Portland Surpasses 1987 Murder Record After Double Homicide in Old Town

The county’s population has increased by more than 46% since the previous record was set.

Multnomah County prosecutors on Monday charged 45-year-old Michael Scott VanDomelen with two counts of first-degree murder following a double homicide in Old Town that represented Portland’s 71st and 72nd murders this year, surpassing the city’s previous homicide record from 1987.

Prosecutors say VanDomelen, who entered a not-guilty plea during an arraignment this afternoon, admitted to shooting and killing a man and a woman inside an apartment building on Northwest 3rd Avenue on Sunday morning.

According to a probable cause affidavit, a neighbor in the apartment building heard shots on the third floor around 6:30 am on Oct. 24. When the neighbor exited his room, court records say, he saw the two victims inside an apartment with the door open.

“[The neighbor] heard noises from the male victim and asked him who shot him, but the man was unresponsive,” the affidavit says. “Mr. VanDomelen then came into the hallway, and [the neighbor] asked if he had called 911. Mr. VanDomelen said no, and when [the neighbor] asked if he knew who did it, Mr. VanDomelen said, ‘I did it.’”

The probable cause affidavit says the neighbor told police that VanDomelen was holding a gun, and that he “stated words to the effect that he wanted to put him, referring to the male victim, out of his misery.” Charging documents allege VanDomelen admitted to a detective that he shot the male victim, that he had taken methamphetamines in the hours before the shooting, and that he was “hearing voices telling him to shoot people.”

Police have not yet identified the two victims. The double homicide reflects a grim milestone in Portland, setting a new record for the number of murders in one year. The previous record was set more than three decades ago, in 1987.

Portland is not an outlier. Nationwide figures reflect an approximate 30% increase in murder rates in 2020: “No geographic area was spared,” The New York Times reported last month.

It’s also worth noting that Multnomah County’s population has increased by more than 46% since the last record was set, according to population data from Portland State University. In raw numbers, the population increased from 563,557 in 1987 to 829,560 in 2020.

That said, there are more than two months until 2021 concludes, meaning it is likely the number will grow before the end of the year.

“This weekend, Portland made the worst kind of history. Our city has had more homicides this year than any year prior,” City Commissioner Mingus Mapps said in a statement Monday. “I ask my colleagues on City Council, our county commissioners, and district attorney to advocate for and embrace our police department, and all local law enforcement, in stopping the killing. Most importantly, I urge public support for the [Portland Police Bureau’s] new Focused Intervention Team and Community Oversight Group.”