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