SALEM, Ore. (AP) – Police gathered in the tiny unincorporated community of Wolf Creek in southwest Oregon on the night of Jan. 26 as they hunted for a suspect wanted for abducting a woman and torturing him nearly to death – and who had previously been convicted of a similar crime in Nevada.
Five days later, Benjamin Obadiah Foster was dead and was eventually found by police hiding in the crawl space under a house in nearby Grants Pass, the same house where his victim had been found unconscious and handcuffed a week earlier. Meanwhile, Foster entered another home and killed two strangers, leaving a gruesome scene as he dodged one of the biggest manhunts in the state in recent times, police said Wednesday.
In 2019, Foster held his then-girlfriend captive in her Las Vegas apartment for two weeks while he tortured her. Police said he broke her seven ribs, blackened both of her eyes, choked her into unconsciousness and forced her to eat lye before she could escape. Foster already had a suspended gun sentence and was awaiting trial in another domestic violence case.
Two months after striking a deal with prosecutors and being sentenced to one to two and a half years, he was released on Oct. 21, 2021, the same day he was transferred to a Nevada state prison. A Nevada corrections officer said Foster was released because the judge gave him 729 days in prison before sentencing.
Fifteen months later, Foster, a 36-year-old bartender, was in a relationship with a woman in Grants Pass. On January 24, her friend was concerned because she had not been seen for several days. The friend went to the woman’s home, where she was found beaten unconscious, tied up and near death. The victim remained hospitalized in critical condition on Wednesday.
The case rocked Grants Pass, a town of 40,000 that has seen high unemployment and poverty rates and public safety layoffs as the timber industry declined. Police said they were using all their resources to find Foster.
“We are totally focused on catching this man and bringing him to justice,” Police Commissioner Warren Hensman said at a Jan. 26 news conference. “This is an all-hands-on-deck operation.”
That same night, Grants Pass police, sheriff’s deputies, an Oregon State Police SWAT team, and federal agents raided Wolf Creek, which sits amid forested mountains and has Interstate 5 traffic rushing by nearby. Agents impounded Foster’s car, which he had driven over an embankment in an apparent attempt to hide it, and arrested a 68-year-old woman for obstructing law enforcement. But Foster was gone.
Investigators believed he had help fleeing the area. The next day, police revealed he was using dating apps to find people who could help him evade the police or find new victims. Authorities offered Foster a $2,500 reward and established a tipping line.
A call came from a cab company saying a man had requested a cab from Sunny Valley, south of Wolf Creek, Hensman said Wednesday. Police checked homes in the area to make sure residents were okay.
But through the window of a house, they saw what appeared to be a crime scene. They entered and found the bodies of Richard Lee Barron Jr. and Donald Owen Griffith, who were killed sometime between Monday afternoon and Tuesday morning and died of blunt force trauma, according to Oregon State Police Captain Kyle Kennedy.
“Unfortunately, it’s a brutal scene that we’re processing,” Kennedy said. There is no indication that Foster knew Barron or Griffith, who lived together before the murders.
Several items were stolen, as was the man’s dog. On Tuesday, Foster was spotted 30 kilometers south in Grants Pass – with the dog.
Police officers in helmets and bulletproof vests rushed into the neighborhood with guns and at least one armored vehicle. They searched the nearby house where they had found the woman over the past week. A nerve-wracking situation, according to the police chief.
“As we deploy teams to secure the residence, we also have to consider what this man just did — he brutally murdered two innocent people in Sunny Valley, and we didn’t know when he was going to stop,” Hensman said. Local residents were asked to protect themselves on site.
Officers searched the home and found no one at first, but then they sent a robot from the sheriff’s department into the crawl space and found signs that Foster was buried deep under the home. His presence was confirmed by a camera. The fugitive had hidden water and other supplies there, apparently hoping he could await the police presence undetected.
Officers expected a shootout, but instead Foster shot himself in the head, according to Hensman. Police arrived and found Foster unconscious, pinned under the house and holding a .45 caliber pistol. Officers had to cut open the floorboards to pull him out.
Foster was taken to a hospital where he died Tuesday night.
“It was a long and arduous task,” Hensman said. “It ended with Benjamin Foster taking his own life.”
Associated Press writers Rio Yamat in Las Vegas and Martha Bellisle in Seattle contributed to this report.
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