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Outlaw Thomas Blanck shoots and kills Charles H. Bridwell during a robbery in Seattle on October 3, 1894.
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Late Wednesday evening, October 3, 1894, outlaw Thomas Blanck (1870-1895) enters Billy the Mug's Saloon in Seattle with a gun, intending to steal the day's proceeds. While the proprietor, William H. Codrick, tries to distract the bandit, bartender Charles H. Bridwell (1867-1894) reaches for a gun under the bar. Seeing the movement, Blanck turns and shoots Bridwell through the heart and escapes out the door. He will be caught the following day, later convicted of first-degree murder, and sentenced to hang. Blanck is granted folk-hero status when press dubs him the "Jesse James of the Pacific Northwest" for the ruthlessness with which he kills and for his ability to escape from the law. He ranged from British Columbia through Washington, Oregon, California, and Montana, robbing stage coaches, banks, hotels, saloons, and individuals, and shooting anyone who resisted or got in his way. By his own admission, Blanck killed five or more people and wounded at least 20. The list includes Puyallup City Marshal William N. Jeffery, killed on September 30, 1894, and King County Deputy Sheriff Harold Moore wounded on October 1, 1894.
Murder at Meeker Junction
Late Sunday afternoon, on September 30, 1894, Puyallup City Marshal William N. Jeffery (1854-1894), accompanied by Thomas Alexander and Thomas Bouley, employees at the Pacific Meat Company packing house in Meeker, was walking home after visiting his blind mother in Alderton. At Meeker Junction, Marshal Jeffery saw two men alight from a passing train with a bundle and stash it in a vacant building. Always on the lookout for opium smugglers and thieves, Jeffery left his associates, spied the bundle, and began to rummage through it. It turned out to be a rolled up overcoat which contained several items including a black slouch hat, a false beard and mustache, a cartridge belt and a .45-caliber Colt’s Single-Action Army Revolver in a leather holster. One of the men returned, saw Jeffery and told him put to the gun down. When Jeffery asked him if it was his, the man said “Yes,” the grip was marked with his initials. While Jeffery looked for the marks, the man drew another revolver from his pocket, shouted “Hands up,” and then shot him. The bullet hit Jeffery in the right side, passing through his lungs and heart. The gunman calmly gathered up the bundle and the two men disappeared into the underbrush.
Alexander and Bouley telegraphed Pierce County Sheriff Alexander G. Matthews in Tacoma from the Meeker train depot about the murder and he was at the scene within an hour with more than 100 special deputies to hunt for the killer and his accomplice. The sheriff stationed guards at all bridges, wagon roads and railroad crossings in the valley, hoping to block the their escape. He also telegraphed Ellensburg City Marshal Patrick C. McGrath, requesting him to bring his two best bloodhounds to Puyallup on the morning train.
At about 2:00 a.m., October 1, Deputy Sheriff Harold Moore, with special deputies Joseph Welsh and John Ball, was guarding the railroad crossing at McMillian Junction, three miles north of Orting, and saw a man walking down the tracks. When he ordered the suspect to halt, the man immediately drew a gun and shot at Moore. The bullet grazed the left side of his chest, gouging a 14-inch-long furrow. Ball, who was armed with a double-barreled shotgun, sent two loads of buckshot in the direction of the flash, then helped Moore to a nearby house and sent Welsh to Orting for a doctor. The gunfire immediately attracted other posse members and Ball spread the word the killer had escaped into the dense underbrush.
Sheriff Matthews decided to cordon off the area with deputies and resume the search for the suspect at first light. At 6:00 a.m., Marshal McGrath arrived from Ellensburg with his bloodhounds and put the dogs on the desperado’s trail with a dozen special deputies following. Later in the day, however, it began to rain, making it impossible for the dogs to track the fugitive along the muddy trails.
At about noon, 15-year-old Franklin McMurray walked into South Prairie, five miles east of McMillian, entered a café near the train depot and ordered a meal. Just as McMurray received his food, the night telegraph operator at the depot walked through the dining area and saw the boy. He had just finished reading the account of Marshal Jeffery’s murder at Meeker Junction and McMurray answered the description of one of the outlaws. The town constable was immediately summoned and he detained McMurray. The youth freely admitted he was with the man who had shot Marshal Jeffery. McMurray, an escapee from a Salem, Oregon, reform school, said he met the man, who called himself Frank Hamilton, in Tacoma several days earlier, but they parted company immediately after the shooting. Sheriff Matthews had McMurray transported to Tacoma on the afternoon train and lodged in the Pierce County jail as a material witness. Sheriff’s posses continued to search for Jeffery’s killer. However, he managed to elude them and made his way to Seattle.
On Tuesday, October 2, funeral services for William N. Jeffery were held at the First Presbyterian Church in Puyallup. He was very popular in the community and the solemn ceremony was attended by hundreds of mourners. Jeffery was buried in the Puyallup City Cemetery (now the Woodbine Cemetery). He was survived by his wife Emily, age 32, and three children, William, age 10, Raymond, age 6, and Ethel, age 2.
Bad Times at Billy the Mug's
At 10:20 p.m., Wednesday, October 3, a bedraggled stranger walked into Billy the Mug’s Saloon on the northwest corner of Main Street and 3rd Avenue S. There were eight patrons in the barroom, playing pool, drinking, and talking. The proprietor, William H. “Billy” Codrick, was behind the bar at the cash register, counting the day’s receipts. Charles H. Bridwell, age 27, the head bartender, and Edwin N. Reese, the assistant bartender, were standing at either end of the bar. The stranger drew a .45-caliber Colt’s Single Action Army Revolver, shouted “Hands up,” and leaped onto the bar. Attempting to distract the bandit, Codrick told him to get down and have a drink. When he started cursing and brandishing the weapon in Codrick’s face, Bridwell took the opportunity to reach under the bar for a gun. Seeing the furtive movement, the bandit jumped off the bar, wheeled and shot at Bridwell. The slug ricocheted off the bar top and struck him in the heart. The bandit escaped out the door and headed down Main Street toward Railroad Avenue and the harbor.
Seattle Police Patrolman Gilman T. Philbrick was standing on the street nearby and heard the gunshot. Witnesses told the officer in which direction the gunman fled and he gave chase, but lost him in the dark and disorder of the waterfront. Seattle Police Chief Bolton Rogers, Detectives Edward Cudihee and James L. Wells, and several patrolmen joined Philbrick in searching for the killer, but without success.
On Thursday, October 4, 1894, Detective Cudihee received a tip from Albert Lewis Hartley (1876-1940) the son of Mrs. Amelia Hartley, the proprietor of the Bay View House, 2816 Western Avenue, situated between and Clay and Broad streets in Belltown. Albert was a news agent at the Seattle, Lake Shore & Eastern Railway depot on Railroad Avenue at the foot of Madison Street, and had read an account of Bridwell’s murder in the morning Seattle Post-Intelligencer. He reported to Detective Cudihee that a rough-looking man, answering the description of Bridwell’s killer, had rented a room the previous afternoon, and then left. He returned late that night and in the morning refused to leave his room, claiming to be sick. Mrs. Hartley brought him food and the roomer ate it all, but remained inside the house all day.
At the Rooming House
At 5:30 p.m., Detective Cudihee and Officer John Corbett arrived at Bay View House. Corbett stationed himself outside while Cudihee went inside to talk to the suspect. He had seen the two officers approach across a vacant lot and hurried back to his room. Cudihee knocked on the suspect’s door and when it opened, immediately pushed his way inside. The suspect had a Colt’s revolver at the ready and fired at Cudihee point blank, the bullet grazing the detective’s neck. Cudihee charged forward, grabbed hold the suspect and struggled for control of the gun. Hearing the gunshot, Corbett rushed to the room, drew his revolver and repeatedly struck the gunman on the head until he begged for his life. Once subdued, Cudihee handcuffed the suspect and called for a patrol wagon to transport him to Seattle Police Headquarters, located in Seattle City Hall (known as Katzenjammer Castle), 3rd Avenue and Jefferson Street, for interrogation. Later, Mrs. Hartley sent Detective Cudihee a bill for $15 to pay for damages done to the room and furnishings while subduing her guest.
The suspect identified himself as Thomas Blanck, age 24, from New York City, but said it was an assumed name. He freely admitted attempting to hold up Billy the Mug’s Saloon, explaining he was hard up for money. Blanck claimed he had not intended to kill anyone and shot the bartender in self defense. When asked if he shot Marshal Jeffery at Meeker and Deputy Moore at McMillian, Blanck just smirked and replied: “Well, I wonder if they ever got that man in the brush. I hope the fellow got away” (The Tacoma Daily News). After questioning, he was taken to the jail in the basement of the King County Courthouse, and lodged in the “steel tank,” a high-security cell block reserved for the most dangerous prisoners.
Appearing in Court
On Friday, October 5, Blanck appeared in Seattle Municipal Court before Judge Joseph M. Glasgow for a preliminary hearing. The judge appointed Seattle attorney Gilbert F. Bogue to defend Blanck and then read the Information charging him with Bridwell’s murder. When Bogue spoke about fighting the charge and having it reduced to manslaughter, Blanck contemptuously told the judge he would rather be dead than spend any time in prison. Chief Rogers was called to the stand by Prosecutor John F. Miller and testified the defendant had confessed to killing Bridwell and attempting to shoot Detective Cudihee. Judge Glasgow bound the defendant over for trial in Superior Court and ordered he be held without bail.
On Saturday, October 6, Blanck appeared in King County Superior Court before Judge Thomas J. Humes (1849-1904) for arraignment. Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Austin G. McBride filed an Information with the court, charging the defendant with Bridwell’s murder. Without displaying any emotion or interest in the proceedings, Blanck immediately pleaded guilty to the charge, declaring he did so of his own volition. Judge Humes accepted the defendant’s plea and set a trial date, to determine the degree of guilt and the penalty, for October 16, 1894. The court released Attorney Bogue from any further responsibility for Blanck’s defense and appointed Seattle attorneys John Fairfield and Daniel T. Cross to represent him at future court proceedings.
In a subsequent interview, Blanck remarked to a Seattle Post-Intelligencer reporter, he would certainly rather be dead than locked up and it didn’t matter if death was by hanging or firing squad, as long as it was done quickly.
Two Murders, One Killer
Blanck’s physical description corresponded closely with that of “Frank Hamilton,” Marshal Jeffery’s killer, and both Chief Rogers and Pierce County Sheriff Matthews were inclined to believe he was the same man. Over the next few days, several witness were brought into the jail and surreptitiously viewed the suspect from behind a screen. Blanck was positively identified by McMurray, Alexander, Bouley, and others as Jeffery’s assassin. John Scott, proprietor of the Scott Hotel in Meeker, recognized both McMurray and Blanck as having eaten at his establishment on the afternoon of the murder.
Edna Earl, the proprietor of the Appleton House, 1506½ Pacific Avenue in Tacoma, said Blanck stayed at her lodging house for nine days, left owing rent and tried to steal the room key. When she confronted him, he flew into a rage and threatened throw her over the balcony. She also recognized the clothing the suspect was wearing, some of which she had given him. Blanck denied the accusations, claiming they had never before met. And he continued to deny he had played any part in killing Marshal Jeffery or shooting Deputy Moore.
On Sunday, October 7, 1894, funeral services for Charles H. Bridwell were held in the chapel at the Bonney and Stewart Funeral Parlors, 3rd Avenue and Columbia Street. He was originally from Zaneville Ohio, and, at the family’s instruction, was buried in Seattle at the Lake View Cemetery. But apparently the family had a change of heart and on October 31, Bridwell’s body was exhumed and shipped to Zaneville for interment.
Trial began in Judge Humes’ courtroom at 9:30 a.m., Tuesday, October 16, 1894, before a standing-room-only crowd. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer had elevated Blanck to folk-hero status by labeling him the “Jesse James of the Northwest.” It was also the first case in Washington in which a defendant had pleaded guilty to murder and then was put on trial to determine the degree of the offense. Although Blanck had stated he had no defense, Attorney Fairfield had announced to the press he would ask for a commission of physicians to examine the defendant’s mental condition, thereby laying the groundwork for an insanity plea.
Judge Humes announced that court was in session and Fairfield immediately made a motion for a continuance on the grounds he hadn’t had time to prepare of a defense. The judge denied the motion and Fairfield requested a change of venue based on the assumption that Blanck’s notoriety would make it would be impossible for him to get a fair trial in King County. Judge Humes denied the motion and the remainder of the day and part of the evening was spent on jury selection, with more than 50 talesmen being questioned.
A jury was finally impaneled and sworn in late Wednesday morning, October 17, 1894, after which Prosecutor Miller gave a brief opening statement. He said Blanck entered the saloon with a deadly weapon, intending to rob the establishment of the day’s proceeds. Several witnesses would testify that it was clear from the defendant’s menacing actions, he intended to shoot and likely kill anyone who resisted or got in his way. Blanck had already confessed to killing Bridwell and entered a plea of guilty before the court. Under the statute, it was simply the jury’s duty to determine the degree of guilt. Prosecutor Miller asked for a verdict of first-degree murder, which carried a mandatory sentence of death.
When Attorney Fairfield declined to make an opening statement, the prosecution commenced calling witnesses to testify about Bridwell’s murder. After an adjournment for dinner, Detective Cudihee testified about capturing Blanck at Bay View House and Chief Rogers introduced the defendant’s confession into evidence. At 9:00 p.m. the prosecution rested its case and Attorney Fairfield asked Judge Humes for a recess until Thursday morning, October 18, 1894, in order to prepare a defense and subpoena witnesses. Feigning total disinterest in the trial, Blanck told a Seattle Post-Intelligencer reporter: “I didn’t think this business would last so long. I hoped it would be cut short. Yes, the proceedings worry me so much that I can hardly keep awake.”
Struggle on the Staircase
Court was scheduled to reconvene at 9:30 a.m. and, because of defense counsel’s well-publicized insanity defense, the courtroom was filled to capacity by 8:00 a.m. At 9:25 a.m., King County Jailer Wilfred T. Monroe removed Blanck from the steel tank and turned him over to Deputies George B. Cave and Thomas Roberts. Cave attached a “nipper” (a short piece of chain with handles on each end that allow the officer to control the prisoner using torque) to Blanck’s right wrist. Then he and Roberts escorted the prisoner upstairs toward the courtroom.
On the staircase between the second and third floors, Blanck suddenly struck Cave in the face with his left fist, knocking him backward toward the second floor landing. Cave hung on to the nipper, dragging the prisoner with him. Roberts followed, jumped on Blanck’s back, and grabbed him by the coat collar. During the struggle, Cave drew his gun and struck Blanck in the right temple, stunning him and ending the fracas. As blood oozed onto the floor from Blanck’s head wound, Roberts attached another nipper to the prisoner left wrist and the two deputies hauled him downstairs to the jail. En route, Roberts said, “You are a nice one, Tom. What were you trying to do?” Blank replied, “Well, I’d like to know who in hell wouldn’t try to escape under the circumstances” (Seattle Post-Intelligencer).
At the jailer’s office, Jailer Monroe washed and dressed Blanck’s head wound. When the bleeding subsided, Deputy Cave told the prisoner they were going back upstairs to the courtroom, but he refused to move. Cave and Roberts attached nippers to Blanck’s wrists and asked him to walk upstairs. Instead, he suddenly jumped from his chair and attempted to break free. During the violent albeit brief struggle, Blanck managed to bite a chunk of flesh from Monroe’s hand before King County Sheriff James H. Woolery (1851-1925) stunned him with a powerful uppercut to the jaw. Although the fight was over, Blanck refused to go to courtroom and continued struggling with the deputies. Finally, with Cave and Roberts holding onto his arms, Monroe and Officer John Corbett frog-marched Blanck up the stairs and into Judge Humes’ chambers.
Sheriff Woolery calmly entered into the courtroom and, in a sidebar, told the attorneys and the judge about Blanck’s two violent escape attempts. Then he asked for the court’s permission to have the defendant chained and guarded during proceeding. A few minutes later, Sheriff Woolery and four deputies escorted Blanck into the courtroom and sat him in a chair. Few knew what had happened, but it was evident from seeping wound on Blanck’s temple, his chained wrists and the small army of guards, he had tried to escape.
Back to the Trial
At 9:42 a.m. Judge Humes announced court was in session and told Attorney Fairfield, who had subpoenaed several witnesses including reporters, county officials, and experts on insanity, to proceed with Blanck’s defense. Fairfield arose and simply stated: “Your Honor, I desire to say that the defense rests” (Seattle Post-Intelligencer).
In closing arguments, Assistant Prosecutor McBride reiterated the state’s opening statement. Attorney Fairfield, however, spoke about the jury’s duty to the state as well as the defendant. He said he knew nothing about Blanck’s background and the reason he pleaded guilty to a capital crime was a total mystery. Fairfield admitted the defendant’s actions were certainly malicious, but not premeditated, and asked the jury for a verdict of second-degree murder. In his own defense, Fairfield said: “I have no apologies to make. I have acted according to my conscience and the order of the constitution of this state. I have done my duty to the best of my ability to see that the defendant has lost none of his rights under the law” (Seattle Post-Intelligencer).
In rebuttal, Prosecutor Miller vilified Blanck, stating: “This most terrible of desperate criminals, who has shot down in cold blood an innocent person and tried to murder one of the best officers that ever wore a star (Cudihee), should be wiped from the face of the earth” (Seattle Post-Intelligencer). Blanck had been smirking throughout the proceedings and at this point laughed.
In his instructions to the jury, Judge Humes defined the three degrees of homicide. He then explained if the evidence showed the defendant committed the homicide while attempting a robbery, it wasn’t necessary for the jury to consider premeditation for a finding of first-degree murder. The case went to the jury at 11:40 a.m. After deliberating for only 35 minutes, the jury found Blanck guilty of first-degree murder with the sentence of death. He was immediately removed from the courtroom and taken downstairs to the jail. Blanck asked Sheriff Woolery to put him in solitary confinement, but fearing a suicide attempt, his request was denied. “What did you get?,” his fellow inmates asked. Blanck nonchalantly replied, “Got it in the neck the first jump out of the box” (Seattle Post-Intelligencer).
The Death Penalty
On Saturday, October 20, Blanck appeared before Judge Humes for sentencing. When the judge asked if he had anything to say, Blanck stared at him contemptuously and said: “I will come back an' haunt you. I won’t have one gun, but two, and when I tell you to put up your hands, I’ll plug you pretty quick.” Ignoring the empty threat, Judge Humes pronounced the defendant would be sentenced to death in accordance with the jury’s verdict. Blanck defiantly responded, “Well, I want it pretty damn quick” (Seattle Post-Intelligencer).
In a brief court appearance on Monday, October 22, Judge Humes informed Blanck his execution date was set for Friday, December 7, 1894, between the hours of 9:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. Back in the cell block, Sheriff Woolery asked Blanck how he felt about it and he quipped, “Why, I feel relieved. I was afraid he was going to give me 20 years.” Then he bragged to his fellow prisoner, “Well boys, it’s fixed for December 7 next” (Seattle Post-Intelligencer).
Once Judge Humes signed the death warrant, Sheriff Woolery moved Blanck into a special escape-proof isolation cell and ordered an around-the-clock deathwatch. When the time came, a gallows would be erected in the garret of the new King County Courthouse. But his case was appealed to the Washington State Supreme Court and his execution stayed. On Sunday evening, March 17, 1895, Blanck engineered a mass escape from the King County Jail.
Clarence B. Bagley, The History of Seattle from the Earliest Settlement to the Present Time (Chicago, S. J Clarke Publishing Company, 1916), 693-696; Thomas S. Duke, Celebrated Criminal Cases of America, (San Francisco: The James H. Barry Company, 1910), 292-295; Mark Dugan, Cold Lead: The Life and Times of 1890s Killer Tom Blanck (Surrey B.C.: Hancock House, 2004); “Brutal Murder: Deputy Sheriff Jeffrey Shot Down,” Tacoma Daily News, October 1, 1894, p. 1; “Still at Large,” Ibid., October 2, 1894, p. 1; “It Is John Brooks,” Ibid., October 4, 1894, p. 1; “Murderer Caught,” Ibid., October 5, 1894, p. 1; “Blanck Identified,” Ibid., October 9, 1894, p. 1; “Blanck Is Rose,” Tacoma Daily News, October 11, 1894, p. 4;“Tried to Escape,” Ibid., October 19, 1894, p. 1; “Blanck Was Not Hanged,” Ibid., December 8, 1894, p. 1; “Murder at Puyallup,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, October 1, 1894, p. 1; “The Puyallup Murder,” Ibid.,, October 2, 1894, p. 1; “Man-Hunt Still On,” Ibid., October 3, 1894, p. 2; “Close at His Heels,” Ibid., October4, 1894, p. 2; “A Desperado’s Deed,” Ibid., October 04, 1894, p. 8; “Escaped the Hounds,” Ibid., October 5, 1894, p. 2; “Desperado in Jail,” Ibid., October 5, 1894, p. 8; “The Net Is Closing,” Ibid., October 6, 1894, p. 6; “Was He a Smuggler?,” Ibid., October 7, 1894, p. 2; “A Duel Murder,” Ibid., October 7, 1894, p. 8; “He Is the Red Rose,” Ibid., October 11, 1894, p. 2; “Identity of Blanck,” Ibid., October 12, 1894, p. 2; “The identity of Blanck,” Ibid., October 13, 1894, p. 2; “Blanck Is Not Rose,” Ibid., October 15, 1894, p. 2; “The Insanity Plea,” Ibid.,October16, 1894, p. 5; “Choosing the Jury,” Ibid.,, Wednesday, October 17, 1894, p. 5; “Blanck Keeps Cool,” Ibid.,, Thursday, October 18, 1894, p. 5; “A Fight for Liberty,” Ibid.,, Friday, October 19, 1894, p. 8; “Defies the Court,” Ibid.,, Sunday, , October 21, 1894, p. 7; “Day of Execution,” Ibid., October 23, 1894, p. 5; “Letter on Religion,” Ibid., October 24, 1894, p. 25; “A Dime Novel Hero,” Ibid., October 25, 1894, p. 5; “Blanck May Not Hang,” Ibid., October 29, 1894, p. 8; “Blanck Writes a Letter,” Ibid., November 1, 1894, p. 5; “Will Blanck Appeal?,” Ibid., November 19, 1894, p. 8; “Fairfield Talks of Blanck,” Ibid., November 20, 1894, p. 5; “His Nerve Gives Way,” Ibid., November 21, 1894, p. 5; “Blanck Fears the Gallows,” Ibid., December 7, 1894, p. 2; “Blanck Breathes More Freely,” Ibid., December 8, 1894, p. 8; “Respite for Blanck,” Ibid., December 11, 1894, p. 5.
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William N. Jeffrey (1854-1894) and Emily M. Jeffery, Seattle, n.d.
Courtesy Rodger Cool
Grave monument, William N. Jeffrey, Woodbine Cemetery, Puyallup, March 11, 2002
Courtesy Rodger Cool
Thomas Blanck (1870-1895), artist rendering, Seattle, October 7, 1894
Courtesy Seattle Post-Intelligencer
Colt's single action army revolver
Courtesy Coltís Manufacturing Co.
King County Sheriff Edward Cudihee (1853-1924), ca. 1903
Courtesy Men of the Pacific Coast (San Francisco: Pacific Art Company, 1903)
King County Court House, Seattle, ca. 1891
Photo by Frank LaRoche, Courtesy UW Special Collections (Image No. LAR068)
"Steel Tank," King County Court House, Seattle, March 24, 1895
Courtesy Seattle Post-Intelligencer
Wilfred T. Monroe, King County jailer, Seattle, n.d.
Courtesy Seattle Post-Intelligencer
Judge and Mayor Thomas J. Humes (1849-1904), Seattle, n.d.
Courtesy Seattle Municipal Archives (Image No. 12274)