In a murder-suicide case that stunned the community, police over the past six weeks have pieced together what they believe happened inside the C.A. and Merry Rath home on March 7.
Although it will never be known exactly what transpired in those final moments that led 55-year-old C.A. Rath to murder his wife before turning the gun on himself, police have been able to reconstruct what likely occurred between the two Philomath residents through the collection and analyzation of evidence.
“It was clear based on our investigation that the two were having significant marital difficulties,” Philomath Chief of Police Ken Rueben said. “That’s evident by witness statements of both friends and family, their children and phone analyses … we looked back at about two years of their phone data.”
From what police found at the scene, it appeared that Merry Rath, 53, may have been in the process of leaving her husband.
“It appears, based on our investigation, that Merry Rath was packing a bag and a suitcase to leave,” Reuben said. “We don’t know what the verbal exchange was prior to the murder but it was clear that she was packing to leave — to either move out or go on a trip, we’re not really sure.”
Law enforcement arrived at the Rath home approximately 3-½ minutes after a 911 hang-up call occurred. At the time of the call, which police later learned had come from the cellphone of C.A. Rath, a Philomath police officer happened to be in the area of North 19th and Main, which allowed him to respond quickly.
“We’re not sure of the reason — if it was to alert police to the fact that they were going to find deceased people in the house to draw police to the residence?” Rueben said. “So we don’t know the motive of the 911 call but he definitely dialed 911 on his phone and hung up.”
After arriving at the home, the police officer ran the license plates of a vehicle in the driveway to verify that he was at the correct location of where the 911 hang-up had originated. A Benton County Sheriff’s Office deputy arrived and they forced their way into the home.
The condition of the bodies indicated that police had arrived within approximately 15 minutes of the crime.
The investigation that followed revealed various details about what appears to have happened.
“The scene did not show evidence of a struggle but it does appear Mrs. Rath may have been in the middle of packing a bag,” Reuben said. “According to friends and family, the relationship was strained for a number of years.”
There were no prior reports to law enforcement of domestic violence involving the two, Rueben added.
But on March 7, Rueben said the investigation showed that C.A. Rath shot his wife at least 20 times using two different firearms — a 9-millimeter pistol and a .38-caliber five-shot revolver. A third gun was found at the scene but it had not been fired.
“Based on our analyses and autopsy, it appears that the very first round that struck her was most likely the bullet that killed her,” Rueben said.
Rueben said after the shooting stopped, C.A. Rath sent two texts reaching three people — a single text to the couple’s two adult children and another text to a friend.
Rueben said that the content of the texts basically included an apology and that he had killed his wife and that he was going to kill himself. Within a minute or two of the texting, 911 received the hang-up call.
“Law enforcement is awaiting the official medical examiner’s report as to the cause of death — we just got a verbal,” Rueben said. “While there are no outward signs of drug or alcohol use at the time of the murder, it is routine for the medical examiner to await toxicology reports before issuing a final report.”
Rueben said it could take the Oregon State Crime Lab anywhere from eight to 12 weeks to receive toxicology reports, which are actually performed by third-party vendors as a cost-saving measure.
Rath, who had a kidney transplant years earlier, took a significant amount of medication associated with that condition, Reuben said, although none of them are known to be mood-altering.
Police also checked nearby video surveillance cameras to see if there might be any other potential suspects, which there were not and was ruled out. Reuben himself went through several hours of video beginning from 10 p.m. the previous night.
“You can see their street and every car and every person that walked in,” Reuben said, adding that the traffic was light with it being a Sunday morning. “We see her alive about an hour before the murder taking a walk.”
In the video, Merry Rath can be seen walking her dog and looking at her cellphone almost the entire time, Reuben said. But the time on her phone did not produce any further evidence connected to what was to happen.
“Ninety percent of it was her searching different kinds of recipes for soups, just like anybody would be doing,” Reuben said.
REACH OUT The Benton County District Attorney’s Office and the Philomath Police Department encourage anyone experiencing domestic violence to reach out for help. Locally, individuals seeking help can contact any law enforcement agency or the Center Against Rape and Domestic Violence (CARDV) at 541-754-0110 or 1-800-927-0197. CARDV can be found online at https://cardv.org.
The Philomath Police Department can be reached at 541-929-6911 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.