Who were John Arthur Ackroyd’s known and potential victims?

Who were John Arthur Ackroyd’s known and potential victims?

Warning: The following article mentions of murder and sexual assault. Please read with caution.

As covered in the Discovery Investigation true crime series, Lost Women of Highway 20, John Arthur Ackroyd was convicted of attacking or killing three women and suspected of killing two others on a desolate stretch of Highway 20 in Oregon — here’s a closer look at Ackroyd’s victims. 

Ackroyd’s first known victim, Kaye Turner, disappeared in 1978 in Camp Sherman, Oregon, near where Ackroyd lived. The next year, Ackroyd told the police he was the last person to see Turner alive, but the authorities were unable to gather enough evidence to convict him, despite the fact he led police to articles of Turner’s clothing.

About 12 years later, Ackroyd’s stepdaughter, Rachanda Pickle, vanished and her remains were never found. In the early 1990s, however, Ackroyd was finally arrested for Turner’s death, and he was sentenced to life in prison. In a plea deal, Ackroyd was convicted of killing his stepdaughter while behind bars. He never told the authorities where to find the body.

Ackroyd died in 2016. At that time, prosecutors were preparing a case against Ackroyd related to two additional murder of women in the Highway 20 area: Sheila Swanson, and Melissa Sanders. Ackroyd’s crime spree, however, is believed to have began with the 1977 sexual assault of Marlene Gabrielsen, so we’ll begin there.

Marlene Gabrielsen

Marlene Gabrielsen image via Investigation Discovery/YouTube

John Arthur Ackroyd’s first victim thankfully survived her encounter. In 1977, one year before Kaye Turner disappeared, Marlene Gabrielsen (pictured) reported she was raped by John Arthur Ackroyd after spending the night celebrating with friends in the woods near Highway 20. Gabrielsen was 20 years old and a new mother when the attack happened, but after fighting with her husband she sought a ride back home. Ackroyd offered to take her, OregonLive reported. 

At one point in their hour-long drive, Gabrielsen, who had been drinking, fell asleep. She woke up as Ackroyd pulled the truck over on a logging road, where the assault happened. Afterward, Gabrielsen pleaded with Ackroyd to take her home and let her live. Once he did, she called the police, but Ackroyd said he was “seduced,” and no charges were brought against him.

Kaye Turner

Kaye Turner image via Investigation Discovery/YouTube

About one year later, Kaye Turner, then 35, was in the small Central Oregon town of Camp Sherman near Highway 20. She was out for a jog when she disappeared, according to OregonLive. Turner’s whereabouts remained a mystery until John Arthur Ackroyd came forward to claim he was the last person to see her alive. He then led the police to where he said he found articles of Turner’s clothing, and remains of her body. He was possibly motivated to do so because of a reward offered for information related to Turner’s disappearance. 

Though immediately a suspect in the case, police were unable to link Ackroyd to the crime. As he maintained his innocence, the investigation turned its attention elsewhere, and the case went cold. Turner’s case was not solved but until more than a decade later when another young woman linked to Ackroyd disappeared along the same stretch of Oregon highway.

Rachanda Pickle

Rachanda Pickle image via Investigation Discovery/YouTube

By 1990, John Arthur Ackroyd remained a free man living in the Oregon Cascades Mountain range, an area bisected to the east and west by Highway 20. At that point, Ackroyd had married Linda Pickle, who had a daughter named Rachanda. In 1990, Rachanda disappeared when she was 13 years old, and again, Ackroyd said he was the last one to see his stepdaughter alive. He was immediately the target of the investigation into Rachanda’s disappearance, 

It was around this same time that the ex-wife of Roger Dale Beck, who was with Ackroyd the day Kaye Turner vanished in the `70s, finally told the police what she knew about the case, and by 1993, Ackroyd was finally behind bars for Turner’s murder. Once in prison, the investigation continued into Rachanda missing person’s case, concluding she died, and Turner pleaded no contest to charges he killed the teen. 

Sheila Swanson and Melissa Sanders

Before John Arthur Ackroyd was arrested and sentenced for Kaye Turner’s death, Sheila Swanson and Melissa Sanders went missing near Highway 20 and were later found dead. Meanwhile, evidence linked Ackroyd to the crime. Prosecutors were preparing a case against Ackroyd related to Swanson and Sanders’ death when Ackroyd died in prison.

Still further back in time, before Kaye Turner disappeared, two Yale University students were attacked with an ax of a hatchet at a state park near Camp Sherman, the small Central Oregon town where Turner died and close to where Ackroyd lived. The women survived, but no one was ever charged for the crime, and today, some speculate those were two more potential Ackroyd victims, according to OregonLive

If you know someone suffering from sexual violence, contact RAINN or the National Sexual Abuse Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673.

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