The Unthinkable on the North Umpqua
By Peggy A. Rowe-Snyder
It seems improbable that a ‘little person’ who was a traveling photographer, should be killed and left on the banks of the North Umpqua. As bizarre as the story might seem this did happen right here in Roseburg back in 1990. Here is the story:
On July 3, 1990, a traveling portrait photographer from the Vancouver, Washington area walked into a local tavern. He had been in the Roseburg area working at a local store taking family photographs for about two weeks. He invited two women, Tracy Lee Poirier and Tamara Marie Upton, to a game of pool.
The next day the authorities found his naked four foot-four inch body on the Umpqua River near Elk Island not far from the Washington Avenue Bridge. He had been kidnapped, robbed, and killed in a “caveman-style killing”, this according to prosecutor Bill Marshall. The women had killed him by beating him with rocks. Later the prosecutor said that the man, Donald James Fish, had traveler’s checks and cash stolen from him. Police said the motive was robbery.
“Shortly after the slaying” the women were arrested. During this arrest it was found that they were driving a stolen vehicle from the Salem area.
Tracy Lee Poirier and Tamara Marie Upton, of Keizer, Oregon were charged with aggravated murder, kidnapping, and robbery. It turns out that Poirier, an ex mental health patient, was on parole for another crime, and had just been released from the Oregon’s Women’s Correctional Center in Salem when she committed the murder. Even after tearful pleas to the jury by herself and her mother, Poirier was convicted in July 1991. The jury deliberated for only four hours, and she was given a life sentence with a chance of no parole. She was formally sentenced July 22, 1991
Jurors were unanimous when they said that Poirier killed Fish deliberately and acted unreasonably in response to any provocation on Fish’s part and would likely commit dangerous acts again. Also in an unanimous statement the jury made it clear that Poirier should not be put to death. The vote was 10-1 to deny parole. The end result for Poirier: Two life sentences, no parole.
Upton later pleaded guilty to aggravated murder and was also sentenced to life without parole.
Flash forward to May 1997. Tracy Lee Poirier is temporarily transferred to the Coos County Jail and enters into a romantic relationship with one of her guards, Pamela Kay Trimble. Even after Poirier is transferred back to the Womens Correctional Center she and Trimble continue to correspond.
In July 1998 Trimble quits her job after Coos County officials find out that she was still corresponding with Poirier and they had informed her of an impending investigation. She would have been fired if it was proven that there was private communication between the two women. Later, it was verified in the news agencies that Trimble did believe she was in love with Poirier and she had conspired to help her escape from prison by trying to get tools to her while incarcerated.
Poirier was found missing from her jail cell on August 28, 1998 after a routine breakfast time check. Apparently, she had squeezed through her jail cell window that had been pried from the outside by Trimble. Then she fled the prison on foot through a newly created hole in the fencing installed at the perimeter of the prison. She had to cross Mill Creek on foot before she could get into Trimble’s red pick-up truck. The pick up was found abandoned two days after the escape was made.
This escape led to a month long road trip where the two women, using the assumed names of Robin and Ciara Marcel, lied their way from Oregon to Providence, Rhode Island. First they headed to San Francisco but, they left San Francisco August 31 and arrived in Providence via bus on September 3. They told folks that they had left Washington state and that Poirier was escaping an abusive husband.
The FBI and California State Police assisted in looking for the women while they were on the lam.
Finally, the two women were caught on Sept 28, 1998 in Rhode Island after being recognized. A television show, “America’s Most Wanted,” had ran the story in order to help law enforcement. Poirier was arrested in a bakery where she was taking orders. She was taken a short drive away to say ‘good-bye’ to her lover. This is how officials were led to Trimble who was then arrested in a sausage shop where she was chopping meat. Both were hired out of a temporary employment agency.
It took a judge less than one minute to decide to allow extrication of the two women back to Oregon from Rhode Island on January 22, 1998. This decision ended the five month long fight that the women led to keep from being sent back to Oregon.
Trimble arrived back in the state the evening of Friday, February 5, 1999. She was taken straight to the Marion County Jail and faced second degree escape charges, and a possible five year prison stay. Poirier faced a misconduct trial and charges of “Escape, Conspiracy to possess an escape device and Destruction.” These charges came from within the prison system and she faced yet more possible criminal charges from the local district attorney. She was found guilty and received a six months in solitary confinement as punishment along with a fine of $200.00 and she was ordered to make restitution.
Today, Pamela Kay Trimble lives in Springfield, Oregon with her “womyn”, and is hopefully, keeping her nose clean.
Tamara Upton is serving her lifetime without parole sentence in Coffee Creek Correctional Facility in Wilsonville, Oregon (near Portland, Or)
Poirier is still in a jail somewhere in the state of Oregon, she too, will serve life without the possibility of parole.
- The Boston Globe, September 29, 1998
- The Columbian, September 01, 1998
- The Eugene Register Guard, June 12, 1991, Page 12, & July 13, 1991, Page 10, & August 28, 1998, & January 24, 1999, Page 10, & January 28, 1999, Page 17
- The Providence Journal, September 30, 1998
- The San Diego Union Tribune, September 2, 1998
- The Spokesman-Review, June 12, 1991, Page 9 & July 21, 1991, Page 10
- The Tri City Herald, October 3, 1998 & February 7, 1998, Page 3
- Oregon State Department of Corrections; Media Release. February 9, 1999
- WVAH Fox 11; Americas Most Wanted
The Spokane Chronicle, July 6, 1990