Prior to last week’s shootings in Roseburg, Klamath Falls had the unfortunate distinction of having the largest mass murder in Oregon history.
James Williamson worked as a dishwasher at Kitty’s Steak Pit, which later became Uncle Albert’s.
Dewitt Henry shot and killed six people there in July of 1977.
Williamson witnessed an argument that may have triggered the shootings…
“They were fighting about a bill, a bar bill that Dewitt owed Bill Ransom – and he refused to pay it, and about that time, Bill hit him.”
Williamson says he saw Dewitt Henry on the way out…
“And he looked at me and said, ‘I always liked you – just get on out of here.’ I knew when he was drunk you didn’t want to mess with the man, so I left.”
Dewitt Henry then shot and killed six people.
“One of them was a pregnant woman.” Notes Klamath County Museum Manager Todd Kepple. “Four of those who were killed graduated from Bonanza High School, so it hit that community particularly hard.”
Dewitt Henry also shot at two state troopers who eventually took him into custody.
Williamson didn’t know what happened until the following day…
“I went to work the next day, and heard he had set there with his rifle, and shot people as they walked out the door right after I left.”
Henry was convicted of six counts of murder.
He’s now serving a life sentence.
“So there are a lot of people in town that still remember the victims, remember the incident.” Adds Todd Kepple. “It brings back a lot of very unpleasant memories.”
Dewitt Henry was found ‘guilty’ in Multnomah County Court in 1979, and was sentenced to six life terms in prison.
The death sentence was not an option in Oregon at that time.
KOTI-TV NBC2 reporter Lyle Ahrens moved from Nebraska to Klamath Falls in the late 1970’s. He instantly fell in love with the mountains, the trees and the rivers, and never once regretted the move.Lyle’s job history is quite colorful.
He’s managed a pizza parlor; he’s been a bartender, and a “kiwifruit grader” at an organic orchard in New Zealand. A Klamath Falls radio station hired Lyle in the mid 90’s as a news writer and commercial producer. In 2004, Lyle joined the KOTI/KOBI news operation.Lyle notes with pride that he has a big responsibility presenting the Klamath Basin to a wide and varied audience.
“The on-going water crisis has underscored the fact that the people and the issues in the Klamath Basin are every bit as diverse as the terrain. Winning and keeping the trust of the viewers, as well as the newsmakers, is something I strive for with each story”.
When he’s not busy reporting the news, Lyle enjoys astronomy, playing guitar, fixing old radios and listening to anything by Sheryl Crow.