George A. McIntyre shoots and kills four people in Pullman on April 17, 1949.

  • By Daryl C. McClary
  • Posted 11/05/2008
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 8824

On Easter Sunday, April 17, 1949, George A. McIntyre (1923-1949), age 25, a World War II veteran, goes berserk, kills three law-enforcement officers and a taxicab driver and wounds two officers and a bystander during a 40-minute gun battle in Pullman, Washington, before he himself is shot and killed. The incident, known regionally as "The Easter Massacre," is Pullman's most terrible day and one of the deadliest killing sprees in Washington state history.

Affable But With Violent Temper

George Albert McIntyre, son of Elbert "Bert" Elli and Mary E. (Parlee) McIntyre,  was born in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, on September 9, 1923. The family moved to Walla Walla in 1934 and Bert opened a automobile service station, McIntyre's Mobile, 101 W Alder Street. When Bert died of tuberculosis on October 6, 1938, 15-year-old George was distraught and shortly thereafter, he was arrested for stealing $5 from a neighbor. During a hearing in juvenile court, he became violent and attempted to escape, injuring one court officer and threatening another. The judge sent him to the Green Hill Academy, a juvenile detention and training center in Chehalis, not because of the misdemeanor petty theft, but to learn self control.

Upon release from Green Hill, George attended Walla Walla High School and was an officer in the school's Army Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) program. To earn money, he worked for the Harold Electric Company as an apprentice. McIntyre married classmate Amsel Arlene Duckworth, age 19, on January 24, 1943, and enlisted in the U.S. Army on March 16, 1943. He served in the European theater as an ordinance technician with the 145th Engineer Combat Battalion during World War II (1941-1945), attaining the rank of technician, fifth grade (corporal). McIntyre's hobby was firearms and he qualified as an expert marksman in the Army.

After being discharged from the Army in 1945, McIntyre worked as an armature winder for the Berry Electric Company in Walla Walla. In 1946, he moved his family to Pullman and opened an electric motor and appliance repair shop, McIntyre Electric Service, 701 Grand Avenue. In 1948, the shop was moved to 918 Grand Avenue. McIntyre was active in the community, joining the Chamber of Commerce, the Lions Club, and the American Legion and becoming Boy Scout troop leader. Although generally affable, he had a mercurial disposition and was known to have a quick, violent temper. McIntyre railed against authority, especially the local police, and nurtured grudges. His animosity toward the Pullman Police Department stemmed from receiving numerous traffic and parking citations that he believed had been issued unjustly.

The Beginning of Trouble

The real trouble, however, started on Tuesday, July 8, 1948, when McIntyre and his wife, Amsel, were traveling in their pickup truck through South Fairway, a veterans' housing project on the Washington State College (WSC) campus. Three students accused him of driving over the posted 12 m.p.h. speed limit and, at an intersection, jumped on the truck's running board. One of the students, Hyrum W. Kershaw, age 27, a veterinary student and Army Air Corps veteran, reached inside the cab and tried to switch off the ignition. There was a struggle during which Amsel, who was six-months pregnant, was struck three times in the abdomen. Kershaw's and other neighborhood resident's complaints caused Pullman Police Officer Elbert Ross Claar to issue McIntyre a citation for reckless driving.

Later in the day, McIntyre went to the Pullman Police Department to pay the traffic ticket, reduced to a $10 fine, and swear out a complaint against Kershaw for assaulting his wife. There, he encountered Officer Claar and Kershaw and the trio got into a heated argument. McIntyre allegedly threatened he would "get even" for the trouble and displayed a dummy training rifle. He was arrested for assault by Police Chief Arthur Ricketts and spent the night in jail.

On Friday, June 9, McIntyre appeared before Municipal Court Judge J. O. Adams and was charged with first degree assault. That same day, Amsel was admitted to Finch Memorial Hospital and stayed there for 10 days. Later, she attributed the premature birth of her son, George Arlen, to this disturbing experience.

On Monday, August 30, Judge Adams dismissed the assault charge filed against Kershaw and the counter-assault charge filed against McIntyre. On September 25, however, Whitman County District Attorney Lawrence Hickman had McIntyre arrested and charged in Superior Court with two counts of second-degree assault for threatening Claar and Kershaw with a firearm. At his arraignment, he pleaded not guilty and was released on a $1,000 bond.

The trial was held in Colfax, the Whitman County seat, before Judge John P. Evans on December 8, 1948. McIntyre was found guilty of two counts of second-degree assault, but due to the circumstances surrounding the altercation and his clean war record, the jury recommended leniency. Judge Evans, with the concurrence of District Attorney Hickman, placed McIntyre on probation for one year. Shortly after the trial, Hickman remarked to Whitman County Sheriff Levi M. "Pete" Parnell, "Pete, that guy is going to kill somebody one day" (The Spokesman-Review).

At sentencing, McIntyre's attorney, Edward J. Lehan, filed a motion for a new trial, but the motion was denied on January 7, 1949. Four days later, Lehan filed a Notice of Appeal to the Washington State Supreme Court on McIntyre's behalf for a new trial.

Events of the Fateful Day

At approximately 10:00 a.m. on Easter Sunday, April 17, 1949, the McIntyres, en route to Spokane to visit George's brother, Stuart, stopped at the Milky Way Dairy, 1417 Grand Avenue, to get milk for their two children, Carol Arlene, age 5, and six-month-old George Jr. Kershaw worked part-time at the dairy and was there working on his car. According to Amsel, as they were leaving the dairy, Kershaw whistled and their dog jumped out of the back of the pickup truck. When McIntyre went back after the dog, the two men exchanged angry words and a fight ensued.

Kershaw said: "He stopped about 75 feet from where I was standing, jumped out of the car and swore at me. He asked me if I wanted to start anything. I said I'd finish anything he started. He came at me and swung. I went down. I got back up and swung at him and he went down. I hit him again and he bit me in the back of the neck. After this, I jumped up and McIntyre pulled a knife on me" (The Spokesman-Review). Kershaw escaped into the dairy and called Chief Ricketts to report the McIntyre's attack.

Realizing the police would probably want to question them about the fight, the McIntyres returned home. By 1:00 p.m., however, nothing had happened and George had calmed down, so the family decided to drive into the St. Joe National Forest in Idaho for a picnic. They returned to Pullman about 3:30 p.m., but it was such a nice day, he continued driving toward Colfax. A few miles north of the city, however, McIntyre noticed the truck was low on gasoline and returned to Pullman to buy gas.

At 3:55 p.m. Officer Claar spotted McIntyre's pickup truck at Harper's Union 76 Service Station, 405 E Main Street. Claar had a warrant for McIntyre's arrest, issued earlier in the day by a Whitman County Judge for violation of probation. It was based on Kershaw's complaint to Chief Ricketts about his altercation with McIntyre earlier in the day.

Claar got out of his police car and told McIntyre he had a warrant for his arrest. When McIntyre refused to accompany him to the police station, Claar returned to the vehicle for his night stick. Meanwhile, McIntyre retrieved a .22 caliber pistol from inside his pickup truck and when Claar returned, shot him three times in the chest. As Claar slumped to the pavement, he drew his service revolver and fired two shots at his assailant. McIntyre, however, had dodged to safety behind Claar's police car and was not hit. As Claar lay dying, McIntyre picked up the night stick and clubbed Claar several times on the head. Leaving his wife and two children behind, McIntyre jumped into his pickup truck and sped away. An ambulance rushed Claar to Finch Memorial Hospital, but he was dead on arrival.

McIntyre drove to his house at 1506 Grand Avenue, next to a building housing Klemgard Distributors and Pea Processing Company, Inc., and the Pullman Tractor and Implement Company, and retrieved a German 8mm Mauser K98k sniper rifle, mounted with a telescopic sight, ammunition, and a set of binoculars. Leaving his pickup truck behind, he crossed Grand Avenue, also known as the Palouse-Pullman highway (State Route 27), and headed up the west side of brush-covered College Hill. From this vantage point, McIntyre could watch his house and the highway for pursuers and defend himself.

Meanwhile, Chief Ricketts broadcast an area-wide alarm that Officer Claar had been shot and to be on the lookout for McIntyre's pickup truck. Whitman County Sheriff's Deputies Gilbert C. Gallagher and Clarence S. Davis, who had been in Pullman looking for McIntyre, had just returned the 16 miles to Colfax when they received the call. They rushed back to Pullman in separate patrol cars and established positions near McIntyre's residence. As Gallagher drove by the house, he saw a man, he believed to be McIntyre, standing in the front yard by a pickup truck. But it was Robert Jordan, McIntyre's business partner, who was looking for George. Rather than attempting an arrest the killer, the two deputies decided to wait for reinforcements to arrive.

At about 4:15 p.m., McIntyre fired two rounds from College Hill through the windshield of Deputy Davis's car, sending glass shards into his arm. Davis quickly moved his vehicle to cover and radioed Gallagher he had come under fire and to look out. Gallagher was parked on NE Railroad Road at the bottom of College Hill, watching McIntyre's house, and unaware the danger was behind him. As he left his patrol car with a 30-30 Winchester Model 94 lever-action rifle, he was shot once in the back and killed. McIntyre darted from his hiding place, grabbed Gallagher's rifle and scurried back into the underbrush on the hillside.

Ten minutes later, McIntyre was lying in ambush on the west edge of the WSC campus, overlooking Grand Avenue, when two automobiles stopped on NE Maple Street. One car was driven by Ernest G. Buck, a Pullman taxicab driver, and the other by James T. Roberts, proprietor of the Milky Way Dairy, who was accompanied by his wife, Edythe. They were merely bystanders, who, along with scores of others, had been attracted by the sounds of gunfire and unaware of the imminent danger. Neither man was armed. However, Buck was wearing a flat cabdriver's hat, similar in style to a police officer's hat. As they stood looking down upon the confusion on Grand Avenue, McIntyre shot Buck once in the back and Roberts twice in the right leg, shattering his shin. McIntyre rolled Buck down the hillside, then shot him again.

McIntyre then aimed his rifle at Roberts who exclaimed, "You shot me twice Mac, I don't want to get shot again." McIntyre replied, "Well Jim, get the hell out of there then" (The Spokesman-Review). A WSC student helped Roberts into his car and Edythe rushed him to Finch Memorial Hospital.

In the meantime, officers from the Pullman Police Department, Whitman County Sheriff's Department and Washington State Patrol as well as from the Moscow Police Department and Latah County Sheriff's Department in Idaho, plus several armed citizens, had gathered in the vicinity of College Hill to hunt for the gunman. Sporadic gunfire was heard as the posse slowly and carefully encircled McIntyre's position on the hillside.

At about 4:30 p.m., Whitman County Sheriff "Pete" Parnell was driving down Grand Avenue to join the manhunt when a bullet broke his windshield. Stopping next to the Klemgard Pea Processing plant, 1600 Grand Avenue, he stepped from his car, on what he thought was the protected side, directly into McIntyre's sights. A bullet hit Parnell in the back on the left side, piercing his heart.

Whitman County Deputy Sheriff James C. Hickman was following Parnell's car and when McIntyre opened fire, he started to drive away. He was wounded when a bullet pierced the roof of his patrol car and creased his skull.

The final exchange of gunfire took place at approximately 4:35 p.m. Posse members spotted McIntyre changing position and opened fire. McIntyre fell and the shooting stopped. The officers took potshots in his direction, but there was no return gunfire. After waiting a reasonable amount of time, they cautiously worked their way through the underbrush and found McIntyre's body lying in a shallow ditch at the bottom of College Hill.

Aftermath of the Shootings

Amsel McIntyre had a nervous breakdown and spent the night at Finch Memorial Hospital. The following morning, her parents, Earl L. and Margaret S. Duckworth, arrived from Weston, Oregon, and drove the family to George's mother's house in Walla Walla. There, they made arrangements with the MacMartin and Chamberlain Funeral Home to bring McIntyre's body to Walla Walla for burial. The funeral was held in the mortuary chapel on Thursday, April 21, 1949.

In an exclusive interview with the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin, Amsel told the reporter when Officer Claar attempted to arrest George, she took the children out back of the service station and then heard gunfire. "I ran out front and saw Claar lying on the ground. Then I took the children to a neighbor's house, across from the service station. I guess only the station attendants knew I had been at the service station because no one came after me or told me anything." Later, Robert Jordan, her husband's business partner, found her there and gave her details about the gun battle. She said the police neither questioned her about the shooting at the gas station nor bothered to notify her about her husband's death. George's mother, Mary E. McIntyre, said she first learned of the tragedy on the radio.

George McIntyre's Death

On Tuesday, April 19, 1949, Lawrence Hickman, acting Whitman County Coroner, held an inquest into the George McIntyre's death. The medical examiner, Dr. Troy M. Price, testified the victim was struck in the chest near the heart by three bullets which exited the lower back. He reasoned that the fatal shots, spaced just inches apart, were fired from an automatic weapon. The angle of the wounds suggested the shots came from the hillside above McIntyre. Dr. Price ruled out the possibility he had committed suicide with a bolt-action rifle. Other witnesses testified about the events which led to Claar's murder and the ensuing gun battle. Chief Ricketts estimated that more than 100 shots had been fired during the fighting.

After a brief deliberation, the six-man coroner's jury returned a verdict of justifiable homicide, but evidently decided the identity of the person who killed McIntyre should remain a mystery. Curiously, the Certificate of Death (No. 7800), issued by Dr. Price on April 18, 1949, and filed with the Whitman County Department of Public Health states cause of death as "Gunshot wounds through heart and spine -- self inflicted" (Certificate of Death). However an Affidavit for Correction of a Record, issued on July 13, 1949 and signed by Whitman County coroner Lawrence Hickman specifies that the "true facts" were that "the gunshot wound was not self inflicted (coroner's jury found in inquest upon his death that he died of gunshot wounds inflicted by someone other than himself" (Affidavit).

Mourning the Dead

The funeral service for Whitman County Sheriff Levi Morton "Pete" Parnell, age 60, was held at the Full Gospel Church in Colfax on Wednesday, April 20, 1949. The funeral, the largest ever held in Colfax, was attended by more than 700 persons, including 100 law enforcement officers from throughout the Northwest. The church was filled to capacity and hundreds stood outside, listening to the sermon over a public address system. Parnell was buried in the Colfax city cemetery. He was survived by his wife, Bessie, and two adult children.

The funeral service for Ernest G. Buck, age 42, who operated a taxi service, was held at the Kimball Funeral Home chapel in Pullman on Wednesday, April 20, 1949. He was buried in Moscow, Idaho, where he lived with his wife, Sylvia, and two daughters.

Gilbert C. Gallagher, age 28, a decorated World War II combat veteran, graduated with honors from the WSC School of Police Science in February 1949. He had been employed by the Whitman County Sheriff's Department for only a few weeks when he was killed. Gallagher was originally from Port Angeles where his father, James R. Gallagher Sr. was a police captain. On Friday, April 23, 1949, a funeral mass was said for Gallagher at Queen of Angeles Catholic Church in Port Angeles, followed by burial there. In addition to his family in Port Angeles, he was survived by his wife, Frances, and three young children.

The funeral service for Elbert Ross Claar, age 56, was held in the United Presbyterian Church on Thursday, April 21, 1949. He was buried in the Pullman city cemetery. Claar was survived by his wife, Anna, two adult children, and two grandchildren.

Claar had been an officer with the Pullman Police Department for seven years. The job paid poorly and there was no police training, other than the occasional trip to the pistol range. Claar was woefully unprepared, both mentally and physically, for a conflict with someone like George McIntyre.

Responses and New Lives

The Pullman City Council, responding to public criticism of the police department's handling of the McIntyre debacle, replaced Chief Arthur Ricketts with Pullman Police Officer Archie Campbell. Ricketts's response to the city council was that the public only got what it was willing to pay for. If Pullman wanted a capable staff of young, highly trained police officers supplied with modern weapons and equipment, the voters must be willing to increase taxes. The voters had been apathetic through the years because such an event had never happened in Eastern Washington before.

Deputy Clarence S. Davis, age 46, who was injured in the gun battle, was appointed by the Whitman County commissioners to complete Sheriff Parnell's term in office, which expired in January 1951. Deputy James C. Hickman, age 65, who sustained a head wound and near-death experience, decided it was a good time to start collecting his retirement.

Milky Way Dairy owner James T. Roberts, age 45, whom McIntyre shot and then let live, sold his business to the Arden Farms Company, distributor of dairy products throughout the Western states. He went to work for the U.S. Postal Service and was appointed Pullman's Postmaster, a position he held for many years.

To help the citizens deal with the unexpected disaster, the Pullman and Colfax Chambers of Commerce established the Easter Tragedy Fund to aid the families of the men killed in the bloody gunfight, which magnanimously included the McIntyre family. The incident, known regionally as "The Easter Massacre," was Pullman's most terrible day and one of the deadliest killing sprees in Washington state history.


Sources:

Paul Stoffel, "Owner of Electric Firm Goes Berserk, Kills 4, Fatally Shot," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, April 18, 1949, p. 1; "Pullman Man Kills 4 Before He Is Slain," The Seattle Times, April 18, 1949, p. 3; "Five Men Killed, Three Injured In Pullman Shooting Fray," The Spokesman Review, April 18, 1949, p. 1; "How Gun Spree Started Is Told," Ibid., April 18, 1949, p. 1; "Easter Tragedy Spurs Aid Fund," Ibid., April 19, 1949, p. 12;"Fray Victims Funeral Set," Ibid., April 20, 1949, p. 14; "Gunman Spared Onlookers Life," Ibid., April 21, 1949, p. 16; "Record Throng Honors Sheriff," Ibid., April 21, 1949, p. 16; "Parnell's Post goes to Deputy," Ibid., April 26, 1949, p. 10; Eric Sorensen, "Massacre Hit Region Previously; Former Serviceman Killed 4 in Pullman," Ibid., June 24, 1994, p. B-5; "Pullman's Gun Battle Traced to Old Grudge Nursed by Killer," The Coeur d'Alene Press, April 18, 1949, p. 1; Throng at Rites of Slain Officer," Ibid., April 21, 1949, p. 14; "Berserk Washington State Man Slays Four, Wounds Trio Before Shot Fatally," The Idaho Daily Statesman, April 18, 1949, p. 1; "Kin of Gunfight Victims to Get Aid From Fund," Ibid., April 19, 1949, p. 1; "Bloody Easter Shooting Claims 5 Lives," The Daily Idahoian, April 20, 1949, p. 1; "3 Shots From Up Hill Felled Killer," Ibid., April 20, 1949, p. 1; "Five Pullman Men Die in Gun Battle," Walla Walla Union-Bulletin, April 18, 1949, p. 1; "Deputy Sheriff Gives Account of Shooting at Pullman That Left Five Dead, Four Wounded," Ibid., April 18, 1949, p 1; "Mrs. George McIntyre Tells Events Behind Gun Battle," Ibid., April 20, 1949, p. 1; Karl Heuterman, "The Easter Massacre Pullman, Washington April 17, 1949," Easter Massacre April 17, 1949 website accessed June 6, 2008 (www.swsd.k12.wa.us/HS-C/kheuterman/ EasterMassacre.htm); "Police Officer Elbert R. Claar, Deputy Sheriff Gilbert W. Gallagher, and Sheriff Levi M. Parnell," The Officer Down Memorial Page website accessed June 3, 2008 (www.odmp.org); Certificate of Death for George Albert McIntyre," April 18, 1949, and "Affidavit for Correction of Record," July 13, 1949, Washington State Department of Health, Public Health Statistical Section.
Note: This essay was updated on February 28, 2009, to take note of the affidavit correcting George McIntyre's certificate of death.


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