Oregon man indicted for murder in 1974 shooting deaths of 2 teens
A 65-year-old Oregon man and convicted murderer has been arrested in connection with a 1974 double-murder of two teenagers, a case that went cold after ballistic evidence could not be linked to any suspects at the time, authorities said Friday. The suspect, an Army veteran, previously served 12 years in prison in the 1976 shooting death of his commanding officer.
Steven Paul Criss was indicted by a grand jury on two counts of second-degree murder in the Oct. 3, 1974, shooting deaths of 16-year-old Donald Bartron and 18-year-old Peter Zito Jr., in a recreation center parking lot in the Oak Hills community just west of Portland, the Washington County Sheriff’s Office announced in a press conference Friday. Criss was arrested Wednesday near his Portland-area home.
Bartron and Zito Jr. were both shot multiple times in the head with a 0.22 caliber gun while working on a 1956 Oldsmobile, the sheriff’s office said. The bodies of both teens were found next to the vehicle, which had its hood and trunk popped open.
During the investigation, a detective found out Bartron worked with Criss at the Black Angus restaurant, and that Criss had a reason to be upset with both victims, the sheriff’s office said.
Criss was arrested for theft in December 1974, and became an early suspect in the case after authorities found an illegally concealed 0.22 caliber handgun in his possession, sheriff’s Det. Mark Povolny said Friday. The gun was tested by a crime lab, but did not come up as a match for the one used in the slayings, the sheriff’s office said.
However, Criss’ gun became the center of an investigation into another shooting death less which occurred about two years later. In 1976, Criss joined the U.S. Army and was assigned to Fort Lewis in Washington state, the sheriff’s office said. In October of 1976, his commanding officer, Sgt. Jacob “Kim” Brown, was shot and killed. Investigators determined that Criss used that same gun to shoot and kill Brown, Povolny said Friday.
At the time, investigators learned that Criss had borrowed Brown’s car and damaged it, Povolny explained, but instead of paying a few hundred dollars for the repairs, Criss shot Brown five times in the head.
Criss pled guilty to murder in Brown’s shooting and was sentenced to 35 years in prison. However, he was released in 1988, after serving just 12 years, Povolny said.
Recently, Washington County detectives decided to take another look at the ballistic testing that was performed on that same gun 50 years ago in unsolved murders of Zito and Bartron. After submitting the evidence to the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives, investigators received notice that Criss’ gun was a presumptive match.
Following more tests at the Oregon State Police Forensic Lab, authorities determined that the gun Criss used to kill Brown was the same weapon used in the murders of Bartron and Zito Jr.
“To date, this is the oldest known match nationwide the ATF has ever confirmed for a prosecutable case,” Povolny said Friday.
Zito Jr.’s sister, Barbara, was present at Friday’s news conference. Washington County Sheriff Pat Garrett thanked her and the family of the victims for their patience in their pursuit of justice.
“I want to acknowledge the loss of your loved ones many years ago and what you’ve had to endure waiting for today,” Garrett said.