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Officer Charles O. Legate is found murdered on March 17, 1922.

HistoryLink.org Essay 3787 : Printer-Friendly Format

On March 17, 1922, Officer Charles O. Legate (1872-1922) is found murdered in a locked garage on his beat near 12th Avenue and Jackson Street. At first, the death is ruled a suicide, but is determined to be murder after his widow challenges the suicide ruling, which would deny her a pension.

Suicide or Homicide? 

Officer Legate and a sergeant had recently come off a two-week suspension for "neglect of duty in failing to keep their respective districts free from prostitution" (Victor, 167). In the early morning hours of March 17, Legate went missing from his beat. Officers went to a garage where Legate kept his car and found him inside with the doors locked. He was dead with two gunshot wounds and a gash to his head. His revolver was found nearby with two rounds fired.

A coroner's jury ruled that Legate had committed suicide, which meant his wife would be not be able to receive a pension or death benefits. The widow turned to Lady Willie Forbus (1892-1993), a lifelong "spokesman for the underdog" (Moles), who on opening her law office three years earlier had become the first (and until 1929 would be the only) woman in Seattle to operate her own law firm. Forbus brought the case before a grand jury, and proved that two different bullets had struck Legate's head and that the garage in which his car was found was locked from the outside. The grand jury ruled that Legate had been murdered. Forbus then represented Mrs. Legate before the Police Pension Board, convincing the board to follow the grand jury conclusion of murder and grant the widow a pension of $50 a month.

"Inner Workings of the Tenderloin" 

As to who killed Legate, the murder was never solved. Four years later, Police Chief William B. Severyns, who was appointed to clean up the Seattle Police Department after Legate's death, wrote in a series of articles in the Seattle Union Record:

"It was something in the inner workings of the tenderloin that brought Legate's murder ....[It might have been] a quarrel over the division of spoils. There had been hard feelings between Legate, other policemen, and other underworld characters, and ... Legate had threatened to squeal. One of two men, or both, did the shooting. One of these men was a policeman. The other was an underworld character, a dealer in liquor and dope" (Victor, 167).

Legate's sergeant was E. W. Pielow, who had been suspended along with Legate. It was Pielow who had suggested that the officers look in the garage where Legate's body was found.

Less than a year after Legate's death, Pielow was arrested by U.S. Customs for smuggling liquor from Canada. He was dismissed from the police force. In September 1924, three men were arrested in Sumner for the murder of Officer Robert L. Litsey in Seattle. The killers were driving a car stolen from former sergeant Pielow.

Sources:
Rae Anna Victor, Century of Honor: Excellence and Valor in Washington State Law Enforcement (Bloomington, IN: 1st Books, 2000), pp. 166-167; Michael D. Brasfield, "An Examination of the Historical and Biographical Material Pertaining to the Violent Deaths Involving Seattle Police Officers (1881-1980)," (Undergraduate thesis, University of Washington Library, 1980), 49; "New Legate Evidence: Pension Board Inclined to Disagree with Coroner; Verdict of Suicide is Not Supported, Claim-Hearing Is Continued," The Seattle Times, September 6, 1922, p. 5; "Police Pension Granted Widow of Legate," Ibid., December 13, 1922, p. 15; HistoryLink.org Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History, "Forbus, Lady Willie (1892-1993)" (by Kathleen Moles), http://www.historylink.org/ (accessed November 19, 2014).
Note: This essay was revised and expanded on November 19, 2014.


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