Ben Payne is arrested for shooting Seattle policeman David Sires on October 12, 1881.

  • By David Wilma
  • Posted 6/09/2001
  • Essay 3344

On October 12, 1881, after Seattle police officer David Sires is fatally shot, Ben Payne is arrested and charged with the offense. Sires dies a few days later. Payne, who proclaims his innocence, will be one of three men lynched by a mob on January 18, 1882.

A Gunshot Outside

Sires was in James Smith's Saloon on Washington Street near 2nd Avenue when he heard a gunshot outside. He went out to investigate and witnesses pointed out a man in front of the Wa Chong Company Store who was running away. Sires pursued the man up 3rd Avenue to Mill Street (Yesler Way). The man stopped in front of Madame Malla's and turned and warned Sires, who was apparently not in uniform, to stay back. He then shot Sires in the throat and fled. Madame Malla heard the shot, went out and found Sires, and blew her police whistle.

There were no witnesses to Payne shooting Sires, but witnesses identified Payne as the man who was firing a gun in the street and who had fled the scene. Seattle policeman Jim Woolery traced Payne to a room at Aldus Restaurant and arrested him there. No gun was found, but Woolery testified that Payne said that the shooting was an accident.

Seized by the Mob

Payne was held for trial in the city jail. On January 18, 1882, a mob seized two other men accused of murder outside of court, and lynched them. Someone shouted to go after Payne. The mob stormed the jail looking for Payne and other prisoners pointed him out. Payne was dragged out and hanged next to the other victims. Payne protested that he was innocent.

David Sires was the first peace officer killed in the line of duty in Seattle. Ironically, the lynching in which his accused killer was hanged led to the death of another peace officer. King County Sheriff Lewis V. Wykoff (1828-1882) became the first King County police officer to die in the line of duty when he suffered a fatal heart attack on January 20, which was attributed to the effects of his confrontation two days earlier with the lynch mob that seized and hanged the three prisoners in his custody.  


"Officer Sires Fatally Shot," Seattle Chronicle, October 13, 1881, p. 3; "An Awful Chapter," Ibid., January 18, 1882, p. 3; Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History, "Lynch Mob Hangs Three Men In Seattle on January 18, 1882" (by Alan J. Stein), (accessed January 17, 2019).
Note: This entry was revised on January 17, 2019.

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