When he was 24 years old and a strapping ex-Marine, George Nulph saw an attractive older woman who worked at Osburn’s Grocery in Cannon Beach, Ore., and told a friend, “I’d like a piece of that.”
The next day he raped and murdered Frances Christians.
He stalked her, found her eating lunch in her car, rapped on the window and flashed a handgun. He ordered her out of her car and into his vehicle, then drove to a secluded spot on a logging road and told her to undress. Nulph raped her and did whatever he wanted. After he was through with her, he told her to put some of her clothes back on.
While walking towards his vehicle, he shot her three times.
Fortunately for Nulph, he did all of this in 1976.
Ten years later he was out of prison, set free on something called a “temporary leave” or “conditional release” pending parole.
Within 60 days, Nulph held hostage, raped and sodomized an 18-year-old female in a Portland residence. (He also was out long enough to get a prison-penpal girlfriend pregnant; he already had two daughters from a previous marriage.)
In 1986, he was sentenced to at least 75 years in prison for rape, sodomy, kidnapping and being a felon in possession of a firearm, but a parole board thought that was excessive and reduced it to 30 years.
Nulph never had to sit for a parole hearing on the rape and murder of Frances Christians. This week, though, at Oregon State Correctional Institution he had a parole hearing on his later crimes. The parole board had the occasion to question him about the earlier crime.
Nulph is now 65 years old, claims to be legally blind and wants the public to know he’s harmless.
He shuffled into the parole hearing with his attorney Mike DeMuniz on one side and on the other side, convicted murderer Mark J. Wilson, acting in a capacity similar to that of a jailhouse lawyer. (Wilson himself was sentenced in 1987 to life with a 40-year minimum, yet he is scheduled next month for a parole hearing.)
DeMuniz is the son of former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Paul DeMuniz. In a letter five months ago to the former chief justice, inmate Wilson wrote the elder DeMuniz seeking an attorney for Nulph: “George is deeply grateful for your continuing belief in him, support and assistance through the years.”
Of course, Nulph is grateful. That’s one of the wonderful things about being alive – you can feel gratitude. Frances Christians has been dead all these years. She doesn’t get to feel anything.
The attorneys and three parole board members mentioned her name, discussed the particulars of her death – why was her underwear found hanging in a tree? But she never came alive in these proceedings. Everybody got to speak – except her.
Nulph was even allowed to take words out of her mouth, and put thoughts in her mind.
“She must have been scared to death,” he told the parole board, adding that she never said anything “the entire time we were together. …. She just did as instructed.”
The entire time we were together.
He makes it sound like they were out on a date.
Ten years after he raped and killed Frances Christians, he was released pending parole. He found gainful employment with the Salvation Army.
“I packed up food donations,” he told the parole board. However, freedom brought disappointments.
“My eldest daughter didn’t want to see me any longer,” he said. “My moral compass became confused. … I became involved with a woman … she became pregnant and is the mother of my son.”
And then he saw an attractive young woman he thought was ripe to be taken. He met Virginia Carlonson through a friend and gained access to her home. She was 18 and lived in Northeast Portland.
“I intended to have sex with Ms. Carlonson,” Nulph told the parole board. “I simply wanted to have sex. I thought she would be willing.”
Instead, she pulled a gun on him. He left.
“No bitch pulls a gun on me,” Nulph later explained to investigators.
He went back to the young woman’s home, knocked on the door and told her he had left his wallet there.
She let him in, still holding the gun. This time he fought her, the gun discharged and he grabbed it.
In a replay of what he did to Frances Christians, Nulph forced the young woman to do whatever he wanted. At one point a friend called her home, suspected something was wrong and notified the police.
Eventually the violence would end with her running naked from the home to the safety of the police.
The three-member parole board looked at the old man before them. He has sharp cheekbones that stand out above sunken cheeks. He often keeps his head down, but his eyes look up, blank and glassy one moment – curious and seeking the next. He speaks with a humbleness that sounds rehearsed, and some of his statements could be cribbed from a think tank dedicated to restorative justice:
“There is no way to make sense out of a senseless crime,” he told the parole board.
“What was your relationship with your wife at the time of the murder?” asked board chair Michael Wu.
“We were still newlyweds,” Nulph replied.
“How much alcohol had you consumed that day?” Wu asked.
“Every day I bought a case of beer … I was drinking a fifth of whiskey a day,” Nulph said and passed along one psychologist’s explanation for why he raped and murdered Frances Christians: “I was a blackout drinker.”
Other explanations that Nulph offered under questioning by the parole board: His parents’ divorce, which he blamed on his mother; his first divorce; his dreams of being a professional football player that were never realized; a calling to enter the ministry, which he did not follow; his feelings of failure.
“None of us can predict the future, what might or might not happen,” Nulph finally told the board. But 40 years later, he reassured them that he was not the same man who killed Frances Christians.
“I don’t believe you for a second…,” board vice-chair Christine Herrman told him. “You were dissatisfied with your life. … Why do you think your reaction was to rape and murder a woman?”
Wu later followed up, asking Nulph: “When you were released in 1986, you felt like maybe you hadn’t committed that murder.”
Nulph admitted he “didn’t give it much thought, guilty or innocent. … I wanted to get on with life.”
Turning to the sexual violence he committed against the young woman in Portland, Nulph explained, “I didn’t threaten her with the gun … maybe threatened her verbally. … While we were engaged in sex there was a knock on the door … after she ran outside I got dressed, climbed out of the window.”
He didn’t want to think about what would have happened had she not escaped.
“Why would this have had a different outcome than Mrs. Christians?” Wu asked.
“Ms. Carlonson wouldn’t have made an issue out of it,” Nulph replied.
Herrman reminded him: “You weren’t having sex. You were raping her.”
The three-plus hour parole hearing was dominated by Nulph and the parole board members. Multnomah County Deputy District Attorney David Hannon and Clatsop County District Attorney Josh Marquis encouraged the board to keep Nulph in prison, where he had made a life for himself that didn’t endanger anyone else.
Hannon also noted that when Nulph spoke to each parole board member, he made eye contact with them. Just how blind was he?
Then Virginia Carlonson, the Portland woman that Nulph raped, sodomized and held hostage spoke.
While he was allowed to be Frances Christians’ spokesman, this woman spoke for herself.
She is now 48. Her attacker has shrunk in stature over the years, but she has grown into a self-possessed woman. She approached the conference table and sat two seats down from Nulph.
The word “rape” can’t begin to describe what he did to her, she told the parole board.
“It went on for hours. … He chose to humiliate me,” Carlonson said.
After he was sentenced, “I was assured many times he would never get out. … It is so unfair that I have to keep dealing with this.”
She asked the board to do whatever they could to keep Nulph from hurting another female.
“He is the same person he was years ago,” she said.
Nulph’s attorney, Mike DeMuniz didn’t speak long. He simply told the board that he and his client stand on the legal briefs they had submitted (which have not been made public).
But Nulph has been trying for an early parole for almost two decades. There is a paper trail showing that his primary arguments are a hyper-technical splitting of legal hairs involving what constitutes cruel and unusual punishment.
He also thought he cut a deal in 1996 when he agreed to testify against another inmate involved in a prison homicide.
Nulph points to all the programs he has completed, among them: Violent Offenders Therapy; Anger Management; Moral Recognition Therapy; As Free as an Eagle; New Life Behavior; Empathy/Forgiveness Class; Restorative Justice; Sex Offenders Group Therapy; Education for Ministry.
He has multiple options to choose from depending on where he is paroled to: He can go to Charleston, Ore., to stay with a friend who can assist him in finding employment. If accepted, he can go to the Veterans Affairs Rehabilitation Center in White City, Ore. He could live in Clatsop County with an uncle. If he is paroled to Multnomah County, he will look to Mercy Corps Northwest Reentry Transition Center for housing and employment assistance. Or check with DePaul Industries, which specializes in employing people with disabilities or with Easter Seals of Oregon for housing and employment for seniors.
The parole board will decide within 30 days whether to release Nulph.
While he was selling his case to them, that same day a much younger man with no felony history and far fewer options, met a different end.
Zachary A. Young, 29, died of hypothermia on a steep hillside in Southwest Portland. As a teenager, he suffered a brain injury from a skateboarding accident, underwent brain surgery and later developed a mental illness. His family tried to help him, but he was homeless.
Consider the money and effort that has been expended by the state of Oregon on George William Nulph. When he raped and killed Frances Christian, the state had briefly outlawed the death penalty. (It would later be restored.)
The death penalty is designed for aggravated murderers like Nulph. Had he been humanely put to death in a timely manner, he would have never committed the later crimes.
The state of Oregon would not have spent the last four decades taking care of him. Yet here we are. There are those still rallying on his behalf. In their world, he is every bit as important as Frances Christians or the 48-year-old woman who has lived for 30 years with the scars Nulph left on her.
As it turns out, Nulph has been well provided for. He has a much better life than some free men.
He likely won’t die of hypothermia on a steep hillside.
– Pamela Fitzsimmons
UPDATE: An earlier version of this essay did not include Virginia Carlonson’s name. At the parole hearing, she asked KOIN TV not to photograph her, so I withheld her identity. She later changed her mind, and KOIN broadcast an interview with her. I’m glad she changed her mind.
SECOND UPDATE: On Jan. 31, the Parole Board decided to defer Nulph’s release date for 24 months. He now has a projected parole release date of Feb. 19, 2019, with a review to be scheduled in September 2018. His victim will go through another hearing again.