After Months of Inaction, Dominoes Begin to Fall in the Investigation of Joe Gilliam’s Poisoning

Theft charges and the visit of Arizona detectives suggest progress.

For many months, the family and friends of Joe Gilliam have waited with increasing impatience for developments in the investigation into who poisoned the former president of the Northwest Grocery Association in 2020.

Meanwhile, Gilliam remains in a long-term care facility in Clark County, Wash. Now 60, he cannot speak, gets his nutrition through a feeding tube, and depends on a tracheotomy to keep his airway clear. A hiker, runner and golfer prior to being poisoned—twice—with the toxic metal thallium in mid- and late 2020, Gilliam spends his days confined in bed or a wheelchair, his 6-foot-3, 215-pound frame now 50 pounds lighter and contorted by muscular contractions.

Police in Lake Oswego, where Gilliam made his primary home, and Maricopa County, Ariz., where he owned a vacation home and where friends believe he was most likely poisoned, continue to pursue investigations into who tried to kill him (“Who Poisoned Joe Gilliam…Twice?” WW, Nov. 3, 2021). As is typical with pending criminal investigations, neither agency will comment on its progress.

“Everybody is frustrated and wants this case solved,” says Dave Martin, a lifelong Gilliam friend. But last week brought two hints that the investigations were moving forward.

On Aug. 3, Clackamas County District Attorney John Wentworth charged Gilliam’s son, Earl Joe “Joey” Gilliam III, with six counts each of aggravated first-degree theft and criminal mischief. Both are felonies.

The charges relate to the first half of 2021, when Joey Gilliam held power of attorney over his father’s affairs as the elder Gilliam lay in a vegetative state. A court-appointed investigator in Clark County filed a report in 2021 suggesting that during those months, Joey Gilliam took about $350,000 from his father’s bank accounts.

Joey Gilliam’s attorney, Shannon Kmetic, declined to comment on the charges. He previously denied any wrongdoing.

The same day Joey Gilliam was charged, two detectives from the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office came to the Portland metro area, apparently for the first time since the case began.

Sources who spoke with them but requested anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the investigation say the detectives’ visit had at least two purposes.

First, the detectives interviewed at least two people at the Clackamas County District Attorney’s Office in Oregon City. The detectives reportedly suggested they’d made significant progress in the case and asked questions that suggested they were pursuing a financial motive for the attempts to murder Gilliam.

The detectives also traveled to Clark County to see Gilliam in person.

The purpose of that visit is unclear. People who have seen him in person say Gilliam at times appears to respond to verbal cues with an awkward thumbs-up or thumbs-down gesture and seems to understand at least some of what is being said to him.

The events of last week follow expressions of interest in Gilliam’s story from national television news programs. During the week of July 25, a reporter and camera crew from Inside Edition, the CBS network program, came to Portland to film interviews. That same week, a crew from Dateline, the NBC network program, also filmed interviews. Neither program has announced a broadcast date.

In the meantime, Joe Gilliam’s friends and family wait for further news. In the absence of new information, tensions between many of them are high.

Earlier this year, Joey Gilliam circulated a draft letter to his relatives and Joe’s friends suggesting it might be time to honor his father’s wishes that he not be kept alive by artificial means. That desire stemmed from Joe Gilliam’s having watched his beloved older brother, former state Rep. Vic Gilliam (R-Keizer), suffer a slow, agonizing death from Lou Gehrig’s disease. (Vic Gilliam died June 17, 2020, shortly after Joe Gilliam was poisoned the first time.)

Joey Gilliam acknowledged that he contravened his father’s wishes in the weeks he lay in intensive care in an Arizona hospital after the second poisoning.

“I also kept my dad alive on life support against his own written medical directive and even if I was after his money or wanted him to die I had every legal power to pull the plug on him right when he first got sick and they would of never known it was thallium,” Joey wrote in an April letter he shared with Joe’s circle.

But, Joey Gilliam proposed in that draft letter, it might be time to honor Joe’s wishes. “I am begging anyone who is willing, to help me let my dad be free. The doctors have confirmed he is at baseline and will not ever recover,” he wrote. “Nobody in this world deserves to finish out their life like this.”

That letter concerned Felicia Gilliam Capps, Joe Gilliam’s older sister and guardian, enough that she obtained a vulnerable adult protection order against her nephew, who has two previous felony convictions for assault.

As her brother’s guardian, Capps controls who gets to see him. She has limited that access almost exclusively to her own daughter, who visits daily to take care of him, and Joe Gilliam’s daughter Olivia, a college student in Texas.

In a statement, Capps said her top priority is her brother’s well-being.

“This has been a very difficult time for me and our family as we navigate unforeseen and unprecedented challenges,” she said. “We are saddened and sickened by the harm that has been done to my brother.”

One of the people who’s been prohibited from visiting is Tim Mooney, an Arizona political consultant and friend of Joe Gilliam’s for 30 years.

Mooney was one of three people with Gilliam in Cave Creek around the time investigators suspect he was poisoned. Mooney denies any knowledge of what happened and says police have never sought to question him.

Mooney’s relationship with Joey Gilliam descended into mutual finger-pointing after the second poisoning. Nonetheless, he sees a sad irony: If Joey Gilliam had done what his father wanted him to and allowed him to die in early 2021, he would have inherited much of the money he now stands accused of stealing.

Mooney says he and Gilliam talked about how Joe didn’t want to end up like his brother, Vic, “at least 50 times.”

“Joe was a man of faith. He did not fear death because he knew where he was going,” Mooney says. “It makes it even more tragic and horrible that instead of going to heaven, he gets to live in hell.”