Special Report: Family hopes to find killer in 1975 cold case

Shirley Wallace was murdered 43 years ago in Eugene, and the killer has never been found.

Posted: May 10, 2018 7:12 PM
Updated: May 10, 2018 7:15 PM

EUGENE, Ore. -- In a perfect world, Phillip Owens would be preparing to celebrate his mother's birthday on June 17, when Shirley Wallace would be turning 74. But Owens' world came crashing down on July 20, 1975.

On that night around 11:25 p.m., about 30 minutes before closing time, Shirley Wallace and a second woman were working inside the Gentlemen's Retreat Massage Parlor at River Road and Northwest Expressway when a man walked inside.

"He first bound them, tied them up, and then proceeded to brutally murder Shirley Wallace," said detective Dave Silano with the Lane County Sheriff's Office.

The second woman was able to free herself and run next door to what was then a tavern called Office 290. Four men ran outside to help, but ran straight into the path of the killer, now armed with a rifle and firing shots.

"He hits two of them, which resulted in non-life threatening injuries to those two men before he got into his vehicle and traveled south on River Road," Silano said.

Forty-three years later, the killer remains free. Detectives and Wallace's family are clinging to hope, but are not confident.

"It's probably not going to get resolved," said Philip Owens, Wallace's son. "Would I like it to? Yes."

Silano said the best clue is the truck that sped away, headed south on River Road.

"Witnesses describe that vehicle as an approximately 1957 to 1960 Ford pickup which was red in color with a white stripe down the side, and possibly out of state license plates," Silano said.

Owens was just eleven years old when his mom was killed, and remembers getting news of his mother's death.

"My grandmother and grandfather came and picked us up at the house where we were staying, and told us what happened," Owens said.

He said he had a great life, but has regrets.

"Growing up, when you get a family, you want your kids to know their grandmother and they don't," Owens said. "But they were blessed to know their great-grandmother."

Wallace's younger sister Kathie Lymath says getting the news was devastating. She was living in eastern Oregon when her husband told her what happened.

She said she never thought the killer would not be caught.

"I'm sad because we never had any closure," Lymath said. "We never had any answers."

One thing Lymath knows for sure is Wallace missed out on a lot of great things.

"I'm sorry that she's missed out on watching her boys, and her grandkids, her great grandkids grow up," she said. "I mean, she would have loved that."

Owens said he's baffled the crime was never solved.

"It's just crazy to me that after 43 years you can't solve this case because of the information they had at the time," he said. "But it is what it is."

Owens said he's kind of let it go and knows detectives may be running out of time. Many witnesses have passed away or are aging.

"We're at that point now where people are in their 70s and 80s, and passing away," Owens said.

Silano agrees, and would love to get that one clue to bring Wallace's family closure. If it happens, it may not be the perfect world they all hope for, but it would be a better world and reason to celebrate a woman unable to celebrate her 74th birthday on June 17.

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