Strange Piece of Paradise
Strange Piece of Paradise

To Hell and Back

The victim of a brutal attack in the Oregon outback finds justice—by the book

Strange Piece of Paradise

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ON A SUMMER DAY near Redmond, Oregon, in 1977, two 19-year-old cross-country cyclists, Yale roommates Terri Jentz and Shayna Weiss, rode their bikes into a state park off Highway 126, pitched their tent, and fell asleep. What happened next made headlines across the country. Jentz awoke after being run over by a pickup truck and found herself looking up at the Wranglers and cowboy boots of a man wielding an ax. Both women survived the attack—barely. And police never made an arrest.

Strange Piece of Paradise

Strange Piece of Paradise Strange Piece of Paradise

Fifteen years later, Jentz returned to the scene, determined to come to terms with the crime—or crack it. Astonishingly, she was able to do both. Her memoir, Strange Piece of Paradise (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $27), is the haunting story of a victim, a community deeply affected by an incident they never forgot, and an alleged assailant still living among them. Alison Wright caught up with Jentz, now a screenwriter in Los Angeles, and asked what it was like investigating her own cold case.

OUTSIDE: Did you find it cathartic to write about this?

JENTZ: Cathartic is one word. I think the task of coming to terms with an event like this is all about integrating it into your life story. I suppose then you can be liberated from it, but in a way you have brought it closer.

Why did you wait so long?
I would have had to feel the horror all over again. You just deny the importance of a trauma like this in your life—often for years and years and years.

The statute of limitations for attempted murder is three years in Oregon, so it was too late to prosecute anyone by the time you began your investigation. Still, thanks in part to your work with authorities, the man you believe to be your attacker spent five years in jail for other crimes, including the unlawful use of a dangerous weapon.
My suspect was a man who spent a lot of time making people’s lives miserable, to say the least. I was relieved when he was finally in jail, where he could be watched. I felt I had helped to make the community safer.

Did the locals support your quest for justice?
They were all so great to me—that’s one of the things that was so heartwarming. On one hand you could say, Why didn’t this community help this crime get solved earlier? On the other hand, they embraced me with open arms and helped me solve it. You have this deep violence in American culture, but you also have this extraordinary generosity. That’s America. Great things happen, and horrible things happen.

And will those things deter you from venturing into the wilderness again?
None of this has ever stymied my desire for adventure. I’m more cautious, certainly. But I will not let it trim my sails. I plan on getting back into cycling in a big way—in fact, I’m going to treat myself to a titanium frame.