It was a warm autumn day in 1961, a year before a study of the basic structure of DNA would win a Nobel Prize for medicine, a time when fingerprinting was still an exciting development in crime scene investigation.
The bodies of Roy W. and Loretta I. Madison, 67 and 64, were found in a second-floor bedroom of their First Avenue home on Normal Hill on a Saturday afternoon. Both had been shot once with a .22 caliber weapon, possibly a revolver that Roy Madison had built himself.
For almost 50 years, Peter Madison, 76, believed the story that was prevalent at the time. It was likely someone passing through had killed his parents, stolen their car and wrecked it near Dodge Junction, then hitchhiked into a nearby town and disappeared.
Then, two years ago, he moved back to Lewiston and started hearing stories that police had known all those years who likely killed the Madisons, but they couldn't gather enough evidence to get a conviction.
The name he heard was Vaughn Christy, a young man who four years after the Madisons' deaths is believed to have shot and killed his mother and stepfather in the bedroom of their home near Gifford. Their car also was taken, and seven days later, Christy, who was about 22, was found dead in the backseat of the vehicle 14 miles north of Phoenix. He had died of an overdose of the insulin he took to control his diabetes.
After his death, Lewiston police sent his fingerprints to the FBI to compare with some from the Madison case. It was the same procedure they had followed with many other possible suspects. Christy's didn't match any collected in the Madison home or car. Neither did any of the others.
Several connections exist between families
There were a few links between the various parties.
Both couples were active in the Catholic church, where Loretta Madison had a leadership role in numerous activities. Roy Madison hand-carved the wooden crosses at each of the Stations of the Cross at St. Stanislaus. His name still is on the donor plaque at the entrance to the church, and on Veterans Memorial Bridge in Asotin, which was dedicated to those who served in World War I.
Harry Christy, Vaughn's grandfather, was an insurance agent who had at least a business relationship with the Madisons. Roy Madison was a friend of well-known writer Jack O'Connor, and he loved guns, building them, trading them, cleaning them. Peter Madison was told Vaughn had a fascination with guns, and he would have known about Roy Madison's gun collection.
In the Lewiston police file is a single-page statement from then Tribune photographer Art Andrews. It says a few days after the Vincents died, Andrews told police that on the day the Madisons were killed four years earlier, he had been standing outside the fence at their home when he was approached by a man and a woman. The woman asked him if it was murder or suicide, if the weapon was a knife or gun, and if the luggage was in the house. Then she went inside, saying she wanted to talk to the two priests who were there.
Not until he saw the photographs of Christy's parents, Marvella and Franklin Vincent, after their deaths did he realize they were the same people, Andrews said.
The two priests were contacted by police, but both said they couldn't remember details of the visit.
Lewiston police worked the case for years, questioning numerous people, repeatedly sending fingerprints to the FBI, having weapons test-fired for ballistics comparisons, and requesting information from law enforcement as far away as Florida when cases seemed to have similarities. They seemed likely to have identified the killer at least once, maybe twice, but blood spatters came back negative and bullets and fingerprints didn't match.
Case classified as active - but cold
Police work was different in those days. Retired Nez Perce County Sheriff Ron Koeper, whose name appears on one report, said he was probably working juvenile cases then, and it wasn't the practice 50 years ago to brief the entire force on what was happening. "In those days, they kept things pretty quiet." He remembers little about the case.
Part of the problem, said Detective Sgt. Jeff Arneson, a 25-year veteran of the force, "is we thought different." The use of fingerprints was relatively new, and DNA was unthought of as evidence. Things that might have been of use with modern forensics weren't kept.
The Madison case has remained classified as active, but it grew cold, another name on the list of unsolved murders.
Under Arneson's direction, boxes of old murder files are being put into digital format to preserve them and potentially make them more accessible if something new turns up as it does occasionally, like the recent release of records by the Boy Scouts of America.
In October of this year, Christy's name appeared on the list released by the Boy Scouts in response to a lawsuit alleging cover-up of sexual abuse within the organization. The allegations, apparently never investigated or substantiated, said simply that in 1962 he had been found in a "compromising situation with other young men," and he was fired as an assistant scoutmaster.
Memories of the past brought to light
A story about the Boy Scout release and recounting the death of Christy's parents appeared in the Tribune a few weeks ago. It "opened something inside me that I had shut down in 1961," Peter Madison said.
That story also brought back a memory for Jim Collier of Lewiston. He was stationed with the U.S. Army on Okinawa, Japan, from late 1972 to early 1974. One day in the military newspaper Stars and Stripes he saw a story about Lewiston, he said. He remembers Vaughn Christy's name and the story making a connection between the Madison and Vincent murders.
"It sticks in my mind in that article that it said they didn't look at Christy because of his age," Collier said of the Madison case.
It made quite an impression on him, one that almost lasted 40 years, because it was something from home, he said.
An attempt to find the story in Stars and Stripes' archives was unsuccessful, but if it appeared in Overseas Weekly, a 1970s publication that tended to focus on crime stories, it might not have been archived, Catharine Giordano, of the Stars and Stripes library in Washington, D.C., said last week.
Peter Madison and his wife moved from Seattle to California in 1962 to be near her parents. He was dealing with his own devils by then. He became desperately ill, and finally a doctor told him he simply wasn't dealing with his parents' deaths.
He learned to set it aside. He and his wife raised their five children, and he embraced her parents as the only grandparents his children would ever have.
The siblings dealt in different ways. They had been raised by devoutly Catholic parents, but over the years, they all left for different churches.
Suspects identified and ruled out over the years
Four of the adult children were living in other cities when their parents died. The youngest, now Kris McKarcher of Clarkston, had moved from her parents' home to Seattle just a week before the murders. The two oldest, James Madison and Joan Thornton, along with Peter Madison, were already in Seattle.
The middle son, Mike Madison, was at work in Clarkston when he was called by police after the wrecked car was found. He discovered the bodies. He and another brother, James, were among at least a couple dozen people treated as suspects, but ruled out over time, according to the Lewiston police file.
There's a family story that about 10 years after the deaths, Mike, who is no longer living, was involved in a prison ministry at Walla Walla and went to an open house given by the warden. The story he told Peter Madison was that there was a display of weapons, among them a .22 revolver with a hand-carved grip. He said he told the warden to look inside the action and his father's initials, RWM, would be there. Mike said they were.
Peter Madison remembers the weapon. It was the only one missing from his father's collection, and was believed to have been the murder weapon. But there is no record in the Lewiston police file that Mike or the warden brought it to the police department's attention.
"If the warden didn't contact Lewiston police, I question whether it's true," Peter Madison said.
The Lewiston police file doesn't indicate that Vaughn Christy was an early suspect. It includes at least a couple dozen names, but they are the younger daughter's boyfriends, a man who lived with the family as a teenager until Loretta Madison made a disparaging remark about his mother drinking, and people who were suspects or arrested in other crimes.
Motive for the murder remains unanswered
Loretta Madison was a wonderful person, but she also could be difficult and controlling, Peter Madison said. "My memories of her are so wonderful, but she rubbed some people the wrong way."
She was a teacher at Holy Family School in Clarkston, active in Democratic Party politics and once got her photograph in Life magazine in a story about the local conflict over dam-building in Hells Canyon.
His father was parts manager at Idaho Cletrac until about five years before his death. "The gentlest, most sensitive man who ever lived. Wouldn't hurt a fly," Peter Madison said.
He fought in World War I and was sent home to die after a mustard gas attack. He credited his recovery to becoming a cowboy in the Blue Mountains, where the air was fresh and clear. He also had been expected to die when a screw penetrated his brain in a car collision a couple blocks from his Normal Hill home about five years before his death. He suffered from severe headaches and occasional blackouts for the rest of his life, but continued to work as a night watchman, unwilling to do nothing while his wife worked.
Both parents had incredibly good values, Peter Madison said. "I developed a love for work as a blessing and a privilege."
Fifty-one years later, one of the couple's children is dead, two are in nursing homes, one declined to talk about the case, and Peter Madison is writing a family history.
He is left, after all this time, with no anger and little pain, and no certainty about who killed his parents. He would just like to know why. Why did his mother and father die Sept. 23, 1961?
Lee may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or (208) 848-2266.