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The O'Donnell Gang guns down Seattle Police Officers Trent A. Sickles and Theodore E. Stevens during a burglary on November 26, 1935.
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On November 26, 1935, Seattle Police Officers Trent A. Sickles (1904-1935) and Theodore E. Stevens (1900-1935) are gunned down while investigating a report of a burglary at the Elk Tavern in the north end of Seattle. Sickles, shot in the head, dies immediately and Stevens, hit in the abdomen, dies the following day at University General Hospital. Witnesses tell detectives that three men were seen fleeing from the scene of the murders in an automobile. Roadblocks and an intensive manhunt for the killers prove unsuccessful. In April 1936, Seattle Police detectives arrest Lester A. Rorick (1910-1988), who confesses to the burglary and implicates brothers John J. O'Donnell (1892-1954), and Joseph R. O'Donnell (1898-1938) in the murders. Full of remorse, Rorick agrees to testify for the state. In November 1936, the O'Donnell brothers are convicted of first-degree murder, but appeal to the Washington State Supreme Court, which grants them a new trial because of prejudicial arguments made by King County Prosecutor Warren G. Magnuson (1905-1989). They are retried in January 1938 and, once again, found guilty of first-degree murder. John O'Donnell is sentenced to life in prison without parole, and his brother receives the death penalty. In a separate trial, Rorick is found guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced to life imprisonment. After the appeals process has run its course, Joseph O'Donnell will be hanged at the Washington State Penitentiary on November 21, 1938.
Breaking In and Shooting Down
On November 17, 1899, the city of Seattle passed an ordinance which made gambling a misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of not more than $500 or by imprisonment of not more than six months, or both. On March 7, 1903, the Washington State Legislature made it a felony to maintain a gambling establishment, punishable by from one to three years imprisonment at the Washington State Penitentiary. But Seattle remained a wide-open city, due to rampant political and police corruption, and the laws prohibiting gambling were largely ignored. The Great Depression (1929-1939) brought hard times to America, and some people turned to crime. In addition to armed robbery, safecracking, kidnapping and other violent pursuits, gangsters found that hijacking slot machines was a lucrative business.
At 4:50 a.m., Tuesday, November 26, 1935, Charles S. Maskell, 8815 Roosevelt Way NE, telephoned the Seattle Police Department reporting the Elk Tavern, 8904 Roosevelt Way NE (now TCI Cablevision of Washington building) was being burglarized. Officers Trent A. Sickles, age 31, and Theodore E. Stevens, age 35, in a radio-equipped patrol car, were dispatched to investigate the reported break-in. A second patrol car was dispatched from the Wallingford Precinct Station to assist. Without waiting for backup to arrive, Sickles went to the front door and found it had been jimmied open. Stevens walked to the back of the building, and finding the rear door padlocked, joined Sickles at the front entrance. They proceeded to enter the dark interior of the tavern with flashlights. A moment later, several shots were fired and three men ran from the tavern, two to the north and one to the south. According to witness Fred Winkler, 852 NE 89th Street, there was another single gunshot and one of the burglars shouted “My God, Mac, I’m Hit. Help me” (“3 Robbers, Surprised, Shoot Down Patrolmen”).
The patrol car, sent to backup Sickles and Stevens, arrived at the Elk Tavern at 5 a.m. Upon arrival, Sergeant Martin A. Coons and Officer John H. Karlberg spotted Stevens crouched next to the building, waving his flashlight. He was bleeding profusely, but was still alive and lucid. Upon entering the tavern, the officers found Sickles lying on the floor. He had been struck in the back of head with shotgun blasts and was dead. Near the body, they found a sawed-off 12-gauge shotgun and two spent shotgun shells. A clock on the wall, hit by stray buckshot, had stopped, establishing the time of shooting as 4:55 a.m.
Sergeant Coons bundled Stevens into his patrol car and rushed him to University General Hospital, where surgeons removed a .38 caliber bullet from his abdomen. En route to the hospital, Stevens said he saw a 1929 Ford sedan parked nearby the tavern and gave Coons the first two and last two numbers on the license plate. A description of the suspect vehicle was immediately broadcast to every patrol car in King County, but efforts to locate the killers were unsuccessful.
Officer Karlberg stayed at the tavern to preserve the integrity of the evidence. Within an hour after the shooting, the crime scene was crawling with investigators from both Seattle and King County. Laid out on the floor in the back room of the tavern, they found an electric drill with and extension cord, a crowbar, bolt cutters, and a bag of hand tools. Investigators initially theorized the patrolmen had interrupted a gang of yeggs (safecrackers), which had broken into two-dozen Seattle businesses in the past two months, stealing over $15,000 from safes. But the tavern didn’t have a safe. Instead, investigators found that the locks had been drilled on cabinets containing slot machines, which had been removed and set on the floor.
Guns and Gunshot Wounds
At approximately 7:30 a.m., William K. Tetzloff, a Golden Rule Dairy milkman, saw two handguns laying in the middle of the road on NE 89th Street, just around the corner from the Elk Tavern. Stopping his delivery truck, Tetzloff carefully picked up the weapons with his handkerchief and turned them over to King County Chief Criminal Deputy Orin K. Bodia. Herman Wackner, proprietor of the Elk Tavern, identified one of the guns, a .38 caliber, Colt DA revolver, as having been stolen from his bar. Bodia noted that three bullets had been fired from the gun. Wackner said it was fully loaded last night, when he had left it underneath the bar. One of the slugs was found imbedded in a tavern wall, another had hit Stevens, and the third was unaccounted for. The second gun, a .32 caliber Mauser semiautomatic pistol, evidently belonged to one of the bandits.
King County Coroner Otto H. Mittelstadt (1902-1984) ordered the body of Officer Sickles be removed to the county morgue. The autopsy, performed by Dr. Gale E. Wilson, revealed Sickles had been shot twice from behind. One load of buckshot struck him in the head, tearing away part of his jaw; the other hit him in the neck.
On Tuesday afternoon, Officer Stevens underwent an emergency operation to stop internal bleeding and was given a transfusion. Doctors began collecting blood donations for a second transfusion, but he died before it could be given. Theodore E. Stevens succumbed at 9:15 a.m., on Wednesday, November 27, 1935.
Meanwhile, police were checking with all hospitals around the Puget Sound area for a record of anyone having been treated for a gunshot wound. In an emergency meeting, the Seattle City Counsel and the Board of County Commissioners voted to offer a $1,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the murderers.
Mourning the Dead
On Saturday, November 30, 1935, Seattle held a double funeral for Officers Sickles and Stevens at the Eagles Auditorium (now ACT -- A Contemporary Theater), 700 Union Street. More than 4,500 people attended the service, officiated by Reverend Mark A. Matthews (1867-1940), pastor of the First Presbyterian Church, and Reverend L. Wendell Fifield, pastor of the Plymouth Congregational Church. Before the service, thousands of people filed slowly past the open caskets of Officers Sickles and Stevens as they lay dressed in full dress uniform.
Afterward, some 20,000 people stood along the line of march as one of the largest funeral procession ever held in Seattle, wound its way through the central business district. Officers Sickles and Stevens were buried in plots donated by the Evergreen Cemetery Company in the Evergreen-Washelli Cemetery, 11111 Aurora Avenue N. Their names were inscribed on a silver plaque at Seattle Police headquarters, honoring all the police officers killed in the line of duty since 1897. (As of 2012 the Seattle Police Officers Wall of Honor was located in the lobby of Seattle Police Headquarters, 610 5th Avenue.)
On January 17, 1936, acting on information from Bremerton Police Chief James W. Tribble, Seattle Police Chief of Detectives Ernest W. Yoris and Detective Lieutenants Richard F. Mahoney and Albert F. Kuelh arrested John J. “Jack” O’Donnell, age 43, for questioning. Jack denied any part of the crime and, since hard evidence was lacking, was released. His brother, Joseph R. “Joe” O’Donnell, age 37, had already fled Washington state and was lying low in an apartment in Los Angeles, California, with his 24-year-old girlfriend, Gwen Rogers.
In late March 1936, retired King County Detective William H. Sears received information from an underworld source that the O’Donnell gang was involved in the slot-machine hijacking racket, which put the burglary at the Elk Tavern into perspective. Racketeers in Seattle were selling illegal slot-machines to roadside taverns and night clubs for $75 to $100 apiece. The slot-machines were then systematically stolen by thieves, sold back to the syndicate operators for $25 and then resold. The information fit perfectly with information investigators had developed on the O’Donnells.
At 1:00 a.m., Thursday, April 2, 1936, Chief Yoris, and Detectives Mahoney and Kuelh arrested Jack O’Donnell and his brother-in-law, Lester A. Rorick, age 25, at their respective apartments in Seattle, for burglary and murder. At the urging of his sister, Josephine Peters, Rorick gave Chief Yoris a signed confession, naming Jack and Joe O’Donnell as accomplices. He said the gang had stolen approximately 20 slot-machines from various establishments in Seattle’s North End.
Preparing for Trial
King County Prosecutor Warren G. Magnuson (1905-1989), who would win election to the U.S. House of Representatives later that year and go on to represent Washington in the U.S. Senate for many years, immediately filed a complaint in Superior Court, charging Joe O’Donnell with first-degree murder and obtained a warrant for his arrest. Chief Yoris telegraphed the warrant information to the Los Angeles Police Department and by late afternoon, O’Donnell was in custody. Both he and Gwen Rogers were also charged under California law with possession of two tins of opium and an opium pipe.
On Friday, April 3, 1936, Prosecutor Magnuson filed an information in King County Superior Court charging Rorick and the O’Donnell brothers with two counts of first-degree murder, and aiding and abetting. Magnuson then began the task of perfecting extradition papers to bring Joe O’Donnell back to Washington for trial.
On Sunday, April 5, Chief Yoris took Rorick to the Elk Tavern to re-enact the killings. Asked what firearms they had, Rorick said he was carrying a .32-caliber Mauser pistol in his pocket and had a .38-caliber Colt revolver in his hand, taken from underneath the bar. Joe O’Donnell had a sawed-off 12-gauge shotgun and Jack O’Donnell was armed with a .45-caliber Colt’s semiautomatic pistol.
When informed that Stevens was shot with a .38 caliber revolver, Rorick realized for the first time that he was responsible. “Then I must have shot him. I was so excited. I ran for the door and had to jump over Sickles’ body. I ran the wrong way trying to find my automobile. I dropped the guns and one exploded, shooting me in the knee. I kept seeing that body on the floor in the dark” (“3 Flying South in Slaying Quiz”).
Early Monday morning, April 6, Magnuson, Yoris, and Mahoney drove to Olympia where Acting Governor Victor A. Meyers (1897-1991) signed the extradition papers. At noon, the trio boarded a plane for Sacramento, where the official request for extradition was presented to California Governor Frank F. Merriam (1865-1955).
Joe O’Donnell attempted to fight extradition, but the Los Angeles County Superior Court denied his writ of habeas corpus. On Saturday, April 11, Prosecutor Magnuson and Chief Yoris flew back to Seattle with O’Donnell in custody. Lieutenant Mahoney was given the task of driving O’Donnell’s 1929 Ford sedan, believed to have been used in the burglary, to Seattle. A search of the automobile revealed a hidden compartment containing guns, blasting caps, fuses, and safecracking tools.
The Trial: Prosecution
Trial began on Monday, November 16, 1936, in King County Superior Court before Judge Robert M. Jones. Prosecutor Magnuson and Deputy Prosecutor John M. Schermer represented the state. Seattle attorneys Roy H. Bullack and Jacob Kalina had been hired to defend the O’Donnell brothers. A separate murder trial had been granted for Lester Rorick, the prosecution’s chief witness. Selection of a jury, slowed by opposition to capital punishment, took two full days to complete. On Tuesday evening, a jury, comprising nine men and three women, plus two alternates, was impaneled and sworn in.
In his opening statement on Wednesday morning, Prosecutor Magnuson outlined the state’s case to the jurors. The state was seeking the death penalty because the defendants had killed Officers Sickles and Stevens while committing a burglary. That fact qualified the O’Donnells for the death penalty under Washington state law. Rather than surrender when caught in the act, the defendants ambushed and killed the patrolmen and then fled the scene. Magnuson concluded by wheeling in a cart bearing the bloody uniforms and equipment of the two slain police officers. The defense waived opening statements until later in the trial.
On Thursday, November 19, the prosecution called its star witness, Lester Rorick, to the stand. He testified that on the morning of the shooting, he and the O’Donnell brothers drove to the Elk Tavern, armed with firearms and carrying burglar tools, to steal its slot-machines. After casing the tavern, Jack cut the padlock off the front door with bolt cutters. Once inside, Joe plugged in an electric drill and drilled the locks out of the cabinets containing the devices. As they started carrying the slot-machines outside, a patrol car drove slowly by with its headlights off. The men ducked back into the tavern and hid in the booths nearest the entrance. As soon as the officers walked inside the bar, Joe shouted “Stick ‘em up!” and then the shooting started. Rorick ran out the door with a gun he had taken from underneath the bar but said he had no recollection of firing the weapon. On NE 89th Street, he dropped both guns and one discharged, hitting him above the right knee. The gang piled into their car and Joe O’Donnell drove to the nearby home of an acquaintance, Edward C. “Jerry” Jury, 607 NE 60th Street, where they tended to Rorick’s leg. Afterward, Rorick hid at his sister Josephine’s house until his wound had mostly healed.
Jerry Jury corroborated Rorick’s testimony about the events following the arrival of the gang at his home. He said the O’Donnells rented the garage next to his carpentry shop where they stored stolen slot-machines. Jury not only repaired and removed serial numbers from the devices but also built the secret compartment in Joe’s automobile where guns and burglary tools were stashed.
On Friday, November 20, the state rested its case. Judge Jones denied a defense motion for a directed verdict, based on insufficiency of evidence, and a motion for separate trials.
The Trial: Defense
In opening statements, Attorney Kalina declared that Jack O’Donnell was home in bed on the morning Officers Sickles and Stevens were shot. His story would be corroborated by his wife, Gladys, one of Rorick’s sisters. Moreover, Jack had never handled firearms nor owned an automobile. The defense argued that Rorick’s testimony was born of malice and hatred for his brother-in-law, Jack O’Donnell.
Attorney Bullack declared that Joe O’Donnell and Lester Rorick were employed by a faction of Seattle’s slot-machine racket to steal the devices. An opposing faction hired George Reynolds, a former police officer, to protect the slot-machines. Acting in self-defense, Joe unintentionally shot Officer Sickles whom he thought was Reynolds. It was a simple case of mistaken identity. Since Joe wasn’t carrying a handgun, it was clearly Rorick who shot Officer Stevens. He would further testify regarding the involvement of corrupt law enforcement officials in Seattle and King County, protecting the slot-machine racketeers.
Jack O’Donnell was first on the stand, testifying in his own defense. He spoke at length about his activities around the time of the murders, denying any involvement in the shooting at the Elk Tavern or in hijacking slot-machines. He was followed by Joe O’Donnell who attempted to clear his brother, Jack, of any blame for the deaths by confessing to accidentally shooting Sickles. Joe testified he intended to shoot above the patrolman’s head, but then heard him fall. He claimed to have only fired in self-defense, believing Reynolds and his men would kill him. His story was similar to Rorick’s with the exception that Jack hadn’t been involved and it was Rorick who shot Officer Stevens.
In final arguments, delivered on Tuesday, November 24, 1936, Deputy Prosecutor Schermer described the O’Donnells as habitual criminals from whom citizens would never be safe if they were not executed. Defense Attorney Kalina attacked Rorick’s testimony, calling him a liar, thief and dope dealer, who was under the protection of the Seattle Police Department because he turned state’s evidence. Attorney Bullack blamed the King County Prosecutor, Sheriff’s Department, and Seattle Police for the deaths of the two patrolmen for failing to enforce the gambling laws and prosecute slot-machine racketeers.
The jury received the case at 2:30 p.m. and deliberated until 11:00 p.m., with a 90-minute break for dinner. Deliberations were resumed on Wednesday morning and at 10:30 a.m. the bailiff notified Judge Jones the jury had reached a verdict. Court was reconvened and jury foreman Frank D. O’Neil announced the O’Donnell brothers had been found guilty of two counts of first-degree murder. The jury voted that Jack receive life imprisonment and Joe be sentenced to death. The defense filed a motion for a new trial and an arrest of judgment based on judicial error and a technical error in the information charging the O’Donnells.
Lester Rorick's Trial
On Wednesday, December 16, 1936, Lester Rorick went on trial in King County Superior Court before Judge Chester A. Batchelor. The state was represented by Chief Deputy Prosecutor John M. Schermer. Rorick was represented by Seattle attorneys Anthony Savage and H. Sylvester Garvin. It was one of the few cases in Washington state in which a defendant had pleaded guilty to murder and was put on trial to determine the degree of the offense and the penalty. A jury was impaneled after questioning only two venires.
In his opening statement, Prosecutor Schermer told the jury he would ask for life imprisonment for defendant Rorick, who had voluntarily testified for the state in the recent trial of the O’Donnell brothers. The prosecution called only two witnesses: King County Coroner Mittelstadt, who described the manner in which Officers Sickles and Stevens were killed, and Chief Yoris, who explained how the defendant helped him establish a prosecutable case against the O’Donnells.
On Thursday morning, Rorick took the stand and told the dramatic story of the burglary and shootings at the Elk Tavern. He was the only defense witness called to testify and the case went to the jury before noon. After deliberating for only nine minutes, the jury affirmed Rorick’s plea of guilty to two counts of first-degree murder and mandated life imprisonment. It was one of the shortest murder trials in King County history.
Sentencing for the O’Donnell’s was held on Friday, December 18, 1936. After hearing five hours of arguments, Judge Jones denied a defense motion for a new trial. He sentenced Jack O’Donnell to serve the rest of his natural life in prison and Joe O’Donnell to be executed on February 19, 1937. Seattle attorney John F. Garvin, an appeals specialist, had joined the defense team and notified the court his intention to appeal the case to the Washington State Supreme Court. The execution date was stayed until the appeal process had run its course.
Judge Batchelor sentenced Rorick to life imprisonment on Thursday, December 31, 1936. On Saturday, January 23, 1937, Rorick was among eight prisoners who left the King County Jail in a prison bus bound for the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla.
A New Trial
On Thursday, September 16, 1937, the Washington State Supreme Court, in a majority opinion, granted the O’Donnell brothers a new trial, based on prejudicial remarks made by Prosecutor Magnuson in his opening statement when he referred to their lengthy criminal records. The tribunal held that Magnuson’s comments to the jury had prevented the defendants from receiving a fair trial.
The O’Donnells' second trial was scheduled for January 10, 1938, before Judge Batchelor. In the interim, King County Superior Court Judge Malcolm Douglas (1888-1968) granted a request by appeals attorney John Garvin to withdraw from the case. The attorneys who represented the O’Donnells in the first trial were replaced by Andrew L. Ulvestad (1906-1967) and Leonard M. Wilcox. When Joe O’Donnell insisted upon acting as his own attorney, Wilcox asked to withdraw from the case, but his request was denied. Instead, Judge Douglas appointed him to be O’Donnell’s advisory counsel.
Fearing reprisals for testifying against the O’Donnell brothers, on November 4, 1937, Warden James M. McCauley (1890-1940) had Rorick transferred from Washington State Penitentiary to the Washington State Reformatory in Monroe (Snohomish County). In January 1938, Rorick was brought to Seattle under subpoena to testify in the O’Donnell’s new trial.
The second murder trial began at 9:00 a.m., Monday, January 10, 1938, in King County Superior Court before Judge Batchelor. The state was represented by King County Prosecutor B. Gray Warner and Chief Deputy Prosecutor John M. Schermer. The start of the trial was delayed when Joe O’Donnell filed an affidavit of prejudice against Judge Batchelor for denying the brothers separate trials. He was replaced by Judge James B. Kinne, who immediately denied a renewed motion for separate trials.
Three days were spent selecting a jury. Finally, on Thursday morning, January 13, the state began the presentation of its case. Joe O’Donnell’s tedious and extraneous questions on cross-examination slowed the pace of the trial considerably. He attempted to impeach Rorick’s testimony, but failed to ask one question about the burglary and shooting. In the defense phase of the trial, Jack O’Donnell took the witness stand, claiming he was home in bed and had not been involved in the theft. Joe O’Donnell declined to testify, but presented a closing argument. He rambled from one topic to another, but never mentioned the burglary or the murders. By all accounts, it was the most bizarre defense argument ever heard in a King County courtroom.
The jury of nine men and three women, received the case at 3:30 p.m. on Friday, January 21, 1938. At noon on Saturday, after deliberating for approximately 11 hours, the bailiff notified Judge Kinne they had reached a verdict. For the second time, the jury found the O’Donnell brothers guilty of two counts of first-degree murder and decreed that Joe be sentenced to death and Jack be imprisoned for life.
On Saturday, January 29, 1938, Judge Kinne sentenced Jack O’Donnell to life imprisonment without parole. His attorney, Andrew Ulvestad, withdrew a motion for a new trial and advised the court there would be no further appeals. Next, Judge Kinne denied Joe O’Donnell’s motion for a new trial and sentenced him to die on the gallows on March 31, 1938. His attorney, Leonard Wilcox, served notice of appeal to the State Supreme Court and moved the prosecution be required to provide a transcript of the trial testimony, costing approximately $800, because his client was destitute.
On Saturday, February 12, 1938, Jack O’Donnell was among the group of prisoners who left King County Jail in a prison bus bound for the Washington State Penitentiary. Joe O’Donnell, his execution date stayed, remained in Seattle pending the outcome of his appeal. The order approving payment for a transcript of the second trial was signed by Judge Kinne on February 16, 1938.
On Friday, July 20, 1938, the State Supreme Court voted to uphold Joe O’Donnell’s murder conviction in King County Superior Court and affirmed the jury’s imposition of the death sentence. A petition for a rehearing was subsequently denied by the court on Wednesday, September 21. On Friday, September 23, 1938, O’Donnell appeared before Judge Kinne who signed the death warrant and scheduled him to be executed on Friday, November 21, 1938. No further appeals were filed with the court on his behalf.
With commitment papers and death warrant in hand, King County Sheriff William B. Severyns and Jail Superintendent Matthew Starwich drove Joe O’Donnell to the Washington State Penitentiary on Wednesday, September 28, 1938. Before entering the prison, Sheriff Severyns stopped at Walla Walla’s deluxe Marcus Whitman Hotel, 107 N 2nd Avenue, and bought O’Donnell breakfast in the coffee shop, his last meal on the outside.
The Death Sentence
Meanwhile, Attorneys Ulvestad and Wilcox were proceeding with plans to request Governor Clarence D. Martin (1887-1955) commute Joe O’Donnell’s death sentence to life imprisonment. In a press conference on August 31, Joe repudiated his testimony that he fired the shot that killed Officer Sickles and Jack was not present. “I said I had the shotgun and killed Sickles because I thought it would be better for my brother to be on the street than for both of us to hang. But actually, I didn’t even have a gun in my hands,” he explained. “My brother had the shotgun and shot Sickles. I didn’t kill anyone. Rorick killed Stevens. I, who didn’t kill anyone, am to hang, while they both get off with prison sentences (“Doomed Man Repudiates Confession”).
On Monday, October 10, 1938, Attorneys Ulvestad and Wilcox presented Governor Martin with a petition, signed by more than 1,000 people, asking for executive clemency. The petition represented there was no clear evidence to establish who fired the shots that killed Officers Sickles and Stevens. Consequently, the three men convicted of the murders should receive identical sentences of life imprisonment.
With less than a week to go before the execution, Attorneys Ulvestad and Wilcox presented Governor Martin with another petition for commutation of the death sentence, signed by 1,700 people. On Sunday, November 20, after reviewing the case with lawyers from the state Attorney General’s office, Governor Martin stated the defendant had been given a fair trial and was guilty as charged. He declined to interfere with the decisions made by the jury and the courts.
At 9:00 p.m. Sunday, November 20, 1938, Joe O’Donnell calmly ate his last meal which included baked chicken and dressing, mashed potatoes with giblet gravy, fruit salad, cookies and coffee. Afterward, he was moved to an isolation cell, across from the execution chamber, where he was shaved and dressed in a dark blue suit, blue shirt with polka dot tie, and white shoes. O’Donnell was visited by Reverend John J. Callanan, prison chaplain and pastor of St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in Walla Walla, who heard his last confession, gave him communion, and administered last rites. Then Warden James M. McCauley read him the death warrant.
At 12:11 a.m. Monday, November 21, O’Donnell, nervously chewing gum, walked up the gallows stairway, accompanied by Warden McCauley, Reverend Callanan, and two prison guards. Some 60 persons, mostly media, law enforcement, and prison personnel, had gathered in the execution chamber to witness the hanging.
In a two-minute statement, O’Donnell declared his brother, Jack, had done no shooting whatsoever at the Elk Tavern. He blamed his predicament on the rampant political and police corruption in Seattle and King County and accused Chief Yoris of a frame-up. Afterward, the guards tied O’Donnell’s hands together, buckled leather belts around his legs and slipped a black hood over his head, followed by the hangman’s noose. At 12:14 a.m. four prison guards simultaneously pressed electric buttons, one of which released the trapdoor, dropping Joe O’Donnell to his death. His body was taken down at 12:28 a.m. and a prison physician pronounced him dead. After a private funeral service, O’Donnell was buried in the Catholic section of Mountain View Cemetery in Walla Walla.
Lester Rorick and Jack O'Donnell
On November 10, 1949, Governor Arthur B. Langlie (1900-1966) granted Lester Rorick a conditional pardon. A long fight for his release had been led by Reverend Arvid C. Ohrnell (1891-1963), a chaplain at the Washington State Reformatory. The pardon had been recommended by every law enforcement and justice official involved in the case plus the state Board of Prison Terms and Paroles. During his 13 years of incarceration, Rorick became a trustee and studied bookkeeping. After his release from the reformatory, he moved to California where he had been guaranteed a bookkeeping job. Rorick died on November 4, 1988, in Placerville, California at age 78.
Jack O’Donnell wasn’t as fortunate. He had no advocates and the state Board of Prison Terms and Paroles wasn’t interested in turning loose an inmate convicted of murdering two police officers. O’Donnell died in the Washington State Penitentiary on July 20, 1954, at age 62. He was buried at Mountain View Cemetery in Walla Walla.
Richard C. Berner, Seattle 1921-1940: From Boom to Bust (Seattle: Charles Press, 1992); “3 Robbers, Surprised, Shoot Down Patrolmen,” The Seattle Times, November 26, 1935, p. 1;”Widow Stunned by Death News Stevens,” Ibid., November 26, 1935, p. 91; “Yegg Wound Is Fatal to Patrolman T. E. Stevens,” Ibid., November 27, 1935, p. 1; “Slain Officers To Be Honored Stevens,” Ibid., November 28, 1935, p. 8; “Police Heroes’ Rites Arranged Stevens,” Ibid., November 29, 1935, p. 12; “Friends Honor Slain Policemen Stevens,” Ibid., November 30, 1935, p. 2; “City Honors Slain Police Heroes With Solemn Rites Stevens,” Ibid., December 1, 1935, p. 1; “Plaques Honor Policemen Who ‘Gave Their All,’” Ibid., December 1, 1935, p. 2; “Two Jailed for Murder of Stevens and Sickles,” Ibid., April 2, 1936, p. 1; “Three Charged With Murder in Police Deaths,” Ibid., April 3, 1936, p. 1; “O’Donnell to Fight Return for Murders,” Ibid., April 4, 1936, p. 3; “Police Slaying Quiz Delayed by Meyers’ Trip,” Ibid., April 5, 1936, p. 10; “3 Flying South in Slaying Quiz,” Ibid., April 6, 1936, p. 2; “J. R. O’Donnell Fights Return,” Ibid., April 10, 1936, p. 13; “Brothers Meet in Murder Quiz,” Ibid., April 13, 1936, p. 5; “Slot Machine Sale Suspect Under Arrest,” Ibid., April 21, 1936, p. 1; “O’Donnell Trial Set Tomorrow,” Ibid., November 11, 1936, p. 10; “Trial Delayed for 2 Held in Police Murders,” Ibid., November 12, 1936, p. 1; “Police Murders Trial Resumes,” Ibid., November 16, 1936, p. 2; “Opposition to Gallows Holds Back Death Trial,” Ibid., November 17, 1936, p. 1; “Eye-Witnesses Detail Slaying of Policemen,” Ibid., November 18, 1936, p. 1; “Accuser, On Stand, Says Pair Slew 2 Policemen,” Ibid., November 19, 1936, p. 1; “O’Donnells, Rorick Hid in His Home, Says Friend,” Ibid., November 20, 1936, p. 1; “Lives Are at Stake, Accused Pair’s Plea,” Ibid., November 21, 1936, p. 1; “O’Donnell Is Angered by Quiz of Prosecutor,” Ibid., November 22, 1936, p. 1; “Killing of 2 Policemen Is Described by Brother,” Ibid., November 23, 1936, p. 1; “Magnuson Is Angered by O’Donnell Accusation,” Ibid., November 24, 1936, p. 1; “Jury Agrees on Verdict In Less Than Nine Hours,” Ibid., November 25, 1936, p. 1; “O’Donnells to Ask New Trial,” Ibid., November 26, 1936, p. 18; “Fight for New Trial Mapped by O’Donnells,” Ibid., November 27, 1936, p. 11; “Rorick’s Trial Set for Dec. 16,” Ibid., November 29, 1936, p. 8; “Theft Suspect Changes Mind, Says He’s Insane,” Ibid., December 2, 1936, p. 2; “O’Donnells Win Sentence Delay,” Ibid., December 5, 1936, p. 2; “O’Donnells Get Week to Argue,” Ibid., December 6, 1936, p. 12; “Death for O’Donnell’s Aide Not To Be Sought,” Ibid., December 16, 1936, p. 1; “‘My Mind Went Blank’ Defendant Tells Jury,” Ibid., December 17, 1936, p. 1; “Magnuson’s Conduct of Death Case Under Fire,” Ibid., December 18, 1936, p. 1; “Appeal Planned by O’Donnells,” Ibid., December 19, 1936, p. 2; “Rorick Given Life Sentence,” Ibid., December 31, 1936, p. 7; “Inquisitors Listen in Secret to O’Donnell,” Ibid., January 11, 1937, p. 1; “Rorick Among 8 Taken to Prison,” Ibid., January 24, 1937, p. 5; “Prosecutor Will Quiz 3 Who Claim Reward,” Ibid., July 4, 1937, p. 4; “Justice Assails New Trial for Admitted Police Killer,” Ibid., September 17, 1937, p. 1; “Garvin Drops O’Donnell Case,” Ibid., December 29, 1937, p. 15; “Slayer Calls Severyns, Sears,” Ibid., December 30, 1937, p. 2; “Brothers in Slaying Win Legal Tilt,” Ibid., December 31, 1937, p. 1; “O’Donnells’ Second Trial in Police Slayings Opens,” Ibid., January 10, 1938, p. 1; “Jos. O’Donnell Grills Juryman at Death Trial,” Ibid., January 11, 1938, p. 1; “Judge Raps O’Donnell’s Attorney,” Ibid., January 12, 1938, p. 1; “Trial Halts as Brother Scans Map,” Ibid., January 13, 1938, p. 1; “Rorick Gives Version of Dual Killing,” Ibid., January 14, 1938, p. 1; “Police Officer Is Questioned by O’Donnell,” Ibid., January 15, 1938, p. 1; “Photos of Slain Officer Shown O’Donnell Jury,” Ibid., January 16, 1938, p. 1; “O’Donnell Blocked in Questioning,” Ibid., January 17, 1938, p. 1; “Court Searches for Vanished Shotgun Slugs,” Ibid., January 18, 1938, p. 1; “Police Brutal, Convict Says at Death Trial,” Ibid., January 20, 1938, p. 1; “Hanging Asked for O’Donnells,” Ibid., January 21, 1938, p. 1; “John Gets Life Term; Both Calm,” Ibid., January 22, 1938, p. 1; “O’Donnells Calm After Verdict,” Ibid., January 23, 1938, p. 11; “Joseph Put in ‘Solitary’ After Clash,” Ibid., January 24, 1938, p. 1; “Jos. O’Donnell to Die March 31,” Ibid., January 29, 1938, p. 2; “Appeal Will Delay Hanging of O’Donnell,” Ibid., January 30, 1938, p. 2; “”O’Donnell Asks State to Aid in Appeal,” Ibid., February 11, 1938, p. 8; “O’Donnell, Slayer of Officers, at Prison,” Ibid., February 12, 1938, p. 2; “Joe O’Donnell Asks Rehearing of Trial Appeal,” Ibid., August 21, 1938, p. 3; “Doomed Man Repudiates Confession,” Ibid., August 31, 1938, p. 1; “Slayer Halts Fight for Life,” Ibid., September 3, 1938, p. 2; “O’Donnell Asks Kinne’s Advice Life,” Ibid., September 9, 1938, p. 5; “O’Donnell Loses in High Court Life,” Ibid., September 21, 1938, p. 18; “Joe O’Donnell Calm as He Enters State Prison to Die Life,” Ibid., September 29, 1938, p. 34; “1,000 Sign Plea for O’Donnell Life,” Ibid., October 10, 1938, p. 3; “Starwich in Plea for O’Donnell,” Ibid., October 20, 1938, p. 1; “O’Donnell Plea Signer Reneges Life,” Ibid., October 24, 1938, p. 2; “9 Days Remain Until Execution,” Ibid., November 12, 1938, p. 2; “Martin to Hear O’Donnell Plea,” Ibid., November 13, 1938, p. 16; “Officials Won’t Help O’Donnell,” Ibid., November 17, 1938, p. 2; “Joe O’Donnell Feels Disgrace,” Ibid., November 18, 1938, p. 2; “Joe O’Donnell To Be Hanged Tomorrow; John Eyes Clock,” Ibid., November 20, 1938, p. 5; “O’Donnell Blames Frame-Up As He Calmly Goes to Death,” Ibid., November 21, 1938, p. 2; John J. Reddin, “Rorick, Pardoned in Slaying, Visits Friends,” Ibid., November 15, 1949, p. 9.
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Front page, The Seattle Daily Times, November 26, 1935
Courtesy The Seattle Daily Times
Theodore E. Stevens (1900-1935), ca. 1935
Courtesy The Seattle Daily Times
Trent Alton Sickles (1904-1935), ca. 1935
Courtesy The Seattle Daily Times
Elk Tavern, 8904 Roosevelt Way NE, Seattle, November 26, 1935
Courtesy The Seattle Star
King County Coroner Otto H. Mittelstadt (left), Seattle Chief of Detectives Ernest W. Yoris (center), and King County Sheriff William B. Severyns with abandoned guns, Seattle, November 26, 1935
Courtesy The Seattle Star
Damaged wall clock stopped at 4:55 a.m., Elk Tavern, Seattle, November 26, 1935
Courtesy The Seattle Star
Mugshot, Joseph R. O'Donnell (1898-1938), Washington State Penitentiary, Walla Walla, September 28, 1938
Courtesy Washington State Archives
Mugshot, John J. O'Donnell (1892-1954), Washington State Penitentiary, February 12, 1938
Courtesy Washington State Archives
Mugshot, Lester A. Rorick (1910-1988), Washington State Penitentiary, Walla Walla, January 23, 1937
Courtesy Washington State Archives
Front page, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, November 21, 1938
Courtesy Seattle Post-Intelligencer