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Roseburg Dentist Denies Murder, Hangs Himself


Even after being convicted and sentenced to hang, Roseburg dentist Dr. Richard Brumfield insisted he could never have committed the grisly 1921 murder of hired-hand Dennis Russell.

Specially installed telegraph lines carried news across the country as investigators pieced together clues to Oregon’s most sensational crime up to that time.

The prosecution said Brumfield’s motive was to collect on his own life insurance policy by staging a car accident in which his body was burned beyond recognition.  To do it, Brumfield allegedly lured Russell by hiring him to dynamite some stumps on Brumfield’s farm near the community of Melrose west of Roseburg. The dentist picked up Russell at his shack, drove him to a remote spot, shot and killed him, removed his jawbones and teeth, ran the car off the road and set fire to it and Russell’s body. 

Brumfield’s wife identified the charred body as her husband’s, but investigators confirmed it was Russell’s and tracked Brumfield to Alberta, Canada, where he was working as a farmhand.  There was evidence suggesting he had intended to catch a freighter for Australia disguised as a woman. 

Brumfield killed himself in his jail cell on Sept. 13, 1922.


Sources: Good, Don. "The Brumfield Murder Case." Douglas County Historical Society. 3 Jan. 2011. Web. 19 Feb. 2015. ;  Morrow, Jason L. "Dr. Richard Brumfield, 1921." Historical Crime Detective. Ed. Jason L. Morrow. 16 Jan. 2015. Web. 19 Feb. 2015. .

Kernan Turner is the Southern Oregon Historical Society’s volunteer editor and coordinator of the As It Was series broadcast daily by Jefferson Public Radio. A University of Oregon journalism graduate, Turner was a reporter for the Coos Bay World and managing editor of the Democrat-Herald in Albany before joining the Associated Press in Portland in 1967. Turner spent 35 years with the AP before retiring in Ashland.