SALEM, Ore. (AP) — Police converged in force on the tiny, unincorporated community of Wolf Creek in southwest Oregon the night of Jan. 26 as they hunted for a suspect who was wanted for kidnapping and torturing a woman nearly to death — and who had previously been convicted of a similar crime in Nevada.
Five days later, Benjamin Obadiah Foster was dead, finally located by police hiding in the crawlspace under a house in nearby Grants Pass, the same home where his victim had been found unconscious and bound a week earlier. In the interim, Foster entered another home and killed two strangers, leaving a gruesome scene as he evaded one of the biggest manhunts in the state in recent memory, police said Wednesday.
In 2019, Foster held his then-girlfriend captive for two weeks in her Las Vegas apartment while torturing her. Police said he broke seven of her ribs, blackened both her eyes, choked her to the point of unconsciousness and forced her to eat lye before she managed to escape. Foster already had a suspended jail sentence on a concealed weapons charge and was awaiting trial in another domestic violence case.
Two months after he cut a deal with prosecutors and was sentenced to one to 2 1/2 years, he was set free on Oct. 21, 2021, the same day he was transferred to a Nevada state prison. A Nevada corrections official said Foster was released because the judge credited him with 729 days of pre-sentencing jail time.
Fifteen months later Foster, a 36-year-old bartender, was in a relationship with a woman in Grants Pass. On Jan. 24 her friend grew concerned because she hadn’t been seen for several days. The friend went to the woman’s house, where she was found beaten to unconsciousness, bound and near death. The victim remained hospitalized in critical condition Wednesday.
The case rattled Grants Pass, a town of 40,000 that has seen high unemployment and poverty rates and public safety layoffs with the decline of the timber industry. Police said they were bringing all their resources to bear to find Foster.
“We are laser-focused on capturing this man and bringing him to justice,” Police Chief Warren Hensman told a news conference Jan. 26. “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 carried out the raid in Wolf Creek, set amid forested mountains with traffic on Interstate 5 zooming past nearby. Agents seized Foster’s car, which he had driven over an embankment in an apparent effort to hide it, and arrested a 68-year-old woman for hindering prosecution. But Foster had vanished.
Investigators believed he had help fleeing the area. The next day, police announced that he was using dating apps to find people who could help him avoid the police or to find new victims. Authorities offered a $2,500 reward for Foster and set up a tip line.
One call came from a cab company saying a man had requested a taxi from Sunny Valley, just south of Wolf Creek, Hensman said Wednesday. Police went around checking area homes to ensure residents were all right.
But through the window of one 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 Capt. Kyle Kennedy.
“It’s a brutal scene, unfortunately, that we’re processing,” Kennedy said. There’s no indication that Foster knew Barron or Griffith, who lived together, before the killings.
Several items were taken, as well as the men’s dog. On Tuesday, Foster was spotted 20 miles (30 kilometers) to the south in Grants Pass — with the dog.
Law enforcement officers wearing helmets and bulletproof vests rushed to the neighborhood with rifles and at least one armored vehicle. They searched the nearby house where they had found the woman the previous week. It was a nerve-wracking situation, according to the police chief.
“While we’re deploying teams to secure the residence, we also have to take into account what this man just did — he brutally murdered two innocents in Sunny Valley, and we didn’t know when he was going to stop,” Hensman said. Area residents were told to shelter in place.
Officers searched the house and didn’t initially find anyone, but then they sent a sheriff’s department robot to the crawlspace and found signs Foster was burrowed deep underneath the home. His presence was confirmed by a camera. The fugitive had water and other supplies stashed there, apparently in hopes he could wait out the police presence undetected.
The officers expected a gunfight, but instead Foster shot himself in the head, according to Hensman. Police moved in and found Foster unconscious, wedged under the house and holding a .45-caliber pistol. Officers had to cut into the floorboards to extract him.
Foster was taken to a hospital, where he died Tuesday night.
“This was a long and arduous task,” Hensman said. “It ended with Benjamin Foster taking his own life.”
Associated Press writer Rio Yamat in Las Vegas contributed to this report.