PAIR FOLLOWED `NEEDLE TRACKS’ TO VIOLENT DEATHS IN MOTEL
Oregonian May 14, 1988
Albert Wesley Reinhart, 42, and Michael Richard Ager, 37, followed a rough trail through mean streets that led them to Portland last month.
The two men told police they had lived most recently in Tacoma, where Ager was under parole supervision by the Washington Department of Corrections.
They arrived in Portland late last month and, according to police records, apparently became involved in the city’s drug underworld, getting into trouble first in connection with the alleged robbery of a man in Old Town.
According to Dr. Larry Lewman, the state medical examiner, both men had extensive “tracking” scars on their arms indicating recent and longterm drug use.
Luis Tinoco told police on April 22 that he was approached by two men at about 9:25 a.m. that day who each pointed guns at him and robbed him of $215 that he had in his pants pocket, near the Rich Hotel, at 205 N.W. Couch St.
Tinoco and two friends hailed police to a location near the Old Town Cafe, 32 N.W. Third Avenue, where they said the two alleged robbers had fled.
Police arrested Reinhart and Ager and booked both at the Justice Center jail.
According to police, a .38 caliber gun believed to belong to Reinhart was found underneath a car near the site of the crime.
In a statement to Detective John J. Leckman, Reinhart said he came to Portland the night before the robbery “to buy some dope.”
According to Leckman’s report, Reinhart “asked some people on the street where to get some (drugs). And they directed him to Waterfront Park.”
Reinhart told Leckman that he was approached in the park by Tinoco, who he alleged had sold him some cocaine and heroin for about $200.
He told the detective “that after he had used the stuff he found it to be not the drugs that he thought he had purchased. . . . He then waited until this a.m. to try to find the subjects who had sold him the bum dope and tried to recover the money.”
According to county records, Reinhart was booked on charges of first-degree robbery, two counts of first-degree theft, and two counts of being an ex-convict in possession of a firearm. And Ager was booked on charges of first-degree robbery, and being an ex-convict in possession of a firearm.
In addition, Jean Maurer, a deputy district attorney for Multnomah County, said both men were accused while in jail of unauthorized use of a motor vehicle — the black Chevy van they had been using was found to be stolen.
Of those accusations, all but one were either not formally filed as charges, dismissed by the court or did not result in indictments by the grand jury that heard the case.
Officials in the district attorney’s office said that result may have been affected by the fact that Tinoco, the complainant, did not testify to the grand jury about the robbery. The only grand jury witness was a police officer.
Ager was released from the Justice Center jail on May 2, after the robbery and firearm possession charges were dismissed.
Reinhart was released on May 5 after posting $1,500 bail on one of the firearm possession counts. It was the one charge on which the police, the district attorney’s office, the court and the grand jury agreed.
Reinhart and Ager turned up last week at the Portland Rose Motel where their confrontation with police would unfold. Anita Hunt, Ager’s mother, said that her son had returned to Tacoma after his release from the Justice Center and then returned to Portland on Tuesday night.
“Drugs was his whole problem. White drugs. That was the whole thing,” she said. She said he was survived by a son, 19, and daughter, 16.
Reinhart had a criminal history dating back through the 1970s. In 1978, he was convicted of first-degree robbery in Multnomah County and served four years of a 20-year sentence in the Oregon State Penitentiary. Ted Long, a spokesman at the prison, said that Reinhart was serving concurrent sentences for three other crimes — second-degree escape, unauthorized use of a motor vehicle and failure to appear in court.
He was released on a federal detainer on April 23, 1982, and transferred to the federal penitentiary at Lompoc, Calif., to serve a term for an interstate transportation of a stolen motor vehicle.
His prior record included convictions in 1976 for possession of a stolen vehicle, and failure to appear in court; in 1972 and 1971 for two separate counts of being an ex-convict in possession of a firearm; and in 1970 for assault and robbery with a dangerous weapon.
Ager also had a criminal record. He was convicted in Pierce County in Washington in 1985 of possession of stolen property, second-degree rape and attempted second-degree rape, according to Veltry Johnson, spokesman for the the Washington Department of Corrections.
Johnson said Ager was paroled on April 13, 1987, and was ordered to remain under parole supervision until early 1990. Johnson said that Ager had been incarcerated in the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla until he was released on parole.
Other records show that Ager was convicted of felony assault in Pierce County in 1971 and was paroled on that charge in 1973.
GUNMAN TELLS GIRLFRIEND HE’LL NEVER SURRENDER
From the Oregonian, May 14, 1988
Just hours before he died, Michael Richard Ager told his longtime girlfriend that he wouldn’t give himself up to police.
Doreen Aiken, 37, who works in a dental clinic at the Tacoma Rescue Mission, told The Oregonian in a telephone interview said that he had called her about 7:30 p.m. Thursday from his room in the Portland Rose Motel.
She said that initially she did not believe Ager, 37, when he told her what had happened but then learned he was telling the truth by hearing a television news report. Ager told her that “things had gone wrong and had gotten really ugly.”
He told her he and Albert Wesley Rienhart had taken a policeman, Larry G. Strayer, hostage, but then added, “We’re not going to hurt him. We talked to him, and he’s a real nice guy. He has a family.”
Aiken said that in their five-minute conversation Ager, an ex-convict, reaffirmed his love for her and spoke finally of his desire to avoid returning to prison. They had a sporadic relationship over 20 years, she said.
“Honey, I’m not giving up. And I’m not going back,” Aiken recalled. She said she had urged him to surrender but that he had simply replied, “No, I can’t do that.”
She recalled he had hung up after saying police were “talking to me,” and that his final words were, “Honey, I love you.”
Aiken, who was a member of the class of 1969 at Mt. Tahoma High School with Ager in Tacoma, said he had been a skillful athlete who had had a long problem with alcohol and then drugs after high school, that they were linked in part to a back injury he suffered while working as a maintenance worker in the Tacoma schools.
“He was tired of drugs. He was tired of what he was doing. He was ready to give in,” she said. “It was his way of ending everything.”
Aiken said Ager had known Reinhart for about two months.
She said Ager had been a herion addict for at least five years and that his addiction had continued at the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla, between 1985 and 1987.
“He got it in prison, too,” she said. She said Ager’s younger brother, Ron, had died of a heroin overdose several years ago.
MOTEL TRIES TO REOPEN AFTER CRISIS
From the Oregonian, TMay 15, 1988
Life was slowly returning to normal Saturday at the Portland Rose Motel, where two robbery suspects who had held a policeman hostage died Friday after a dramatic 15-hour standoff with police.
The smell of tear gas hung heavy in the air as children played with toy guns in the parking lot and motel workers washed loads of towels and bedding. In Room 14, where the suspects had been, narcotics officers in protective clothing and gas masks sifted through the debris, looking for evidence. Nearby, broken windows were being repaired by a maintenance man.
“We’re trying as best we can” to reopen for business, said Murphy Landels, owner of the motel at 8920 S.W. Barbur Blvd.
Life at the motel changed suddenly Thursday night when a policeman investigating an armed robbery at a nearby Safeway store was taken hostage about 7:30 p.m. by the suspects, who were staying at the motel. About eight hours later, the hostage policeman, Larry G. Strayer, was able to grab one of the suspects’ guns and shoot his way out of the room.
When the standoff ended about 10:30 a.m. Friday, the suspects — Albert Wesley Reinhart , 42, and Michael Richard Ager, 37, both of Tacoma — were found dead in the room. Dr. Larry Lewman, state medical examiner, determined later that Reinhart had died of two gunshot wounds fired by police and that Ager had died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
The incident will be reviewed by a grand jury, as are all incidents in which a policeman shoots a suspect, police spokesman Henry Groepper said.
By midmorning Saturday, motel guests who had been evacuated Thursday night began returning to the motel, only to find their eyes and noses smarting from the tear gas in the air. Traffic slowed as passing motorists strained to get a look at the now-famous motel, but not many ventured into the parking lot to see the scene firsthand.
About 50 of the motel’s guests had been taken to the Tigard Inn Motel, where the American Red Cross paid the bill for two nights of lodging for the group, said Greg Viert, manager of the Tigard motel. The Red Cross also paid for the evacuees’ meals.
“The Red Cross has been beautiful to them,” Viert said. “They’ve taken care of them from the beginning.”
Some of the guests of the Portland Rose Motel, which offers rooms on a daily or weekly basis, didn’t return, however, said manager Molly Ekstrom. “I know of several we’ve lost.”
While Ekstrom launched a major cleanup Saturday, narcotics officers removed bullet fragments and hypodermic syringes from Room 14. Though both suspects were known drug addicts, no narcotics were found, Detective Bill Law said. “That didn’t surprise me — they were demanding drugs (while holding the hostage),” he said.
Looking back on events of the past couple of days, Ekstrom recalled she had been alarmed by the men from the start.
“I was watching them. We’d talked in the office and said, `Watch out for them, they’re potential trouble,’ “ Ekstrom said. “That was an understatement.”
FUGITIVE’S FAILING FIGHT AGAINST ADDICTION COMES TO DEADLY END IN PORTLAND MOTEL
From the Oregonian, May 15, 1988
A man who died after he and another man held a policeman hostage in a Southwest Portland motel room was a kind and loving father who was so consumed by his addiction to drugs that he salivated uncontrollably whenever heroin was in the room, his ex-wife said Saturday.
Albert Wesley Reinhart hated drugs, said Judy Reinhart , who was recently divorced from her husband after almost three years of marriage.
“I swear to God he hated these drugs and what they did to him,” she said. “He tried desperately to get away from them.”
But Friday morning, Reinhart ‘s flight ended in Room 14 of the Portland Rose Motel. An autopsy showed that he had been shot twice in the chest by the policeman, who was held hostage for 15 hours while his captors demanded safe passage from the area and a bottle of Dilaudid, a powerful prescription narcotic.
A second captor, Michael Richard Ager, 37, died after he shot himself in the chest during the fracas.
For Albert Reinhart , it was a sensational end to a life that sounds in some respects more typically suburban. Reinhart , 42, worked for a time as a car salesman. He and Judy Reinhart were formally divorced, but last Sunday he was out in the yard, playing football with her 9-year-old son.
“He always turned out for school functions,” Judy Reinhart said in a telephone interview from Tacoma, where she lives, “always sat down at night to make sure my son got his homework done.”
She refused to say whether she had known that he had an extensive criminal record dating back to the 1970s. But for almost a year after they were married, she said, she did not know that he used drugs. She began to wonder when he would go away for no reason and fell asleep when he should have been well-rested.
“Then he sat me down and said it was very difficult, and he was having a hard time and he needed help,” she said. “We tried terribly hard.”
Albert Reinhart enrolled in out-patient drug treatment programs and hoped to visit high schools to discuss his drug dependency and recovery. He moved to the country for a time to straighten out and stay with friends.
But other friends — the friends with whom he started injecting heroin into his veins when he was 20 — would always find him.
Then, as Reinhart explained to her, as soon as he saw the white powder, saliva would flow uncontrollably in his mouth. His mind would go blank. He could think of nothing but “doing” the drug.
When he stopped, guilt and withdrawal would start the horrible nightmares of giant needles bursting into his body to fill him with heroin.
He lost his job after suffering a drug-induced heart attack in the company bathroom. Doctors said his lungs, too, were choked with cotton fibers, carried in his bloodstream after injecting a drug serum squeezed from cotton balls. They gave him a year to live. That was a year and a half ago.
At 1:23 a.m. Friday, Judy Reinhart received a telephone call from a woman at the Portland Police Bureau, who said hostage negotiators were thinking of taking her to a motel room to try to reason with her ex-husband.
“I was the only person who could get him out of the room,” she said. “I know in my heart if he hadn’t been sick from the drugs he wouldn’t have taken a man hostage. He would have wondered if this man had children. . . . He was so fond of children.”
But the woman never called back. In the morning friends who heard the news that both captors were dead knocked on the door to ask Judy Reinhart if she needed help.
“This was not the ending that was supposed to be,” she said, sobbing. “You don’t understand. This drug is terrible. He would go for long periods of time staying away from it, and all of a sudden something would snap and it would drive him to go do it again. . . .
“There’s a lot of good times with Al. What’s sad is he wanted to be free from drugs and he couldn’t. No matter how hard he tried he couldn’t.”
OFFICER RECALLS TENSE HOURS AS A HOSTAGE
From the Oregonian, June 3, 1988
Larry G. Strayer, the Portland policeman held hostage for nearly nine hours last month, said that at times his two captors were so congenial that he felt as if he were on a fishing trip with friends.
“There was one problem,” he said. “They had guns and they were pointed at my head.”
Ex-convicts Albert Wesley Reinhart , 42, and Michael Richard Ager, 37, both of Tacoma, held Strayer at gunpoint after he went to their Southwest Portland motel room May 12 to look for a man sought in connection with a supermarket robbery.
Strayer, 43, finally escaped when he shot and killed Reinhart and wounded Ager. He had grabbed Reinhart ‘s .357-caliber Magnum handgun after his two captors fell asleep in the barricaded room.
Even after Strayer fled, Ager, who told Strayer throughout the night that he would not go back to prison, refused to give up. He later shot himself and died after police fired a second volley of tear gas into the room.
During the incident Reinhart and Ager talked about past crimes and about prisons they had lived in. Both were heroin addicts, and they told Strayer they had robbed the store to get money to buy drugs.
When Ager and Reinhart got hungry, they tried to order out for pizza but found police had disconnected the motel phone. And as the night dragged on, they watched the local news, the “Tonight Show” and, later, “Kojak.”
Reinhart once told a police negotiator that the Police Bureau should give Strayer two weeks off with pay to make up for the stress he was suffering.
But as it became clear that the police were not going to give in to their demands, Reinhart and Ager repeatedly told Strayer they planned to kill him. At one point Strayer, exhausted and convinced he was about to die, told them to “make it quick.”
At another low point, Strayer wondered if he had taken out enough life insurance to provide for his wife, his 21-year-old daughter and his 18-year-old son.
Despite feeling frightened through most of the ordeal, Strayer forced himself to joke and talk with his captors, using skills he first learned as a guard at San Quentin Prison in California.
“They thought like cons and acted like cons,” he said Thursday in an interview with The Oregonian. “Because of my background, I’ve learned how to establish a rapport with a convict. It’s a knack I never lost. I’ve got a natural gift for gab, and that’s what I did that night while I figured out how to escape.”
Strayer has not returned to work and is not sure when he will return to the streets. For the first time in his 23-year-career, he was forced to kill someone.
“When you are a police officer, it’s something you realize you may have to do,” he said. “But when it finally happens, it’s not a pleasant thing, no matter what the circumstances.”
In the weeks since the incident, he has received nearly 100 letters of support, including one from Reinhart ‘s sister.
“The terror and trauma you suffered at his hands must have been horrible,” she writes. “Our concern and sympathy is for you and your family. Such moments must be a policeman’s nightmare. It would be natural to look back on them and wonder if you could have avoided the violent end. Do not let self-doubt and recrimination undermine your effectiveness as a policeman. Your life was threatened, and you had a clear duty to perform. Sorry as we are for those awful hours, the Reinhart family will always be grateful that Al did no greater harm.”
The night he was taken hostage was not unlike any other night of routine patrol for Strayer, who is assigned to Central Precinct. He had been on duty for just a couple of hours when he heard a report that the Safeway store at 8145 S.W. Barbur Blvd. had been robbed.
Strayer, who had a 19-year-old woman on patrol with him as part of the bureau’s ride-along program, arrived less than 30 minutes after the robber had fled the store.
There he met Officer Karen Leighton, who was taking a crime report. She provided Strayer with a witness’ description of the suspect. It was so general — white male, 5 foot 11, slender build, dark hair with gray streaks and a two-day growth of beard — that Strayer felt it was almost useless.
But on a hunch he decided to start checking the motels along Barbur Boulevard. He had no luck at first, but the manager of the Portland Rose Motel said there were two men, one of whom matched that description, in Room 14.
Strayer went back to his patrol car, got on the radio and called for additional police. He looked at his watch. It was almost 7 p.m. His passenger asked what would happen if the man in the motel was the robber and was armed.
“Well, you can’t live forever,” Strayer joked and told her to stay in the car.
When Officer Dave Holmes arrived, he and Strayer walked to Room 14, located at the back of the complex in the middle of one of several small buildings. Strayer and Holmes both remarked that they didn’t like the layout because there was no cover if something went wrong.
Room 14 was set back in a small alcove. Strayer walked in, knocked on the door and backed out. There was no response. He looked around the parking lot and spotted a car matching a description of the one used in the robbery. Holmes used his nightstick to knock a second time.
“Who is it?” someone asked from inside. Strayer saw someone look out the window, and then the door opened. Strayer identified himself and told the occupant, later identified as Reinhart , that there had been a robbery and that someone in Room 14 matched the description.
Occupant seems friendly
Reinhart, who was in fact the suspect, was friendly and told Strayer to excuse his partner. Strayer, who was standing in the doorway, glanced in the room and saw a man, later identified as Ager, sitting nude on the toilet.
“At that point we were looking for one male suspect,” Strayer recalled. “At that moment there was no reason to do anything with the man on the toilet. He was seated, nude and did not appear to be any threat. We had planned to talk to him, but everything went to hell.”
Strayer and Holmes could not search the room because they had only suspicion, which gave them the right only to go to the room and knock on the door. For all he knew, the two men in the room were a couple of seed salesmen from Iowa.
“Legally, we could not have entered the room to search,” he said. “To do that, we would have needed probable cause, reasonable grounds to believe that they had committed the crime. We didn’t have that. If we had gone into the bathroom, we would have had a problem with anything we might have found.”
Strayer told Holmes to call Leighton to bring the store witness to the motel. In less than a minute the witness was there and identified Reinhart as the robber. Strayer told him he was under arrest for armed robbery, and Holmes handcuffed him.
The police had been told there was only one robber, but Strayer wanted to question Ager. He told him to get some pants on. Ager asked if he could first finish going to the bathroom, and Strayer said he could.
Strayer, who was now in the room, turned his head away from the man for a second.
“Don’t do anything stupid,” Ager said.
Strayer, who was about 7 feet from Ager, turned back.
Ager had his pants on and was pointing a gun at Strayer’s head.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Strayer said. “I was looking right down the barrel of the gun. I mean, I could see the bullet in the cylinder. I put my hands up slowly and said, `Don’t shoot me.’ “
Holmes, meanwhile, had stepped out of the doorway and drawn his service revolver. Leighton, who was outside with the witness, also drew her gun and dropped to her knee.
Ager backed farther into the bathroom. He was about 8 feet from Strayer but was protected in case Leighton and Holmes opened fire. Ager ordered Holmes and Leighton to get out of the area. They stayed. It was a standoff, with Strayer in the middle.
“Get them out of here or I’ll kill you,” Ager warned Strayer.
`Just go, Sam’
Leighton said nothing. She looked at Strayer.
“Just go, Sam,” he said, calling Leighton by her nickname.
Holmes and Leighton left, and Ager came out of the bathroom and into the living room. He closed the door to the motel unit and told Strayer to get on his police radio and tell everyone to leave.
He told Strayer to unlock the handcuffs on Reinhart , who then reached around and took Strayer’s .45-caliber semiautomatic gun.
When Strayer asked what they planned to do, Reinhart said they just wanted to leave. Strayer told them the longer they waited, the more police would arrive.
Reinhart looked out the door and told Ager it was clear and they could go. But Ager said he wanted to get high first and told Strayer to get on the police radio and have some Dilaudid, a powerful narcotic, delivered to the room. Reinhart told Ager to forget the narcotic, but Ager was adamant.
Ager locked the door and put the bed’s box springs up against the window. He was convinced the police were preparing to storm the room. If that happened, he said, Strayer would die.
Ager called his former wife in Tacoma and told her what was happening. She didn’t believe him, so he put Strayer on the phone. Ager’s ex-wife told Strayer that Ager was a “nice guy” but that Reinhart was a “jerk.”
Ager told her he didn’t believe they were going to get out of the room alive. He said he was calling to say goodbye.
About 30 minutes after taking Strayer hostage, Ager and Reinhart said they were hungry. Strayer told them he would run over to the restaurant across the street and get some food. They all laughed. The captors decided to order out for pizza but found the police had cut the outside telephone line.
That angered them, and they talked with Sgt. Gabriel Kalmanek, giving him 30 minutes to show up with food, drinks and the Dilaudid.
Ager, a junkie who shot up several times a day, was coming down and getting sick. He propped a mattress up along a wall to use as a shield and lay down on a wide ledge that ran the length of the room. The lights were off. The television was on, but the sound was turned low so they could hear if police were coming.
Reinhart, meanwhile, was edgy. Armed with Strayer’s cocked .45-caliber gun, he paced back and forth in the room like a caged animal. Strayer, who was sitting on the floor, talked to Reinhart , trying to calm him. He talked about Reinhart’s family, where he had grown up.
“Even today I can close my eyes and still see him pacing with my gun,” Strayer said. “I was putting on the happy facade, but I was hurting inside. I just couldn’t let them see what I was really thinking. I had to maintain some control, or the situation would have gotten really out of hand.”
The handcuffs issue
By 10 p.m., Ager was sleeping so soundly that he was snoring. A news brief detailing the situation came on the television, and Ager woke up to watch with Reinhart . He told Reinhart to handcuff Strayer, saying that with that he could sleep better.
Strayer desperately did not want to be handcuffed. He felt that if he were handcuffed, he would have no chance of ever escaping. Earlier in the evening, when Ager was sleeping and Reinhart was preoccupied, Strayer had hidden a second set of handcuffs to make sure they would not use them on him.
Joking and trying to appear lighthearted, Strayer told Ager there was no need to worry. He told Ager that Ager had been snoring and Reinhart had dozed off and he still had not tried to escape. With that, Ager got mad at Reinhart for sleeping and the issue of handcuffing was dropped.
At 11 p.m., during the local television news, the captors learned that the bureau’s Special Emergency Response Team had surrounded the motel.
“They come through that door and you’re dead,” Reinhart told Strayer.
Reinhart was angry and could no longer be calmed down. He threatened to kill Strayer, who, resigned to his fate, told him to “make it quick.” But Reinhart did nothing, and at 2 a.m. he lay down on the mattress and orderd Strayer to lie near him on the floor.
For the previous six hours, Strayer had been plotting his escape. Now, as he lay huddled under a blanket, Strayer realized the situation did not look good. Throughout the night, he had been told countless times he was going to be killed. He accepted it and made peace with himself. He regretted that he would not see his family again.
But as the minutes passed, he began to feel more confident and began believing he was not going to die. He was sure he would get out of the room. Even today, weeks after the incident, he is not sure where he gained that strength.
Strayer checked his watch. It was about 3 a.m. Reinhart and Ager were sleeping. He decided to make a break for the door. He was up on his hands and knees and ready to bolt for the door when the phone rang. It was the hostage negotiator who had been calling throughout the incident.
It took Reinhart about five seconds to wake up, and he was angry with the negotiator, who told him that the Dilaudid would not be delivered.
“I thought to myself, `Tough luck,'” Strayer recalled. “It dawned on me how asleep he had been. I knew I would have another chance. I knew the people outside were doing everything they possibly could to get me out of there. They didn’t know what was going on in the room, if I was cuffed or tied up.”
After hanging up the phone, Reinhart again threatened to kill Strayer and wanted to know where the additional bullets to Strayer’s gun were. Earlier, Strayer had hidden them under a mattress. He told Reinhart he didn’t have any more ammunition and offered to let Reinhart search him.
Reinhart used Strayer’s penlight flashlight to look around the room for the ammunition but gave up and gave the flashlight back to Strayer when he couldn’t figure out how to turn it off.
At 4 a.m. Reinhart appeared to be sleeping. Ager was breathing deeply.
Strayer was sitting up against the wall. Six feet away was an electric wall heater that came on occasionally, bathing the room in an eerie orange glow. He decided to see if his captors were really asleep and took his flashlight and shined it around the room, figuring that if they were awake, they would say something. They were silent.
Is that a gun?
Strayer noticed a dark object lying next to Reinhart. He knew Reinhart had two guns when he lay down: Strayer’s .45 semiautomatic and a .357 Magnum. He didn’t know where either gun was but believed the object was one of them.
But first he called to Reinhart. He got no response. He reached out and turned off the heater. Reinhart did not move. Strayer’s leather shoes creaked, so he took them off.
He called out to Reinhart once. No response. Twice he started toward the dark object but stopped each time. He was afraid to move.
He sat back. He figured he would die if he stayed in the room. If he crawled over and found that the object was a gun, he had a chance. He decided to go for it.
Strayer crept over and felt leather. He knew it was Reinhart’s gun, in a holster. He slowly pulled the gun free and flopped back against the wall. He stood up and walked carefully toward the door.
He reached out and felt for the light switch. He wanted to surprise Reinhart and Ager by turning on the lights and temporarily blinding them. He rubbed his hand on the wall but could not find the switch.
The sound of his hand on the wall awakened Ager.
“Al, Al,” he said. “What’s that?”
Reinhart sat up and turned toward Strayer. Strayer knew Reinhart had the .45 semiautomatic cocked and ready to fire.trayer fired four shots. Three hit Reinhart . He groaned and rolled over.er, who had been sleeping on the ledge, which was a little less than 3 feet off the ground, was trying to climb out from behind the mattress.
Strayer stepped around the mattress and saw Ager pointing a gun at him. Strayer fired once.
Then he ran for the door, unlocked it, slipped off the safety chain and ran. He had his hands in the air.
“I’m a police officer. I shot them,” he shouted. “I’m a police officer. I shot them.”
He ran across Barbur Boulevard and was hustled into the SERT van, where he used a mobile phone to call his wife.
“I was crying; everyone in the van was crying,” he said. “I told her I was out and OK. It was all over.”
A LIFE HELD HOSTAGE
From the Oregonian, January 27, 1991
In the middle of the night, when the nightmare jolts him awake, Larry Strayer slips quietly from his bed and escapes to the solitude of his den.
He stands still for a moment in the dark, listening in case his wife has once again been awakened by his whimpering cries.
But everything is quiet, the house peaceful. His warm bed beckons, but sleep is impossible. The nightmare always seems so real. He is in uniform again and back in Room 14. Al and Mike have his gun. He is their hostage, and he is waiting to die.
Even now, fully awake, his body tenses, and Strayer flips on a light to chase the bogymen. The den’s walls are covered with pictures and mementos, but Strayer focuses on one ornamental frame.
Behind the glass, set on a mat of dark fabric, his Portland Police Bureau badge gleams. Once, it gave him strength. Now, it mocks him.
Thirteen years ago he had pinned that shield to his uniform. In time, he discovered that suit of blue had a life and power all its own. In time, it became his second skin. In time, the lines in his life blurred so that he didn’t know where the uniform ended and he began.
People saw him as Officer Strayer. Even when he was off duty, they treated him differently. That was fine. He was different. He was a cop.
Then, in the space of nine hours, everything changed. Al and Mike threatened to blow off his head with his own gun. Strayer escaped without a scratch. He thought he’d take just a few days off before returning to the street.
But the days turned into weeks. And then months. He couldn’t face the uniform. It was hanging there in his Central Precinct locker. Waiting for him, clean and pressed. It was ready. So where was he?
He told himself he just needed time. He puttered around the house. He read books. He watched television. He visited friends who told him how great he looked. But all he really thought about was that uniform and how scared he was to put it on.
He took a leave of absence, collected disability and tried to sort things out. He’d go back. He knew it.
But nothing worked, and in time Larry Strayer realized he had lost more than a job. He had lost himself. That cop in the uniform had disappeared and he had to find him. Because without him, Larry Strayer had no idea who he was.
Cold, steady drizzle made it an uneventful shift for Officer Larry Strayer, patrolling Southwest Portland with a criminal justice student, a young woman interested in police work.
On this night — May 12, 1988 — she wanted to know about Strayer, who was more than willing to talk and took her back to the beginning, back to when he decided to become a policeman after getting to know the officer who worked the football games and dances at his high school.
After graduation he moved to California and worked a series of jobs until he turned 21, the required age for police work. But California departments turned him down because he packed only 145 pounds on his 5-foot 11-inch frame.
So he ate more, enrolled in college and hired on as a guard at San Quentin, a maximum-security prison. Two years later he became a sheriff’s deputy. After stints at a couple of small California departments, he applied to the Portland Police Bureau, only to be told that at 34 he was too old.
He signed on with the Washington County sheriff’s department. Two years later, when the bureau dropped its age requirement, Strayer came back. At 36, he told his guest with pride and pleasure, he became what he had wanted to be all along, a big-city cop.
Strayer stopped talking. The police radio squawked and the dispatcher reported that a Safeway store on Southwest Barbur Boulevard had been robbed. At the market, Strayer was given a broad, almost useless description of the departed robber: white male, 5-feet-11, slender build.
On a hunch, Strayer headed south on Barbur, toward a string of dreary little motels that get no stars in the travel guides.
He stopped at two places before the manager at the Portland Rose Motel said a man who kind of matched the description had rented Room 14 with another guy. They were Albert Reinhart , 42, and Michael Ager, 37.
By the time Strayer returned to his patrol car to ask for backup, it was almost 7 p.m. His ride-along asked what would happen if the motel guest was the robber and had a gun.
“Well, you can’t live forever,” Strayer replied with a wry smile. He told her to stay in the car.
The backups arrived, and Strayer and another officer knocked on the door of Room 14. A curtain moved, someone peeked out the window and Reinhart opened the door. Strayer saw that he looked like the suspect, but so did hundreds of other men.
When Strayer explained why he was there, Reinhart smiled and asked Strayer to excuse his friend. Strayer stepped into the room, looked through an open bathroom door and saw Ager sitting nude on the toilet.
With no direct link to the robbery, Strayer could not search the room. But he was suspicious and asked another backup to fetch a store employee, who arrived a few minutes later and identified Reinhart as the gunman. Strayer handcuffed him.
When Strayer told Ager he wanted to question him, Ager asked for time to finish in the bathroom. Strayer told him to get dressed and looked away.
Then he heard Ager’s voice: “Don’t do anything stupid.”
Strayer turned around.
Ager was pointing a gun. Strayer recognized it as a .357-caliber Magnum and saw a bullet in the cylinder. As he raised his hands, his heart thumped and his stomach twisted.
“Take it easy. Don’t shoot me.”
Strayer’s two backups drew their guns and ducked outside while Ager backed into the protection of the bathroom. Ager told the backups to leave.
“Get them out of here or I’ll kill you.”
One of the backups, looked up at Strayer. Strayer spoke slowly.
Strayer was alone.
Within moments, Ager had slammed the door, told Strayer to radio other officers to leave and ordered him to free his buddy. Reinhart rubbed his wrists, grinned and slid Strayer’s .45-caliber semiautomatic from its holster. Strayer was shoved against a wall and searched.
Reinhart told Ager he didn’t feel comfortable with semiautomatics and left the room to get a gun out of his car. When he returned to the room he told Ager the cops were gone and it was time to split.
“What are you guys going to do with me?” Strayer asked.
“Nothing,” Reinhart said. “We just want to get out of here.”
“Hey, the longer you wait, the more police are going to show up.”
Ager ignored Strayer.ad decided to stay long enough to get high and demanded that Strayer get on his radio and tell the police to deliver Dilaudid, a powerful narcotic. Let’s go, Reinhart said. But Ager was adamant.
Strayer didn’t like junkies because they were unpredictable. He knew the police wouldn’t send drugs, which meant Ager and Reinhart would soon turn irritable and paranoid because of their cravings.
Somehow, he had to calm them. He remembered defusing tense situations at San Quentin and forced himself to seem less like a cop by appearing to be relaxed, almost friendly. Somehow, he realized, he would have to symbolically shed his uniform.
Strayer was confident that a hostage negotiator and a swarm of officers were on their way.With any luck, Strayer figured, he’d soon be free. But then he watched as Ager locked the door and frantically barricaded all of them inside the room, overturning the bed and moving the box spring up against the window. Ager said he was afraid police were going to storm the room.
“If that happens,” he warned Strayer, “you die.”
Strayer believed him. Trained to maintain control, Strayer felt it slipping away. He was scared. He wondered if he had left enough life insurance for his wife and kids.
Ager, too, was thinking of family and telephoned his wife in Washington to tell her what was happening. His wife didn’t believe him, so Ager put Strayer on the phone.
“Are you really a cop?”
She apologized for what was happening.
“He’s really not a bad guy.”
Yeah, right, Strayer thought as he handed Ager the phone.
The room was silent. Strayer was asked what he did at the bureau. He said he used to work with kids in the juvenile unit. He didn’t mention his time in the drug squad.
He wanted his captors to forget he was a cop. When they said they were hungry, Strayer offhandedly offered to run across Barbur Boulevard to get some food. They all laughed. But when Ager and Reinhart tried to order out for pizza, they discovered police had taken over the motel switchboard.
A hostage negotiator came on the line and demanded Strayer’s release. No way. They wanted drugs. The negotiator said he was working on it.
Within a matter of hours, Ager needed a fix and paced the room. Some junkies pass out, Strayer thought. Others lash out in anger. What do I have on my hands? he asked himself.
Strayer was relieved when Ager said he wanted to lie down. He walked to a ledge used to store suitcases. The ledge was about 3 feet off the ground, and Ager long one side to shield himself and lay down.
With the lights off, the room was illuminated by the television’s blue glow. The sound was turned low so they could hear if anyone approached. Strayer sat on a bench next to the TV.
The room had become a prison for all three men. The negotiator had not called back and Reinhart was edgy. was his turn to pace. Where Ager had been sleepy, Reinhart was angry.
He kept Strayer’s gun cocked and held it in his hand. Strayer calmed him by asking about family and background. Soon Ager joined in the conversation. They said they were career criminals and had robbed the Safeway for drug money. Then the conversation fell off.
They all were thinking the same thing. The police weren’t going to send drugs. There were only two endings: Ager and Reinhart would surrender or the police would storm the room.
Time dragged on. There was no more pretense, no more laughing about running out for pizza. Strayer was a hostage, something to bargain with.
When he shifted his weight, Ager and Reinhart leveled guns at his head and chest. If he scratched his face, the guns came up. A drink of water, a trip to the bathroom — always a gun in his face.
By 10 p.m., almost three hours after the door slammed behind him, Strayer was exhausted and scared.
Once, when he was a young cop in California, a robber had shot at him. The incident had been over in less than 45 seconds and he hadn’t had time to think about the danger.
But this was different. Death was in the room with him. He could feel it, almost see it in the dark. That line about being brave in the face of death was nonsense: Earlier, he’d taken the phone to ask the hostage negotiator if his life wasn’t worth just a few drugs.
Now, sitting alone on the motel floor, he realized he had groveled. Pleaded. Begged. He was a policeman; he knew what the negotiator could and couldn’t do. But now. . . . Now he wasn’t a policeman anymore. He was just a tired, terrified 43-year-old man who wanted to go home.
wondered if he would live to see the sunrise. He thought about his family. He wondered if this was what they meant when they talked about your life flashing before you.
Shortly before 11 p.m. Ager woke up and told Reinhart to handcuff Strayer. Strayer forced himself to appear lighthearted. He told Ager not to worry: Hey, you’ve been sleeping and Reinhart had dozed off and I didn’t bolt the room. Ager turned angrily to the sleepy Reinhart and forgot about the cuffs.
On the late news, Reinhart and Ager learned the motel was surrounded by the Special Emergency Response Team. Reinhart looked directly at Strayer.
“They come through that door and you’re dead,” he said.
At midnight Reinhart could no longer be calmed. He threatened to kill Strayer. Forgedrugs. He was fed up. He held Strayer’s .45 in his hand.
Strayer didn’t care.
Countless times he’d been told he would die. He didn’t cry, or beg for his life. He didn’t think about escaping. He said a prayer and made peace with himself.
Strayer knew he would die quickly. The .45-caliber slug would take care of that. He hoped he wouldn’t feel pain. More than anything, he was afraid that Reinhart would torture him, make him pay for being a cop.
He told Reinhart he had one request: “Make it quick.” Then he waited for the gun blast. Instead, Reinhart turned away and resumed pacing. For the first time that night, Strayer felt hopeful.
About 2 a.m. Reinhart flopped down on the mattress and ordered Strayer to lie near him on the floor. Ager was asleep and within minutes so was Reinhart .
Huddled under a blanket, Strayer started thinking like a cop again. Both men were asleep. Maybe he could make a break for the door. He was up on hands and knees when the phone rang. It was the negotiator.
Reinhart slammed down the phone. Strayer had seen Reinhart take about five seconds to wake up, and knew he would have another chance to escape. He just had to keep Reinhart calm.
But Reinhart whirled on Strayer and demanded the extra bullets to the .45. He said he was going to kill Strayer. Earlier, Strayer had tucked the spare ammunition under a mattress. He now insisted he had no more. Reinhart searched the room with Strayer’s small flashlight but gave up and lay down again.
Were they sleeping? Strayer shined his flashlight around the room. If they saw the light, they’d react. Nothing.
Strayer saw a dark object lying next to Reinhart . He knew Reinhart had two guns, the .45 and the .357. He guessed the dark object was one them.
He called to Reinhart. Nothing.
Strayer moved slightly. His leather shoes creaked. He took them off. He called out to Reinhart . Nothing.
Twice he started toward the dark object and stopped. Too afraid. He sat back against the wall. He had to take the chance. He crept across the carpet and reached out. It was the leather g the .357.
Slowly, he pulled the gun free and flopped back against the wall. He stood, walked carefully to the door and felt for the light switch. He wanted to stun his captors by blinding them momentarily. He rubbed his hand along the wall. Where was the switch?
The sound awakened Ager.
“Al, Al. What’s that?”
Reinhart sat up and turned toward Strayer.
Strayer knew Reinhart had the .45 cocked and ready.
Strayer fired four shots. Reinhart groaned and rolled over.
Ager tried to scramble out from behind the mattress against the ledge. Strayer stepped around the mattress. Ager pointed a gun. Strayer fired once, then ran for the door.
He had his hands in the air. He was yelling.
“I’m a police officer! I shot them! I’m a police officer!
Strayer’s peers congratulated him as he was hustled away from the motel and taken to the bureau to be interviewed by detectives. When they were done, his wife, Evelyn, and daughter, Kirsten, took him home to Southwest Portland.
Although he had been awake more than 24 hours, Strayer couldn’t sleep. A Valium pill had no effect. He listened to the phone ring with the calls of friends and co-workers.
After he dressed and drove back to the Portland Rose. Outside Room 14, a detective told Strayer his gunshots had killed Reinhart and wounded Ager, who fatally shot himself when police lobbed tear gas into the room.
The detective said he had to hold Strayer’s .45 for evidence, but Strayer could have it when he came back to work.
Strayer forced himself to look into the room. The bodies were gone. That’s why Strayer had needed to come back — to make sure Al and Mike were dead.
As he left the room, his sergeant threw his arm around Strayer’s shoulders. “I’ll be back in a few days,” Strayer said. “See you then.”
But by the end of the week, Strayer knew something was wrong. Physically, he felt fine. But he couldn’t put on his uniform.
He didn’t even like to hunt and thought maybe he was troubled over killing someone. He took comfort in a letter from Reinhart ‘s sister.
“The terror and trauma you suffered at his hands must have been horrible. Our concern and sympathy is for you and your family. Such moments must be a policeman’s nightmare. It would be natural to look back on them and wonder if you could have avoided the violent end. Do not let self-doubt and recrimination undermine your effectiveness as a policeman. Your life was threatened, and you had a clear duty to perform. Sorry as we are for those awful hours, the Reinhart family will always be grateful that Al did no greater harm.”
He filed the letter away. No, there was something else.
Maybe he needed a visit to Central Precinct. Officers dropped what they were doing when he walked through the door. His lieutenant told Strayer to go home, take it easy. They’d see him soon enough.
But as he talked with his colleagues, Strayer realized he was glad he didn’t have to wear the uniform. He didn’t say that, of course. See you soon, he said on his way out the door.
He took a trip back East to see his 20-year-old son, Craig, graduate from the U.S. Coast Guard Academy. When he came home, he found that his friends at Central Precinct had taken up a collection to send him on another trip, one he’d been talking about for years — visiting Civil War sites in the South.
He came back rejuvenated. He was ready to put on the uniform. But one day, driving downtown, Strayer casually glanced at the car next to his. He could have sworn the two men in the front seat were Al and Mike. Strayer drove straight home. He couldn’t sleep that night. He told his wife he needed more time.
A few weeks later his uncle came to town and Strayer took him to dinner. On the drive home, Strayer made up his mind to go to work the next day. When they got home Strayer and his uncle went to the living room to watch television. There on the screen, a man pointed a handgun straight at the camera. And Strayer was right back in Room 14.
Strayer shut his eyes and turned his head away. His pulse raced. He was petrified.What would happen if he saw a real gun?
He called his commanders. Won’t be back as soon as expected, he said. His .45 caused too many bad memories so he sold it to a sergeant.
Is this what it’s like to go mad? he wondered. He wanted only to sit in a dark room. He didn’t want to have to talk to friends or family. He thought about killing himself.
He sought help. A counselor said Ager and Reinhart had irrevocably changed his life. The doctors called it acute stress, which meant he qualified for disability payments from the city.
He took a leave of absence from the bureau. Almost a year after being taken hostage, Strayer and his wife decided to move to Colorado Springs, the city where he first thought of becoming a police officer.
But before they left Portland, Strayer had an errand to run. He drove to Central Precinct at a time when he knew the Justice Center station house would be nearly deserted. He nodded to the man at the desk and walked back into the bowels of the precinct.
Then he opened his locker door. Inside was his life.
There hung his uniform and his bulletproof vest. He could see his nightstick and belts, his keys, his legal books, his ticket book. Numbly, he stuffed it all into a bag. Then he took the elevator to the 16th floor and handed everything to a supply clerk.
Now he could move to Colorado.
The Strayers were there more than a year before they admitted life wasn’t better. Strayer continued counseling, but
Evelyn Strayer noticed the little things. He didn’t smile much anymore, he’d lost his sense of humor and seemed moody, preoccupied with thoughts he didn’t care to share.
Strayer found that he needed to be in control at all times. He was no longer upbeat and optimistic about life. He brooded about his mortality. He had nightmares.
Evelyn had been married to Larry for more than 20 years, but at times was living with a stranger. Who is this man? Strayer felt much the same way: If he wasn’t a policeman, what was he?
The kids had moved away, so it was just Larry and Evelyn. He pushed her away and refused to discuss his demons. They argued over minor things until, finally, she said she couldn’t take it anymore.
One morning she packed her car for the drive back to Portland. Strayer didn’t try to talk her out of it. He stood in the middle of the street and watched her car disappear around the corner.
He enjoyed the solitude. In the next weeks, he busied himself remodeling the basement, building a deck and working in the yard. He continued his counseling. In time he believed he would be a policeman again and bought back his gun from the Portland sergeant.
He had it with him as he drove through Idaho on his way to visit some Portland friends. He was traveling at 6 miles an hour over the speed limit when a trooper pulled him over and asked for identification. It’s in the trunk, Strayer said, in a briefcase that contains a gun.
The trooper took the gun and ID and walked back to his patrol car. A few minutes later a second trooper showed up. A backup. Something was wrong. Strayer opened his car door.
“Get back in your car now,” came a command over the loudspeaker.
Several minutes passed. The trooper told Strayer the gun was listed as stolen. Strayer said there must be a mistake. He had used the gun when he was a Portland policeman. He asked the trooper to call the bureau.
The trooper made the call. No one in the Portland Police Bureau’s record unit had ever heard of a Larry Strayer. Strayer panicked. Check again. More minutes passed.
The trooper came back. A records supervisor had remembered Strayer. And because of a computer error, the gun, first reported stolen when Reinhart took it from Strayer, had never been taken off the list. The trooper handed Strayer his gun.
“You’d better get this straightened out,” he said.
Strayer wanted nothing more than to straighten out his life. If he could have anything, it would be to go back to Portland, put on the uniform and hit the street.
He just couldn’t do it.
Every time he thought about police work, he got scared. He knew he’d be a disaster. He’d overreact, pull his gun when he shouldn’t or shoot too soon to protect his own life, not someone else’s.
In the months alone, Strayer thought about a lot of things. What he kept coming back to was the price he had paid for the job he had loved.
As a child, Strayer’s son had been an athlete. How many games had Strayer seen? A handful. He had been too busy.
How many family picnics were canceled because Dad was immersed in an investigation? Too many.
How many times had he turned his kids away when they wanted to talk with him? Next weekend, he would say. Tomorrow. But he never had time. He was always too tired or getting ready for court.
Strayer, alone in his home, thought about all that.
And he decided that if he couldn’t be a cop, he could be a father.
He reached out to ildren, who were in their 20s and lived far away. He didn’t mumble or hem and haw. He said he loved them. And they said they loved him. The tears came.
He decided he could be a husband.
He called his wife. They talked. He admitted he was a different man from the one she had once known. It wasn’t his choice. Maybe he was a better one. Maybe they could find out together.
She came back.
When he’d go back to Portland to visit old friends he’d occasionally see a policeman and his heart would ache a bit. One day, after he had been gone for more than two years, he went back to Central Precinct.
There had been so many changes that Strayer didn’t know most of the crew. He talked to a couple of men he knew and found they didn’t have much to say to each other. He was an outsider now. He accepted it. He didn’t plan to visit again.
Strayer returned to Colorado convinced he had survived that night in Room 14 for a reason. He didn’t know what the future held, but he felt patient enough to wait and see.
His disability payments, od for only a couple of years, rastically reduced and he began looking for new worklectured at the Colorado police academy, volunteered at an agency that helped the retarded and
When people asked what he did, he said he was a retired policeman.
Retired? You’re awfully young.
I’ve done my time, he’d say.
One Saturday last fall, Strayer got in his pickup and drove out to see how the leaves on the aspens had turned from light green to bright gold to mark the change of seasons.
He left behind the busy streets and headed up Ute Pass. He passed ghost towns and abandoned railroad grades, until finally he found himself alone in the isolated high country.
From a distance he could see the aspens. The brilliant flame colors of the leaves covered the valley floor.
He pulled his truck to the side of a road, turned off the engine and rolled down the window. A cold wind whistled through the cab. Yes, winter was coming.
He stared out at the trees. The leaves were dead. And so was Officer Larry Strayer.
He was gone. Strayer accepted it. It wasn’t easy, but he had buried the cop, that man in the blue uniform. He had let him go. He had been a good man. A brave man.
But he was gone.
In his place was simply Larry Strayer — a new man it would take some time getting used to.
Strayer looked out the window. The snows were on their way. The aspens faced another vicious Colorado winter. But they would survive. And in the spring, the leaves would blossom and life would begin anew.
Of that, Strayer was sure.