Robin Allen Hughes
(February 22, 1959 - July 14, 1988)

CLARENCE CENTER, NY – Robin Allen Hughes, 29, of Corvallis, OR, is believed to have died on or about Thursday July 14, 1988 on Swan Lake Rim near Hagelstein Park, Klamath County, OR. Reports indicated Robin departed his former Mother-in-law's residence in Albany, OR at approximately 3:30 pm, en route to Waynesboro, VA via Reno, NV.

NOTE (2020-12-30): The Oregon Death Index, 1903-1998, provides a record for Robin indicating a birth date of February 22, 1959 and a death date of May 2, 1990, presumably the death date is the date a logging company employee found Robin’s skull.

[State of Oregon Certificate of Death (State File Number 90-13223)]

Corvallis man's skull found

KLAMATH FALLS (AP) – Authorities have identified a skull found outside Klamath Falls as the remains of a Corvallis man missing for nearly two years.

The skull was found by a logging company employee last Thursday on Swan Lake Rim near Hagelstein Park.

District Attorney Ed Caleb said a comparison with dental records confirmed the identity as Robin Hughes, 30, of Corvallis.

Hughes was moving from Corvallis to live with his parents in Virginia when he disappeared during July 1988, Caleb said.

Hughes car was found in the Swan Lake area, about a mile from where the skull was found, a few weeks after he disappeared. Inside were his wallet, identification cards and money.

The cause of death remained under investigation, Caleb said.

A search of the area failed to turn up any other remains.

[Corvallis Gazette Times – Corvallis, Oregon – Tuesday May 8, 1990 – Page 3]

The mysterious death of Robin Hughes

Corvallis man sought new life in Virginia, but never arrived

First of three parts

Robin Hughes thought he was off to a new life that July afternoon in 1988 when he drove his overloaded, 10-year-old yellow Datsun out of Corvallis.

It was the last trip he would ever make in the battered B-210.

Every bit of space in the car was filled, even the passenger seat. Boxes, blankets, power tools, coolers, a Sears telephone, a Kenmore microwave oven and a Hamilton Beach coffee maker all helped clutter the inside of the little car.

A homemade plywood carrier was on the car roof, and two girls bicycles one purple, one pink with training wheels were strapped on back. Extra springs had to be added to the car to carry the weight.

Hughes was leaving behind a troubled life marked by the suicide of his ex-wife six weeks earlier. In some ways, he resembled the car: battered and overloaded, but still plugging along.

The friends who saw him last, though, said Hughes was optimistic as he left Corvallis. He had kicked a methamphetamine habit and had passed monthly drug tests to prove it. He had a construction Job waiting for him in Virginia. Also waiting there were his three blond-haired children, ages 3, 6 and 7. He told the kids he would call now and then as he drove cross-country, so they could trace his progress with pens on a map.

But the ink line on that map would not extend very far. Hughes would be dead within 24 hours of leaving Corvallis.

Two years later, his death remains a mystery. Theories include grief-driven suicide, simple accident and drug-related murder.

Most of his friends and family reject the suicide theory. Hughes was happy to be leaving Corvallis, they say. He was handling his ex-wife's death well. He loved his children and was worried about how they were handling their mother's death.

He spent weeks packing his car, marking his route and talking about his first stop, Reno, where he planned to gamble for the first time. That's not the behavior of a suicidal person, his family says.

A year of bad luck

Bad luck haunted Robin Hughes through 1987 and 1988.

His wife of seven years, Mary, left him in May 1987. Their divorce became final in January 1988, Upset over the divorce and with custody of the three children, his studies at Oregon State University foundered. He was trying to get off methamphetamines. Then, on June 8, 1988, Mary was found dead in the driver's seat of her cream-colored 1964 El Camino, an apparent suicide in the driveway of the Salem-area home she shared with her boyfriend.

There wasn't much to keep Hughes in Corvallis. He left on July 14, anxious to start a new life in Virginia.

But his trip ended atop a lonely ridge near Klamath Lake, at a spot where a remote clearcut intersects with a dirt logging road.

It was here, in a rough country marked by thick pine stands, small mountain meadows and the bone- white carcasses of long-dead trees, that Hughes car was recovered on Aug. 7, 1988.

It wasn't until May 3, 1990, that any trace of Hughes himself was found, when a logger working about a mile southeast of where the car was found glanced at the ground. At his feet was a human skull, later identified as Hughes'.

Police in Klamath County are investigating the death as a suicide. They believe he was despondent over his wife's death and killed himself. Before he left Corvallis, Hughes wrote a letter to a friend that may have suggested suicide.

Accidental death is another possibility, friends and family say. Police have suggested that a black bear might have attacked and killed him. Some family members say he may have accidentally overdosed, or died of hypothermia, or met with any of a host of possible accidents.

Murder is the final theory. Many of the same friends and family members believe it possible that someone may have killed Hughes, perhaps because of information he knew about a Salem-area methamphetamine operation. According to Mary's family, a member of that network was his ex-wife's new lover, Curtis Beardsley.

Rumors circulated among Mary's family that an off-duty police officer somehow involved in the drug business had been present the night Mary died. But no evidence to back that up has ever surfaced.

No one knows what sort of information, if any, Robin had about drug operations. If he did have such information, he never shared it with anyone close to him.

A 'reverse Midas touch'

The words people use now to describe Robin Hughes paint a picture of an introverted man. Shy and quiet. Stubborn. Not given to sharing his feelings or problems. The type who could withdraw to the point he could be alone in a crowd.

A "nurturing father" who considered his children the one consistent bright spot in his life, said several friends.

Friendly, easygoing, likeable, naive, but a hard-luck case in many ways, said his older brother, Scott Hughes.

"He was the kind of person who had to jump-start the car every morning," Scott said. "He kind of had the reverse Midas touch."

Despite a nine-year age difference, Robin and Scott were close. Scott left Corvallis in 1989 after earning a doctorate in geology from Oregon State University, where, among other projects, he did research on moon rocks brought back from an Apollo mission.

One of the reasons Robin came to Corvallis in 1978 was to be near his brother.

Ten years later. Corvallis held little appeal for Robin Hughes. Mary's death hit him hard, his brother said. Despite the divorce, Hughes always believed that Mary – known as "Murphy" to friends and family – would come back to him.

He believed that right up to the time the gun went off in the driver's seat of Mary's canopied El Camino, his friends said.

But while his grief was obvious, his friends and family thought he handled it well.

"It was a clean type of sadness. Despondency wasn't the word for it," said Christine Moore, director of Corvallis Community Day Care.

Moore befriended Hughes after he began taking his children to the First United Methodist Church for day care following his divorce. She was probably the last person in Corvallis to see him alive. He wasn't suicidal, she said.

Vivian Golightly, Scott's wife and Robin's close friend, spotted no signs of impending suicide.

"When Murphy died, he was grieving very deeply, but that's all it was, grief," said Golightly, a chemist who, like Scott, worked at OSU. "It wasn't any kind of warped ... anything. It was grief."

Before leaving Corvallis, Hughes spent several days with Mary's nephew, Kevin Williford, and his wife, Tracy. Tracy was very close to Mary, and grew close to Robin after Mary's death.

Like the others, Tracy said Robin was depressed about Mary's death, but never struck her as being suicidal.

Neither does she think someone killed him. Tracy thinks it unlikely that there were any ties between the drug network and Hughes' death.

But there was something on Hughes' mind in the early weeks of July, something that went beyond grief. Those close to him spotted it, but true to character, Hughes didn't talk about it.

"Something was bothering him, but I could never get him to say what," said Scott Hughes. He believes it may have had something to do with a Salem drug operation.

"Deep down, I suspect that someone may have wanted to do him some harm" because of what he knew, Scott said.

Mary's older brother, Ernest Williford of Brownsville, also noticed a change in Robin. He last saw Robin at a July 4 family gathering.

"Robin was scared, it was easy to see. He was scared to death of something," Ernest said.

Loal Williford, Mary's mother, said Robin was uneasy the last time she saw him. Robin stopped at her Albany home just before he headed south on Interstate 5.

Robin paced the floor and made several false starts at leaving, Loal Williford said.

She recalls Hughes saying, "It seems like there’s something I need to tell you, but I can't say what."

At the time, she took it to mean that he just couldn't remember what he wanted to say.

Later, however, she wondered. Hughes may have been trying to tell her something but just couldn't get it out, she said.

Hughes never did say what was on his mind. He drove the overloaded Datsun away from the Williford home at about 3:30 p.m. July 14, 1988.

Neither knew it as he said his goodbyes, but it was the last time any of his family or friends would see Robin Hughes alive.

TOMORROW: Suicide and a stranger

[Corvallis Gazette Times – Corvallis, Oregon – Sunday June 24, 1990 – Pages 1, 8]

Two deaths within six weeks

Ex-wife’s sketchy suicide precedes Hughes’ mysterious death

Second of three parts

A strange thing happened to Steve Williford as he was riding a Greyhound bus from Nebraska to his sister's funeral in Albany.

A stranger began telling him how his sister died.

His sister, Mary "Murphy" Hughes, had died June 8, 1988, of a gunshot wound to the head in her pickup parked in the driveway of the Salem-area home she shared with a methamphetamine user wanted by police.

Her death is labeled a suicide. She had been arguing with her boyfriend all day. A suicide note was found. Three people at the house, none of whom witnessed the shooting, said no one was near the truck when the gun went off. But the story told by the stranger on the bus – and a later telephone conversation between the stranger and Mary's sister – left many in Mary's family wondering what really happened that June night in the driveway of the small house on Lancaster Drive.

Just as another mysterious death 200 miles away would leave friends and family wondering. Wondering if there was some relationship between Mary's death and that of her ex-husband, Robin Hughes of Corvallis.

Robin and Mary Hughes, married for seven years, divorced for five months, were dead within six weeks of each other.

Fight leads to suicide

When they separated in May 1987, Robin and Mary had three young children and two methamphetamine habits.

Mary left Robin and moved in with Curtis Beardsley, a friend of the Hugheses who had been known to deal in methamphetamines.

The divorce became final in January 1988. Robin got custody of the kids after urine tests showed him to be off drugs.

In February 1988, Beardsley was wanted on Linn County warrants for failing to appear at a hearing. The hearing was related to his arrest for carrying a dangerous weapon with intent to use, and for possession of a controlled substance, methamphetamine.

At the arrest, police found a shotgun, pipe bombs, detonating caps and explosive fuses in Beardsley's car. Court records indicate he was seeking revenge on a man who had allegedly beaten his sister. The records also refer to "evidence of continued involvement in methamphetamine production" by Beardsley.

Shortly after the warrants were issued in Linn County, the couple moved to a house on Lancaster Drive, just outside Salem.

Reports at the Marion County Sheriff's Office give the following account of Mary's last day:

On the evening of June 8, 1988, Beardsley and two friends were drinking and playing with radio-controlled cars. Mary and Beardsley had been arguing over the phone bill.

Mary was angry as she left the house at 8 p.m. So angry she jumped into her cream-colored 1964 El Camino and floored the gas pedal. Spinning the tires in one place, she threw gravel and mud all over Beardsley's maroon 1967 Firebird.

Then the El Camino stalled and would not restart.

Infuriated, Curtis ran outside. The two friends, thinking it a good time to leave, began loading their radio cars into their truck.

Beardsley and Mary argued violently, he standing outside the El Camino, she still in the driver's seat.

Beardsley gave up the fight and walked back to the house. As he was on the porch, about 20 feet away, all three men heard a muffled pop – "like a dud firecracker," one said later. They ran to the truck, but it was too late.

Mary, who was right-handed, put the gun into her mouth and pulled the trigger while sitting in the driver's seat. Medics found her slumped over onto the passenger seat.

The gun – a blue-barreled .32-caliber Colt semi automatic – was found outside the El Camino pickup In front of the left front fender. No one could explain how it got there.

Mary left a suicide note in the bedroom, but Beardsley never found it. He flagged down a passing van and disappeared. The note told Curtis to lean on his relatives in the tough times ahead, to tell Mary's children her death wasn't their fault and to make sure no one saw her needled arms.

The two visitors ran to a neighbor's house, shouted for them to call 911, and fled.

At 8:30 the next morning, Beardsley called the sheriff's office and gave a statement about Mary's death. He refused to appear in person because he knew warrants were out.

He next surfaced in Deschutes County. He was arrested Aug. 22 when police raided a Bend-area methamphetamine lab. He's now in the Oregon State Penitentiary, scheduled for release in 1993.

A search of the Salem house after Mary's death found drug paraphernalia, needles, a note indicating drug deal, recipes for methamphetamine, face masks similar to those worn by chemists, and 63 sticks of Hercules brand dynamite.

The stranger on the bus

A few days later, Mary's brother Steve heard a different story as he rode a southbound bus to Mary's funeral In Albany.

And Robin Hughes, Mary's ex-husband, would later add some details not covered in the police reports.

Steve Williford admits to being "half-hammered" when he got news of Mary's death. He boarded a bus in Nebraska and headed west, accompanied by half a bottle of whiskey. At Pendleton, the stranger got on the bus and by Portland the two were talking.

Steve said he was going to his sister's funeral in Albany. The stranger said he knew a girl who had just died in Salem. Her name was Murphy, he said.

The man told Steve that he knew Beardsley, but that Beardsley didn't think too highly of him. In fact, said the man, Beardsley had threatened to kill him, so he'd been laying low in a drug treatment program in Pendleton.

The stranger, named McDonald, talked all the way to Albany. But Steve, a hard-core drinker in those days, didn't want to listen. He was drunk and still shocked over Mary's death, and just didn't want to hear any more about it.

But because McDonald asked, Steve gave him the phone number at Mary's mother's house, where the family was staying.

Mary's sister, Louise Kivel of Yonkers, N.Y., remembers hearing Steve's story right after the memorial service on June 13. He pulled her aside and told her he had met a man on the bus who claimed an off- duty police officer was at Beardsley's house the night Mary died.

McDonald did call later and talked to Louise. His story differed slightly from what Steve had told her, but yes, McDonald said, there had been an off-duty deputy at the Beardsley house that night before the shooting. McDonald went on to identify the officer by name, Louise said, and claimed the officer was involved in drugs with Beardsley.

"How do you know?" Louise asked.

"Because I was there," McDonald replied.

Mary's family tried to pass on that information to deputies investigating her death. Louise said someone in the district attorney's office – she doesn't remember who – told her that too much information about the case was becoming public. She felt she was being brushed off and dropped the matter.

No information about McDonald or any interviews with Mary's family are included in the sheriffs reports on her death.

The Gazette-Times has been unable to locate McDonald, or to obtain any evidence that the police officer named had ever been at the house.

Marion County District Attorney Dale Penn reviewed the case shortly after Mary's death, as he does in all suspicious deaths. He said he has no knowledge of any officer involved with Beardsley, or at Beardsley's house.

Penn said the rumors may have started because one of Beardsley's relatives had been employed by the sheriffs office.

That relative was Beardsley's sister, Renee Morgan, who worked as a clerk in the sheriffs office until January 1988, five months before Mary died.

Morgan arrived at the scene of Mary's death shortly after the deputies did. She had been to the house earlier in the day but left before the shooting. She recognized one of the deputies and told him she was just passing by and saw the ambulance lights.

Later, Robin Hughes told relatives he had been at the house the night Mary died. He said he had stopped on his way to Portland to tell Mary he was taking the children back to Virginia to start a new life. He said he left just before the shooting.

Police records make no mention of Robin being at the house.

In the weeks that followed Mary's death and Beardsley's disappearance, the house on Lancaster Drive was broken into several times, said Mary's mother, Loal Williford of Albany. However, with the exception of a few pieces of Mary's jewelry, nothing appeared to have been taken.

After one break-in, a fireproof strongbox belonging to Mary was found opened. The contents, including the birth certificates for Mary's children, were spread on the bed. But nothing seemed missing. It was almost as if someone was looking for something, but couldn't find it, Loal Williford said.

She has no idea what it may have been.

TOMORROW: Mystery and death on logging road

[Corvallis Gazette Times – Corvallis, Oregon – Monday June 25, 1990 – Pages 1, 8]

Hughes’ death leaves questions

Third of three parts

No one knows why Robin Hughes turned off U.S. Highway 97 near Klamath Lake and drove up the steep logging road that led to his death.

He had left Corvallis at about 3:30 p.m. July 14, 1988, headed for Virginia, where his parents, three children and a new job waited.

On the way, he planned to stop at Reno to drop a carefully hoarded $20 into the slot machines.

But for some reason Hughes took a left off the highway at Hagelstein Park, a small campground on the northeast shore of Klamath Lake, and drove up a steep, winding side road, climbing a ridge that towers abruptly 1,000 feet above the lake.

The road is paved for the first mile, then turns to a dusty, red-cinder logging road. About four miles up the road, a narrow, winding dirt spur rutted with drainage cuts veers off to the right.

Hughes drove his overloaded yellow Datsun a mile down the dirt trace, to a point where a clearcut intersects with the road – and vanished.

On Aug. 6 his car was found in the middle of the road, although there was plenty of room to pull over on either side.

The driver's side door was open. Hughes' wallet, containing credit cards and $321, was found intact on the floor.

All of his personal belongings, which filled every bit of space inside the vehicle other than the driver's seat, appeared untouched.

The green walking shorts and navy tank top he was wearing when he left Corvallis were found crumpled in the back seat. The shirt had grease on the front and reddish dust on the back, as if Hughes had crawled under the car for some reason.

Nine unused syringes were found in a black leather case under the driver's side floormat, along with a small amount of methamphetamine. A carton of Camel filters, one pack missing, sat on the front seat.

Of Hughes, there was no trace.

Two years later, on May 3, 1990, a logger working a mile away would find his skull, the only remains ever positively identified as his.

Eager to leave

Hughes left Corvallis a saddened but eager young man.

A steady string of personal tragedies, including a divorce and the suicide of his ex-wife, had convinced him that Corvallis no longer held anything for him.

Yet he was eager to get on with a new life in Virginia, where his parents lived, said those who saw him last.

He spent weeks packing his belongings and placing them in a storage locker rented by his brother, Scott, and his sister-in-law, Vivian. Scott and Vivian now live in Montana. They have adopted Robin's three children.

Days were spent loading up the Datsun. Extra springs had to be put on the car to carry the weight. A plywood cartop carrier was fitted on top. His daughters' bicycles were tied to the back. Every bit of space was used, even the passenger seat.

"He took everything. He took nuts and bolts, even, Scott recalled.

Finally, on July 14, Hughes was ready.

About 11 a.m., he stopped by the First United Methodist Church to return some items his youngsters had borrowed from the Corvallis Community Day Care center. He visited for a while with his friend, Christine Moore, director of the center. To Moore, it didn't seem like goodbye.

Hughes talked about maybe returning to Corvallis someday to finish his engineering degree at Oregon State University. He was relieved to have a Job lined up in Virginia. They joked about how loaded down his car was. It was "comical," Moore said.

"I can still see those bikes strapped onto the back of the car, she said. "A man does not do something like that and then go off and kill himself."

Hughes' next stop was in Albany at the home of Loal Williford, the mother of his ex-wife, Mary. He stayed-there several hours, just talking.

He said he planned to go to Reno first, where he wanted to drop $20 into slot machines just for the experience, Loal said. He had never been there and was looking forward to it, she remembered.

He left at about 3:30 p.m. July 14 and headed south.

Mystery on the road

At 55 mph, it takes just over four hours to reach Hagelstein Park. It would have been close to nightfall when Hughes turned off the highway and disappeared up the logging road.

On July 19, a Klamath County sheriff's deputy on aerial patrol spotted Hughes' car. It was in the center of the road, facing south, with the driver's door open. The deputy was unable to return to check on it later.

On Aug. 7, a horseback rider came across the car and reported it to police. Hughes' father had reported him missing three days earlier, and police were quickly able to trace the car's license number to him.

By 5:30 p.m., a 17-person search team was in the area and stayed until dark, but found nothing of Hughes.

The next day, 10 searchers combed the area, but again found no trace of Hughes. It would be almost two years before the next clue would surface, a skull at the feet of a logger a mile away.

Three theories of death

What happened to Robin Hughes?

No one knows, and no one may ever find out.

Police in Klamath County, noting that his wallet, money and personal belongings were all found in the car, consider the death a suicide. Accidental death is also a possibility, they say.

A letter Hughes wrote shortly before he left Corvallis may support the suicide theory.

The letter was to his friend Terrie Beardsley. Terrie and Hughes became close after Hughes' ex-wife, Mary, moved in with Terrie's estranged husband, Curtis Beardsley.

In January 1990, Terrie told Mary's mother that something in the letter bothered her, but she never said what it was.

The Gazette-Times has been unable to locate Terrie Beardsley. However, the man who lived with her in 1988, Donald Aldridge, said Terrie was afraid Hughes might hurt himself.

Aldridge never read the letter himself, but Terrie discussed it with him, he said.

According to Aldridge, Hughes felt he should have done more to prevent Mary's suicide.

"He was a good character, and we were both worried about him after Terrie got that letter," Aldridge said. "We were trying every way we could to get a hold of him, but we couldn't find him. We were both afraid he was going to go out and do something."

Most of Hughes' friends and family don't believe his death was a suicide, however. A man doesn't pack all his belongings in a car, plot a cross-country trip, tell his kids to chart his progress and then kill himself the first night out, they say.

Hughes was handling Mary's death well, they said, and was eager to start a new life in Virginia. He loved his children deeply and was looking forward to seeing them.

They believe Hughes met some other end. Murder sounds far-fetched, they say, but not impossible. For several years, he had been involved in a loose methamphetamine network, which some people believe may have included a police officer.

Hughes was seriously bothered, even scared, by something before he left Corvallis, they say. He told several people associated with the drug network, people he took to be friends, what his exact route to Reno would be.

Accidental death is also possible, they say. Unused to drugs after kicking his habit, he may have accidentally overdosed. Search parties noted heavy bear activity not far from his car. Hughes liked to wander in the woods and may have just gotten lost.

In the end, it's all speculation. That's what bothers the friends and family of Robin Hughes. They want to know what really happened, both for themselves and for Robin's three children.

Because someday, those children will want to know why their dad turned off the highway and drove up the steep logging road that led to his death.

[Corvallis Gazette Times – Corvallis, Oregon – Tuesday June 26, 1990 – Pages 1, 10]


This subculture threatens Oregon

A criminal subculture endangers the vitality of Oregon and the future of its citizens.

It revolves around a drug, methamphetamine or "crank," a powerful stimulant both simple and inexpensive to manufacture.

For the average Oregonian, the methamphetamine subculture can be easy to ignore. The users congregate in poor neighborhoods. The meth cooks do their manufacturing in trailers hidden away in the back woods. Distribution often occurs through secretive outlaw biker gangs.

Now and then the subculture does impinge on the public's consciousness. The murder of Corrections Director Michael Francke elicited countless stories about a circle of methamphetamine abusers, denizens of prison and Salem's "Felony Flats." Drug-induced violence and paranoia were hallmarks of the group, whose members paid for their habits through burglaries and other crimes. One of the circle, Frank Gable, has been charged with killing Francke.

There are thousands of people like Gable in Oregon.

In early May, an interagency police unit raided a house in the Irish Bend area near Monroe, finding methamphetamine and laboratory equipment. Last week, the Benton County district attorney's office filed suit seeking forfeiture of items seized in the raid: More than $9,000 in cash, television sets, stereo systems, and a dozen guns. (Meth manufacturers are known for collecting all manner of dangerous weapons.)

There are probably hundreds of similar drug operations throughout the state. Oregon ranks second or third in the United States in methamphetamine production.

Today the Gazette-Times completed a three-part series on former Corvallis resident Robin Hughes, a good person who made the mistake of abusing methamphetamines and running with the wrong crowd. The drug contributed to the breakup of his marriage, countless difficulties in his life, and perhaps even his death on a lonely logging road near Klamath Falls.

There are thousands of people in Oregon like Robin Hughes.

Oregon has taken steps that will help control the methamphetamine subculture. New prison space is being constructed. Federal money flowing to the state for drug treatment and other valuable programs has increased. Schools are teaching important drug-education lessons.

More can be done. Above all, society must instill in everyone the view that taking methamphetamine and all illegal drugs is wrong. As long as demand exists, then manufacturers and dealers will continue supplying meth, and the meth subculture will continue recruiting new members.

The first step is to wake up to how serious the problem is. The subculture may be mostly invisible, but the harm it causes is real indeed.

[Corvallis Gazette Times – Corvallis, Oregon – Tuesday June 26, 1990 – Page 9]