By ALLEN SCHAUFFLER
CENTRAL OREGON DAILY
They were found on November 7th in a field in northeast Bend: “human remains..”
That’s what police called them. That’s what we, the media called them, as we have so often over the years and as we surely will in the future.
An investigation followed. Search and rescue volunteers combed the field for clues.
That forced all of us to recognize that the first half of the phrase “human remains” is “human”.
She was not just a body, not just “remains” but somebody who lived and loved and died alone in a field.
We decided to find out who she was, to respect her life and follow her path, good or bad, no matter where it led.
There have been other similar cases in Deschutes County; Anita Presley was the last of three such finds in 2019. It’s not practical to dig down into the past of the people in all these cases, so we decided to focus on her.
We got help from some of those who knew her best.
Her former sister in law and longtime best friend, Tammy knight, who told us with a laugh; “She was real short, real thin, had red hair and a firey personality! She couldn’t tell you the truth if you wanted it!”
Her niece Holly, homeless and mostly jobless in Bend for the last three years, talked of a lifetime of sadness.
“She had given up her two kids for adoption due to drug addiction and she cried about that for 26 years.”
Her much younger brother, Sam, also “camping” as the family often describes it, living on the streets in Bend.
“She liked to spend a lot of time involving herself with other people, doing stuff for other people and I think that’s cool, selfless in that way.”
Together, the three paint a picture of a deeply troubled, loving, hard-luck, hard-living woman. Anita Carol Presley, dead at 57.
This is almost certainly the last picture taken of her alive. It’s August 26th, 2019. She’s wandering in the field where she was found dead – 73 days later.
The Presleys weren’t exactly a photo-album family.
We only have one picture of all of them.
That’s father Dave, far left. Her brother Horace, known as Hoss. Two other brothers, Sam and Daniel, 20 years younger than Anita, who is in the lower right corner. Her mother Joy completes they family portrait.
Tammy knight says the family was always on the move. Anita’s childhood was spent in Texas, Arizona, California, Oregon and in Idaho. It was in Mountain Home that Tammy married Hoss and joined the family.
Tammy walked us through the town park, where as teenagers they came to smoke pot, drink beer and skip school.
“Hoss quit in 7th grade and went to work. I think Anita went to school until she got pregnant with Joshua and that was the end of that.”
Anita was 17.
Tammy wipes tears away repeatedly as she describes those days.
“We were inseparable. Lived together half my life. My best friend. We went everywhere, did everything. We had kids at the same time. But we drank a lot. I started by the time I was 12.”
She describes a family that wouldn’t put down roots.
“Gypsies. Gypsies! They they did construction, did drywall. So dad was either looking for a job out of state or on the road just working all the time. Then we went to work too, doing drywall pregnant, sleeping in the car.”
Wherever there was a natural disaster there was drywall work.
“Hurricane crew is what we always called it. For 16 years. I lived in 59 places that I can remember. I wrote them down one time.”
Anita and her niece Holly were always close. It was like growing up with two moms, says Holly. She remembers those days of roaming the country, too.
“I just thought my grandpa liked to travel. We did. We travelled. Nine of us came in a station wagon from Alachua, Florida to Boise, Idaho. That was one hell of a trip i would never do it again.”
“Me and Hoss and Anita and our kids would be in our car” confirms Tammy, “and then Dave and joy would be in their car with their two kids, (the two younger brothers) unless we were in the station wagon and then it was everybody in that one car.”
Tammy Knight, who says she’s been sober for the last 20 years, describes two constants during this period: Methamphetamines and liquor.
“Our drug of choice was alcohol. When everybody else would “zone” out on the meth we were on the alcohol. And it was every day, all the time.”
“She and my mom used to fight a lot” says Holly, “Sister squabbles. They were violent with each other. But they were both serious drinkers, of whiskey. Women get drunk on that stuff and they’re going to beat the bejesus out of each other, then they’re best friends that evening.”
That lifestyle had dire consequences. In her 20s, Anita Presley lost her 7-year old son and 5-year old daughter, taken by the state of North Carolina.
Tammy says it made the drinking and the drugging worse.
“They gave her a choice: We can keep them together or we’ll take them and split them up. So she signed over her rights to keep them together. That’s what caused her misery her whole life.”
Holly agrees. “Every time she talked about her kids she would cry. It was kind of sad. You could tell she loved them.”
There was more misery for Anita in her 20s, says Tammy Knight, physical miseries.
“She was walking down the road at night and somebody hit her and kept on going. It crushed her leg in 77 places from the knee cap down. So she was laid up for a long time.”
Then, in her 30s she suffered a brain aneurism. When she came out of it, says Tammy, her memory was shot.
“It was a pretty bad one. and when she woke up she only remembered me and that was it. She was in the hospital for ten months. She had to learn how to do everything over.”
Some of the effects lasted the rest of her life.
“She was always under medication for seizures and thunderclap headaches which were horrible. Which is why i think she liked to drink a lot. Them headaches were terrible.”
Her brother Sam, 20 years younger than Anita, says they fought a lot when he was little but as he grew up he came to admire her toughness and her giving spirit.
“She did have kind of a rough life. She went through a lot man, but she didn’t let it get her down too much.”
There were good times, too.
There was a longterm relationship in Casper, Wyoming, where the family finally settled,
As much as they ever “settled” anywhere. She volunteered with the Food Bank of the Rockies and worked at the Natrona County YMCA for 10 years. Tammy says it seemed longer than that and she doesn’t know why the job ended.
“She was very kind. She had her own issues but she was helping young people do their community service, through the YMCA. She held that job forever.”
Through social media, with help from both Holly and Tammy she reconnected with her children, about 10 years ago. She stayed close with her son, Joshua.
“Like mother and son” says Holly, “like it should have been his whole life. It was cool”
When Anita’s brother Hoss died several years ago, her life in Casper came apart. Another round of misery, says Tammy Knight.
“Her and Hoss were super, super close. She drank more. Thats how anybody in that family copes with anything, is drugs and alcohol.”
She broke up with her longtime boyfriend and left Wyoming to visit her son in Portland. From there she came to Bend to “hang out” with brother Sam and niece Holley, staying at Holly’s north-end “campsite..”
A week into the visit, she disappeared.
Holly and sam say they last saw her walking the railroad tracks near Jeld-wen, heading for the Shepherd’s House shelter in Bend. Holly sent Anita on ahead, saying she’d catch up with her.
“When I got up to Shepherd’s I never seen her and they said she never showed up. They didn’t know her that well, didn’t know her by her name.”
Somehow Anita took a wrong turn and ended up four miles east on Butler Market Road. The police report shows her last cell phone activity was that afternoon.
Guy Hamby, keeping an eye on a neighbor’s property took that last picture of her and talked briefly with Anita. The only odd thing, he says, is she never looked him in the eye. She claimed she was “camping” nearby, though no camp was ever found.
Holly and Sam say they have no idea how she got to the site of her death.
“She must have just taken that road (Butler Market) and just walked and walked and walked.”
It was Anita Carol Presley’s last, long walk; a human life, ended.
“I just hope she wasn’t sad” says her niece, “and lonely before she died. Did she lay down and die? Did she starve to death? I know she wasn’t ready to die. She was so happy to be here. It was almost like she felt young again with us.”
Holly and Tammy both wonder if police might have investigated more thoroughly if it hadn’t been a pretty clear case of a homeless person dying alone.
“So it just makes me wonder; she was out there for a while and homeless and it’s easy to not really care about that. So it just made me feel like they hadn’t taken it very serious.”
Holly admits she never went directly to police for help in the search when Anita disappeared.
“The reason I didn’t file a ‘missing persons’ is I didn’t think the cops were going to care about a 60 year old homeless drug addict.”
The Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office confirms there was never a “missing person” report filed. Investigators concluded there was no sign of any kind of crime, no sign of violence at the scene.
“The Medical Examiner is likely to list the cause of death in the case as ‘undetermined”, said DCSO Sgt. William Bailey at the time.
Technically, the case remains open. The official report contains the line : “Case Status.. Active, Refer to Detectives”
There is no record in the report of an autopsy being conducted.