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Bank robbers shoot and kill William E. Walker in Spokane on February 15, 1937.

HistoryLink.org Essay 10260 : Printer-Friendly Format

On February 15, 1937, William E. Walker (1883-1937), age 53, inadvertently walks into the middle of an armed robbery at the Security State Bank in Spokane and is shot and killed. Police link a series of seemingly random events and quickly identify the culprits as brothers Leroy Knapp (1916-1938), age 20, and Stanley Knapp  (1917-1938) age 19, along with Herbert Allen (1916-1974), age 20. No doubt realizing that the police are hot on their trail, the trio leave Spokane and head for the West Coast. In March 1937, the Knapp brothers will be captured separately in California. In June 1937, a Spokane jury will find the Knapps guilty of first-degree murder and will recommend the death penalty. Allen will be captured in North Dakota in July 1937, will plead guilty, and a Spokane jury will sentence him to be executed. In 1938, Leroy Knapp will die from a gunshot wound sustained in an attempted escape from the Spokane County Jail, and Stanley Knapp will be hanged at the Washington State Penitentiary. Herbert Allen will be granted executive clemency and his sentence commuted to life imprisonment. In 1956, although he had made three attempts to escape from the penitentiary, the state Board of Prison Terms and Paroles will deem Allen rehabilitated and Washington Governor Arthur B. Langlie (1900-1966) will grant him a conditional pardon.

One Monday Morning

At 11:40 a.m. on Monday, February 15, 1937, three armed robbers brandishing firearms entered the Security State Bank, 619 N Monroe Street in Spokane. The bandits corralled everyone in the bank-- five employees and seven customers -- and herded them at gunpoint into the vault. While one man stood guard outside the vault door with a sawed-off shotgun, another stood watch near the bank’s front entrance with a .45 caliber Colt’s Model 1911 pistol. The third robber, carrying a nickel-plated revolver, went behind the line of teller’s cages and began emptying the tills and stuffing the money into a canvas bank bag. Just then a customer pushed through the front door and entered the lobby.

William E. Walker was carrying the weekend proceeds from his two diners, the White Duck, 806 W Main Street, and the White Goose, 1103 W 3rd Avenue, into the bank for deposit. Although there appeared to be no customers inside, he was evidently unaware anything out of the ordinary was taking place. Walker stepped up to a teller’s window with his deposit book and bank bag in hand. The gunman in the lobby told Walker to “Stick ‘em up” and when Walker turned around, he shot him in the chest. The assailant dragged Walker’s body down a narrow hallway and left him on the floor in a small room behind the vault. After the shooting, the robbers became anxious and decided to leave. They ordered the hostages to stay in the vault for five minutes, under penalty of death, and then hastily departed through the front entrance and ran west on Collage Avenue. Ignoring the threat, Arthur D. Davis, the bank manager, immediately left the vault and telephoned the Spokane Police. 

The Spokane County Courthouse was only three blocks away and Detectives August Bettinger, Charles F. Sonnabend, George W. Sexsmith, and Spokane County Sheriff Ralph Buckley arrived at the bank within minutes. Witnesses were able to provide excellent descriptions and assured detectives they would have no difficulty identifying the robbers, as they didn’t bother to wear face masks. Some of the employees thought the men looked familiar and had been casing the bank during the past week. An audit of the cash drawers disclosed the robbers had stolen $4,100 in bills and $400 in rolled coins. Interestingly, they hadn’t taken money from any of the bank’s customers.

While inside the vault, witnesses reported hearing a gunshot and then someone moaning in agony. An empty .45 caliber cartridge, found on the floor, was carefully preserved as evidence. Detective Sexsmith and Sheriff Buckley searched the bank and found Walker on the floor in the back room, alive and still clutching his deposit book and bank bag. Weakened from loss of blood, he was unable to give police any information about the robbery. An ambulance rushed Walker to the emergency room at Rockwood Clinic (incorporated into the Sacred Heart Hospital complex in 1942).

Witnesses and Clues 

Olive T. Cunningham, 6315 N Cedar Street, was sitting in her car, parked on W College Avenue, behind a green, 1936 Oldsmobile 4-door sedan, waiting for her husband, Paul, to finish his banking business. She saw three men, carrying guns and a bank bag, run from the Security State Bank, climb into the Oldsmobile and speed away. Mrs. Cunningham copied down the plate number, Washington C-29-569, and gave it to Sheriff Buckley when he arrived.

It had snowed heavily over the weekend, effectively bringing traffic to a standstill on most city streets. Spokane Police Chief Ira A. Martin established roadblocks on all the main highways leading out of the city. Sheriff Buckley broadcast a countywide alert for all cars to be on the lookout for the getaway vehicle. However, Chief Martin and Sheriff Buckley believed the bandits were probably hiding somewhere in the city, waiting for the heat to die down. Meanwhile, police detectives were kept busy following clues and investigating tips from the public.

The license plate recorded by Olive Cunningham had been reported stolen on Sunday night, February 14, by its registered owner, Virgil Paist. His car had been parked at Richard Theis's gasoline service station, 603 S Washington Street, when the theft apparently occurred.  Bonnie Manley, who lived nearby, notified police that on Sunday night she had seen two men lurking around the cars parked in Theis’ service station. She reported they were driving a black, older-model Ford sedan bearing Washington license C-30-288. That same night, Edward Merkle, 2612 N Washington Street, reported that his green, 1936 Oldsmobile four-door sedan, bearing Washington license C-22-158, had been stolen.

At 4:30 p.m. on Monday, police located Merkle’s Oldsmobile stuck in a snow bank at E Bridgeport Avenue and N Pittsburg Street. Paist’s stolen license plates were still on the car. Residents in the neighborhood reported the vehicle was being driven by a young, white male, who had abandoned it and ducked down an alley. There was a set of tire chains on the rear wheels that were clearly the wrong size. The tire chains were later traced to a Western Auto Supply, located at Second Avenue and Monroe Street, and identified as sized for a Ford Model-A or Model-B automobile tire.

William Walker Succumbs

At 6:30 p.m., William Walker lapsed into a coma and died at Rockwood Clinic. The post mortem, conducted by Dr. Isaac S. Collins, Spokane County Coroner, determined the bullet passed through the victim’s right forearm, nicked his right lung, penetrated the liver, and exited near his spine. The .45 caliber slug was found in his clothing. Death resulted from the hemorrhaging liver wound.

After the autopsy, Walker’s body was taken to the Hazen & Jaeger Funeral Home, 1103 W 4th Avenue, to prepare for burial. Funeral services were held on Friday, February 19, at the Elks Temple, 1116 W Riverside Drive, conducted by Reverend Albert W. Darling. Walker, who resided with his wife, Margaret, at 1021 W 4th Avenue, was buried next to his parents in Forest Cemetery, Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.

Getting Closer 

The Ford sedan, Bonnie Manley had seen at Theis’ service station, was owned by Raymond Ruth, 3614 N Lidgerwood Street, but registered in the name of Leroy Knapp. Raymond Ruth, an Inland Motor Freight driver, was Leroy’s brother-in-law and his wife, Grace, a Crescent department store manager, his older sister. Leroy had a younger brother, Stanley, who had a criminal record and had served a sentence for burglary at Green Hill School, a juvenile detention facility in Chehalis, Washington. Stanley also spent time in the city jail for drunk driving and carrying a concealed firearm. When Leroy was 15, he and Stanley were arrested in a joy-riding incident with other juveniles. The brothers were associates of Herbert Allen, who had a lengthy criminal record and had served time for burglary at the Washington State Reformatory in Monroe. Booking photos and fingerprints of the Knapps and Allen were on file with the Spokane Police Department. Leroy Knapp’s appearance was quite distinctive: tall, with a pallid complexion and pale-blond hair.

At police headquarters, witnesses viewed photos of several local criminals and most had no difficulty in positively identifying mug shots of Leroy Knapp, Stanley Knapp, and Herbert Eugene Allen. Based on the evidence collected by detectives, Spokane County Prosecutor Ralph E. Foley filed complaints in Justice Court, charging first-degree murder and bank robbery, and had warrants issued for the suspects arrests. The Spokane Police and County Sheriff’s Department spread a dragnet across the city and county, looking for the suspects, but they had dropped out of sight. Members of Knapp and Allen families claimed they hadn’t seen the boys recently.

Making the Arrests

On Friday, March 5, 1937, Stanley Knapp was arrested in Sacramento, California. He was registered in a hotel under a fictitious name and was possession of $761 cash from the bank heist. On this same day, Prosecutor Foley filed informations in Spokane County Superior Court charging the Knapps and Allen with the first-degree murder during the commission of a robbery, qualifying them for the death penalty under Washington state law. Foley prepared an extradition warrant for Stanley Knapp, signed by Governor Clarence D. Martin (1887-1955), and Spokane Police Detective August Bettinger left on the first train for Sacramento with warrant in hand. On Tuesday, March 16, California Governor Frank F. Merriam (1865-1955) signed the extradition papers and the next morning Detective Bettinger and Knapp left on the train for Spokane via Portland, Oregon. Stanley was described by the newspapers as being dressed in the height of fashion and wearing a 28-pound Oregon boot on his right leg to prevent his escape. They arrived at the Great Northern Depot in Spokane at 7:45 a.m. and Chief Martin had Knapp taken directly to the city jail.

On Wednesday, March 17, 1937, while Stanley was in transit to Spokane, police in Eureka, California, arrested Leroy Knapp for vagrancy. He had squandered his share of the loot, betting on horses at the Santa Anita Racetrack, and was penniless. Prosecutor Foley sent Detective Charles F. Sonnabend to Sacramento with another extradition warrant for Governor Merriam’s signature and then on to Eureka to collect Leroy. They arrived at the Great Northern Depot in Spokane at 6:30 p.m. on March 26, 1937, on the train from Portland. Leroy was wearing manacles and the same Oregon Boot that had been affixed to Stanley’s leg a week earlier.

While in the Sacramento jail, Stanley gave Detective Bettinger an eight-page written confession, detailing his activities surrounding the bank robbery and his “accidental” shooting of Walker. Leroy Knapp, however, claimed he had not been involved in the robbery and remained mute. On Saturday, March 27, 1937, Leroy finally broke his silence and confessed his part in the bank heist to Detective Sonnabend, Chief Martin and Prosecutor Foley. He fingered his brother, Stanley, and Herbert Allen as accomplices and said that Stanley had shot Walker.

How It Was Done

According to their statements, on January 29, 1937, they burglarized the Sears, Roebuck & Company department store at 906 W Maine Avenue, and stole a .12 gauge shotgun and a box of shotgun shells. They took the shotgun to the basement of their parents' home, Wilson H. and Nora G. Knapp, 818 W Augusta Avenue, and sawed off the barrel with a hacksaw. The gang had been robbing gas stations and decided they were ready for a big score. They cased the Security State Bank several times before the robbery, deciding on a plan of attack. Leroy toted the shotgun, Stanley had a .45 caliber Colt’s pistol, which he habitually carried in a shoulder holster, and Herbert Allen had a nickel-plated, pearl-handled, .38 caliber revolver.

After the robbery, Stanley drove to the Ruth’s house, 3614 N Lidgerwood Street, to divide the loot. They each took $1,366 in bills and stashed the remainder, $400 in coins, in the basement along with the guns. Stanley left to ditch the stolen Oldsmobile and Leroy took the hats and mufflers they wore during the heist and burned them in the stove. Shortly after Stanley returned from his chore, three police officers arrived at the door to ask about Ruth’s Ford sedan, seen at Theis's service station where the license plates on the getaway car had been stolen. Stanley chatted amiably with detectives, while Leroy and Allen hid in the basement. He said the Ruths were downtown working and the car hadn’t been out of the garage because of the snow. After the officers left, Stanley Knapp and Allen headed downtown and boarded the first train leaving Spokane for the West Coast. Leroy stayed behind to dispose of the guns, and later headed for Los Angeles on the train.

On Saturday, May 22, 1937, Leroy and Stanley Knapp appeared before Spokane County Superior Court Judge Charles W. Greenough (1878-1967) for arraignment. The defendants entered formal pleas of not guilty to the charge of first-degree murder and they were ordered held without bail. Spokane attorney Joseph J. Lavin was appointed as defense counsel for both defendants and the trial was scheduled to start on June 7, 1937, before Judge Fred H. Witt (1879-1952).

The Trial 

The trial began on Monday morning, June 7, 1937, with jury selection, which took two-and-a-half days to complete. The state intended to seek the death penalty, and the questioning of the prospective jurors centered on their views regarding capital punishment. On Wednesday afternoon, a jury of nine men and three women was impaneled and sworn in. Afterward, the jurors were taken to the Security State Bank to see where William Walker had been shot and killed.

On Thursday morning, Prosecuting Attorney Foley presented his opening statement in which he outlined the state’s case. He pictured the robbery the result of days of planning and preparation. Foley described how clues provided by a number of citizens led detectives directly to the Knapp brothers. While in the bank, the defendants had difficulty keeping their mufflers around their faces, giving ample opportunity for witness identification. Foley said he intended to prove that Walker was intentionally shot by Stanley Knapp, not accidentally as he claimed. And rather than providing assistance, he dragged Walkers bleeding body into a back room and left him there to die.

In his opening statement, Defense Attorney Lavin surprised everyone by conceding everything Prosecutor Foley said was true. The prosecution had the Knapps’ signed confessions, which would be introduced into evidence during trial. But he said there were extenuating circumstances the jury must take into consideration when deciding upon the penalty. The killing was neither deliberate nor premeditated. The boys were victims of bad company (namely Herbert Allen), bad luck, and demon liquor. When Walker had abruptly turned around, he accidentally struck Stanley’s gun hand with his bank bag and the pistol discharged. It was an accident for which the misguided youths did not deserve to die.

The state called call 40 witnesses to the stand including Deputy Sheriff Tom M. Hadley, who demonstrated the Colt’s Model-1911 pistol could not be discharged easily, and Dr. Collins, Spokane County Coroner, who testified there were no powder burns on the bank bag or Walker’s clothing. The prosecution contended that Stanley Knapp shot Walker with malicious intent, at a distance of no more than three feet. The state rested its case late Friday afternoon, June 12, 1937, after two days of direct testimony.

Attorney Lavin called only three witnesses to the stand: Wilson and Nora Knapp, the parents, who testified as to the boys’ background and upstanding character, and Stanley, who gave his version of the shooting. Leroy declined to testify in his own defense. The defense rested its case at 11:30 a.m. on Saturday, June 12.

Before the noon recess, Judge Witt delivered his instructions to the jury. There were only four questions for the jury to decide: Did Stanley shoot Walker; Did Walker die as a result; Was Walker killed during the commission of a robbery; Did Leroy aid, abet and participate in the robbery. “It is immaterial whether the crime was committed with premeditated design,” Judge Witt instructed. “Under state law, killing of a human being without design, by a person engaged in the commission of a robbery, is murder in the first-degree. If the state has established all four of these points, it is your duty to find the defendants guilty of murder in the first degree” (“Lavin Admits Knapp’s Guilt”). The Judge pointed out that if the defendants were found guilty, it would be the jury’s grim duty to determine the penalty -- life imprisonment or death by hanging.

The trial concluded on Saturday and the case went to the jury at 4:00 p.m. The jury deliberated until 11:00 p.m. and resumed early Sunday morning. At 9:45 a.m., the jury foreman notified the bailiff they had reached a verdict. Judge Witt reconvened the court and the court clerk announced the jury found the Knapp brothers guilty of first-degree murder and recommended the death penalty for both defendants. Attorney Lavin immediately filed a motion for a new trial based on misconduct by the prosecution and prejudice by one of the jurors.

Sentencing for the Knapps was held on Friday, August 20, 1937. After hearing two hours of arguments, Judge Witt denied the motion for a new trial and sentenced the defendants “to suffer the penalty of death in the manner proscribed by law.” Attorney Lavin immediately gave the court notice of appeal to the Washington State Supreme Court. Judge Witt stayed the date for the executions until the appeal process had run its course 

Arresting Herbert Allen 

On Thursday, July 29, 1937, police in Williston, North Dakota, arrested a transient whom they identified through fingerprints as Herbert Allen, the fugitive wanted in Spokane for murder. Another transient, Wayne Gilmore Skillen, age 20, had seen Allen’s picture in newspapers and Master Detective magazine and tipped Police Chief Ole Olson to his whereabouts. Allen admitted his identity, but denied he had been involved in the Spokane bank robbery with the Knapps.

On Wednesday, August 4, 1937, Detective Bettinger left for Bismarck with Allen’s extradition papers for North Dakota Governor William Langer (1886-1959) to sign. That evening, as the jailer was serving dinner, Allen took advantage of an open cell door and made a daring escape. He was on the loose for 24 hours before a farmer reported that a man answering Allen’s description had been seen by a neighbor boy, hiding in a rock pile 15 miles west of town. Chief Olson rushed to the location and made the arrest. On Friday, Allen relented and gave Chief Olson and Detective Bettinger a full confession. At 1:50 a.m. Sunday, August 7, Detective Bettinger and the fugitive, wearing manacles and a 28-pound Oregon boot, left Willington aboard the westbound Great Northern Empire Builder. They arrived at the Great Northern Depot in Spokane at 9:00 p.m. and Allen was taken directly to the city jail. 

On Wednesday, September 8, 1937, Herbert Allen appeared before Spokane County Superior Court Judge Charles W. Greenough for arraignment. The defendant entered a plea of guilty to the charge of first-degree murder and was ordered held without bail. Joseph J. Lavin was appointed as the Allen’s attorney and the trial, to determine punishment, was scheduled to commence on November 1, 1937, before Judge William A. Huneke (1886-1946).

The Herbert Allen Trial

The Allen trial began on Monday morning, November 1, 1937, with the selection of a jury, whose only question was to decide the degree of punishment -- life in prison or death. On Wednesday afternoon, a jury of two women and 10 men plus one alternate was impaneled and sworn in. Prosecutor Foley presented an abridged version of the testimony presented at the Knapp trial. The defense had few objections and there was almost no cross examination. The state rested its case on Thursday, November 4, after just one day of direct testimony. Attorney Lavin told the jury there would be no witnesses for the defense. Keeping Allen off the stand prevented the prosecution from delving into his criminal history. In his final argument, Lavin made an impassioned plea for a life sentence. He vividly described what happens at a hanging, declared his client should not be held responsible for Walker’s death, and blamed the state for selling liquor to youths.

The case went to the jury at noon on Friday, November 5. After deliberating for five hours, the bailiff notified Judge Huneke the jury had reached a verdict. Court was reconvened and court clerk Jack Mann read the jury had ordered the death penalty. While leaving the courtroom, Allen tried to escape, but Deputy Sheriff Tom Hadley punched him in the face and told him to behave.

On Friday, March 25, 1938, Prosecutor Foley and Attorney Lavin appeared before Judge Huneke on a defense motion for a new trial. There was no argument and the motion was immediately denied. The Judge deferred pronouncing Allen’s death sentence until after the state Supreme Court had ruled on the Knapp brothers’ appeal for a new trial.

On Monday, April 4, 1938, the state Supreme Court, in a unanimous decision, affirmed the Knapps’ convictions and death sentences. On Friday, April 29, Judge Huneke sentenced Herbert Allen to be executed at the Washington State Penitentiary. Allan’s execution was stayed, however, when Attorney Lavin notified the court of his intention to appeal to the state Supreme Court for a new trial. The following Monday, May 2, Lavin filed a formal notice of appeal for a new trial in the Allen case and a petition for a rehearing by the state Supreme Court in the Knapp case (later denied), giving the condemned prisoners another 60 days to create mischief -- which they did.

Failing to Escape 

On Friday, June 10, 1938, the trio, now lodged together in the Spokane County Jail, attempted a daring escape. Using razor blades, they cut through a metal plate that covered the locking mechanism to the cell door, and discovered it could be turned with a spoon handle. The project had taken four weeks. On Friday afternoon, the three prisoners burst through the door and attempted to overpower Deputy Sheriff Alvin E. Coldeen and take his keys. During the struggle, Coldeen succeeded in triggering the escape alarm and help arrived immediately. Deputy Sheriffs William Dieter and James Cannon reached the main door to the jail just as Leroy Knapp and Allen were on their way out. Stanley was still in the jail office, struggling with Coldeen for possession of his revolver.

When Leroy refused to halt, Deputy Dieter shot him. The bullet struck him in the lower abdomen, went through his intestines and came out by his left hip. An ambulance transported Leroy to Sacred Heart Hospital, 101 W 8th Avenue, where he underwent emergency surgery. Stanley and Allen surrendered and were placed in an isolation cell where later Deputy Cannon overheard them discussing plans for another escape attempt.

But Judge Witt wasn’t going to let that happen. On Tuesday morning, June 14, 1938, three deputies brought Stanley Knapp, wearing leg irons, manacles attached to a belly chain, into court for sentencing. Judge Witt made his remarks brief: “The jury has fixed the death penalty and there is nothing for me to do but fix the date of execution. I now fix that date as August 5. I commend your soul to the God who gave it. I am now placing my official signature on the document which commands the warden of the penitentiary to carry out the judgment of this court” (“Stanley Knapp Sobs Farewell”). After a short farewell visit with his family, Stanley was placed in a sheriff’s car and driven directly to the Washington State Penitentiary.

On Tuesday, June 28, 1938, Judge Witt held a brief bedside session at Sacred Heart Hospital and sentenced Leroy Knapp to be executed on August 5, and signed his death warrant. Leroy’s condition worsened, however, and he died at 2:20 a.m. on Friday, July 8, 1938. A funeral service was held on Saturday at the Hazen & Jaeger Funeral Home, officiated by Reverend Leonard C. Masted, pastor of Our Savior’s Lutheran Church. He was buried at Greenwood Cemetery (now Greenwood Memorial Terrace), 211 N Government Way, in Spokane.

Herbert and Stanley

Meanwhile, on Saturday, July 2, 1938, Judge Huneke denied Herbert Allen a new trial; sentenced him to be executed on Tuesday, August 16, 1938; and signed the death warrant. “Herbert, I understand you were born on a Tuesday,” commented the Judge. “It has been the custom for executions to take place on Friday. I wrote to the warden and asked if he would object to your execution taking place on Tuesday and he informed me he had no objection. That will give you one more birthday,” (“Herbert Allen Dies August 16 on the Gallows”). Allen had no comment. On Sunday, July 3, Sheriff Buckley and Deputy Hadley delivered Allen to death row at the Washington State Penitentiary.

Throughout July, relatives of the condemned men pressured Judge Witt, Judge Huneke and Prosecutor Foley to support their pleas for executive clemency. They agreed to speak with Governor Martin, but stated bluntly that any hope of securing commutation of their death sentences vanished with the attempted jail break. On Wednesday, August 3, 1938, Governor Martin and William J. Wilkins, chairman of state Board of Prison Terms and Paroles, met with the Knapp and Allen families to hear their pleas for clemency. Wilkins had reviewed both cases for the governor and was certain the defendants had been given fair trials and were guilty as charged. Governor Martin agreed and decided not to interfere with the decisions made by the courts and the juries.

Stanley Knapp's Execution

At 12:00 a.m., Friday, August 5, 1938, Stanley Knapp was taken from his cell on death row into the execution chamber, accompanied by Superintendent James M. McCauley (1892-1940), Reverend Arvid C. Ohrnell (1891-1963), prison chaplain, and two guards. Knapp had no last words and calmly mounted the gallows. The state executioner positioned him over the trap, pulled a cloth hood over his head, and set the hangman’s noose. At 12:06 a.m., the trapdoor was released, dropping him to his death. Knapp’s body was taken down at 12:20 a.m. and the prison physician pronounced him dead.

The funeral service for Stanley Knapp was held in Spokane on Saturday afternoon at the Jaeger & Hazen Funeral Home, officiated by Reverends Masted and Ohrnell. It turned out to be a big event, attended by some 800 people. He was buried next to his brother, Leroy, at Greenwood Cemetery.

Herbert Allen's Fate

At 2:00 p.m., Monday, August 15, 1938, just 10 hours before his scheduled execution, Governor Martin granted Herbert Allen a 90-day reprieve because his mother, Naomi, was ill and his older brother, Edgar, was in the hospital, supposedly dying of tuberculosis. He had been lobbied by the family, ministers, and anti-death-penalty groups to commute Allen’s sentence to life imprisonment. Governor Martin said he would take the time to carefully study the case.

On Monday November 14, 1938, Governor Martin announced: “I am commuting the sentence of Herbert Allen. My reasons for this course are based on the fact that did not kill, that he is young, that his background did not give him much of a chance in life, and because I feel there is still a possibility of rehabilitation. Moreover, the ends of justice have already been met. His two associates have forfeited their lives” ("Governor Commutes Youth’s Sentence to Life Term"). On Wednesday, November 17, Judge Witt signed an order officially closing the Knapp and Allen cases and returning $761.30 to Security State Bank, used as evidence in the two trials.

But Allen soon grew weary of prison life. In December 1941, while working in the laundry facility, he sabotaged a bank of floodlights in the compound and attempted to climb over the wall, but was caught. On June 5, 1943, he pretended to be a trustee, assigned to a job in the dairy outside the gates, and talked his way past an inexperienced guard. Allen was recaptured eight days later in downtown Seattle. On September 5, 1945, Allen and two inmates escaped through a hole they had made in the wall of their cell, crawled through a maze of service corridors and air-conditioning ducts into the attic of the prison building. Allen climbed out onto a window ledge with a rope and homemade grappling hook, bridged the gap between the building and the outside wall, and then started across, hand-over-hand. Guards in two opposing wall towers spotted him hanging from the rope and began firing. Allen dropped 20 feet to the ground, but was not injured. Guards located his two cronies hiding in the attic and they were all stripped of privileges and given a stretch in solitary confinement.

Allen was rewarded for serving his next 11 years without causing trouble. Warden Merle Schneckloth even regarded him as a model prisoner. Allen studied accounting and worked in the penitentiary’s business office for several years. On December 31, 1956, Governor Arthur B. Langlie, based upon a recommendation from the state Board of Prison Terms and Paroles for executive clemency, granted him a conditional pardon. The terms of Allen’s pardon required him to be in constant contact with his parole officer and not travel outside the state without permission.

Sources:
“Bullet In Right Chest Fells W. E. Walker, Condition Grave,” Spokane Daily Chronicle, February 15, 1937, p. 1; “Police Believe Three Gunmen Have Not Left the City,” Ibid., February 16, 1937, p. 1; “William Walker Funeral Friday,” Ibid., February 17, 1937, p. 3; “Trace Bandits Chains to Auto Goods Store,” Ibid., February 17, 1937, p. 1; “Bank Customer Says He Can Identify Man,” Ibid., February 19, 1937, p. 1; “Police Charge Three with Walker Murder and Bank Robbery,” Ibid., March 5, 1937, p. 1; “Knapp to Face Murder Charge,” Ibid., March 6, 1937, p. 1; “California Officers Nab Second Man in Spokane Murder,” Ibid., March 17, 1937, p. 1 “Brother of Stanley Gives His version of Bank Holdup,” Ibid., March 27, 1937, p. 1; “Surprise Plea Made in Murder Trial,” Ibid., June 10, 1937, p. 1; “State Seeks to Upset Knapp Defense,” Ibid., June 11, 1937, p. 1; “Lavin admits Knapp’s Guilt,” Ibid., June 12, 1937, p. 1; “Knapps Fight to Avoid Noose,” Ibid., June 14, 1937, p. 1; “Officials in North Dakota Apprehend Herbert Allen,” Ibid., July 30, 1937, p. 1; “Spokane Desperado Escaped Jail in Dakota,” Ibid., August 5, 1937, p. 1; “Allen Admits Part in Bank Robbery,” Ibid., August 6, 1937, p. 1; “Allen Is Coming Back,” Ibid., August 7, 1937, p. 1; “Judge Witt Sentences Knapps to Death,” Ibid., August 20, 1937, p. 1; “Allen Pleads Guilty to Bank Murder,” Ibid., September 8, 1937, p. 1; “Foley Gives State’s Side at Opening,” Ibid., November 3, 1937, p. 1; “Widow Takes Stand,” Ibid., November 4, 1937, p. 1; “Jury Still in Deliberation,” Ibid., November 5, 1937, p. 1; “Allen Must Die for Killing of William Walker,” Ibid., November 6, 1937, p. 1; “Herbert Allen to be Executed,” Ibid., April 29, 1938, p. 1; “Killers Sawed Lock with Razor Blades,” Ibid., June 11, 1938, p. 1; “Stanley Knapp Sobs Farewell,” Ibid., June 14, 1938, p. 1; “Date Set Today of Execution of Leroy Knapp,” Ibid., June 28, 1938, p. 1; “Herbert Allen Dies August 16 on the Gallows,” Ibid., July 2, 1938, p. 1; “Leroy Knapp Dies from Wound Received When Trying to Escape from Jail,” Ibid., July 8, 1938, p. 1; “Clemency Is Asked of the Governor,” Ibid., August 3, 1938, p. 1; “Stanley Knapp Is Put to Death,” Ibid., August 5, 1938, p. 2; “Funerals: Stanley Knapp,” Ibid., August 2, 1938, p. 3; “Martin’s Action Delays Hanging for Ninety Days,” Ibid., August 15, 1938, p. 1; “Governor Commutes Youth’s Sentence to Life Term,” Ibid., November 14, 1938, p. 1; “Bank Robbery Case Closed,” Ibid., November 14, 1938, p. 1; “Killer Allen’s Escape Slick,” Ibid., June 7, 1943, p. 1; “Herbert Allen Is Recaptured,” Ibid., June 19, 1943, p. 1; “Guns Foil Herbert Allen in Pen-Break Attempt,” Ibid., September 6, 1945, p. 1; “Spokane Bank Robber Paroled from Prison,” Ibid., January 3, 1957, p. 5.


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Spokane Daily Chronicle, February 15, 1937
Courtesy Spokane Daily Chronicle


Oldsmobile Six, four-door touring sedan, 1936
Courtesy Life magazine, May 1936


Knapp brothers murder trial: Attorney Joseph Lavin (left), Leroy Knapp (center) and Stanley Knapp (right), June 7, 1937
Courtesy Spokane Daily Chronicle


Stanley Knapp (1917-1938), Washington State Penitentiary, Walla Walla, June 14, 1938
Courtesy Washington State Archives


Herbert Eugene Allen (1916-1974), Washington State Penitentiary, Walla Walla, October 14, 1949
Courtesy Washington State Archives


 
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