It was the evening of April 16, 1922. Russell Hecker had an opportunity to get between 15 and 20 cases of Johnny Walker Black Label whiskey for $85 per case. “Bob” was his liquor connection. Frank Bowker had the cash. The plan was to meet “Bob” and purchase the liquor on an isolated road between Gladstone and Oregon City.
According to his courtroom testimony, Hecker borrowed a car and a .45 automatic and met up with Bowker at the Oregon Hotel in Portland. Bowker had about $1400 for the liquor and also came strapped with a .38. His brother Albert Bowker volunteered to come along, but Hecker made it clear that “Bob” was expecting only two. As soon as the transaction was complete, they all agreed to meet back up at 82nd and Division Street with the whiskey an hour later.
On the way to the meeting point, Bowker suggested that they stick up the bootlegger, take the liquor and keep the money. Hecker said no. An agreement was made and they were going to stick to it. When they arrived at the meeting spot, Hecker signaled “Bob” with the car’s spotlight. Bowker misinterpreted the gesture and accused Hecker of trying to double-cross him. Hecker said he was not and then Hecker claimed that Bowker cried: “Hecker, you are double-crossing me, you little son-of-a-bitch, I will shoot you.”
Things got very messy very quickly. Hecker testified Bowker shot at him, just missing him. He fired back and then there was blood everywhere. Hecker wasn’t sure what to do. He rifled through the dead man’s pockets, relieving him of identification, put Bowker’s lifeless body in a hop sack he acquired for transporting the liquor and after driving around most of the night, dumped Bowker’s body in the Calapooia River near Albany. He tried to clean up himself and the car before returning to Portland. He was arrested and taken into police custody soon after.
It was a convincing story, but the evidence cast doubt in the minds of the jury: going through Bowker’s pockets; a witness testifying that they only heard one shot, not two; the missing bullet from the first alleged shot; the convenience of the hop sack; the bullet entering through the back of Bowker’s head; and what about “Bob?”
The jury deliberated for about one hour before delivering the verdict guilty of first degree murder. Whether it was premeditated or self-defense, the evidence against him was simply too compelling. Judge James Campbell sentenced 24 year old Russell Hecker to death by hanging.
Hecker appealed to the Oregon Supreme Court and after the conviction was affirmed, he was taken to the Oregon State Penitentiary. On May 24, 1924, his sentence was commuted to life in prison by Governor Pierce. His sentence was again commuted to imprisonment for 20 years and he was released on September 20, 1937.