Illustration by Chelsea Lovejoy

Forgotten Murder

A 20-year-old man was stabbed to death in Florence over a viral Facebook post in a case of mistaken identity

About a week before he was murdered, 20-year-old Damien DeTar told his brother and his girlfriend that he was ready to slow down.

He’d been arrested in Florence the month before for meth possession and burglary and spent eight days in jail. It seemed he knew his time was running out. Damien told them that he wanted to quit using, that one day he wanted to own a house and raise a family. He seemed serious this time.

Both of Damien’s parents and two of his closest siblings had struggled with addiction during his childhood. They were clean now — and all living in separate states — except for Damien, who had first tried quitting meth at age 16. Damien had big green eyes and shaggy, black hair. By all accounts he was a funny, curious kid, who became passionate talking about music or debating politics. 

Damien was stabbed to death a little after midnight on May 29 in the living room of a trailer he’d been staying at with his girlfriend, Kristin Hanson. After a brief manhunt, 32-year-old Gregory Cross was arrested later that day and lodged in the Lane County Jail on second degree murder charges. As of press time, Cross is still detained at the county jail.

Witnesses to the murder say that Cross stabbed Damien after claiming that the victim had been outed as a federal informant in a viral Facebook post from October 2019. 

Damien wasn’t even old enough to buy a pack of cigarettes at the time he was killed. Friends and family say he wasn’t an aggressive person and didn’t have any enemies. After his death his name never appeared in the paper or online.

No one planned to write about the untimely death of a drug-addicted kid. 

Googling Damien DeTar’s name only brings up past mugshots and a link to a small article about a burglary he was arrested for in April. Damien’s nonviolent crime garnered more attention than his actual death. 

Aside from the murder, several people close to Damien allege that Cross had been involved in at least two unreported violent crimes in Florence in the past three months. According to information on Oregon Crime News, Cross had finished serving time in Lane County Jail for a parole violation only eight days before Damien’s murder. 

Moments after Damien was stabbed, Hanson called for an ambulance — but it never showed up — and by the time she loaded him into the back of a small sedan and raced him to the hospital, he was already dead. 

Ready to Die

Damien was always preserving his thoughts as if he was in fear that they would slip away. He was a voracious writer, filling countless notebooks with lyrics, poetry and musings. Often he’d write about his own demise; he felt he could see death coming and welcomed it. On Facebook he talked nonchalantly about wanting to end his life, saying that his dog, Calypso, or Cally, was the only thing that was keeping him alive and breathing.

Damien was born in Arizona in January 2000. The family relocated to Oregon when Damien was 5. His parents eventually split, with his mother moving to Washington state and his father to Ohio, but he and his older sister, Brianna DeTar, stayed in Florence, moving in with an uncle. 

Damien’s family — including his sister in Arizona, father in Ohio and mother in Washington state — created a GoFundMe to try and raise the money needed to get back to Florence for Damien’s celebration of life. They almost didn’t make the trip.

“None of us had enough money,” Brianna says. “I was so surprised when people pitched in and we reached our goal.”

Addiction ran rampant in the DeTar clan, with the majority of Damien’s close family having used meth at some point. Brianna calls it hereditary. Their uncle was an alcoholic who didn’t like kids much. Their dad was still looking for work while recovering from surgery and didn’t have a place for them to stay. 

“We moved out here, and that’s when things got kind of rocky for us. We spent a lot of time in our rooms,” Brianna says. “We were best friends growing up. He’s the reason why I knew I wanted to be a mom. I helped raise him, in a sense.”

Brianna says Damien used to get migraines from the smell of their uncle’s moldy house. She says he used to make them stay in their rooms for long periods of time and wouldn’t let them come out.

“There was one time I tried to run away with Damien,” Brianna says. “I packed us up a bag and we went and sat out on the porch. I was thinking of a plan. I wanted to take care of him, so that we could grow up and be OK. I was 5 or 6 and he was 3.”

Brianna left as soon as she could. At age 14, she had her first job and moved away from home. She lives in Arizona now and doesn’t visit Florence often. Damien, too, made his own attempts at escaping the small coastal town, living for a time with his mother in Washington state. Brianna says he was different when he came back, having been negatively affected by the influence of some of his cousins. 

Damien never had a stable home life or positive role models. He was never encouraged to graduate high school or pursue education. He started stealing and using drugs at a young age, sure, but even early on he expressed a desire to get sober. When he was 15, he moved across the country to stay with his dad, Robert DeTar, in Ohio. Damien was attempting to escape the drugs and the crime that had engulfed his life in Florence. In Ohio, he got a job in fast food.

“As soon as he was old enough he went to work,” Robert says. “Started at Burger King, moved on to Taco Bell. He always worked and was willing to help the family. But he had a tendency to run a little wild. Cops would call me in the middle of the night and say he was out past curfew. Typical teenage stuff for the most part.”

But Damien didn’t have all the tools to be successful. The structure school provides was replaced by part-time, minimum wage work. There was little guidance, and he was once again led astray. For a kid who never knew stable, consistent housing, it’s no surprise he found solace in the streets. It’s no surprise that he stole and got high to survive. What’s more surprising is the repeated attempts he made to change his life. What’s tragic is he didn’t live long enough to make that happen. 

In 2017, on the eve of his 18th birthday, Damien asked to move back to Florence, hoping for a fresh start in a familiar city. He transferred his job at Taco Bell, and he moved in with his older brother. It was the last time his father would see him. 

“We spoke a couple times. Not a lot,” Robert says.

Damien liked being back in Florence and liked earning his own money. That summer, the house he lived in with his brother and a friend, Warren Brownlee, became infested with rats. The brothers set rat traps, but there were just too many running around for them to be effective. That’s when Damien proved to be a worthy addition to the house, according to Brownlee.

“I woke up at 1 o’clock in the morning to use the bathroom, and there’s Damien laying still on the floor with his dog, Calypso,” Brownlee says. “And he’s holding a samurai sword. I ask him, ‘What the hell are you doing?’ and he says, ‘I’m waiting for that rat!’’ 

Nowhere To Go

Kristin Hanson has lived in Florence her whole life. She’s tall and skinny, with brightly colored hair. She talks fast and is quick to laugh. She first met Damien almost seven years ago, after her little brother befriended him in high school. 

“He was so gentle and nice,” Hanson says. “He was very wise for his age.”

Hanson and Damien reconnected near the end of 2019, after she noticed him walking around Florence in the middle of winter. At the time, he had on a giant cast after breaking his wrist trying to punch yet another rat that had crawled on him while sleeping. She gave him a place to stay with her among a cluster of trailers on the outskirts of Florence. They were soon inseparable. 

Hanson’s trailer is on North Loftus road, heading towards the Pacific Ocean just off Highway 101. It’s a quiet, residential road lined with cozy looking beach houses. In the absence of street lights, the road becomes nearly pitch black at night. There’s nothing essential within walking distance and no real reason to be there unless you live nearby. 

“He brought me roses every day,” Hanson says. “Told me I was beautiful like a million times a day. We were only together for eight months. I didn’t realize how much he loved me until I read his journals.”

Before moving in with Hanson, Damien was caught using meth again and had been kicked out of his brother’s house. Both Hanson and Damien had been in trouble with the law in the past, most recently in April, when they had attempted to steal from someone’s house what the police report called “a bunch of weird little oddities, a small chainsaw, welding mask and a shotgun.” 

Those closest to Damien say the arrest seemed like a turning point for him. He didn’t want to keep using drugs, and he wanted to move out of the trailer. He was getting tired of having nowhere to go. 

“Five days before he died, he told me, ‘Living here, doing what we do, it isn’t going to last forever,’” Hanson says. 

Damien had continued: “I want a family, and kids someday. We need to get our shit together.”

The Look In His Eyes

“So it was like six hours before,” Hanson says. “I remember I was just lying on his chest. I was like, ‘You motherfucker, I’m falling so in love with you.’”

Damien and Hanson had spent the majority of May 28 combing the coast for agates and crystals. Rock hunting, as Hanson calls it, was one of their favorite things to do together. They’d spend hours walking along the ocean searching for rare stones and precious crystals. Their findings could be seen decorating the outside of Hanson’s trailer. 

“There’s phenomenal agates and crystals if you go where the river systems meet the ocean,” Hanson says. “You can even find opals. I still have his bag from that day.”

When they got home, Hanson says, she made burritos for dinner and some friends stopped by, as did Gregory Cross.

It’s unclear if Cross came to the trailer that day specifically to stab Damien, or if it was a terrible coincidence that this Damien shared the name of a man referenced as a “snitch” in a Facebook post from Kentucky. 

Cross was born in 1988. He grew up in Douglas County and by 2016 he’d racked up a criminal record that included convictions for assault, strangulation, burglary, identity theft and meth possession, among other crimes. His Facebook profile picture for two separate accounts is an image of him posing behind bars, clad in Oregon State Prison denim. He did about four years at OSP before getting out in 2019. 

Cross is blond with green eyes and a military-style haircut. He’s well-built, muscular and tattooed in the way habitually incarcerated men sometimes are. The acronym “FBK” is tattooed in large Old English lettering across his lower chest, standing for “Fat Bitch Killers,” a well-known white supremacist gang that originated in the Oregon prison system, according to a Multnomah County gang assessment from 2014.

Cross was most recently arrested on April 27 for a parole violation, spending 23 days in Lane County Jail. He was released eight days before Damien’s May 29 murder. Oregon State Police say that criminal charges were brought against Cross related to the parole violation and referred it to Coos County. Citing the fact that the case is still open, they refused to release records as to why Cross was arrested and then released after 23 days.

Hanson says that Cross showed up earlier in the night, but that she didn’t let him in her trailer. She says he’d been arguing with other people in the trailer park and that she’d asked him to leave, but he wouldn’t.

 “He just had this look that really scared me,” Hanson says. “I was scared of telling him to leave so I invited him in. I said ‘Hi, I’m Kristin,’ and then Damien comes up and says ‘Hey, I’m Damien, nice to meet you.”’ 

Then, she says, Cross said to Damien,”What did you say your name was?”

A friend of Hanson’s, Michael Light, was also there that night. After meeting Damien, Light says that Cross asked the group if Damien was a federal informant. 

“Damien just blew it off,” Light says. “He wasn’t that person. He didn’t feel like he had anything to worry about.”

They all walked through the pitch-black trailer park that was no bigger than a few broken down trailers. It was just past midnight, and Hanson planned to borrow a neighbor’s pipe so that everyone could smoke pot together. They gathered around a small coffee table, where Cross allegedly began to act strangely.

“I was on guard. He made me feel very uneasy,” Light says.

According to both Hanson and Light, this is when Cross jumped up, unprovoked, and stabbed Damien in the heart one time with a small switchblade. Hanson says Damien had been sitting cross-legged on the ground, scratching off a lottery ticket at the time of the stabbing. He was defenseless, staring towards the ground when he was attacked. 

“He jumps off the couch. He just lunges at him. I looked over at Damien and he was holding his heart. And then he goes, ‘He fucking stabbed me!’” she says, “I grab my baseball bat and go running outside, but Greg was already gone.”

Everyone except Hanson fled the trailer, including Light. Damien put his arms out and fell to his knees eventually, and he began bleeding out. Hanson held Damien in her arms as she called 911, before realizing they weren’t going to make it in time. Hanson then decided to load Damien’s lifeless body into a friend’s car and drive him to the hospital herself. 

She says he was dead by the time they got there. 

“He was kind and sweet, he was my everything, and now he is gone just because some insane asshole had a knife and had been told wrong information.”

The hospital told Hanson to stay, but she snuck out and began walking home. She was eventually picked up by a neighbor near the Dairy Queen on Highway 101 and given a ride the rest of the way to her trailer. The police were there when she got back. Hanson says that anyone still at the scene was placed in a neighboring trailer, without masks, in the middle of a pandemic; there were nine people in total with hardly enough room to move. 

“And they kept us in there all night, sending cops in to get our stories and whatnot. But they allowed us to go back in there at like 8 o’clock the next morning.”

When Hanson got back to her trailer, there was blood everywhere. Hanson says the police made no attempt to clean up the crime scene, and actually ended up making more of a mess.

Witnesses to the murder report feeling confused and shocked as to the motive. It wasn’t until the next day that a screenshot on a Facebook post from October 2019 began floating around their community, with rumors that Cross had stabbed Damien over a case of mistaken identity. 

In the post, which originated from Kentucky, a woman posts a picture of a man she says is named Damien Wilson, warning her friends and followers that he’s a “snitch” in a drug case, and to not do business with him. 

Aside from sharing a first name, the similarities between Damien and the so-called informant from Facebook end there.

It’s unclear how the post traveled to Cross’s community in Florence. Nobody familiar with the murder had ever heard of this other Damien. The woman who posted it had no idea there was a murder in Oregon connected to her post and refused to comment when reached by Eugene Weekly. 

Cross seemed to be unraveling in the months leading up to the murder. In late February, the cops were called to a disturbance happening at the Beachcomber, a popular bar in downtown Florence. Melissa Stahel was both the manager and bartender on duty that night.

“He came in and walked right behind my bar, obviously distraught,” Stahel says. “He was clammy and sweaty and clearly having an episode.”

Stahel says Cross became defensive when she picked up the phone and attempted to call police, snatching the phone from her hands. While customers and an off-duty bartender tried calming him down, Cross allegedly pushed his way into the kitchen and attempted to grab a knife. 

“He never got a hold of the knife or attempted to stab anyone,” Stahel says. “When the cops showed up, he calmly and willingly got cuffed and walked out of our establishment. I don’t know if he was arrested or taken in to detox that night.”

Several people who knew Cross say that he was also involved in at least two other unreported violent crimes in the weeks before Damien’s murder. 

On Facebook, five days before Damien’s murder, Cross posted a long rant threatening violence to anybody speaking his name. 

“Check yourself before it’s too late and you find yourself praying to a God for repentance.”

Nobody Really Wins 

While a GoFundMe allowed Damien’s family to come to his wake, back in 2019, DeTar created his own GoFundMe to try and raise money to visit his mom. But nobody donated. 

His celebration of life was under a small gazebo at Woahink Lake outside Florence. It was a sunny day, and more than 40 people showed up. For a family now spread across the country, the event doubled as a reunion of sorts. 

Everyone stood around talking, drinking and eating until the official ceremony started. Damien’s family set out a series of plastic shot glasses that looked like mini red solo cups. Some were filled with whiskey, some with soda and some with water for the kids. Everybody gathered around to share stories about Damien, but only a few people spoke. 

There were stories about Damien stealing cigarettes and eating frozen bacon. Everyone laughed looking downward as they remembered. Some filled their plastic shot glasses once more and continued drinking; others cried, and still others quietly excused themselves. 

Friends and family agree that Damien was troubled. He used drugs and he stole. He could be rash and self destructive to those trying to help him. He could afford to throw it all away because he never had anything to lose in the first place. 

He was intensely loyal to his family. He was polite and kind. Those who knew him say he’d never hurt a fly. A rat, maybe, but anything else wasn’t in his nature. 

Damien was always searching for something. A place to sleep, a place to eat. Somewhere he belonged.

He slept in houses infested with rats from a young age but never lost hope. His journals were filled with plans for the future. He talked about being grateful for the family he had. He talked about having a family of his own one day. He wrote as a way to escape the physical world he inhabited. 

He was resilient. He learned to take care of himself, and he learned to trust other people, even after growing up the way he did. 

Hanson and Damien’s dog, Calypso, still live in the same trailer. Next to her bed, she has the Oregon Lottery ticket Damien was holding when he was stabbed. It’s a $2 king-size crossword puzzle, where you match your scratched letters to a filled out crossword, trying to make full words for a cash prize.

“I don’t know if it’s a winner,” Hanson says. “I never will.”

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