Sunday, November 09, 2014

NW Luray Circus

One of the many ongoing projects here on this humble blog involves a certain list of obscure places I found on the city archives website a few years ago. It's a list of places the city parks department had some sort of involvement with between about 1970 and the early 1990s, though most of them aren't official city parks. I just can't resist lists of obscure things, and I really can't resist patently absurd blog projects, so I've been tracking these places down now and then. Most of them turn out to be not that interesting, but you never really know ahead of time what you'll end up with.

So the next obscure place in this little project is one that's actually had a cameo here before. NW Luray Circus is a short dead-end street high in the West Hills, and it's also the top end of a flight of public stairs, up from NW Luray Terrace. You can get here from "lowland" NW Portland by taking several flights of stairs, this being the top of the fourth and last flight. I did this a few years ago for this post about stairs, and I did it again recently because of what's at the top. As I said, this street is on the list of obscure places, albeit listed as "Luray Circle" (which doesn't exist.) The list is simply a list of place names or addresses, so on arriving the question was, what exactly am I looking for? The stairs leave you off at a cul-de-sac at the end of the street, the circle/circus of the title. If you look closely at the center of the cul-de-sac, it looks like there used to be something there other than pavement. My guess is that it might have been a landscaped circle at one point, since that would explain why it's on the list. If that's what it was, it would have made for a very tight circle, and it probably would have gotten in the way of residents' ever-larger vehicles. I imagine someone phoned up city hall and called in a favor or something, and it's gone now. Or maybe the list referred to something else entirely, although I don't see anything obvious that it might be, other than the stairs. And if it's the stairs, I've already covered them elsewhere. So it's Mission Accomplished either way.

Other than real estate ads, Luray Circus only appears in the library's Oregonian database in connection with the lurid 1930 Leone Bowles homicide case, which sounds like something straight out of a film noir. Bowles and her husband Nelson, a prominent local banker, married in 1920 with a big high society wedding, and moved to Luray Circus. By 1930, their marriage had broken down, and Nelson Bowles had moved in with Irma Loucks, his longtime mistress. On November 12th, 1930, Louise Bowles went to Irma Loucks's eastside apartment, and died there of multiple stab wounds. The following day's newspaper account reported it as a suicide, based on the accounts of Nelson Bowles and Irma Loucks, who conveniently were the only two witnesses, as well as that of Dr. Paul B. Cooper, a doctor friend of Mr. Bowles who arrived at the scene shortly thereafter. For some reason Cooper sent the body directly to a mortuary without notifying police or the county coroner. Frankly I don't believe a word of their story, and it's strange that the paper essentially reported their accounts as undisputed facts.

Inconsistencies in the accounts of the stabbing emerged over the next few days, even as the paper went on about how distraught Bowles was, and how his wife had supposedly been suicidal for a long time. Investigators didn't buy that argument, and the inquest became a homicide investigation. Nelson Bowles and Irma Loucks were arrested on December 6th, on suspicion of murder as well as "lewd cohabitation". Meanwhile, the funeral was held in Yakima, WA on December 13th, with a casket covered in flowers sent by Nelson Bowles, even though he was currently sitting in jail awaiting indictment, which is just creepy. On December 31st, a grand jury returned a sternly worded indictment against both Nelson Bowles and Irma Loucks.

So the case went to trial in March 1931, and this is the part of the story where money, privilege, and connections made a world of difference. The same Dr. Cooper who tampered with evidence right after the death was somehow permitted to testify as an expert witness for the defense. Bowles's high-powered legal team won him an acquittal, after putting the victim on trial and selling the jury on the defense's suicide story. Shortly thereafter all charges were dismissed against Dr. Cooper, who'd been investigated for tampering with evidence.

Several months later, the Nelson Bowles and the new Mrs. Irma Bowles appeared in the paper again; in the intervening months the two had married and skipped town to Denver. And this is the last we hear of the pair in the Oregonian, and Google is no help either. I have no idea what became of the pair after that.

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