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Chicken thief kills King County Sheriff's Deputy Thomas Meehan near Kent on November 13, 1935.

HistoryLink.org Essay 3759 : Printer-Friendly Format

On November 13, 1935, a chicken thief shoots and kills King County Sheriff's Deputy Thomas Meehan (1891-1935). The uniformed officer surprised William Henry Knight on the old Valley Highway about one-half mile north of Kent. Police arrest suspects, but no one is charged with the murder. Knight will be killed by police in Butte, Montana, about a month later.

Deputy Meehan's body was discovered by a farmer at approximately 3:00 a.m. near his patrol car. He had been working alone and had been shot in the face. One early theory hypothesized revenge for his pressure on a "gambling clique" involved in a case he was working. Meehan was quoted as saying, "I'm working on a hot one now, and when I catch up to the fellows I want it will be either me or them!" (The Seattle Times). Meehan had been on the job 11 months.

"Shakedown"

The Seattle Times reported:

"A general round-up of all known criminals and persons whose manner of life leaves them open to suspicion was ordered this forenoon by Sheriff W. B. Severyns and his chief criminal deputy, O. K. Bodia.

" 'It's to be a shakedown, boys,' Severyns told his staff of deputies. 'Turn the heat on everybody who might have had a motive, and who you believe might possibly have killed Meehan, or who might know something of it.' "

After careful examination of the crime scene Sheriff Severyns reported:

"The gunny sack, has been definitely traced as one put out by a Spokane poultry feed company which does not sell its product in this area, in fact no farther west than Coulee City. There are organized gangs of chicken thieves who usually operate away from home. Chickens stolen here are sold across the Cascades, or in Oregon, and we know of chickens stolen in Idaho that have been sold here."

Latent fingerprints were found on the officer's leather puttee, apparently left when the killer(s) dragged him.

A number of arrests were made, but no one was charged with Meehan's murder. Meehan was the fifth officer in Washington killed in the line of duty since July 15, 1935.

Meehan's killer was ultimately identified as William Henry Knight who was killed by Butte, Montana, police on December 27, 1935. Knight had killed three people, including one police officer, in Butte and had taken a family hostage in their home. Knight released the family, who notified police. Knight was shot and killed as he attempted to escape the house. Knight had earlier told one of his hostages and a female companion that he had killed Deputy Meehan when Meehan caught the ex-convict stealing chickens.

Sources:
"Sheriff's Deputy Slain, Fingerprints Offer Clue," The Seattle Times, November 14, 1935, p. 1 (transcribed by Sgt. Tom Smith, King County Sheriff's Office); "Meehan's Slayer Killed Trying to Flee As Butte Police Ambuscade Him," Ibid., December 28, 1935, p. 1,2; "Killer's Friend May Be Quizzed," Ibid., December 29, 1935, p. 5. Special thanks to Sgt. Tom Smith, King County Sheriff's Office, for calling this incident to our attention and for sharing research material.


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