PORTLAND — Jailers near Portland say defendants in two of Oregon’s highest-profile recent crime sprees carried on a clandestine relationship behind bars, devising a complex communication strategy fit for a spy novel.
Columbia County jail officials uncovered the relationship last month when they found a love note written by Andrew Barnett, accused of perpetrating a recent anthrax hoax that targeted a number of Portland law enforcement and commercial centers. The object of his affection was Holly Grigsby, charged in a three-state killing spree.
Barnett’s note was found hidden in a law book on a library shelf. Most of the four-page letter was vulgar and sexually explicit, and it included a racist rant against the African American judge presiding over both their cases, Lt. Tony Weaver, a jail supervisor, told The Oregonian.
Barnett devised a complex way to communicate that involved book bindings marked with stars and other symbols, dog-eared pages and a numeric code so Grigsby could find the book where he hid his letters, Weaver said. At least two other inmates also were using books in the library as dead-drops for secret communications.
“They called it their ‘email’ system," Weaver said.
Authorities moved the jail’s law library to a more secure location on Nov. 16, he said, and inmates can still access those books. But to read general fiction and non-fiction books, they must pick them off a cart that rolls from cell to cell.
Grigsby is awaiting trial on federal racketeering charges alleging that she and an accomplice, David “Joey" Pederson, killed four people last fall as part of a campaign to “purify" and “preserve" the white race. Both have pleaded not guilty.
Barnett has a long history of challenging authorities from behind bars. He’s accused of mailing a parcel in December 2011 with a mysterious white powder to a federal prosecutor, which the government alleges was an attempt to convey that it was anthrax and that a biological attack was occurring. After the first letter sent to the prosecutor, a slew of similar parcels showed up at six other Portland buildings, including the Port of Portland’s office at the airport.
The letters were all determined to be nontoxic. He’s pleaded not guilty.
Barnett got permission to use the library so he could prepare to defend himself against his federal charges. Inside the library, he found a ventilation shaft that connected to the women’s housing unit in the next room.
By shouting through the vent, he made contact with Grigsby, Weaver said.