Ex-convict Charles Phillips murders Seattle Police Officer James L. Wells on November 28, 1897.

  • By David Wilma
  • Posted 5/23/2002
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 3807

On November 28, 1897, ex-convict Charles Phillips fatally shoots Officer James L. Wells (1859-1898). Wells is transporting Phillips to jail in a patrol wagon when the prisoner pulls a gun and fires. Phillips flees and engages in a running gun battle with other officers before he is wounded and captured.

Officer Wells worked part of his shift as a jailer. He and another officer took the patrol wagon to the Price Hotel on 2nd Avenue and Occidental Street, where officers had arrested Charles Phillips on suspicion of burglary. Phillips was found wandering through the hotel with no money to pay for a room.

Wells loaded Phillips into the open-ended patrol wagon while his partner drove. At the police station, Wells ordered Phillips out. Phillips drew a gun and shot Wells. Phillips fired at the driver too.

There ensued a running gun battle between Phillips and other officers including Detective William Meredith (1869-1901). Phillips was cornered by officers under a house at 4th Avenue and Main Street. Meredith shot Phillips in the right forearm and Phillips was captured.

Wells was taken into the police station where he was laid out on a table in the assembly room. The bullet had severed an artery and Wells died. Phillips was treated for his wounds and his right hand was amputated.

Phillips had recently been released from prison where, he said, he had been mistreated. In Phillips' trial for murder, the defense argued that he had been mistreated as a child. The jury returned a verdict of manslaughter and Phillips was sentenced to 12 years at hard labor and a $1,000 fine.

The Seattle Police retained Phillips' amputated hand for many years in a jar of formaldehyde in the department's souvenir room.


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), 4.

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