CW: Saneism, Murder, Institulization & Sterilization
Yesterday I watched an episode of the show Cold Case Files. The episode describes a horrific crime that occurred in Oregon over 40 years ago at an institution for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
Janie Landers, 18, walked away from the Fairview Training Center in Salem, Oregon, on March 9, 1979. Fairview was an institution for people with developmental and mental health disabilities.
On March 14, 1979, five days after a staff member saw Janie outside Fairview, a landowner reported discovering a body. Police discovered the body of a young woman in dense bush. She was lying face down, and as they turned her her over, it was evident she’d been stabbed numerous times.
It would take more than three decades for the police to find out who killed Landers. In 2015, a DNA match was made using CODIS. The suspect was identified as Gerald Dunlap, who was employed by Fairview. Tragically, nobody did a background check before he was hired.
Dunlap had been sentenced to 99 years in prison for rape in 1961. However, he only spent twelve years in prison. After his release he moved to Oregon in 1973 where he was hired at Fairview as a laundry room attendant.
Fairview, located in Salem, accommodated more than 1,000 disabled Oregonians. The State Institution for the Feeble-Minded, as it was known, first opened its doors in 1908. By the early 1980s, more than 1,300 Oregonians with developmental disabilities lived at the Fairview Training Center.
Most residents originally lived at the Oregon State Hospital for the Insane. Once at Fairview Training Center, residents were treated poorly, sometimes called “inmates.” Residents were also forcibly sterilized before they were allowed to reenter the community. Ruth Morris’s father allowed her to be sterilized because he didn’t want her to stay at Fairview Developmental Center.
In the 1970s, a group of residents gathered to make a difference. One of them was Linda Gheer. Linda was a teenager living in the state-run facility, and she didn’t like it. She wanted to make her own decisions. She wanted to sleep in when she felt like it, eat whatever she wanted, and, most importantly, she wanted to hang out with her friends. The same things that any adolescent would wish to do.
Other residents at the facility shared her sentiments. In 1974, many residents came together to form an organization for and by people with disabilities. It was known as People First. In 1974, Otter Crest hosted People First’s inaugural convention. There were over 500 people in attendance.
Disabled people deserve to live free from abuse. There is no excuse for abusing, neglecting, or killing disabled people. Everybody deserves to live a life free from abuse and neglect.
Gesler, Sara. “Erasing Fairview’s Horrors.” Oregon Live, Oregonian Media Group , 30 Jan. 2010, http://www.oregonlive.com/opinion/2010/01/erasing_fairviews_horrors.html.
Horton, Kami, director. In the Shadow of Fairview: YouTube, Oregon Public Broadcasting , 11 Dec. 2020, https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=jrlmlAJIV7c. Accessed 30 Aug. 2023.
Horton, Kami. “‘In the Shadow of Fairview.’” OPB, OPB, 14 Dec. 2020, http://www.opb.org/article/2020/11/16/oregon-history-in-the-shadow-of-fairview-documentary/?outputType=amp.
Shilton, A.C. “A Group Home Patient’s Murder Solved 38 Years Later with a Tiny Detail.” A&E, A+E Networks, 10 May 2022, http://www.aetv.com/real-crime/janie-landers-cold-case.