U.S. Immigration Inspector Roy M. Porter mysteriously disappears in Everett on December 28, 1939.

  • By Daryl C. McClary
  • Posted 3/24/2013
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 10267

On December 28, 1939, U.S. Immigration Inspector Roy M. Porter (1877-1939), age 62, disappears while in Everett on a routine assignment to clear the Greek vessel SS Chloe to sail for Vancouver, B.C., Canada. Fearing foul play, law enforcement authorities launch a coastwise search for the officer, but no clues to his whereabouts are discovered. A senior Border Patrol Agent, with tracking experience, finds indications that Inspector Porter may have inadvertently driven his car off the Weyerhaeuser shipping pier. After three days of dragging the area around the pier, searchers will finally succeed in locating an object that divers identify as an automobile, sitting upside down on the muddy bottom, containing the body of the missing man. The Snohomish County Coroner’s Office will determine that Inspector Porter’s death is an accidental drowning.

Roy M. Porter was born in Newburn, Iowa. He had served with the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (USINS) in Seattle for 23 years and ran the Seattle District’s Chinese Division. Prior to his employment with the federal government, Porter was a grade school teacher and principal in Olympia. He lived with his wife, Rosa, in an apartment at 4713 Brooklyn Avenue NE in the University District of Seattle.

A Routine Night's Work

At 3:30 a.m. on Thursday, December 28, 1939, Inspector Porter left Seattle in the rain, en route to Everett, driving a black, 1937 Ford Fordor sedan bearing U.S. government license plate No. 332. He was on a routine work assignment to clear the Greek freighter SS Chloe scheduled to sail for Vancouver B.C., Canada, at 6:00 a.m. The inspection was to ensure that the entire crew listed on the inbound manifest was present and accounted for.

Inspector Porter arrived at the Weyerhaeuser Timber Company shipping pier at approximately 4:45 a.m., but delayed his inspection of the ship’s crew because the departure had been postponed for approximately five hours. Porter climbed back into his government vehicle and drove into downtown Everett to have breakfast.

Where is Porter?

Inspector Porter’s disappearance was not discovered until four hours later. At approximately 8:00 a.m., Inspector Herman F. Schwandt picked up a Greek sailor, whom the captain of the Chloe had agreed to take on board, from the detention facility at the USINS Station, 815 Airport Way S in Seattle. Upon his arrival at the Chloe, the captain informed Inspector Schwandt that Porter hadn’t returned to the ship to inspect the crew. The Weyerhaeuser night watchman saw Inspector Porter return to the pier at approximately 6:00 a.m., but didn’t see him leave the second time. Schwandt cleared the ship for departure and returned to Seattle. It was now approaching noon and no one had seen nor heard from Inspector Porter.

USINS Seattle District Commissioner Marie A. Proctor instituted an immediate investigation into Inspector Porter’s disappearance. She recalled that in March 1933, Customs Patrol Officer Ernest L. Ballinger had been kidnapped near Halls Lake in Snohomish County by two fugitive bank robbers, beaten senseless, and left shackled to a tree near Medford, Oregon. Fearing a repeat of that abduction, Commissioner Proctor requested the Washington State Patrol to issue a bulletin to all law enforcement agencies on the West Coast to be on the lookout for Porter’s government automobile.

Police, deputy sheriffs, state patrolmen, and immigration officers searched every garage and street in the Everett business district, but found no trace of the missing government vehicle. Meanwhile search teams, speculating that Porter may have accidentally driven off the long Weyerhaeuser shipping pier in the dark, murky weather, commenced dragging operations around the area. Search teams in rowboats worked throughout Thursday and Friday without result.

On Saturday morning, December 30, 1939, Chief C. E. Moore and Senior Agent D. W. Young from the U.S. Border Patrol Station in Lynden, discovered tire marks on the bridge pier. They ran between two tall stacks of lumber indicating where an automobile had plunged off the dock. He also found the lens from a 1937 Ford tail light, which gave credence to the theory that Inspector Porter had driven his car into the harbor. It was still pitch-dark when Porter had returned to the Weyerhaeuser shipping pier and his vision was further obscured by the driving rain. And there were no heavy timber guardrails on the bridge pier to the main dock to prevent such an accident from happening.

Finding Inspector Porter

At 11:15 a.m., Border Patrol Agent John E. Rhoades, probing the bottom with a long barge pole in a dinghy, finally succeeded in locating a large object approximately 20 feet from the pier. A diver identified the object as an automobile, sitting upside down on the muddy bottom in eleven feet of water. The diver attached cables to the rear axle and a gantry crane slowly hoisted the car from the water and deposited it on the wharf. Snohomish County Deputy Coroner David W. Zimmerman had Inspector Porter’s body taken to the morgue for examination to determine if he had been a victim of foul play.

Late Saturday afternoon, Deputy Coroner Zimmerman reported that Porter death was, without question, an accidental drowning. He had been trapped in the automobile when it plunged into the off the dock. The window on the driver’s side was broken, indicating he may have smashed it in his effort to escape from the vehicle. Porter had left the wharf and driven into Everett where witnesses saw him eat breakfast. He returned to the Weyerhaeuser Timber Company at approximately 6:00 a.m. and in the dark and rain had missed by 100 yards the turn onto the main pier where the Chloe was moored.

Saying Goodbye

A funeral service for Inspector Roy M. Porter was held on Tuesday, January 2, 1940, at in the chapel at Forkner’s University Funeral Parlors, 4214 University Way in Seattle. After the service, his body was taken to Masonic Memorial Park, 455 North Street SE, Tumwater (Thurston County), for burial.

He was survived by his wife, Rosa M. Porter (1876-1949), daughter, Lucille A., sister, Mrs. Mattie Rasmussen of Seattle, and brother, George R. Porter of Omaha, Nebraska. Inspector Porter was the second USINS officer to be killed in the line of duty in Washington state. The first was Inspector Charles M. Flachs who was shot by Canadian gangster Edward McMullen at the Blaine Port of Entry on May 28, 1936.

Sources: Howard MacDonald, "Police Seeking Trace of Seattle Inspector’s Car; Hunt Widens," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, December 20, 1939, p. 1; "Missing Man’s Body Found in Bay at Everett," Ibid., December 31, 1939, p. 1; "Agent Is Taken to California," The Seattle Times, March 9, 1933, p. 1; "Kidnapped Agent Tells How He Was Attacked." Ibid., March 10, 1933, p. 7; Ross Cunningham, "Missing U.S. Agent’s Car Is Sought," Ibid., December 29, 1939, p. 1; "U.S. Agent’s Drowning in Car Accident, Say Probers," Ibid., December 31, 1939, p. 1; "Funerals: Porter," Ibid., January 1, 1940, p. 26; "Roy M. Porter Funeral," Ibid., January 1, 1940, p. 28; "Strolling Around the Town," Ibid., January 5, 1940, p. 21; "Immigration Inspector Roy M. Porter" The Officer Down Memorial Page, Inc. website accessed July 14, 2010 (www.odmp.org).

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