Oregon History Portland History

A murder mystery at the Commonwealth Building? SOLVED!!

Was there a murder at the Equitable Building?



We heard from Jd Chandler, author of Murder and Mayhem in Portland, Oregon and the blog (a favorite around here) Slabtown Chronicle. He dived in and did some research, found one death that might have been related (a suicide by an attorney that worked in the building that didn’t occur in the building in 1957), checked day-to-day news…and found nothing.

Here’s what he wrote about the murder: 

I finished my search of 1955 and no murder occurred in the Equitable Building that year or at any other time I can find. This “murder mystery” is a myth, it never happened. Sorry.

So, there you have it. Cased closed. 


The Commonwealth Building (421 SW 6th Avenue between Washington and Stark Streets), was designed by architect Pietro Belluschi and built between 1944 and 1948. Originally known as the Equitable Building, the building is noted as one of the first glass box towers ever built, pioneering many modern features and predating the more famous Lever House in Manhattan.

Once upon a time, I worked in the building. It’s a favorite. It’s in great shape and really stands out as a mid-century masterpiece.

I remembered a conversation with the door guy (there’s a desk in the lobby and the door guy knew everyone’s name. EVERYONE’S NAME.) who mentioned that there was a murder on the 13th floor. A quick Google search revealed this:

“In 1955 a murder took place on the 13th floor apparently arising from a dispute between a prominent businessman and his wife over an affair.”

After that, the lead went cold and I found nothing. Years later and over the summer reader Nickole Cheron contacted me for more information. I had nothing to offer. She’d taken the research to the next level – Oregon Historical Society, Oregonian archives, local historians and also came up empty. Nada. Zilch. Nothing.

So, do we have a mystery on our hands? Did it even happen? Help us both out – leave anything you know in the comments section.


2 replies on “A murder mystery at the Commonwealth Building? SOLVED!!”

Ok, a couple questions:

1) Does anyone know who posted the Wikipedia (or whatever) article that comes up on the Google search?

2) Has anyone found anything on this at the Oregonian digital archive? (I searched pretty extensively and came up empty)

So here’s a theory:

April 21, 1955: Portland attorney Kermit Smith was murdered in a car bomb at the Columbia Edgewater Country Club. Investigators later determined that his wife and her alleged lover had killed him and that they had initially plotted to shoot him at his office. I have not been able to determine the 1955 location of his office (the law firm of Crum & Smith). If it turns out that the office was in the Equitable Building, this might solve the mystery…

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