Murder Mystery at Aloha High School
Who murdered two Aloha students in 1974?
by Brianna Epstein
Aloha High School Student Reporter
Beaverton, OR- Aloha High School, December 3rd 2009 about 11a.m. A young hispanic man enters the Aloha High School main office and turns in an Aloha class ring on a gold chain from 1975 to secretary Ms. Nieslanik. He claimed that he had simply found the ring while taking a walk in the neighborhood. Now flashback 34 years to October 1975.
Peter Zito, an 18-year-old senior at Aloha High School, and Donald Bartron, a 16-year-old junior at Aloha High School, were found murdered in the early morning hours on October 3, 1974. Their bodies were discovered shortly before 4 a.m. in the recreation center parking lot in Oak Hills (Cornell and 153rd). According to the Valley Times they were both shot between 1:30a.m. and 3:45a.m. as they worked on Peter Zito’s car.
According to Sheriff Warren Bud Barnes and Multnomah County Medical Examiner Larry Lewman, the youths were shot in the head at close range with a small caliber gun. Three shell casings were found at the scene along with a footprint in the dirt near the car.
Later that afternoon, authorities arrested and charged 18-year-old Joseph Wilson, also a student at Aloha High School, with two counts of murder. The Valley Times states that “sheriff’s deputies discovered numerous guns and more than 100 knives at Wilson’s home when they arrived there early on the morning of the slayings with a search warrant.” They also found a loaded .38-caliber gun under Wilson’s pillow. Wilson claimed that they were part of his deceased father’s collection, which proved to be true. However, none of the guns tested positive as a match to the gun used in the double homocide.
Wilson faced a judge for the first time on Wednesday October 9th for a bail hearing. Ricahrd L. Barton and J. Reynolds Barnes were hired as Wilson’s defense lawyers. District Court Judge Harold Lewis set bail at $25,000 for each of the two counts of murder. However, the hearing was cut short after the defense objected to the attempt by the state prosecutor to introduce Wilson’s privileged juvenile records in court. Washington County Release Assistance Officer Sam Juncker submitted a report to the court that showed there were two pending misdemeanor charges against Wilson in Multnomah County. Both of the citations were for carrying a concealed weapon. The bail hearing was postponed until the issue of the juvenile records could be resolved.
The deputy district attorney on the case, Georgia Outzs, indicated that the state would seek a grand jury inditement on the murder charges before any bail hearing. The grand jury did indite Wilson on the charges and during an October 21st bail hearing Washington County Circuit Court Judge Hollie Pihl set bail at $50,000 for each homocide charge as well as specifying release conditions and restrictions.
Meanwhile sheriff deputies were still trying to locate the murder weapon. They asked Oak Hills residents for their help in locating the murder weapon. According to District Attorney Ray Robinett, letters were sent out on Thursday October 24th to 600 homeowners in Oak Hills asking for their assistance in the investigation.
On October 28, 1974 Wilson made a court appearance to enter his plea. He pled not guilty and his trial date was set for December 3, 1974. However, before the trial started, his attorney Barton, filed a motion for a change of venue. He felt that his client could not get a fair trial in Washington County due to the publicity of the case. In his affidavit in support of the motion for a change of venue Barton stated, “In addition, the case is a constant topic of discussion among students in Washinton County, paticularly those from the Aloha and Sunset High School Districts.” Washington County Judge Hollie Pihl granted the motion and moved the trial to Clackamas County.
Before the trial could start, Washington County District Attorney Ray Robinett filed a motion to dismiss all charges against Wilson. In his motion Robinett stated, “subsequent to the indictment further investigation has exonerated the defendant.” Judge Hollie Pihl granted the motion and the case was dismissed on January 14, 1975, three months after Wilson was arrested.
Flashforward to January 2010. As far as we know, the case is still an open cold case. Deputy Strange contacted a detective at the Washinton County Sheriffs office and what happens now is all up to the detective. Will the ring be collected by the detectives as evidence? Will the case be investigated again? Who knows?
The mystery of the unknown ringman, two teenagers murders, and who the murderer is lives on.