Saturday May 25, 2013
Sister's Persistence Leads to Arrest in 1982 Murder CaseTim King Salem-News.com
Sister of murder victim Lori Billingsley, talks about the arrest that came more than three decades later.
(ALOHA, Oregon) - For more than thirty years, the murder and sexual assault of a 17-year old Oregon girl named Lori Billingsley remained a mystery, sort of.
Today, Washington County Sheriff's detectives arrested 49-year old Kenneth Lee Hicks of St. Helens for the brutal murder that robbed the life of an aspiring young lady. Thanks to DNA, Hicks was arrested in the death of Billingsley, who was an Aloha High School student.
Sgt. Bob Ray with the Washington County Sheriff's Office, says her body was found in a ditch on Miller Hill Road in Aloha on 10 October 1982. Investigators said she had been beaten, strangled, stabbed, and sexually assaulted.
"Sheriff's Detective Jim Welch was the lead investigator assigned to the case in 1982. Detective Welch (deceased) completed a very comprehensive investigation that would prove to be invaluable to investigators decades later. While there was evidence collected, Deoxyribonucleic Acid (DNA) testing did not yet exist," Sgt Rob Ray stated in a news release issued today.
Vickie's sister, Lori, who was 13 when her sister went missing, has been on point in recent years, driving the investigation that led to the arrest of Hicks. I asked Vickie how the development leaves her feeling.
"I'm excited, I'm the one who has been pursuing this for many years. If anyone else is in this position, I have a message about this, It's very possible."
Receiving the news that your sister has been murdered at the age of 13, is a fate few of us could imagine, one nobody deserves.
Regarding the day her sister was killed, Vickie said, "She was missing for 12 hours, when the body was discovered. It was really horrible for my mom and myself."
"I promised my mom I would."
While she doesn't communicate with them regularly, Vickie has two older brothers. "They did not want me to pursue this because of the emotional pain it brings," she said. Needless to say, she failed to heed their advice, choosing instead to fulfill a promise to her mother that she would help bring her sister's killer to justice. She kept her word. Vickie's mother and father are both deceased, but she does not question that their spirits have been along for every step.
"To be honest I was not as involved in the case until the last three years, simply because every time they told me they didn't have anyone to take the case."
The Washington County Sheriff's Office stated in a press release, "Detectives at the time worked the case tenaciously and identified Hicks as a suspect early in the investigation. However, there was not enough evidence to charge him with the murder. Hicks was an acquaintance of Ms. Billingsley and lived in the same apartment complex. At the time of the crime he was 19."
Vickie Billingsley explains that the suspect, Hicks, had had a strained relationship with his family due to behavior and compatibility issues, and they tossed him out when he was 19, in the cold of winter, leaving him homeless. This act preceded the events that would claim the life of Lori. Vickie Billingsley says her sister felt sympathy for the young man.
"My sister felt sorry for him, his uncle and aunt lived in an apartment below us. He ended up becoming homeless, he convinced my mom to let him stay on the couch for three weeks. I didn't really speak to him a lot."
She added, "I always thought it was him way back to when I was 13."
So why would a young man being offered a hand up in terms of a warm place to stay, attack and murder a young woman like Lori Billingsley? Her sister has the same answer all of this time.
"He was infatuated with my sister, she had a big heart, was beautiful and nice."
I asked Vickie what contact she had with Hicks at the time of her sister's homicide.
"I only saw him one time, the day she was discovered, I didn't know what to do."
She says she kept saying, "Now that DNA is here, please can we do this testing."
Investigators revisited the case in the early 1990s as DNA was starting to be recognized as a valuable investigative tool to identify or eliminate subjects connected to a crime. Even though evidence in the Billingsley case was submitted to the Oregon State Police Crime Lab in 1991, the results did not yield a DNA profile.
Then they had a break, 19 years later. In 2010, detectives resubmitted the Billingsley evidence and it found a DNA profile that could be compared to other profiles. They didn't find a match immediately, but they knew what they had to do, that was to attain a DNA sample from Hicks. Armed with a search warrant, detectives collected DNA from Mr. Hicks and sent it to the crime lab for comparison to evidence in the Billingsley case. It was a match!
I asked Vickie Billingsley to explain what it was like to finally see an arrest in her sister's case.
"I have found closure already, I forgave him the second I found out it was him. I am angry and bitter and sorry for his family. Living this life for 30 years had to have been very difficult."
She says it still hurts after all of these years. Her description of Lori brings to mind a person who, had she not had her life robbed, would have done amazing things with her life.
"It was a little rough in the beginning of her teens, but she was really turning out to be a good girl. Adolescence is a hard time for girls, I know that, but things had leveled out and she was really doing well when this happened," Vickie said.
It seems easy to believe that she is right about how her sister's life would have turned out, but then we will never know.
The most important message Vickie had was for other families of murder victims, she says never give up hope, justice is possible.
Bob Ray says a Washington County Grand Jury indicted Kenneth Hicks with two counts of Aggravated Murder yesterday. District Attorney Robert Hermann was assigned to the original case in 1982 and is currently prosecuting the case on behalf of Washington County.
On February 27, 2013, at about 4:15 a.m., Kenneth Hicks was arrested and lodged in the Washington County Jail. He is held without bail and charged with two counts of Aggravated Murder.
Detectives are seeking the public's help regarding this case. If you have any information, please call the Washington County Sheriff's Office at (503) 846-2500.
Tim King: Salem-News.com Editor and Writer
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With almost 25 years of experience on the west coast and worldwide as a television news producer, photojournalist, reporter and assignment editor, Tim King is Salem-News.com's Executive News Editor. His background includes covering the war in Afghanistan in 2006 and 2007, and reporting from the Iraq war in 2008. Tim is a former U.S. Marine who follows stories of Marines and Marine Veterans; he's covered British Royal Marines and in Iraq, Tim embedded with the same unit he served with in the 1980's.
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