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Karen Lee

Was Karen killed by a serial killer while running off to CA?

  • Last updated: October 18, 2023
  • Cornelius, OR
  • May 26, 1977

Overview of Karen Lee

Karen Lee's school scrapbook stops abruptly at 10th grade when she and Rodney Grissom ran away from home with plans to make it to California.

The original picture of Karen Lee wearing a brown felt hat, one of the few belongings her mother still has.

Karen Lee was only 15 years old when she met Rodney Grissom, 14. The pair quickly became friends, and as typical teenagers, they talked about wanting to escape their lives in Oregon in favor of new lifestyles in California.

It's hard to believe that two young people would actually go through with their runaway plans.

To that end, Rodney had tried to run away before.

Rodney's mother, Marjorie (Grissom) Burt said her son was living in Bend, Oregon, shortly before he disappeared. Earlier in 1977, she found Rodney after a three-day search in downtown Hillsboro, and sent him back to his father's house in the same town for him to finish up school.

Only a few months later, both Karen and Rodney would vanish.

May 1977

On May 24, 1977, Rodney is last seen at his father's home in Hillsboro. Two days later, his friend Karen would be last seen. It's presumed that the pair met up and started their hitchhiking fantasy down to California.

Investigators were later able to trace a May 26, 1977 phone call that Karen made to a payphone in Lebanon, Oregon.

"Our ride is here," Karen told her friend over the phone. "I have to go."

This was the last time Karen and Rodney were ever heard from.

Historical weather station data for the 48 hour period covering May 26 and 27 of 1977 from the Albany OR weather station detail that on the 26th, the high was 56, with a low of 45. It started raining at 11:00 pm, continuing throughout the night and intensifying in the very early morning hours and continuing throughout the 27th. The high for May 27 was 55, with a low of 45.

Months and years later, their clothing and belongings would be discovered in dense areas off of logging roads in rural Linn County.

On November 7, 1977, Lynn County Sheriff's Office received a call that a logger had found clothing in the area of Upper Soda Fork, section 19, in Linn County. The clothing was found tied with rope in a bundle about a quarter of a mile down a steep hillside. It was under heavy growth of underbrush.

Section 19 via Ryan Auclair, SAR Volunteer

The items located included:

  • Levi denim jeans
  • Sweater
  • Blanket
  • Socks
  • Personal papers from her journal in "good condition"
  • "A type of shoe that does not come off easily," according to Detective Martinak.
The shoe belonging to Karen Lee, 15, was found off a logging road in the Upper Soda Fork area of Linn County.

Did a serial killer take Karen and Rodney's lives?

Infamous killer John Arthur Ackroyd has been circumstantially linked to both Rodney and Karen's cases.

Undated young photo of John Arthur Ackroyd.

In 1977, he began working for the state highway department along U.S. Route 20 that ran east to west across Oregon. He was responsible for clearing wrecks, helping people whose cars broke down on the highway, and maintenance.

When Karen's clothing was discovered, it bore a chilling similarity to two of Ackroyd's earlier assaults — items of the clothing were sliced.

Karen's jeans appeared to have been cut in a similar manner that rape survivor Marlene Gabrielsen's boots and underwear were sliced. The waistband on murder victim Kaye Turner's yellow jogging shorts were also cut.

One of the original Detectives, Jim Salberry, told reporters in 1983: "They didn't just go down there and throw their clothes off."

Karen’s mother, Violet Gillmore, is a strong believer that Ackroyd is behind her youngest daughter’s disappearance. She told Oregon Live that she knew Ackroyd had abducted a runner near Highway 20 and that he was from Sweet Home, not far from where Karen had used the pay phone to call a friend.

Soda Fork Rd is also similar to other "dumping grounds" associated with Ackroyd.

Soda Fork Rd is a gravel logging road that begins at US 20 and goes back into the Cascades. This is similar to Swamp Mountain Rd (Swamp Mountain Doe), Santiam Wagon Rd (Marlene Gabrielsen), and Burnside Rd (Snow Creek Doe). Elizabeth Mussler's remains were found in a shallow grave on Thistle Creek Rd, 325' from the junction with Quartzville Rd, above Green Peter Resevoir. Quartzville Rd begins at US 20. Kaye Turner was murdered inside Camp Sherman, again just off US 20

Karen has light brown hair and brown eyes, and scars on her lip and left knee. Anyone with information is encouraged to contact the Linn County Sheriff's Office at (541) 917-6654


  1. Date Missing:May 26, 1977
  2. Age at Incident:15
  3. NAMUS Number:MP12090
  4. Race:White / Caucasian
  5. Gender:Female
  6. Height:67
  7. Weight:128
  8. Hair Color:Brown


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