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As It Was: Unsuspecting Motorist Offers Ride to Unlikely Killer

Driving home one day in 1941, Archie McVay of Harbor, Ore., saw Willis Belknap walking beside the road.

Belknap was a popular figure in the community, skilled at lending basic medical assistance and known for helping others in need, whether friend or stranger.  He was also a creature of habit, routinely taking meals with his neighbors, Mr. and Mrs. James “Bozo” Cole.

McVay pulled up next to Belknap and offered him a lift.  Without a word, Belknap opened the car door, sat down next to McVay and placed a 45-caliber handgun on the seat.

Startled but not wanting to appear nervous, McVay began to chatter about the weather.

Belknap responded by saying, “I just shot ‘Bozo’ Cole.”  He then asked to be taken to the public telephone to contact the Sheriff.  McVay didn’t hesitate to oblige him.

Belknap’s disclosure of the shooting was an understatement. The Coroner’s said he fired six times to kill Cole.

The motive was never clear, but it was popular opinion that Belknap felt Cole’s treatment of his wife was intolerable.  He spent the remainder of his life in the Oregon State Prison.

Source: Adams, Mike. Chetco - The Story of the River and Its People. Chetco Valley Historical Society, 2011, p. 91.

Laurel earned a Bachelor’s degree in Geography from Humboldt State. Her research efforts as a volunteer for the Curry Historical Society produced numerous newsletter articles and exhibits and earned her a reputation as a seasoned local history buff. Laurel is the author of "Renderings from the Gold Beach Pioneer Cemetery", a 50-page booklet containing a walking tour and snippets about the lives and times of folks buried there. She is also a contributing writer to Oregon Coast Magazine.