Unusually low water in the Umatilla River in September 1952 led to the discovery of the body of a man missing for four years after escaping from police custody near the Eastern Oregon State Hospital in Pendleton.

State police and county officers were called to the scene of a body found in the Umatilla River on September 22, 1952, by two fishermen just below the Billy Osborne ranch, a former frog farm, east of Barnhart. Fishermen in that area of the river had complained to state police of a peculiar odor over the previous few years. The body was in a hole, partially wedged in an old log jam.

The body was believed to be that of James Arthur McKinney, 48, a transient originally from Antlers, Okla., who escaped from Deputy Sheriff Roy Johnson May 16, 1948, and plunged into the Umatilla River near the state mental institution. McKinney had been arrested in the hamlet of Rieth just west of Pendleton after police received a tip that he was selling whiskey and other articles illegally.

Johnson was transporting McKinney by car to Pendleton when McKinney fired a small tear gas cartridge from a “fountain pen” gun at him and escaped. State policeman Joseph Wark saw McKinney jump into the Umatilla and disappear from view, but a search for him over the next few days was fruitless.

An examination of the partially intact remains pulled from the river revealed that the body was the same general size and hair color and wearing the same type of clothing as in McKinney’s description. Though the skull was skeletonized, the body had been partially covered in mud, which preserved some of the flesh and clothing. Identification by means of the teeth was impossible, as the body had no teeth and McKinney also wore dentures, which he did not have in his mouth when he made his escape in 1948.

The body was taken to a local funeral home for disposition, and no inquest into the death was expected to take place.

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