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Friday, November 25, 2011

Who killed Nancy Bergeson?

Two years ago this week, a federal public defender was strangled to death in her home in the Bridlemile neighborhood in the hills of southwest Portland. Her name was Nancy Bergeson, and she was a few days short of her 58th birthday.

Bergeson's body was found in her dining room. Her dog, who was not harmed, was with her. There was reportedly no sign of a struggle, and investigators did not treat the case as a homicide until an autopsy the next day revealed the true cause of death. Apparently she was strangled with a broad, soft cloth, which left no external marks on her neck. Because of the initial misreading of the situation, it is possible that some evidence was lost, although authorities say that that isn't likely.

Because Bergeson was physically fit, her mother, a well known retired politician in southern California, believes that the killer was someone Bergeson knew; otherwise, although not a large person, she would have fought back. The victim had just finished a long trial of a defendant who was accused of tax crimes -- a trial that she lost. She went out to dinner with friends, and was getting ready to leave for an East Coast trip over Thanksgiving. The murder took place between 8:00 that Monday night and 10:00 Tuesday morning.

Bergeson was divorced and lived alone on the 4100 block of woodsy SW Hamilton Street. The door to the house was unlocked when Bergeson's body was found by a neighbor girl who used to walk her dog, but police say the unlocked door wasn't unusual for Bergeson. The body was discovered at around 3:00 on Tuesday afternoon. She left behind a daughter who had recently graduated from college and lived on the East Coast.

The Portland police, who seem to be at a complete loss, recycled the Bergeson story with a press release earlier this week. A reward is being offered for information leading to an arrest, but that offer has been outstanding almost since the murder occurred. The detective in charge of the investigation is Michele Michaels -- (503) 823-0692.

It is a chilling story indeed. Immediately one thinks that it has something to do with Bergeson's work as a defense attorney. And since the killing was done so neatly, perhaps a hired murderer was involved.

If it was job-related, was it someone she had represented, or someone on the law enforcement side? Then again, maybe it was someone she knew outside of work. But who?

The killing of a public defender under truly mysterious circumstances is not something that a community can afford to shrug off. Let's hope that there is a break in the case soon, and that people keep talking about Nancy Bergeson until we all find out just what went down that November night.

Comments (14)

They're too busy with drug crimes et al to solve a serious crime.

Is the ex-husband's alibi watertight?

How about the fellow who just lost his tax case?

Then go on to the organized crime names she defended who may think she sent them up the river. Then anybody who may have a financial disagreement with her, or stand to benefit from her death.

Finally, look at any other homicides that used a similar "soft" strangulation method. And a proximity search on known violent offenders withing a 2 mile radius. The list can't be that long: it's a nice neighborhood.

I would bet that the Portland detectives have done all that. One theory I've heard, which seems as viable as any other at this point: She was on to a dirty cop or prosecutor.

Al M, Drug crimes are serious....

Word on the street is the the Federal Public Defenders Office did not cooperate with the PPB investigators when the murder first happened. The AUSAs in the District gave a "voluntary" DNA sample. My money is on a disgruntled former client.

Ask any seasoned criminal defense attorney who does appointed work. Defendants who think they got a raw deal will often (and irrationally) hold their attorney responsible above all others.

If a former client showed up at her house unannounced on a Monday night, would she have let the client in? And why didn't she fight back?

No, she probably would not have. However, you can't assume she didn't put up any fight at all and the lack of outward signs don't necessarily get us closer to an answer whether this was personal or professional. From what has been reported, there was nothing at the scene or about her physical condition that suggested a struggle, but she likely had an instinctive, defensive reaction when this happened regardless of whether she knew her killer. It's plausible she was in the position of having to overcome a much stronger person who attacked her during an opportune moment, he was behind her the whole time, she's panicked (like we all would be) and she's choosing between hitting a person she can't see or pulling at what was around her neck so she could breathe. However it happened, "tragic" is an understatement when thinking about what happened to her. Good to see it is getting discussion.

Hmm...dirty cop or prosecutor? So lemme see if I got this right. Public defenders watch the watchmen? So do the watchmen care if a PD dies?
To put it another way. If this were a prosecutor would the priority be higher?

I see two possible explanations for the absence of any detected signs of struggle:

1. She was incapacitated before the strangulation (inhalants/fright/stun gun).

2. She was outnumbered, and one (or more) attackers restrained her while the other(s) strangled her.

To put it another way. If this were a prosecutor would the priority be higher?

Nope, main justice is trying to reinvigorate an investigation into an AUSA murdered in his home ten years ago.


"...If this were a prosecutor would the priority be higher?"

Doubt if this is a lower priority. The murder of any officer of the court would be likely be taken as a personal afront to police, even though defense attorneys and cops are sometimes on opposite sides of a case.

Harming persons working within the legal system is out of bounds so to speak. It's a necessary unwritten code for the order needed for things to operate correctly.

I am willing to bet the cops want to find the killer badlly, no matter who is turns out to be.

Agree with Gibby and Stef. Here is a local story about an investigation into a guy who was trying to hire a hitman to kill a local defense attorney. The investigation culled a lot of interagency resources and they acted quickly.


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