Someday Soon


November 14, 2009 by David Gillaspie


A cruel man’s face glared from the television screen.  Probably the worst face in the world.  I turned it up.


“In 1977, ++++ was convicted of robbery and sodomy and sentenced to 20 years in prison. He was released in 1986.”

“In 1987, ++++ was rearrested and convicted of rape, sodomy and multiple counts of robbery, and was again sentenced to 20 years in prison.”

“In May of 2003, ++++ was connected to the November 21, 1986 murder of 30-year-old Sara C. Zirbes.”


“On Thursday, May 1, 2003, Homicide Detectives arrested 53-year-old ++++ on six counts of Aggravated Murder in connection with the November 21, 1986 murder of 30-year-old Sara C. Zirbes.  At the time of the murder, Zirbes lived in a home in North Portland, which was set on fire after the murder.  Zirbes had been the victim of a sexual assault.  The investigation was recently re-opened and ++++ was linked to the crime by a combination of forensic evidence and witness testimony.  ++++ has spent the last 16 years in the custody of the Oregon State Penitentiary on unrelated charges.  ++++ will be arraigned on Monday May 5, 2003.  Photographs of both ++++ and Zirbes are available, via email, from the Portland Police Bureau Identification at (503) 823-0382.  Anyone with information is asked to call Detective Cheryl Kanzler at (503) 823-0865 or Detective Paul Weatheroy at (503) 823-0458.  This investigation is continuing.”

See anyone you know on the evening news and you stop and turn up the volume.  I walked by the television and called to my wife,

“Sara’s on the news.”

Sara was a big part of our circle of friends in Northwest Portland before we got married.   A balance of kindness, beauty, and a wild streak for leather jackets and motorcycle riders, she was one of the special people.  Since I didn’t have a leather jacket or a motorcycle, and did have a girlfriend, we were free to like each other without the usual tension.   

She gave me a most unique birthday present one year; she taught me how to play the Beatles’ Blackbird on guitar.  She had the sort of patience you couldn’t escape.  I had to learn the song or risk hurting her feelings, and I cared about her feelings.  After I played it well enough to pass her test she loaned me The Deluxe Peaceful Easy Feeling Songbook and told me which songs to practice. 

“I’m in the band?” 

We laughed and played our song for the rest of the party. 

“This is a present you can’t take back,” she said. 

I turned up the tv.  Words like murdered, burned, and dental records dropped to the floor.  Maybe it wasn’t the same Sara; it’s another Sara who looked like our Sara, though you don’t want it to be any Sara, or anyone.  The words hit my ear a second time but still made no sense.  Women like Sara live to old age and leave memories of kindness to inspire others. 

Not this.

Rape?  Murder?  Set on fire?  It sounds like something out of a Nazi handbook, the one with rules for ethnic cleansing.  It’s supposed to happen in war torn regions full of desperate men driven mad by centuries of hate and revenge.  It happens in the world’s murder capitols where death is so common you have to add something different to stand out. 

But Portland?

The police didn’t find the killer before Sara’s funeral, which left a church-full of family and friends stunned.  Who did this?  Where are they?  You could see trust leaving every face.  If it wasn’t one person, it might be anyone.  It could be a friend.  I didn’t know everyone at the service, though everyone from our neighborhood was there. 

No one showed up on their radar a year later.  Or five years.  Life went on.  Kids and school and work, but she hung over every conversation between the old friends.  Is Sara’s killer still out there?  That she was horribly mistreated  by a rampaging maniac was made worse by no suspects.  If someone could run amok on Sara, who else was at risk?  Everyone.  They are still out there. 

Sixteen years later the guy turns up.  The numbers are stunning.  Jailed in 1977 on a twenty year sentence and released in 1986.  Arrested in 1987 for the same things he was convicted of in 1977, except he added Sara to his resume.  He murders Sara then rapes and pillages someone else, gets arrested for that and goes away on another twenty year sentence.

For sixteen years the questions about Sara’s death hung in the air.  Family and friends catch a break if DNA’s forensic evidence can help solve cases sooner.  It’s a lot of data to crunch, a lot of dots to connect, and when it works right a  ripple effect spreads out to everyone who knew Sara, to everyone who heard of her, but didn’t know the outcome of the criminal case. 

I still have Sara’s Deluxe Peaceful Easy Feeling Songbook.  We’re still a band when I play Someday Soon:

There’s a young man that I know whose age is twenty-one
Comes from down in southern Colorado
Just out of the service, he’s lookin’ for his fun
Someday soon, goin’ with him someday soon

My parents can not stand him ’cause he rides the rodeo
My father says that he will leave me cryin’
I would follow him right down the roughest road I know
Someday soon, goin’ with him someday soon

But when he comes to call, my pa ain’t got a good word to say
Guess it’s ’cause he’s just as wild in his younger days

So blow, you old Blue Norther, blow my love to me
He’s ridin’ in tonight from California
He loves his damned old rodeo as much as he loves me
Someday soon, goin’ with him someday soon

There are no motorcycles or leather jackets but this is Sara’s guy, the one she wants more than anything, the one she’ll go down the roughest road with.  Someday came too soon for her, but the love in her smile and light in her eyes have never gone away.



8 thoughts on “Someday Soon

  1. shirley iford says:

    I just ran across Your story. I met Sara just a short time after she moved to the Portland area from Racine. She was a temp. at Tektronix where I worked. This was in late 1975 or early 1976. We became good friends and did a lot together .Sara lived with me a short time and then went traveling again. I spent a couple of weeks visiting her in July 1976 in Racine. She was in and out of my life off and on until her death. She came back here when our son Jesse was born in 1979. I was also shocked when I heard her name on the TV .I thought I must of miss heard it and I called her number . Her landlord answered the phone and said yes it is true. I went to court when they sentenced Mr. Phillips. I sure do miss Sara.

    • BoomerPDX says:

      Hi Shirley,

      I miss her and still can’t figure why anyone would do anything but treat her well.

      The man is the most evil person I’ve ever heard of.

      best wishes,


  2. Bob Morse says:

    And I’ve always loved that Judy Collins song.

    • deegeesbb says:

      Music was a part of Sara. One birthday she gave me a present by teaching me The Beatles’ Blackbird. Now it’s an anthem to her.

  3. Beth Oliver says:

    Hi, thanks for your Someday Soon post. Sara was my sister and it is so good to know others still miss her as much as our family does. I live in Vancouver WA now and still think of her in the present tense most of the time. I sent a link to my other sister back in Wisconsin. I know she’ll like it, too.


    • David Gillaspie says:

      Thank you for coming in, Beth. Sara is the sort of person you hope you get to know. Life may not be fair, but meeting Sara and spending time with her made it seem more than fair. She will always be in the present tense to me too. I have kids and I look for Sara’s characteristics in them and their friends. She will always be the standard of goodness to me.


      • Bob Morse says:

        So glad I came across this article, thanks for writing it. Just had some time today to indulge some random Google tangent-chasing, and ended up here. I grew up around the corner from the Zirbes girls in Racine (Wisconsin), and Beth was a year behind me in school. I remember a lot of summer days playing baseball at the diamond across the street from their house. We never became friends, but as I recall we were friend-ly. It had been a good many years since I’d last seen any of them, and although we’d never really been friends, I remember being stunned when my mom told me that Sara had been murdered somewhere out west, and that nobody knew who did it. It felt like an assault on my childhood, and it was downright creepy that the crime seemed unlikely to be solved. That’s the last I’d heard of it until today, 20-some years later. So … it’s nice to hear that the guy was finally connected to the crime and is paying for it (after a fashion). And nice to see Beth chiming in here — evidently all grown up and enjoying a good life. So I just wanted to say thanks for the article, and hello to Beth, with much-belated condolences.

        • deegeesbb says:

          Hi Bob,

          You’ll be glad to know Sara was a great girl with the sort of friends you hope to find. I knew people she knew and got to spend time together. She was good fun to be around. All these years later the bad guy is discovered back in prison doing time for another crime. I met the ex-wife of the policeman who handles cases like this and she said he was glad to close it.

          Thanks for coming in,


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