Aloha Man Arrested For 1974 High School Murders Thanks To Ballistics Evidence

A newspaper delivery driver observed them at Oak Hills Recreation Center in Beaverton just before 4 a.m.

Peter Zito, 18, lay close to a 1956 Oldsmobile’s driver’s door. Donald Bartron, 16, sat on the hood. He fixed the engine.

Aloha Man Arrested For 1974 High School Murders Thanks To Ballistics Evidence
Aloha Man Arrested For 1974 High School Murders Thanks To Ballistics Evidence

Students at Aloha High School were shot in the head many times.

1974-10-3

An Aloha man is charged with the murders 48 years later.

Washington County investigators arrested 65-year-old Steven Paul Criss.

Ballistic evidence from a gun Criss used to kill another guy in 1976 matches the killing of Bartron and Zito two years earlier.

It’s the oldest comparison and match on a prosecutable case, according to ATF.

Joseph Amir Wilson, 18, was apprehended 12 hours after the shootings. Wilson had been beaten at the rec center hours before the killings, and detectives felt he sought “revenge,” said sheriff’s detective Mark Povolny.

Wilson killed Donny and Pete in a case of mistaken identity, Povolny alleged.

Detectives said Wilson was near the shooting area that night and couldn’t account for his time until he took a taxi home.

Wilson denied involvement, and no evidence linked him to the shootings. Trace metal detection and neutron activation were used to identify if he recently fired a gun. In 1975, The Oregonian stated both tests were negative. Five independent polygraph analysts analyzed Wilson’s two lie detector exams.

Wilson’s charges were dropped after four months in jail. After his release, he finished high school at Aloha.

Wilson died of a heart attack at 43, according to his 2000 obituary.

Self-employed landscaper and First United Methodist Church member, obituary said. The Oregonian’s archives show that Wilson’s father was slain in Tehran, Iran, when he was 9 months old.

Sheriff Pat Garrett apologized to Wilson’s family for the unlawful arrest.

The sheriff’s office concluded Wilson was innocent and shouldn’t have been detained. The sheriff’s office hasn’t found any surviving family members to apologize personally.

Detective Jim Welch never felt Wilson was responsible for the killings, Povolny said. Povolny said Welch died 10 years ago.

Despite Wilson’s arrest, Welch maintained the inquiry.

Povolny acknowledged and thanked the late detective for his 1974 probe. “This crime wouldn’t have been solved without his police effort.”

Welch identified Criss as a suspect after learning Bartron worked with him at a restaurant. Criss, then 17, had “cause to be unhappy with Donny,” Povolny added.

Criss was arrested for theft two months after the shootings. Deputy Jim Spinden, subsequently elected Washington County sheriff, located a concealed.22-caliber handgun in Criss’ car and tested it the same day.

The crime lab said the gun wasn’t from Oak Hills Recreation Center. At the time, ballistics testing comprised comparing a test fire from a suspected pistol to a crime scene slug. Not foolproof. The sheriff’s office didn’t validate the test procedure from 1948.

Criss afterwards joined the U.S. Army and was stationed at Fort Lewis, Washington.

Criss killed Sgt. Jacob “Kim” Brown on Oct. 8, 1976.

Criss damaged Brown’s car and owed him $300. Povolny: “Instead of paying his obligation, he shot Sgt. Brown five times.”

Criss used the same weapon discovered in 1974. He pleaded guilty and received a 35-year military term. His 12-year sentence ended.

Because he confessed, the Washington County Sheriff’s Office never checked the ballistics, a spokeswoman said.

Crime labs lacked today’s technologies. 3-D imaging can match a bullet to a gun.

Since the 1970s, there have been significant technological advances, said sheriff’s deputy Brandon Toney.

This month, the Oregon State Police crime lab determined Criss’s 1974 gun was the same one used to kill Brown in 1976 and the teens in 1974.

Criss didn’t know Bartron and Zito personally, although they met at a restaurant earlier that day.

Criss was arrested Wednesday near his Aloha home after the match and other fresh evidence. Police stated he worked in Hillsboro.

A grand jury indicted Criss this week for two first-degree murders.

Detectives want to speak with anyone with information about the killings or Criss’ life since 1988; they’re examining whether he committed further homicides.

Zito’s mother, Faith, claimed he was a “kind boy” who loved his 1956 Oldsmobile and four cats. He dropped out of Aloha High School, where he was on the football team, and became a dishwasher, but he planned to attend Portland Community College.

Bartron’s mother, Irene Bartron, who died in 2017, stated detectives had worked hard on the case in 1975.

“We’re not bitter that no one’s been caught,” she remarked. “It’s unjust not knowing. Bitterness is painful.

Faith Zito said investigators were “great.”

1975 Faith Zito: “Justice will be done” God will decide the form.

 

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