1975 killer hoped psychologist’s lie would free him

Dennis Gordon convicted of grisly 1975 murder

Dennis Leroy Gordon in an undated photo from the Oregon Department of Corrections, March 19, 2015
Dennis Leroy Gordon in an undated photo from the Oregon Department of Corrections, March 19, 2015

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN 6) — What Dennis Leroy Gordon did was so long ago, there are few people who will remember or have even heard of his horrible crime. But it really happened. And it was awful.

Gordon has been locked up for decades, but after a KOIN 6 investigation revealed the psychologist who evaluated Gordon’s mental health had lied about his own life, Gordon recently tried to use the circumstances for a chance at freedom.

The Crime

On September 4, 1975, court records reveal Gordon went to a stranger’s home in Roseburg. Gordon watched as Linda Wilks’ husband drove away. He broke in, and at gunpoint raped the 21-year-old mother of two.

Gordon “told her that he or his friends would ‘get her’ if she told anyone about the attack.” The good news: police caught Gordon quickly. The bad news: he was let go on bail, and he went home to The Dalles.

Just three weeks later, Gordon rented an airplane and flew back to Roseburg, where he staked out the Wilks’ home.

Once he realized Wilks’ husband was gone, Gordon broke in again through the unlocked front door. Gordon had a hunting knife and told Wilks he had a gun, and told her “she must go with him. She said she would go if she could bring her children with her.”

Gordon forced Wilks and her children, who were just 6-months and 2-years- old, into her car. After driving away from her home and Roseburg, Gordon attacked Wilks.

He stabbed her repeatedly. He did it front of her kids.

Gordon “placed her body on the rear floorboards of the back seat at the feet of the 2-year-old child.”

Gordon’s horrible deeds weren’t done. He used a pocket knife to cut off Wilks head, in an attempt to “make identification of the body more difficult.”

Gordon put Wilks’ body in a ditch and tried to hide it by covering it with gravel. Gordon left the kids and car and caught a ride with someone passing by.

He then stole a pickup truck, “placed the victim’s head on the right front floorboards” until he drove to a construction site, where he buried Wilks’ head.

Her children were still in her car until they were found, covered in blood two and a half hours later. “The 2-year-old was in a semi-catatonic state, softly crying for his mother.”

Meanwhile, Gordon took his chartered plane back to Hood River and drove home to The Dalles. It wasn’t long until police arrested him for murder.

Gordon “lied, claiming that he murdered the victim after she had taken a knife from the glove box and swung it at him, and that the victim fabricated the rape charge to make her husband jealous.”

Will psychologist’s lie lead to freedom?

Frank Colistro, an influential Portland psychologist, told KOIN 6 News he was shot twice in the line of duty, but now admits that was a lie, July 14, 2014. (KOIN 6)
Frank Colistro, an influential Portland psychologist, told KOIN 6 News he was shot twice in the line of duty, but now admits that was a lie, July 14, 2014. (KOIN 6)

Gordon admitted the crimes and was sentenced to life in prison, plus 20 years – the maximum allowed at the time. In the years since, sentencing laws in Oregon have become more strict. But under laws in place in the 1970s, Gordon has been eligible for parole since 1999.

Each time he has come up for parole, the Parole Board has kept him locked up.  In his most recent attempt at freedom, Gordon’s lawyer argued the psychologist who evaluated whether Gordon is still a danger to society has lost his credibility and Gordon deserves a new parole hearing.

The psychologist is Dr. Frank Colistro. He was one of only five contracted psychologists responsible for evaluating inmates for potential release.

In July 2014, Colistro admitted to KOIN 6 News he lied when he told KOIN 6 News investigative reporter DanTilkin he was shot on two separate occasions while trying to talk armed men out of their homes.

“I’ve been really lucky,” Colistro said at the time. “In fact the butt one was an AK, so it was a steel-penetrating bullet. You know if you’re gonna get shot, that’s what you want to get shot with, because they don’t even slow down. If they don’t hit anything vital, just in and out. Boom. And it cauterized the wound. I didn’t even have to go to the hospital, I went home.”

When Tilkin informed Colistro he couldn’t find any records to confirm Colistro’s story, Colistro admitted he made it up.

“I guess I have a big ego. I guess when I’m off the air, when I’m casual, I embellish my life,” Colistro said, despite telling the story in front of a KOIN 6 News camera.

Exactly a week later, the Oregon Board of Parole and Post-Prison Supervision gave Colistro notice his contract was being terminated.

The Ruling

Not long after the KOIN 6 News investigation revealed Colistro’s lie, Gordon’s court-appointed lawyer challenged the parole board’s decision and Colistro’s credibility in the Oregon Court of Appeals.

Gordon lost.

Dennis Leroy Gordon in an undated photo from the Oregon Department of Corrections, March 19, 2015
Dennis Leroy Gordon in an undated photo from the Oregon Department of Corrections, March 19, 2015

In the recent ruling the court of appeals wrote, “…the motion to present that evidence… is denied.”

Time was a factor.

Colistro determined Gordon “suffers from two disorders” to reach a “conclusion that (Gordon)… constitutes a danger to the community”.

That evaluation was in 2006, and Court of Appeals Chief Judge Rick Haselton wrote too much time had gone by.

“The fact that, years after he evaluated (Gordon), Dr. Colistro acknowledged having lied about a matter unrelated to that evaluation is too attenuated from the present dispute to be material.”

At this point, it is unknown whether other prisoners will try to use Colistro’s lie in their own attempts at getting freedom.

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