Police Didn't Believe Her. It Was a Fatal Mistake

Part I of the 'Oregonian'/OregonLive's investigation into John Ackroyd
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 5, 2018 11:05 AM CST
Police Didn't Believe Her. It Was a Fatal Mistake
"Ackroyd turned off Highway 20 and onto an old wagon road."   (Getty Images/Mimadeo)

Dead men tell no tales, and John Ackroyd is dead. So the Oregonian/OregonLive is going to do the telling for him. Its five-part series "Ghosts of Highway 20" is the result of a years-long investigation into a man who died in 2016 while serving time for one woman's murder, but who now can be linked to more killings. And in some alternate universe, none of them would be dead—that is, if police had believed Ackroyd's first victim, who managed to survive. Part I recounts the story of Marlene Gabrielsen, a 20-year-old who'd given birth three months prior and was headed out for the first time since with her husband. They decided to camp near the Sisters Rodeo but got in an argument, and Gabrielsen decided to return to her child. It was 1977, and hitchhiking was something she was used to doing. She got a ride from Ackroyd.

The campground was off Highway 20, which winds through Oregon and was Ackroyd's professional stomping grounds: He was a state highway mechanic. Once in his truck, Gabrielsen noted a rifle, a knife, and the fact that the door lacked an inner door handle: "She was trapped." She says Ackroyd eventually turned onto a wagon road off Highway 20, pulled her from the truck, and raped her at knifepoint. He tore off her jeans so aggressively "the pants split from the waist to the ankle along the inseam." And then he told her he wasn't sure what to do with her. She convinced him to drive her home and got his number under the guise of maybe seeing him again, but really as a way of identifying him. She immediately went to the police, and Ackroyd told them she had come on to him. No charges were filed. More than two years later came the first murder. Read Part I in full here. (Read more Longform stories.)

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