Oregon Man Arrested For 1974 Cold Case Murders Of Two Teen Boys

In 1974, Steven Paul Criss allegedly shot and killed two teenagers in Washington County, Oregon. Two years later, in 1976, he killed his commanding officer in the army with the same gun.

Peter Zito Jr. [left] and Don Bartron [right] were both shot to death on Oct. 3, 1974.

In 1974, Steven Paul Criss allegedly shot and killed two teenagers in Washington County, Oregon. Two years later, in 1976, he killed his commanding officer in the army with the same gun.

Photo by: Washington County Sheriff's Office

Washington County Sheriff's Office

On Nov. 4, 2022, the Washington County Sheriff’s Office announced that Aloha, Oregon resident Steven Paul Criss was indicted on two counts of second-degree murder. He is accused of killing 16-year-old Donald Bartron and 18-year-old Peter Zito, Jr. on Oct. 3, 1974, in the parking lot of the Oak Hills Recreation Center. Criss, who is now 65, was a teenager himself at the time of the murders, reported NBC News.

During a press conference held by the Washington County Sheriff’s Office, Detective Mark Povolny said police found Bartron’s body slumped over the open hood of a 1956 Oldsmobile, the car he had been working on, and Zito’s body was found on the ground next to the driver’s door. Both had been shot multiple times with a .22 caliber gun.

Detectives initially arrested a man who had been assaulted by someone at the recreation center earlier in the day because they suspected he wanted to get even with the person who hurt him. Neither of the murdered teens had assaulted that man, however, and it was assumed to be a case of mistaken identity. The man denied involvement, and no physical evidence was found so all charges were dropped a few months later. During the recent press conference, Sheriff Pat Garrett formally apologized to the man’s relatives for wrongfully arresting him 48 years ago.

Detective Jim Welch suspected then-17-year-old Steven Paul Criss who worked with Bartron and had a reason to be upset with the two teens. Two months later, Criss was arrested for theft, and a deputy found a .22 caliber gun in his car during that arrest. It was tested and returned to Criss because it was not deemed to be a match for the evidence at that time.

Criss soon joined the United States Army and was based at Fort Lewis in Washington. In 1976, Criss used the same .22 caliber gun he allegedly used to kill the two teenage boys to kill his commanding officer in the army. Criss had damaged the commanding officer’s car and owed him money. Instead of paying the debt, he shot him several times in the head and killed him. Criss pled guilty to that murder, and he was released on parole in 1988 after serving just 12 years, Povolny said.

The Washington County Sheriff’s Office has a commitment to looking at cold cases. So, in 2022, they tested the old evidence from the 1974 slayings with new technology. They confirmed the .22 caliber gun was used for all three murders as part of testing the evidence. The U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives stated that it’s the oldest match on a prosecutable case ever made.

Criss was arrested for the murders without incident, and he was taken into custody using the same handcuffs used in his 1974 arrest.

If you have any information on this case, the Washington County Sheriff’s Office requests that you call 503-846-2700. If you wish to report any information anonymously, contact Crime Stoppers of Oregon.

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