1990, shortly after telling his parents he was going to confront his boss, Hurwitz, about goings-on at Starry Night (now the Roseland Theater), where Moreau worked as promotions manager.

The dispute involved a counterfeit-ticket scam, orchestrated by Hurwitz, that came to light following a John Lee Hooker show. Moreau's friends said he confronted Hurwitz about the scam and threatened to tell the police. Hurwitz claimed he confronted Moreau about the scam.

Either way, Moreau was never seen again.

WW picked up the story when reporter Jim Redden wrote a lengthy piece ("Missing and Presumed Dead," WW, June 21, 1990) taking a hard look at Hurwitz's role in the mystery.

"I knew Larry did it immediately," Redden said years later. "I had reported on Larry on two previous stories in which he was engaged in very sleazy activities. I'd interviewed him and gotten the chance to size him up. So when I got the call that Tim had disappeared, I knew instantly it was Larry."

The police made little headway. Hurwitz sued WW and Redden for libel (the case went nowhere). Meanwhile, Redden left WW, started his own newspaper, PDXS, and wrote dozens of impassioned articles about the case.

From their home in New Orleans, Moreau's parents, Mike and Penny Moreau, refused to give up, spending at least $65,000 and their retirement savings. They made 17 trips to Portland over 10 years, meeting with law-enforcement officials to keep the case alive. Both quit their jobs.

But by the late '90s, the trail had gone cold. The police were at a dead end. Hurwitz had long since sold Starry Night and moved to Vietnam, where he promoted rock concerts.

Then a bust on silver dealers led to a tantalizing tip: Hurwitz had hidden income from the Internal Revenue Service. He was extradited from Vietnam and flown back to Portland to face tax-evasion charges. In the spring of 1998, Hurwitz pleaded guilty to tax evasion and was sentenced to one year.

While he was in prison, detectives got their big break: a tip that a former Starry Night sound engineer named George Castagnola was involved in the murder.

After months of pressure, Castagnola confessed. He said Hurwitz strangled Moreau with speaker wire while Castagnola held him down. They drove out to the Washington side of the Columbia River Gorge and buried Moreau's body in a grave they had prepared. Their motive: to keep Moreau from talking about the ticket scam.

On Sept. 25, 2000, Hurwitz, then 45, pleaded no contest to the murder. Hurwitz agreed to help authorities look for Moreau's body in exchange for his relatively light sentence of 12 years, 2 months with credit for two years already served, including the time for tax evasion.

Castagnola was given a 10-year sentence because he agreed to testify against Hurwitz and promised to help locate the body, which still has not been discovered.

The Moreaus supported the deal because they knew it would be impossible to guarantee a conviction-after all, Tim's body had never been found. But, enraged that Hurwitz still refused to admit guilt, they filed a civil wrongful-death suit.

In December 2001, Hurwitz agreed to pay the family $3 million to settle the lawsuit. They're unlikely to collect that money, but it's some satisfaction that as part of the deal, Hurwitz admitted that a jury would have found him guilty of murder and signed the stipulated judgment, which spelled out his role in the killing. As Euripides observed four centuries before the birth of Christ, the wheels of justice may turn slow, but they do grind exceedingly fine.

WAKE UP!

BY MICHAELA LOWTHIAN

How did a guy named Tom with an electronics business on 82nd Avenue become a totem of detached irony? In his trademark late-night ads, Tom Peterson knocks on his side of the TV looking-glass, rousing his viewers from their slumber to hawk his wares. Something about his omnipresent flat-top and his utter squareness make him a cult hero. Guerrilla artist Nate Slusarenko creates a silhouette of Peterson's face, which is then stenciled on buildings across the city by a shadowy tag-team. At the height of his glory, his mug appears on alarm clocks, T-shirts and watches. Complimentary flat-tops are given at his store, and Peterson even makes a cameo appearance in My Own Private Idaho as the chief of police. The party ends abruptly in 1991, when Peterson files for bankruptcy protection, blaming his troubles on overexpansion, but he and wife Gloria managed to reorganize and are still in business.


* Racist skinheads ring in the new year with a cross-burning in Washington Park on the eve of Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday.

* After 27 years in prison, Nelson Mandela is freed by South African authorities.

* The Trail Blazers whip the Phoenix Suns, lock up the Western Conference and reach the NBA Finals for the first time since 1977. They are demolished by the Detroit Pistons, who clinch the title at the Memorial Coliseum with a last-minute long shot by guard Vinnie Johnson.

* Jaws drop when Gov. Neil Goldschmidt doesn't run for a second term. The public assumes he's just tired of the burdens of office. The real reason will remain a dark secret for another 14 years.

* Arch-conservative independent Al Mobley gets 13 percent in the gubernatorial race, stealing votes (and victory) from Republican Dave Frohnmayer. The upshot: Democrat Barbara Roberts is elected as Oregon's first female governor, with 46 percent of the vote. Roberts' triumph is bittersweet: She will have to contend with the tax-slashing Measure 5.

* Local rappers U-Krew (short for Untouchable) embark on a national tour after making Spin magazine's "Hip-Hop Map of America." The smooth, middle-of-the-road quintet scores gigs opening for MC Hammer and the New Kids on the Block.

* Police Chief Richard Walker retires after serving three years-an eternity by the standards of the Bud Clark administration. Capt. Tom Potter becomes Clark's fifth chief. His mandate: to sell the bureau on community policing.

* Flatten your collar, strap on your platform soles and prepare to shake your groove apparatus. Disco is back, and with it a bizarre nostalgia for that tackiest of decades, the '70s.

* Vice President Dan Quayle is confronted by a massive demonstration including the surreal reverse-peristalsis protesters who vomit red, white and blue. The event takes an ugly turn and 51 people are arrested. Says a Quayle aide: "We've never seen anything like it."

* Party's over. Five years after deregulation cut the savings-and-loan industry a virtual blank check, local thrifts wake up in a strange bed with a gold-plated hangover. Far West Federal Bank finds itself invested in a Las Vegas horse ranch owned by crooner Wayne Newton. Oh, yeah, it's millions of dollars in debt, too. Eventually, Far West will be bailed out by federal regulators.

* Barbarians at the gate: After building up its fundraising machine under party chairman Craig Berkman, the GOP takes over the Oregon House for the first time in two decades. Larry Campbell replaces Vera Katz as House Speaker and will preside over the GOP's slim 32-28 majority. A Republican would still hold the post 15 years later.

* Ben Ellis and Tres Shannon open the UFO Cafe, an all-ages rock club at 214 W Burnside St., later renamed the X-Ray Cafe. Their motto: "Live Music, All Ages, Bad Neighborhood."


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