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MailTribune.com
  • Woman's death shocks co-workers

    Bonnie Payne was working hard at being a cook, had only good things to say about alleged suspect
  • Bonnie Susan Payne loved and supported Mitchell Alan Below — the man who is accused of killing her early Saturday morning, her work colleagues say.
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  • Bonnie Susan Payne loved and supported Mitchell Alan Below — the man who is accused of killing her early Saturday morning, her work colleagues say.
    "She always spoke highly of (Below)," said Dane Smith, owner of Mr. Smith's restaurant in Medford.
    "I think they'd been together about five years. She'd only been working here for a few months. But I never saw any" bruises or signs of abuse, he added.
    Medford police entered the apartment in the 500 block of West Sixth Street shortly after 6 a.m. Saturday and found the 48-year-old Payne dead inside. Below, 50, threatening to kill himself, was barricaded inside the bathroom. After a three-hour standoff, Below was persuaded to leave the bathroom and was found suffering from self-inflicted knife wounds.
    Below was taken to the hospital, where he underwent surgery, and is being held without bail in the Jackson County Jail, charged with murder, said Medford police Deputy Chief Tim George. Below is expected to be arraigned in Jackson County Circuit Court on Thursday.
    Payne's next of kin have been notified. Her autopsy is set for today, George said. He did not comment on the manner in which she died, citing the continuing investigation.
    Someone came by the restaurant with the news that Payne was dead, Smith said.
    "They said Bonnie wouldn't be at work today. That she had been killed. We're all in shock. There's kind of a numb feeling around here," Smith said.
    Smith described Payne as a "tiny, friendly and hard-working" mother of two. Her daughters had recently come to visit Payne, he said.
    "She'd never been a cook before. She was trying hard to learn. She seemed excited about her life," Smith said. "She was always talking about fixing him dinner. (Below) didn't have a job, she'd say. But he was always looking for work."
    Smith also said Payne looked "like she'd had it kind of tough in her life," Smith said.
    Jackson County Circuit Court records show that Payne was no stranger to domestic violence. None of Payne's court records related to Below. But the 5-foot-tall, 100-pound woman was granted three restraining orders in Jackson County against a former husband — one in 1994 and two in 1995. Payne's records also show she had two arrests for driving while under the influence of intoxicants and two citations for driving while suspended.
    Records show Payne lived in Ashland for several years before moving to Dunsmuir, Calif., and back to Medford.
    Court records also show Below has lived in Burney, Calif., which is northeast of Redding. He also has listed residences in Dunsmuir, Calif., and Bend. Below does not appear to have a record of violent crimes in Oregon.
    Murder carries a mandatory minimum prison sentence of 25 years, under Oregon Measure 11 law.
    The Jackson County Public Defender's Office rents the bottom floor of the building where Payne died. The top floor houses four apartments, one of which either Below or Payne rented, George said. The YMCA, which is connected to the apartment, remained open throughout the day Saturday.
    Gerry Sea, with Victim Services at Community Works, said she could not confirm whether Payne had received support from her agency. But Sea added it was highly likely that Payne had worked with its outreach program when she got her restraining orders in the mid-'90s.
    Sea urged victims in crisis, or those who suspect they are witnessing abuse, to call the police or call the Community Works helpline at 541-779-4357.
    "We feel really concerned," said Sea. "We are in grief over this. This is a reminder that domestic violence happens everywhere."
    Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 541-776-4497 or e-mail sspecht@mailtribune.com.
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