Judith Dee Kangilaski was found dead from an unspecified head wound in the Port Orford home she rented Feb. 21, 1991.
Originally categorized as a death in suspicious circumstances by then Curry County Sheriff Chuck Denney, Kangilaski’s death was later ruled a homicide by district attorney William Wallace and Denney after an autopsy determined the wound was caused by a gunshot.
“We don’t consider this a closed case,” current Curry County Sheriff John Ward said. “In fact, a couple weeks ago, I assigned a detective and a retired LEO (law enforcement officer) to work this cold case.”
Ward said he could not release files or evidence regarding the case because it is the subject of an active homicide investigation.
Kangilaski’s daughter Susie Hennecke still wonders who could have killed her mother in 1991– and why?
“Port Orford is a small town,” she said, “and I am still hoping somebody will come forward to put my mind at ease.”
The police and the new sheriff have all been very nice, Hennecke said, but there is no new informa tion.
She said her mother had divorced and moved to Port Orford and had lived there for about two years before she was killed.
Kangilaski’s boyfriend was questioned at the time, according to Hennecke, but was never a suspect, and her ex-husband had moved away to California and was not a suspect.
Reports state the weapon was never found and Florence Matozza — from whom Kangilaski rented her house, said she saw nothing suspicious during the days before the body was found.
“She was a quiet congenial lady,” Matozza said. “She had moved in with her daughter, but the daughter moved out soon after.”
Her other daughter, Julie Kangilaski, who went by the nickname Tennie, was married to Troy Pennington at the time, according to Hennecke, and has since passed away.
“She and Troy lived in another house in Port Orford,” she said, “but soon after my mom’s death they moved to Eugene.”
Kangilaski had only lived in the house for about six months, according to Matozza.
Nothing seemed to be missing and there were no signs of forced entry, according to Denney’s statements at the time, and he declined to speculate on a motive. He said there were a lot of unanswered questions.
He said the murder appeared to have occurred where Kangilaski was found, in her home.
Authorities could not pinpoint the time of death, according to the DA’s reports, but said she would have died instantly from the gunshot.
Kangilaski worked at Bartlett’s Cafe, and owner Ron Culbertson said, she was a pleasant person and “we had no problems.”
She had worked the previous Sunday at the cafe, had not been seen since and was found at 7:50 p.m. that Thursday.
Troy Pennington’s mother found her, Hennecke said, after Pennington and her sister asked her to check on Kangilaski.
“They were going to Eugene for a few days and had dropped their dog off at my mom’s house,” she said. “Troy said he looked in the window and saw my mom asleep on the couch. They didn’t want to bother her and left the dog in the yard.
“Once they got to Eugene, they were unable to reach her by phone and he asked his mom to go by.”
In a letter submitted to the Port Orford Press one year after her mother’s death, Hennecke said, “It is still hard for me to believe that she is gone. Not a day goes by that I don’t think of her 100 times. Not a week passes that I don’t want to call her and share something with her.
“Then it hits me –– she is dead.
“. . . I cannot accept that our world is the kind of place where a kind, funny and wonderful woman like my mom can be brutally murdered and then forgotten. . .If you know anything, please help me.”
Anyone with information about the case is encouraged to call the Curry County Sheriff’s office at 541-469-3132.
This report was compiled from recent interviews, records supplied by Susie Hennecke and Pilot reporting from 1991.
Reach Boyd C. Allen at firstname.lastname@example.org