Woman Writes About Almost Fatal Ax Attack

ByABC News

May 3, 2006 — -- Terri Jentz was a young woman on a quest for adventure. In the summer of 1977, Jentz and a female companion started on a cross-country bike trip from the Willamette Valley in Oregon .

At the time, both women were undergraduates at Yale University, and they'd planned to follow America's bicentennial bike trail, discovering the country and themselves along the way.

"I really had no clue what America was about," Jentz said. "But what I do remember is what you hear from the rock songs of those times, you know, like the Eagles or Fleetwood Mac -- go your own way. It was a sense that anything was possible and you just go out and make it happen."

On June 22, 1977, after a long day biking into the high desert, the two women rolled into Cline Falls State Park, near Redmond, Ore.

They pitched their tent near a stream. But Jentz said something unnerved them -- she called it a premonition. The women felt as if they were being watched.

"It was an animal instinct of danger, and we both had it, we both had it separately and we shared it with one another," Jentz said.

But the women stayed anyway, thinking they were just being paranoid.

The women bedded down but Jentz said she woke up suddenly about a half hour later.

She said she realized there was a truck above her body.

"I first thought it was an accident, because it's preposterous to wake up under a truck, and I know there were kids cruising the park road, and I would assume they had been drinking, so what if somebody accidentally went off the curve and over our tent," Jentz said.

She expected to hear a lot of noise, maybe a group of drunken teenagers. But instead she heard what sounded like a single person get out of the truck.

"And at that moment I hear my friend scream sharply, 'Leave us alone,' and then I hear a blow. Then I hear six more, just like that," Jentz said, clapping her hands.

Then, Jentz said, she heard nothing. "And then at that point I knew we're being murdered by a single psycho."

After his attack on Jentz's companion, the stranger turned back to her.

"He's above me, I'm thrashing from side to side. ... I catch a glimpse of a piece of wood, I feel a hunk of cold metal, and I then start losing consciousness," Jentz said.

At that point, Jentz said, she knew she was dying, but then a voice inside her said, "I'm too young to die."

She opened her eyes and she said standing over her was a "meticulously dressed cowboy ... straddling me on each side I could see the boots, the pant legs, the shirt meticulously tucked in his pants, but his head disappeared in darkness."

But most horrifying, Jentz said, "I could see poised above me was an ax or a hatchet."

"I looked up at him and opened my eyes and I said, 'Take anything but leave us alone, please leave us alone,'" she said. "He brought the ax down slowly, and I caught it in my hands right above my heart, grabbed the blade in my hands ... and then he withdrew it."

The man stepped over her, got in his truck and squealed away, Jentz said.

Despite broken bones and deep wounds to her head and arms, Jentz stumbled to the road and flagged down a pickup truck.

Bill Penhollow and Boo Issack were teenagers driving through the park after a lovers' quarrel when they saw Jentz emerge from the woods, covered in blood and screaming.

"She was right there in the window, and she was messed up," said Issack. "You could see it by looking at her. She was so bloody it was dripping off her hair ... the ends of her hair."

Jentz flagged them down, screaming for help. She guided the young couple to the river, where her friend lay gravely wounded.

That's when the three of them saw a pair of headlights slice through the dark and a vehicle stop nearby.

"That really got the adrenaline going because they shined their lights, turned around and then split and went up the hill, without coming through the park to see what was going on, which was unusual," Penhollow said. "And I assumed for sure it was the attacker."

Jentz and her friend suffered severe wounds and were rushed to a nearby hospital. From the hospital windows, they could see the snow-capped volcanoes that bordered the small town of Redmond, Ore.

"This is God's country," Jentz said. "So I think there was a mentality that we are this nature-loving community, these things do not happen here. This is paradise."

Within hours of the attack, local police searched the crime scene. But aside from sketches made of the truck's tire tracks, the official investigation quickly ran cold.

The rumor mill, however, heated up. Even an editorial in a local newspaper hinted that there were people in the town who knew more than they were saying.

"Rumors surfaced and stuff," Penhollow said. "They thought they had found some kind of a hatchet or something in the river with the initials on it."

According to Penhollow, those rumored initials were "DD."

But that rumor, along with reports that police were planning to question a local 17-year-old boy about the crime, all eventually led nowhere.

"I think people were assuming the police were taking care of it," Jentz said. "I think the police were assuming that people would be calling in with tips if they knew them. And there was, you know, a massive disconnect."

In the years that followed, both women recovered, though Jentz's friend reportedly lost all memory of the attack due to the trauma. And Jentz found she was plagued by amorphous fears -- earthquakes, random attacks, everything, she said.

Fifteen years passed, and the crime at Cline Falls remained unsolved.

Then in 1992, Jentz decided to pick up the trail herself. She returned to Redmond with a video camera and a notepad.

She began to painstakingly comb police files and interview anyone who would talk.

Jentz learned that the statute of limitations for the crime had run out in 1980, so legally speaking, the ax man was untouchable.

Jentz said she was angry the statute had run out, but said it also just fed her resolve to find her attacker.

It turned out that less than 24 hours after Jentz and her companion were bludgeoned at Cline Falls, the ax man may have struck again -- not with a hatchet but with his bare hands.

And this time the victim said she not only knew who did it -- she'd gone to the prom with him.

"He could turn from this really nice, 'yes, ma'am,' 'thank you, ma'am,' to Satan in his eyes," said Jeannie Fish Fraley. "I mean, it was just like two different people -- night and day,"

Fraley's high school boyfriend was a boy named Dick Damm, who she says was physically and mentally abusive during their relationship.

Over the course of 30 years, he compiled a long police record with convictions for carrying a dangerous weapon, violating a restraining order and driving under the influence.

According to Fraley, Damm showed up drunk and angry at a nearby park.

"He hit me several times and got me on the ground and he hit me and was hitting me in the face, kicked me ... was spitting on me," Fraley said.

Fraley said she managed to get away from him and dove into a nearby pond and swam away. She said she heard him say, "I'm going to kill you, b**ch."

Fraley escaped and reported the alleged attack to the police. But she said local law enforcement didn't pursue it.

"My parents, they tried to file charges against him with all of this and they were told that since we were both minors to just to forget it, is what the judge told my dad," she said.

But Fraley said she didn't forget it and remembered that a toolbox in Damm's pickup -- where he always stored a hatchet -- was missing. She said she realized something else was different about his truck.

"I also noticed that he had changed the tires on the front of his pickup," she said.

Fraley began to wonder if Damm and the Cline Falls attacker were one and the same.

She said she visited the scene of the alleged attack and said she recognized the tire tracks from Damm's truck.

It was then, Fraley said, she knew Damm was the ax man. "Without a shadow of a doubt I knew that," she said.

But her certainty was apparently not shared by the police, who still had not produced a suspect, even though it seemed so many people in the town were convinced Damm was involved.

Pat Daley has lived and worked just outside of Redmond all his life. Over the years, he said, he has hired Damm for various jobs and has known him ever since the first rumors began spreading about the attacks at Cline Falls.

Daley said that Damm frequently brought up the attacks himself, saying that he knew everyone thought he did it. Damm has always denied involvement in the crime.

In 1995, Daley arranged for Damm to meet him at a local restaurant. The meeting's real purpose was to let Jentz see Damm's face.

Jentz's first reaction was that he "looked mean and he looked radiant, radiantly mean."

Jentz said that Damm's outfit matched her memory of the stylishly dressed cowboy who attacked her, but she refused to confront him.

"I don't want to give him the power to rationalize, deny, justify, say he's sorry for something I don't think he is sorry for," Jentz said. "It gives him power. ... That kind of confrontation is something you see in the movies, and it's not something that works for me in real life."

Former state trooper Marlen Hein had no such reservations.

After reopening an investigation in 1995 into the Cline Falls case, Hein ordered two polygraphs for Damm.

Though the tests were technically labeled inconclusive because Damm reportedly had illegal drugs in his system, the official report on the second polygraph included this exchange:

The examiner who conducted the test wrote, "It is this examiner's opinion that Mr. Damm is not being truthful in his responses to those relevant questions."

Hein is convinced that the attacker was Damm, even though there is no physical evidence linking him to the crime. "If I took all of the statements that I had, and all my reports, and was to take that to grand jury, I am confident that I would get a indictment," Hein said. "I feel that strongly about it."

Last month "Primetime" requested an interview with Damm, who is currently being held at the Deshutes County Jail pending trial on multiple drug and assault charges. He declined.

Jentz's difficult journey began nearly 30 years ago on a bike and now ends with a book, "Strange Piece of Paradise," an account of her ordeal and her investigation into the case.

With her life defined by fear for so long, Jentz said writing the book has helped her move forward.

"When a force out of nowhere comes and just takes your power away, something cuts you down, you know, lays you low, ends your trip, almost ends your life. ... You're afraid of everything eventually," she said.

And though she may never see anyone convicted of the crime against her, she stands by her convictions. "I don't think there is any evidence out there that would ever prove me wrong."

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