After our story in Sunday’s News-Review about “Elliot Ness,” the homeless man who frequently occupies the bench outside Roseburg City Hall, we received calls from two people who were able to fill in the gaps of his life story.
One is a local relative, who asked that we not publish his name. The other, Margaret Rammage, is not related, but used to bring him a hot breakfast each morning. She also had communicated with Elliot’s half sister in 2011 and showed us emails that laid out Elliot’s story. The profile we’ve compiled below is based on what we learned from these sources.
Jeffrey Short, who currently believes he is Elliot Ness, a police chief from Heaven, is believed to be schizophrenic. He began having delusions in his late teens.
The man who introduced himself as Elliot Ness sat on a bench in front of Roseburg City Hall in a blue raincoat on a pleasant October day.
He was born in Seattle in 1955 and grew up in Roseburg, attending Roseburg High School at least through his junior year.
He has lived here most of his life.
His parents died when he was a young adult, just as his mental illness was spiraling out of control. They were Ben Short, who died in 1976, and Mildred Short, who died in 1974. He has a sister, Judy, who is developmentally disabled, and the family has lost contact with her.
Jeffrey Short is a veteran.
He worked for Roseburg Forest Products in Riddle and then he joined the Marines when he was about 19. He served in Seoul, South Korea during the Vietnam War Era, but wasn’t in the service long before he was discharged due to his mental illness.
The relative said Short is entitled to be buried and receive services at the Roseburg National Cemetery.
“I don’t want him to go away and be buried and nobody knows him,” he said.
Short began to show signs of mental illness in his late teens, the relative said. He talked about being the president of the Timex watch company and drew circles on the ground for aliens to land inside.
At some point, Short drove to California on a motorcycle, got into some trouble and was involuntarily committed to a mental institution there.
The relative recalled receiving calls from him begging them to get him out of there. In the 1990s, he was released from the institution and returned to Roseburg. The laws around mentally ill patients changed at that time to ban most involuntary commitments.
Short used to camp under the bridge by Stewart Park and eat out of garbage cans. At one point he frightened some children playing on the playground there, and their mothers called police. Rammage said after that Short was jailed for a while, but when he was brought into court he identified himself as “Jehovah,” a name that matched his delusional beliefs at the time.
Rammage said Short occasionally would eat meals or stay at the Roseburg Rescue Mission, and his face peers out of one of the mission’s mailings from around 2006 seeking donations for its Thanksgiving dinner. Later, she said, Short stayed under the Deer Creek Bridge near the Roseburg Public Library.
Rammage’s maiden name was Short, but an in-depth genealogical search showed her she wasn’t related. Rammage first met Jeffrey Short in 2006 after she had back surgery and her doctor ordered her to walk every day. She introduced herself to him while he was sitting on the bench outside City Hall, and he introduced himself as Jehovah.
He began to call her “one of the mayors.” He liked to write on adding machine tape. Once she asked him for some of it, and he gave her an 8 inch piece that was covered in words that indicated how disordered his thinking was. He had written “MAWELTORO,” and “them against me need special investigating them and me said siren” and several other words and phrases that don’t make sense. He referenced a place where he wrote his mother lived “now,” apparently unaware that she died decades ago.
At that time, he ate breakfast every day at the Daily Grind, a cafe that was across the street from City Hall but has since closed down. Later, he became upset when a friend wasn’t allowed to eat there too. He went into a rage and knocked things off the counter, Rammage said. The cafe owners quickly were relabeled in his mind as part of a communist conspiracy against him.
The Roseburg Rescue Mission too, she said, became part of the communist conspiracy in his mind.
Eventually, so did Rammage.
For years after Short stopped eating at the Daily Grind, Rammage brought him hot breakfasts she made herself — oatmeal, hot tea with lots of sugar and a banana. She sometimes gave him new sleeping bags or other items to help him stay warm and dry.
But one day in 2012, she carried a Chinese green tea in place of her usual Red Rose tea and he decided she, too, was a communist. She thinks maybe the Chinese words on the tag set him off.
After that, she didn’t feel comfortable continuing to help him. But she still worries about him, and wishes he could get help. Unfortunately, she said, he’d likely assume that anyone at an agency who could help him is a communist too.
Eight years ago, Rammage communicated with Short’s half sister, who was living in Washington. The half sister, Sharon Short Gostomski, had not heard from Short in 30 years. She emailed information to Rammage about Short’s background and family tree that matched the information given to us by the local relative. Gostomski died in 2016.
Rammage finds it heartbreaking that Short lives the way he does.
“He literally fell through the cracks and the streets became his home,” she said.
The relative we spoke to said Short has had a very, very hard life.
“When you live on the street with nothing and you live out of garbage cans and you sleep in the briar patch and you sleep under a bridge all your life, basically, that’s hard,” the relative said.
The relative said it hurts to watch, but Short won’t accept any help other than food.
“What do you do other than shed a tear?” the relative said.