PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — The torso murder remains one of the most gruesome cold cases in Portland history. In 1946, the dismembered body of a woman was found along the Willamette River.
Who was she? More than 70 years after the crime, the case remains a mystery.
“As much time has passed, 71 years, it’s still a brutal murder and that’s something people find interesting … gross as it is, gory as it is,” cold case Detective John Krummenacker said.
Krummenacker is haunted by the unsolved murder. He feels we may never know the identity of the murdered woman.
“Bodies in the river have never been that big of a news story because there are always bodies in the river,” Krummenacker said. “But to find a woman dismembered like that was very shocking in 1946.
Local authors JD Chandler and Joshua Fisher focus on Portland’s history of crime and corruption. Chandler believes he knows whose torso was found that April day — a woman named Anna Schrader.
“I’ve been interested in Anna Schrader for some time,” Chandler said. “I realized she disappeared right before the body parts started showing up in the river. And it really raised questions for me.”
It also raised questions for fellow crime writer Theresa Griffin-Kennedy.
“She was very competitive and she was a lively and engaged woman who wanted to go places,” Griffin-Kennedy said. “She had a real strong sense of her own identity but she was also insecure because she only had a sixth grade education, so she felt very inferior to a lot of people in Portland.”
Schrader soon made her mark when she began an affair with a Portland police lieutenant named William Breunning.
“They were both married. They knew each other for several years before they became involved,” Griffin-Kennedy said. “I think she was impressed with William Breunning because he was a lieutenant. He was a police officer, he had a snazzy uniform. It was better than her railroad worker husband and I think there was part of her who was a social climber and she wanted to go on to bigger and better things.”
Griffin-Kennedy said Schrader wanted Breunning to leave his wife.
“He had a wife and child and he wasn’t going to leave his wife and child for a woman who had been married twice already,” Griffin-Kennedy said.
In 1929, Breunning called off the affair and an argument between them led to gunfire.
“They struggle, the gun goes off, he jumps on her with his knees and breaks a couple ribs,” Griffin-Kennedy said. “She is arrested and sues for alienation of affections. It was huge, it was a huge scandal. It was very titillating.”
Newspapers carried every twist and turn in the story. Acting as her own attorney, Schrader won her lawsuit and Breunning lost his job. It became a scandal that rocked the city, but there was more. Schrader said she had incriminating evidence against Portland police.
“She had the ‘little black book’ and she said in 1929, when all of this happened, she had information that would ‘rock Portland’ and she had been referring to her records that she had been keeping for a number of years,” Griffin-Kennedy said.
During the scandal, Leon Jenkins was Portland’s chief of police. Griffin-Kennedy said Schrader admired Jenkins, but during the trial, he sided with the department. Schrader felt betrayed and in the 1940s, Jenkins returned as chief and Griffin-Kennedy thinks that rekindled Schrader’s desire to share her ‘little black book.’
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“That sparked her anger and she may have decided she was going to leave Portland and go to Minnesota and maybe mail the black book back to the Oregonian and finally keep her world and expose the corruption in the Portland Police Bureau,” Griffin-Kennedy said.
Was Anna Schrader tortured, killed and dismembered to stop her from going public? It’s an interesting theory, but there is circumstantial evidence. Around the time the torso was found, someone ran an ad in the Oregonian searching for a missing person named “Ann Schrader.” Anna sometimes went by “Ann,” and Fisher thinks the ad is just too coincidental.
“I think one of the big key pieces of evidence is the notice in the Oregonian that ran about the same time, in April ’46,” Fisher said. “Looking for Ann Schrader. Anna Schrader. To me that seems interesting that that would coincide so directly.”
Griffin-Kennedy also believes Schrader fits the description of the grisly remains. The body was thought to be between 5-foot-2 and 5-foot-4, between 140 and 150 pounds with small eyes, bushy eyebrows and high cheekbones. The authors say that description fits Schrader. The skull found in the river also had its hair pinned up in curls, and Schrader wore her hair in ringlets.
The simple fact is that no trace of Anna Schrader has been found since 1946. No death record, no census records, nothing.
For Fisher and Chandler, the torso case remains one of their most fascinating subjects to write about. Griffin-Kennedy still works to uncover any new bit of information on the case and on Anna Schrader.
Cold case detective John Krummenacker said he can’t rule this theory out, but he has reservations.
“The thing I have to remember anytime you’re dealing with a case, especially with an unknown identity is you can’t allow your theory to dictate your facts,” Krummenacker said. “The facts have to dictate your theory.”