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Murder still haunts Ashland

One of the most tragic unsolved murders in Jackson County is the horrific death five years ago of David Michael Grubbs.

The 23-year-old Ashland residentwas found murdered on the Central Ashland Bike Path near the Hunter Park tennis courts at about 5:35 p.m. on Nov. 19, 2011. An autopsydetermined he was nearly decapitated from a weapon with a medium to large blade, police said.

"I'd love for the 'aha moment' when I can put out a press release and put some closure on this with friends andfamily," Ashland police Chief Tighe O'Meara said. "I've talked to David's mother and father. Even on the phone, the openness of the wound and thepain are palpable."

O'Meara recently hired retired sheriff's Detective CharlieRetzer to pore over a half-terabyte of leads and other information that police have collected over the years. A half-terabyte is roughly equivalent to 500 Encyclopedia Britannicas.

Retzer worked for the Jackson County Sheriff's Department for 25 years,eight as a detective. A native Southern Oregonian, Retzer worked a number of homicide cases during his career, O'Meara said.

"My plan is that he solves theGrubbs case as soon as possible," O'Meara said.

O'Meara said the evidence shows thefatal blow was from massive trauma caused by a large edged weapon such as a machete or sword.

O'Meara said he wants a fresh set of eyes on the case to see whether anything was overlooked or something needs more investigation.

He said Retzer, whoreceives $23 an hour,will have anopen-ended job with Ashland policebut can work only a limited number of hours in a year because of his pension plan.

O'Meara said that should Retzer's work lead to an arrest, the retired detective will stay on to prepare the case for trial.

A$22,000 reward will be given for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the murderer.

Grubbs' murder shocked Ashland residents, who provided police withrumors, tips and theories.

"In the days after David got killed, it seemed like half the people in Ashland were carrying swords," O'Meara recalled.

Police have looked at various suspects over the years but haven't charged anyone with the murder.

One person of interest was Christian Oliver Delaurentiis, 33, who pleaded guilty to a four-month bank-robbery spree that began Jan. 2, 2012, when he robbed U.S. Bank inside the Albertsons grocery store at 910 N. Phoenix Road, authorities said.

Another California man who allegedly threatened Ashland police officers with pruning shears was picked up on a warrant in Yrekain 2011and was questioned in the Grubbs murder case.

However, police determinedMichael Mollo, 43, of Fullerton, Calif., was not a suspect in the murder, though he had a history of violent behavior.

In 2012, acting on a tip, police searched an irrigation pond just outside Talent but didn't find any clues in the murder.

Almost every year since the murder, a new development appeared but soon was discounted even as local residents and the family hoped for answers.

"It was a terrible shock and a tragedy in this community," Mayor John Stromberg said.

He said he supports the police chief's continued efforts to resolve the case.

"I think they've got to crack it," he said.

While Stromberg doesn't know any more than other residents in Ashland, he said the police keep a lot of information confidential on purpose.

"That way they can test the veracity of the suspect or witness statements," he said.

Grubbs, who lived on California Street and worked at the local Shop'n Kart, waswalking home from work when he was attacked.

Investigators said Grubbs didn't appear to have any defensive wounds, and that his wallet and money were left in his pocket after he was killed. His body was found by a passerby about a half hour after his murder.

Grubbs was well known and well liked in Ashland.He had played in the Ashland High School orchestra and for the Youth Symphony of Southern Oregon. He played the upright bass and also the electric bass guitar.

Eric Chaddock, Shop'n Kart store manager, said workers at the store go down to the path to remember Grubbs every year.

Chaddock, who said hedoesn't think Grubbs had any enemies,said, "This was the nicest kid I've ever met in my whole life."

Grubbsstarted at Shop'n Kart in high school,stocking shelves, Chaddock said.

Right after the murder, it was particularly difficult on the 100 people who work at the store, he said.

"The interrogations were pretty intense here," he said. "They got into everybody's personal stuff. You expect that, but it was pretty invasive."

Chaddock said he remembers the rumors right after the murder, even in his hometown of Talent.

He said he hopes the police can uncover some new information that will solve this murder.

"Any kind of closure for parents and family — I can't even put myself in their position," Chaddock said.

Anyone with information on the murder is asked to call the Ashland Police Department at the tip line at 541-552-2333 or tipline@ashland.or.us.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or dmann@mailtribune.com. Follow him on www.twitter.com/reporterdm.

David Michael Grubbs
Fresh flowers adorned a makeshift memorial that appeared along the Ashland bike path in the days following Grubbs' murder on Nov. 19, 2011.