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Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Argument - Robbery
Number of victims: 2
Date of murder: 1916 / August 24, 1933
Date of birth: ???
Victim profile: A man / Jessie Koehler
Method of murder: Beating with an ax
Location: Baker County, Oregon, USA
Status: Committed suicide by severing a vein at his cell

The Telltale Palm Print

Baker residents were horrified and perplexed by the brutal murder of one of the town's most respected citizens, but none more so than Baker County Sheriff Henry McKenney.

The battered, bloody body of Jessie Koehler, wife of Dr. Albert Koehler, a prominent Baker physician, was discovered by a neighbor near the backyard of the Koehler's country home outside of Baker on the morning of Aug. 24, 1933.

A deputy coroner who examined the body told McKinney the elderly woman had been shot in the breast with a .32caliber revolver, but the wound was not fatal. He concluded the killer finished the job by slashing her head and body with one or more sharp objects.

Deputies searching the property for possible clues to the killing discovered several blood-stained objects -- a broken beer bottle not far from the body, broken bricks a short distance away and an old ax in some bushes alongside the house.

But none of these clues explained the motive for this grisly murder. Jessie Koehler was a dearly-loved member of the Baker community, noted for charity work in helping the needy. A faithful church-goer who devoted countless hours to church works and community service. Everyone who knew her liked Jessie Kohler, which puzzled McKinney and Capt. Lee Noe of the Oregon State Police, chief investigators in the case. Noe had been Malheur County Sheriff from 1919 to 1925.

The victim's clothing had been disarranged, but the autopsy later revealed she was not sexually assaulted by her attacker. The house had not been ransacked, obut deputies discovered the victim's purse laying on a table in the living room had been looted.

Tire marks found outside the Koehler home, not far from the body, led investigators to believe the killer, or killers, entered and left the Koehler property by car or truck. But they discovered that one of the vehicles was a taxicab which had come to the Koehler residence the night before to take Dr. Koehler into town.

The physician was quickly cleared as a possible suspect, however, after one of the Koehler's neighbors told investigators Dr. Koehler was just leaving in the taxi when she arrived at the Koehler residence about 8:30 p.m. the night of Aug. 23. The neighbor said she chatted with Jessie Koehler for about an hour before leaving for home.

McKinney and Noe uncovered few helpful leads during their initial interview with the victim's husband. Dr. Koehler said his wife had no enemies he could think of and he could not recall anyone ever threatening his wife. The physician said he saw $25 in his wife's purse when he asked her for change to pay taxicab fare into town the night before.

Dr. Koehler was convinced robbery was the murder motive, but McKinney and Noe were not so sure. The cold-blooded shooting and mutilation of the victim made McKinney suspect revenge as the motive for Jessie Koehler's murder.

Investigators learned the bricks and ax were so badly smeared with blood that crime analysts could not lift any legible fingerprints. But the broken beer bottle did yield a palm print. Still, McKinney and Noe found little encouragement in the findings.

The days and weeks that followed produced a smattering of leads on possible suspects -- drifters who had wandered into the area looking for work, a few suspicious transients looking for quick money and a place to bed down. But none of the leads materialized. Even the tire marks found near the body were from a standard brand of tires used by most popular cars of the day, with no distinguishing marks.

In desperation, McKinney and Noe turned back to Dr. Koehler for help. Could he think of someone -- anyone at all -who might want to harm his wife, they asked the physician? After considerable thought, the doctor came up with a name out of the past: Dave Brichoux.

Brichoux was the brother of his first wife, Dr. Koehler told the investigators. He had visited the Koehlers several times after being paroled from prison, the physician added. But, no, it couldn't have been Dave Brichoux, said Dr. Koehler. He liked Jessie.

Noe instantly recognized the name Dave Brichoux. He was a Deputy Sheriff in Malheur County in 1916 when he arrested Brichoux for killing a man during an argument. Brichoux was sentenced to life in prison, but Noe was not aware he had been paroled.

Dr. Koehler told the lawmen Brichoux had been working on a farm 10 miles outside of Baker and seldom came into town. The investigators went to the farm but learned Brichoux had quit his job several days earlier and moved away. With Koehler' s help, however, they were able to track Brichoux to Placerville, Idaho.

When confronted with information about Jessie Koehler' s murder, Brichoux immediately denied any involvement in the crime, or that he was even near the Koehler residence when she was murdered. Although his palm print matched the one found on the broken beer bottle, Brichoux claimed he had cut himself while picking up bottles around the Koehler country home for Jessie Koehler.

Further investigation revealed Brichoux had used the car of the farmer he worked for in Baker on the night Jessie Koehler was killed. But the key evidence uncovered by McKinney and Noe was a letter written by Brichoux to a fellow prison inmate. In it, Brichoux wrote his intention to get some money and buy a farm. It continued:

"There's a person in Baker who owes me plenty. She's the wife of the man who used to be married to my sister. I figure I'm entitled to some part of the money my sister should have got -- and I'm going to collect it."

McKinney confronted Brichoux with the incriminating letter and presented his own theory on how the murder occurred: Brichoux tried to get the money from Jessie Koehler and she refused. An argument broke out. He threatened her with a gun, but she would not back down. He shot her, but she was still alive. He broke a beer bottle over her head, then gashed her with it. When she continued to straggle, he picked up the bricks and smashed her face, then went into the woodshed to get the ax to finish the job.

Although Brichoux refused to talk, first-degree murder charges were filed against him. But Dave Brichoux never went to trial. His body was discovered the following morning in his jail cell. He had committed suicide by severing a vein in his right wrist with one of the knives issued inmates during dinner the night before. Jail officials suspect Brichoux sharpened the knife's dull edge by running up and down against the stone wall of his jail cell.



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