Jimi Hendrix Clara McCarty Captain Robert Gray Anna Louise StrongAnna Louise Strong Bailey Gatzert Home WWII Women Pilots
Search Encyclopedia
Facebook
Advanced Search
Featured Eassy Sponsor of the Week Book Store Donate Now
Home About Us Contact Us Education Bookstore Tourism Advanced Search
6843 HistoryLink.org essays now available      
Donate Subscribe

Shortcuts

Libraries
Cyberpedias Cyberpedias
Timeline Essays Timeline Essays
People's Histories People's Histories

Selected Collections
Cities & Towns Cities & Towns
County Thumbnails Counties
Biographies Biographies
Interactive Cybertours Interactive Cybertours
Slide Shows Slideshows
Public Ports Public Ports
Audio & Video Audio & Video

Research Shortcuts

Map Searches
Alphabetical Search
Timeline Date Search
Topic Search

Features

Book of the Fortnight
Audio/Video Enhanced
History Bookshelf
Klondike Gold Rush Database
Duvall Newspaper Index
Wellington Scrapbook

More History

Washington FAQs
Washington Milestones
Honor Rolls
Columbia Basin
Everett
Olympia
Seattle
Spokane
Tacoma
Walla Walla
Roads & Rails

Timeline Library

< Browse to Previous Essay | Browse to Next Essay >

A bomb kills Pearl A. Kongsle at her West Seattle home on September 2, 1959.

HistoryLink.org Essay 10051 : Printer-Friendly Format

On September 2, 1959, Pearl A. Kongsle, age 62, is killed and two visiting neighbors are injured when a bomb, hidden in a paper sack, explodes near the front porch of her West Seattle home. The force of the explosion gouges a crater in the front walk and breaks windows in nearby houses. Sixteen Seattle Police detectives are assigned to investigate the case, but they can find no apparent motive for the bombing and the few leads they have prove unproductive. It is the first time in Seattle’s history a private citizen has been intentionally assassinated with a booby trap. Pearl Kongsle’s murder has never been solved and remains an open investigation at the Seattle Police Department.

A Widow's West Seattle Life

Pearl Agnes (Anderson) Kongsle (1897-1959) was the widow of Captain Guy Kongsle (1887-1949), a veteran Puget Sound master mariner and deputy commissioner of the United States Maritime Commission in Seattle. In January 1955, she purchased a newly constructed duplex in West Seattle from building contractor Sam Benson for $27,500. The one-story brick house, located at 7150 46th Place SW, is in a quiet neighborhood two blocks from sprawling Lincoln Park and adjacent to The Kenny, a retirement community established in 1901.

Early Wednesday evening, September 2, 1959, Pearl Kongsle and a neighbor, Alberta Bowman, age 54, had dinner at the Alki Homestead restaurant. Bowman, a recent widow, told Kongsle to skip desert because she wanted to bake an apple pie. At approximately 8:45 p.m. Bowman walked from her house next door to Kongsle’s house with the hot pie and climbed the steps leading into the front yard. She saw a package sitting on the walkway at the top of the steps and stooped to inspect it. It was brown, paper, quart-size liquor bag with straw protruding out the top. Bowman started to pick it up, but then decided to leave it alone. She proceeded onto the front porch with the hot pie and rang the doorbell.

The Bomb

Pearl Kongsle was in the living room visiting with another friend, Edith F. Friedman, 5450 Beach Drive SW. When Bowman told Kongsle about the mysterious bag on her front walkway, she immediately went to examine it. She stood staring at the paper sack for a minute and leaned over for a closer inspection. Friedman called to her not to touch it, but it was too late. As soon as Kongsle picked up the bag, there was a violent explosion.

The force of the blast shattered windows in nearby houses and gouged a crater approximately one foot in diameter in the cement walkway. The two women, standing on the front porch, were knocked off their feet. Alberta Bowman crawled to the telephone and called the police. The dispatcher sent an alarm to the Alaska Street fire station and emergency equipment arrived at the scene within minutes. There was no fire, but the front of the home sustained some blast damage. Firefighters found the remains of Kongsle’s body in the front yard. Bowman and Friedman suffered flash burns and minor injuries from bits of flying glass. They were taken by ambulance to West Seattle General Hospital, 4704 California Avenue SW, for treatment of their injuries and shock.

According to King County Coroner Leo M. Sowers, Pearl Kongsle's right foot and part of her right hand were blown off. She also suffered a skull fracture, massive brain injuries, blunt force trauma injuries to internal organs and numerous contusions and lacerations. Bits of glass were found embedded in the victim’s flesh, but no fragments of metal or plastic. Kongsle’s body was cremated at Mittelstadt’s Lake City Funeral Home, 14828 Bothell Way, Seattle.

Investigating

It was the first time in Seattle’s history that a private citizen had apparently been  assassinated with a booby trap. Seattle Police Chief Henry James “Jimmy” Lawrence (1902-1976) immediately assigned 16 detectives to the case full-time, hoping for a quick solution and arrest. Federal Bureau of Investigation Director J. Edgar Hoover (1895-1972) personally placed FBI agents and laboratory resources at the disposal of the Seattle Police Department. Investigators and crime-scene technicians conducted a thorough search of the surrounding area for clues, but found only one small piece of curved glass and two glass splinters that were possibly related. The rest of the bomb, including any triggering device, had vanished in the powerful explosion.

The Seattle Police Department crime laboratory, aided by army explosives experts from Fort Lawton, tried to determine the type explosive used in the bomb. They were quite certain it was not dynamite, TNT, or gunpowder, but were unable to identify the explosive with any specificity. The residue found on clothing samples was a nitrate, the best possibility being nitroglycerin, an unstable, shock-sensitive liquid substance. Since nitroglycerin was not available commercially, someone had to have extracted it from sticks of dynamite. But how the booby trap was set and then detonated was open to speculation.

No Clues

Detectives explored numerous leads, but after a week of investigation, they had no clue as to motivation. Pearl Kongsle had been a widow for 10 years, had lived in West Seattle for less than five years and had no children. She had just sold the duplex for $35,000, bought a new car, and planned to move within a week. Police found no evidence to support hatred or revenge as a motive and the method seemed rather haphazard for a premeditated murder. A juvenile prank, intended only to startle the neighborhood, was one possibility. Or perhaps the bomb was intended for Kongsle’s tenant, William J. Meyers, age 54, who had been in the Veterans Administration Hospital with a heart condition at the time of the explosion. If it was a random act of violence, the probability of identifying the perpetrator was almost nil. There was one fact that supported lethal intent, however, the bomber had to travel at least 50 feet from the corner of 46th Place SW and SW Othello Street and climb the steps in order to set the booby trap in front of Kongsle’s house. The bomb itself remained an enigma for investigators.

Adding to the bewildering mystery was an incident involving Pearl’s brother-in law, Elmer Kongsle (1894-1968) and his wife, Johanna (Dobel), who lived on Lake Serene in Snohomish County. On August 13, 1959, three week before Pearl’s murder, their daughter, Charlotte Schutt, who lived nearby, found three sticks of dynamite scattered in her parents' front yard. The incident was reported to Snohomish County Sheriff Robert R. Twitchell (1923-2002), who sent deputies to investigate. Sheriff’s deputies took custody of the dynamite and searched the property, but found no blasting caps, fuses or anything to indicate an intent to detonate the explosives.

Strange Coincidences, Cold Cases

Pearl Kongsle’s murder was the third strange death in less than six months that had occurred in the family. On April 25, 1959, Major Robert Douglas Baker (1916-1959) and his wife Betty Jean (1921-1959), who was Elmer Kongsle’s oldest daughter, both died unexpectedly at Madigan Army Hospital in Fort Lewis. According to Pierce County Coroner Dr. Frank James, the couple, who died three hours apart, had been poisoned. The deaths were first believed to be from botulism. The Bakers had recently been on a vacation trip to Mexico and brought back several food items.

But botulism was ruled out after the Food and Drug Administration and the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department analyzed all the food in the house and tested samples on laboratory animals without result. Extensive laboratory testing was conducted of stomach contents and brain tissue at Walter Reed Army Hospital, Washington DC, and Letterman Army Hospital, San Francisco, but neither facility was able to determine the cause of death. The army reported it could have been any one of 5,000 compounds. Adding to the mystery, none of the Baker’s three children had been affected in any way.

On Wednesday, April 29, 1959, joint services for the Bakers were held in the Chapel on the Hill at Fort Lawton in Seattle. Major Baker, a Seattle native, served with the army during World War II (1941-1945) and the Korean War (1950-1953) and was Tacoma area commander for the Tenth United States Army Corps (Reserve). The Bakers were buried side-by-side in the Fort Lawton Cemetery.

The deaths of the Bakers, two adults who were apparently healthy one day and dead the next, has never been explained. The three orphaned Baker children, Cheri Jo, age 15, Robert Douglas Jr., age 7, and Kinberlee Susan, age 2, were adopted by their grandparents, Elmer and Johanna Kongsle. Pearl Kongsle’s murder has never been solved and remains an open investigation at the Seattle Police Department.

Sources:
“Guy Kongsle Heads Sea Service Bureau,” The Seattle Times, February 18, 1927, p. 21; “Captain Kongsle, Shipping Official, Dies,” Ibid., December 27, 1949, p. 4; “Captain Guy Kongsle,” Ibid., December 29, 1949, p. 8; “Deaths, Funerals: Kongsle, Capt. Guy,” Ibid., December 29, 1949, p. 32; “Joint Services for Maj. R. D. Baker, Wife,” Ibid., April 28, 1959, p. 34; “Food Used by Poisoned Couple is Tested,” Ibid., April 29, 1959, p. 7; “Poison, Fatal to Two, Still Unidentified,” Ibid., May 1, 1959, p. 40; “Police Seek Man in Death Case,” Ibid., September 3, 1959, p. 1; “Tacoma Police Joins Probe of Bomb Slaying,” Ibid., September 4, 1959, p. 1; “Mystery Shrouds Bomb Slaying Here,” Ibid., September 4, 1959, p. 2; “”3 Juveniles Sought for Bomb Death,” Ibid., September 5, 1959, p. 8; “Boy’s Account Offers Clue in Bomb Slaying,” Ibid., September 8, 1959, p. 1; “Investigators of Widow’s Bomb Death Still Without Strong Clue,” Ibid., September 9, 1959, p. 2; “Funeral Notices: Kongsle, Pearl,” Ibid., September 10, 1959, p. 45; “Dynamite-type Explosives Used in Blast,” Ibid., September 19, 1959, p. 20; “”$1,000 Reward Offered in Bomb Death of Woman,” Ibid., June 7, 1960, p. 38; “Mystery Bomb Kills W. Seattle Woman,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, September 3, 1959, p. 1; “Tragic Past Bared in Bomb Death,” Ibid., September 4, 1959, p. 1; Lucille Cohen, “Kin of Bomb Victim Fear for Lives,” Ibid., September 5, 1959, p. 1; “Police Comb West Seattle for Bomb Clue,” Ibid., September 6, 1959, p. 5; Sam Angeloff, “Woman’s History Studied for Motive,” Ibid., September 9, 1959, p. 1; “Police Seeking Car in W. Seattle Blast,” Ibid., September 10, 1959, p. 9; “In Fatal Bombing: Explosive Similar to Dynamite Hinted,” Ibid., September 19, 1959, p. 3.


Travel through time (chronological order):
< Browse to Previous Essay | Browse to Next Essay >

Related Topics: Crime |

Licensing: This essay is licensed under a Creative Commons license that encourages reproduction with attribution. Credit should be given to both HistoryLink.org and to the author, and sources must be included with any reproduction. Click the icon for more info. Please note that this Creative Commons license applies to text only, and not to images. For more information regarding individual photos or images, please contact the source noted in the image credit.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License


Major Support for HistoryLink.org Provided By: The State of Washington | Patsy Bullitt Collins | Paul G. Allen Family Foundation | Museum Of History & Industry | 4Culture (King County Lodging Tax Revenue) | City of Seattle | City of Bellevue | City of Tacoma | King County | The Peach Foundation | Microsoft Corporation, Other Public and Private Sponsors and Visitors Like You




Front page, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, September 3, 1959
Courtesy Seattle Post-Intelligencer


Pearl Agnes (Anderson) Kongsle (1897-1959)
Courtesy Seattle Post-Intelligencer


Major Robert Douglas Baker (1916-1959) and Betty Jean (Konglse) Baker (1921-1959)
Courtesy Seattle Post-Intelligencer


Scene, Pearl Kongsle fatal bombing, September 9, 1959
Courtesy Seattle Post-Intelligencer


Former home of Pearl Agnes Kongsle, 7150-7152 46th Place SW, Seattle, ca. 2001
Courtesy King County Department of Assessments


 
Home About Us Contact Us Education Bookstore Tourism Advanced Search

HistoryLink.org is the first online encyclopedia of local and state history created expressly for the Internet. (SM)
HistoryLink.org is a free public and educational resource produced by History Ink, a 501 (c) (3) tax-exempt corporation.
Contact us by phone at 206.447.8140, by mail at Historylink, 1411 4th Ave. Suite 803, Seattle WA 98101 or email admin@historylink.org