Author Interview: Cory Frye


Meet the author of Murder in Linn County, Oregon Cory Frye, who delivers a riveting, detailed account of the shocking and tragic crimes that haunted Linn County for decades.
  1. Please give us a brief description of your book, Murder in Linn County, Oregon.

It covers a brief but violent — for the Willamette Valley, anyway — stretch (1922-23) during early Prohibition — two desperate years that saw multiple murders and other assorted crimes. Most devastatingly, two county sheriffs were killed in that span, the first, Charles M. Kendall (along with Christian church minister Roy Healy), by a moonshining farmer named Dave West; the second, his successor, William Dunlap, by a car thief less than a year later. They remain the only Linn County sheriffs ever killed on duty.

  1. What prompted you to write this book?

That’s a long story, but I’ll keep it short. I first came across the sheriffs in the spring of ’89, when I was 16. I’d bought a 1921 Albany High School annual from an antique store and found the kids so interesting I wanted to know everything about their lives. So being young and brave, I scoured the local phonebook and cold-called every 1921 graduate I could find and spent hours quizzing them about their youth.

Along with the usual questions, I’d ask about specific peers. One of their classmates was a fellow named Clark Kendall, whose nickname was “Sheriff.” That intrigued me, so I asked one of my subjects about him. Why’d you call him that? Was he a goody-two-shoes or something? “No,” she told me, “if we called him ‘Sheriff,’ it’s because his daddy was the sheriff.” She then added, “Oh, it’s so awful what happened to his dad.”
Interest piqued, I pressed further. “What? What happened to him?” I asked.
“Oh,” she backtracked, “I don’t want to talk about it. It’s too sad.”

Well, now I had to know. So I went to the Albany library and barreled through mountains of newspaper microfilm until I found what I’d sought. Then I flew through more microfilm and somehow leapt ahead a year, to the second sheriff’s demise. My mouth dropped. I’d lived in Albany most of my life and assumed I knew everything about local history. I’d never heard these stories before. Beyond a certain generation, they’d been largely forgotten. (This remained true until “Murder” was published.)

I resolved to write the book someday. After a few false starts, I finally sat down, shortly before my 40th birthday, and committed to finishing it. Thank God for History Press deadlines.

  1. What is the most shocking thing that you learned in writing this book?

First, I was going to concentrate solely on the sheriffs. But as I delved deeper, other stories leapt out. I had no idea how violent and shocking that whole period was. So “Murder” went from being a book about the two lawmen to a generation-spanning book about the community.

  1. Who is the most interesting person in the history of the Plainview murders and why?

The sheriff and the minister are compelling, but I was drawn to the farmer, Dave West. He was a vicious-tempered frontier relic whose “code” had become obsolete. To me, he represented Plainview, a fading town even in his time with its stubborn land, hills and rough-winding roads.

  1. How do you think the people of Plainview are affected by this tragedy today?

Descendants of longtime farming families still call the area “Plainview,” but that’s about it. Otherwise, the name “Plainview” exists only as a main road and on a community-center sign. However, the story of Sheriff Kendall, Roy Healy, and Dave West has been passed to subsequent generations; as I discovered, everyone has opinions and theories. For many, it’s an urban legend/ghost story, its central figures ill-fated metaphors marching to their tragic denouement. Hopefully, “Murder in Linn County” succeeded somewhat in restoring their humanity.