This article appeared in the police publication,
The Rap Sheet
Jess Mitchell Townsend is in his late thirties, slender at just under six feet, pleasant looking, with glasses and a mop of reddish-blond hair. He exhibits a quiet demeanor, speaks and writes articulately and, as Portland, Oregon police detective Leon LeFebvre says, comes across as “a likable guy.”
But Jess Mitchell Townsend is one sick puppy.
What else would you call a man who spends time, a lot of time, video taping women and children going to the bathroom, listening to women urinate in the woods, and designing “collection traps” to install in women’s toilets. Oh yes, he carries guns, too, even has a silencer.
The story begins in the summer of 1996, at least as far as the police are concerned. But no doubt Jess Townsend has been doing this stuff for a long time, since a weirdo like this guy doesn’t just wake up one day and start being weird. He had to have grown into it.
Anyway, a uniform officer was called to the Fun Center (a week-long carnival that sprawls along Portland’s waterfront every June) by a work crew that was sucking waste out of the many porta potty tanks that line the sea wall. While sucking away, their hose bumped into something normally seen at Christmas gatherings and your kid’s birthday party: Under the toilet seat and inside the tank, the crew found a video camera, positioned so that its lens captured anyone who sat down to, shall we say, rest their station.
The uniform officer, wearing Playtex gloves, removed the camera and the wooden box-on-legs in which the camera was mounted, and took the equipment to the Evidence Room.
Two days later, Detective Leon LeFebvre read the report and knew right away that this one had his name on it; this would be his career case. After all, he didn’t want the uniform officer’s work to go to waste, and since the case could turn into a big stink, he asked his sergeant if he could take a crack at it.
LeFebvre got the camera and examined the video and the still photo that the crime lab had made from it. He found that the first few minutes of tape revealed a man’s face and arm as he reached through the toilet hole to set the camera in place and make adjustments. The rest of the tape showed, in living color, several women and four young girls using the toilet, all videoed from inside the waste tank.
That was enough to set LeFebvre
in motion; he wanted this pervert badly. Through trial and error he was
able to trace the camera and its lens to a downtown camera specialty store.
He and another detective painstakingly examined the store’s computer data
base, eventually discovering the name of the buyer, a man named Jess Townsend.
His home address was in Hillsboro, a small community less than ten miles
outside of Portland.
Now LeFebvre had a name, but he needed a picture to match against a still photo taken from the video (the one pictured here). The Department of Motor Vehicles gave LeFebvre a driver’s license photo of Townsend, and the two pictures were a right-on match. A deputy district attorney and LeFebvre prepared an affidavit for a warrant for Townsend’s arrest, and a search warrant for his car and residence. A judge signed the warrant for Burglary II, Criminal Mischief III, and Attempt Encouraging Child Abuse II, and set the bail at a half million dollars.
LeFebvre and several other detectives coordinated with the Hillsboro police department, and searched Townsend’s 1976 Honda wagon at his work place before the suspect returned from a truck delivery. Next to the driver’s door, they found a loaded Ruger .38 and a loaded speed loader. While another detective and a couple of uniform officers backed off to stake out the car, LeFebvre left to search Townsend’s house.
Two hours later, the detective and officers watched as the suspect got into his car, looked desperately for his gun, then backed out of his parking spot. He drove only a few feet before a swirl of police lights stopped him in his tracks, and officers moved in for the arrest.
At the house, LeFebvre and the other detectives forced open Townsend’s front door and began searching. What they found was a smorgasbord of evidence that left no doubt to the suspect’s perversion, and his propensity for violence (see sidebar).
A detective brought Townsend to his residence, then the suspect was driven to the Justice Center where LeFebvre began interviewing him, a long, nauseating interview in which the suspect cooperated fully and even elaborated on his twisted, aberrant fascination with women’s bathroom habits. Four hours later, LeFebvre had to stop the interview. “I just ran out of juice,” he says, shaking his head, still amazed a year later at the guy’s weirdness.
Jess Townsend grew up in Southern California and moved to Portland when he was thirteen. His mother had committed suicide several years earlier and his father had remarried, though Jess couldn’t remember the woman’s name. After graduating from high school, he took a few college courses in computer work and machine shop, skills that would help him later in his perversion. When he was arrested, he was employed as a truck driver, and was buying the house where he had lived for more than six years. He had never been arrested before.
Townsend is clearly a loner. He had a short-lived relationship with a woman in 1990, but had been alone ever since. At one point in the interview he said, “I move through life, but I don’t touch it.” In fact, the only people to visit his home in more than six years were the detectives when they served the search warrant.
At first, Townsend acted confused as to why LeFebvre had arrested him. When he was told he was being investigated for something that had taken place at the Fun Center, he dropped his head and looked at the floor for several seconds. “I thought so,” he said. LeFebvre told him that what he had done would upset a lot of people, so this was a chance for him to explain himself. Townsend was hesitant for a moment than related his story.
He said that since he was a boy he had been intrigued with watching women and girls urinate. In the early 1980's, he would go to a nearby lake when he knew the park restroom was locked, then hide to wait patiently for women who needed to go so badly that they would go into the brush. He would listen intently, then go and look at the droppings after the women had left.
This fascination continued until three years ago when he decided to video tape women doing it. In 1995, in what he called his “expeditions,” he set up his camera in several porta potties at the Fun Center and at the Cinco de Mayo celebration, also held along on the waterfront. “I like to go where the traffic is,” he said.
Although he successfully made several video tapes, the year ended with a disappointing accident: The camera got knocked over into the waste, damaging it and the video inside.
In 1996, Townsend bought a new camera and began experimenting at his home with distancing and lighting. When he got everything just right, he once again went to the Fun Center and placed his camera into a porta-potty waste tank. This time, however, he mounted the camera within a more stable box, complete with long legs in the front and short legs in the back, and a better lighting system using a flashlight. Each time he installed the unit, he would walk around the Fun Center to kill time, then return a couple hours later to retrieve the camera. He was on his sixth expedition when he returned to find a spanking-clean porta potty and an empty waste tank. He knew that his camera had been discovered.
Townsend told LeFebvre that he saw his expeditions as a challenge, especially after the catastrophe with the 1995 camera. He said, “I’m the type of person who, when faced with a challenge, likes to research and develop ways to overcome and meet that challenge. It’s the challenge and my fascination with watching women urinate that’s the draw. It is not sexual. It’s about the taboo of seeing them pee.”
The detectives found several tapes in Townsend’s home, one of which he had edited down to about 70 minutes of footage of only women and little girls. He titled it, “Video Voyeur.”
“I watched that one about fifteen times,” he told LeFebvre. “I liked watching it in slow motion. I don’t make the tapes for anyone else to see. They were made strictly for my own viewing pleasure.”
Much to LeFebvre’s chagrin, the district attorney instructed him to watch the tapes and take painstaking notes as to what was on them. The report ended up being a lengthy one because he had to note the numerical listing on the VCR’s counter when he saw someone using the facilities, and whenever he heard recognizable conversation. Not surprisingly, LeFebvre’s report is too graphic to reproduce here.
LeFebvre noticed on all the tapes that Townsend demonstrated yet another odd personality trait. Whenever he reached through the toilet hole to adjust the camera or to retrieve it at the end of the day, he would give a little wave into the lense.
Townsend has always maintained a detailed diary of his life, to include his voyeuristic expeditions. Early on he wrote in longhand, but later he bought a laptop computer and formalized his autobiography. He is an articulate writer, often detailing for several pages his video activities on a given day, such as what he captured on tape, how the women looked, and how the overall expedition went. Then without missing a beat, his writing will flow into observations on news stories, current events, and the day’s weather conditions.
His diary tells of hiding in women’s restroom stalls to listen to them urinate, and how he timed them with a stopwatch (10-12 seconds, he notes). It was during theses expeditions that he would place a “trap” in the toilet to collect whatever was deposited. It was never clear what Townsend did with the collection.
On one occasion he was stopped by an employee as he exited a library restroom where he had been hiding in one of the stalls. He quickly came up with an alibi, then made a hasty exit. He later noted in his journal that he was glad he wasn’t detained because in his backpack were his notes, stopwatch, water bottle - and a gun.
Townsend made a silencer for his .22 semiautomatic. He told LeFebvre that it took him about a year, learning how to do it from the Encyclopedia Britannica and magazines he picked up at gun shows. Though he had a variety of guns, speed loaders, a silencer, and even a practice grenade, he insisted that he wasn’t a violent person.
LeFebvre asked how he thought of his videotaping women in restrooms, carrying weapons, and making a silencer. He answered, “Just because something is technically illegal doesn’t make it wrong.” He added that if he hadn’t been caught with any of these things, he would not be in the trouble he was in now. He did think, however, that he should see a counselor to deal with his fascination with women urinating.
Everyone who knows Detective Leon LeFebvre knows of his funny, deadpan sense of humor. While some of that was evident when he talked about Jess Townsend, LeFebvre got serious when speculating what might be next for the man.
“The guy was getting progressively worse,” he says. “He went from hiding in the brush near state park restrooms, to hiding video cameras in porta potties, and to hiding in women’s restrooms to listen and time them. I wanted to do the best job I could investigating this case.”
Jess Townsend served 142 days for the video crimes and is currently on probation in Washington County (in Oregon) for possession of video tapes with a sexual depiction of a child. In late May, a U.S. district judge gave him three years probation for possession of the silencer and recommended that he receive counseling. Townsend also must register as a sex offender, and may not own guns or video equipment.
Oh yes, the video equipment. It
was all forfeited, as well as a drill press and band saw that Townsend
used to make some of his equipment. The Portland Police Bureau’s Explosive
Disposal Unit has all of it now, and let’s hope the officers wear gloves
when they handle those things.
EVIDENCE RECOVERED IN TOWNSEND’S HOME
1 video VHS tape “Video Voyeur”
Assorted video cassettes
1 Browning 12-gauge shotgun
1 Ruger .22 semi-auto with silencer
Assorted video equipment
1 army helmet
1 practice hand grenade
1 JVC camcorder
Assorted video equipment
1 Plexiglass box with legs
Back to articles page