King County Sheriff Matt Starwich and posse thwart a bank robbery in Carnation in a shootout that leaves two dead on August 13, 1924.

  • By Phil Dougherty
  • Posted 3/25/2013
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 10350

On August 13, 1924, King County Sheriff Matt Starwich (1879-1941) and a posse of six deputies thwart a robbery at the Snoqualmie Valley Bank in Carnation (King County). In the ensuing shootout the robber and an informant are killed and a deputy injured. It's a big day in East King County history, and further burnishes the reputation of the flamboyant Sheriff Starwich.

Testosterone Flowing

By most accounts, D. C. Malone (d. 1924) was a petty criminal who decided to rob the Snoqualmie Valley Bank and try and strike it big. At first, he planned a solo job. But he was forced to abort his first attempt when he got to the bank and found it crowded. So he got some help for a second try, but made a mistake: One of his recruits was not only not interested in becoming a criminal, but had periodically worked for the Thiel Detective Agency in Seattle. This man, Ted Lashe (d. 1924), soon snitched to Sheriff Starwich.

By 1924, Starwich had been King County sheriff for more than three-and-a-half years, and was well-known for his exploits. He was a short, bull-stout man who liked walking into trouble and throwing punches when he got there. He also liked to make sure the press was kept up-to-date of his efforts in maintaining county justice. He told Lashe to proceed with the plans, and set up the sting. Then he alerted Seattle newspaper reporters and photographers and invited them along.

Starwich had been told that the heist was planned for about 2 p.m. on Wednesday, August 13. That morning he gathered six deputies together at his office and they carefully checked and primed their sawed-off shotguns and pistols. The testosterone was flowing. "I'll shoot the first guy in that gang that makes a crack," promised one deputy. "Lemme at 'em" affirmed another ("Starwich and Posse…"). Shortly before the posse left for Carnation, they dropped by a barber shop for a quick shave. "Might as well look nice in case we get bumped off," explained a tongue-in-cheek Starwich. Added a prescient Deputy Herb Beebe, "Yep, if she goes through we'll have our picture taken" ("Starwich and Posse…").

Expectant Edginess

Starwich and his entourage arrived in Carnation (which in 1924 many still called Tolt, the town's original name) shortly before 11 a.m. Recognizing that several cars full of out-of-towners descending on the little town would attract attention, the men parked on the village outskirts and singly sauntered into the community over the next few minutes. No one was the wiser.

Starwich alerted bank representatives of what was expected to happen, and stationed three deputies, Herb Beebe, Tom Morgan, and Ray Murphy, in a room in the back of the bank. Starwich and the other three deputies, Frank Anderson, Ed Fitzgerald, and Virgil Murphy, took up positions in a small shed right across the street from the bank.

And waited. An hour passed. Expectant edginess gave way to boredom. Several cows shuffled by, pausing to munch on grass near the sidewalk. Starwich fingered his gun and growled a threat about beefsteaks. The men broke for lunch, returned. More time passed. Then 2 p.m., with no bandits in sight.

A Mad Melee

A few minutes later, a car with three men in it cruised by. Then Malone slowly strolled past the bank, first going south, then north. All looked quiet. Minutes later, the car returned. Lashe and Malone got out, leaving the driver, Jack Bench, in the car with the engine running. The bank teller, Isadore Hall, saw their approach and murmured an alert to the deputies in the back. Seconds later, Lashe and Malone entered the building. Lashe told Hall to "stick 'em up" ("Trail of Death…"). She complied as Malone leapt over the counter, headed for the open bank vault.

He didn't get far. Outside, Sheriff Starwich confronted Bench, yanked him out of the idling vehicle, and knocked him down with a blow to the jaw. Malone heard the commotion and tried to make a beeline for the vault. The three deputies stepped out of the back room and ordered Malone to raise his hands. Malone raised his gun instead and fired at the deputies, who returned fire. Bullets flew, splintering counters and desks and shattering the bank's front window. Malone was struck several times and fell backward. As he fell, he may have fired on Lashe, who was standing near the front window, with his gun drawn but not firing. (Some of the deputies later speculated that Malone realized Lashe had spilled the beans and decided to take him out, but it really wasn't clear if this was the case or if he simply accidently shot Lashe in the mad melee. Indeed, upon further investigation it wasn't clear if he had shot Lashe at all, but Lashe was struck by two bullets.)

Fitzgerald and Virgil Murphy ran into the bank and joined the fray, but Murphy was struck in the left leg by another deputy's bullet and ran back outside. The now-prone Malone continued to fire at the officers, cursing them all the while. Deputy Frank Anderson, standing outside, answered with a shotgun blast through the bank's front window, delivering the coup de grace to the bandit and nearly blowing off his wrist in the process. "Had enough?" asked Anderson. "Enough," confirmed Malone ("Starwich and Posse…"). Seconds later, he died. According to press and witness accounts, he had been hit 12 or 13 times, and deputies later estimated more than 50 shots were fired during the fracas. Meanwhile Lashe was mortally wounded, and lay screaming on the bank floor. He had been shot twice; once accidently by the deputies and once either by the deputies or by Malone. He died later that evening. Murphy recovered from his wound.

A Surprise Heroine

But it was the teller, Isadore Hall, who became the surprise heroine of the affair, commended by all for calmly remaining at her post without flinching during the anxious hours that she and the deputies waited for the bandits to arrive. She likewise stood her ground as bullets flew within a few feet of her during the first part of the fight, only retreating to the safety of the bank vault as the shootout continued. Marveled the Seattle P-I,"[She] escaped without a scratch, without screaming and without even showing signs of fainting" ("Sheriffs Kill Pair"). Hall, beaming for photographers' cameras, dismissed the praise with a modest, "Why, it was nothing" ("Woman Is Heroine…").

The whole affair went down as one of the bigger days in Carnation history. Yet not all were impressed. Some even criticized Starwich for overdoing it; the Seattle Star sarcastically referred to the battle as a "wild west shooting bee staged by Sheriff Matt Starwich," adding for good measure, "in which a deputy sheriff was shot by his fellow officers, an informer who had been promised protection was sacrificed, bank windows were riddled with bullets and the life of a girl bank employee [actually, Hall was in her 40s and was the bank vice-president] needlessly imperiled" ("Shooting Up...").

But Starwich was not deterred. He continued his firm ways of administering justice -- and making sure the press knew all about it -- until he hung up his badge in 1927. 


Sources:

"The Wild, Wild East" and "Matt Starwich Was The Law" in A Hidden Past ed. by Arlene Bryant (Seattle: The Seattle Times, 2002), 54-56; Burt Hamerstrom, "Sheriffs Kill Pair, Deputy Wounded in Blocking Tolt Raid," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, August 14, 1924, pp. 1-2; "Gun Victim at Tolt Declared Helping Law," Ibid., August 15, 1924, pp. 1-2; "Trail of Death Ends Career of Robbers," The Seattle Star, August 14, 1924, pp. 1, 7; "Shooting Up of Town Called Needless," Ibid., August 15, 1924, p. 1; "Starwich and Posse Frustrate Bold Gang," The Seattle Daily Times, August 14, 1924, pp. 1, 10, 13-14; Dora Dean, "Woman Is Heroine of Hold-Up," Ibid., August 14, 1924, p. 14; "Matt Returns to Private Life," Ibid., January 9, 1927, p. 13.
Note: This essay was corrected on November 21, 2016, as to the year Matt Starwich was born.


Related Topics:   Crime

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