12/22/2014

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Crater Lake murders still a mystery 61 years later

Crater Lake murders still a mystery 61 years later

CRATER LAKE NATIONAL PARK, Ore. -- It has been 61 years since Detroit, Michigan, businessmen Al Jones and Charles Culhane walked into Crater Lake National Park and never walked out.

Their bodies were found gagged and shot through the head. Their cash, watches and shoes were stolen. Investigators found no evidence at the scene.

Alan Eberlien was at the park when the murders happened. His father sold parts for United Motors, the same company that Jones and Culhane worked for. They flew in, did their business with Eberlien’s father, and were set to meet the Eberliens again at Union Creek. But their 1951 Pontiac never made it that far.

“We figured they were probably just sight-seeing around here,” said Eberlien. “Maybe had looked here and walked up the canyon a ways to take a look. And so we waited for about 45 minutes and they didn’t come back.”

While his father went to the park’s south entrance to launch the search that led to the bodies of Jones and Culhane two days later, Eberlien sat in the businessmen’s car. He saw another car come up beside him, pause, and speed away.

“When the car sped off, I turned around to see what it was,” Eberlien said. “All I could see was the tree. I never could see the car. All I saw was a black fender disappear behind the tree.”

The park was nearly empty, Eberlien said. He’s convinced the car belonged to the murderers.

Former Crater Lake National Park Lodge employee Lincoln Linse agrees.

Linse said he drove a truck loaded with canned goods up the steep dirt highway when he saw the Pontiac. He said he saw an abduction; four men disappeared into the woods. Two of them were dressed like businessmen.

He saw the other two men the next day.

“I pulled in to the service station on the inside of the pumps and shortly after that, this car with the two men pulled in on the other side of me,” said Linse.

“I could tell he had a tattoo on his arm. The tattoo was of a naked lady with a bikini,” Linse said. “Also at that time, he had a beaded belt. There was a name on the beaded belt: Ralph.”

The FBI discredited Linse as a witness in the case. Linse said his friend at the service station wouldn’t corroborate his story.

There was another hole. The overlook where Jones and Culhane’s car was found abandoned was about one mile from where their bodies were found.

Serial killer’s alibi

The FBI investigated serial killer Jack Santo.

“The modus operandi of the Santos gang was always robbery, and generally they gagged their victims before they shot them,” said Eberlien.

Santo had an alibi putting him in California at the time, but Eberlien said two known Santo associates were staying near Crater Lake.

Santo and his gang were convicted of a murder in California and executed at San Quentin. The FBI never named them suspects in the Crater Lake murders. Then the case went cold.

KATU called the FBI in Portland to get some of the documents they have on this case. A spokesperson told us they weren’t sure whether their file on the murders still exists. KATU is using the Freedom of Information Act to try and find that file.

Now, 61 years later, the same questions linger. Eberlien admits those questions may never be answered.

“I may well be the only person still alive that was a party to this thing.”

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