Harry Tracy takes over the John Johnson household on Bainbridge Island, and kidnaps John Anderson on July 5, 1902.

  • By Alan J. Stein
  • Posted 3/06/2003
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 5387

On July 5, 1902, escaped convict Harry Tracy (1877-1902) commandeers the Johnson home on Bainbridge Island, demanding food and clothing. He had crossed Puget Sound the night before aboard a hijacked fishing vessel. After eating two meals, and reading about his exploits in the newspaper, he ties up the family and kidnaps hired hand John Anderson, whom he forces to row a small boat back to Seattle. Tracy had escaped from the Oregon State Penitentiary one month earlier, and had been evading a region-wide manhunt ever since.

Island Stop

Harry Tracy arrived in the early morning near Port Madison on Bainbridge Island. The night before, he confronted a Japanese fisherman at Meadow Point, two miles north of Ballard. At gunpoint, he forced the man to take him across Puget Sound.

After landing on Bainbridge Island, Tracy sent the fisherman back, and went into the woods to sleep. Upon arising, he approached a home owned by John Johnson, a stump farmer. Tracy watched the house for more than an hour. He saw a man, his wife, their young son and daughter, and what appeared to be a hired hand.

Near the beach, he approached the hired hand, John Anderson, and made him accompany him to the Johnson home. It was 2:00 p.m. in the afternoon. He rapped on the door, which Mrs. Johnson opened. As soon as Tracy told her that he was hungry and being pursued by other men, she knew exactly who he was. Tracy told her that he meant her no harm, and she ran screaming from the house.

A Hot Meal

Tracy yelled at Anderson to call her back. Anderson shouted out that Tracy would shoot her if she did not stop running, and Mrs. Johnson stopped in her tracks. Nearly breathless, she returned to the home. "That was a foolish thing to do," Tracy scolded her. "I told you that so long as you acted sensibly you would not be hurt and I meant it."

They entered the home. Mr. Johnson was out working in the field, and the children were inside the house. Tracy paid little attention to the boy and girl, and ordered Mrs. Johnson to cook him a big meal. She started to fix bread and cheese, but Tracy demanded meat.

The ritual was the same as at other homes Tracy commandeered. He ate with his rifle over his knees, and would stand at the ready whenever he heard a dog bark in the distance. He slammed back cup after cup of coffee, and told illustrious tales of his pursuit by various lawmen.

In All the Papers

After eating, he asked to see some recent newspapers. Mrs. Johnson handed him three copies of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, in which the Tracy story was covered in great detail. Tracy carefully read every word.

He then embellished his side of the story to Mrs. Johnson, comparing his version to the newspaper version. According to Tracy, he never wanted to kill anybody, he just wanted to escape. And if someone got in his way, so be it. "Why, if I were the blood-thirsty villain the papers make me out, I could have killed twenty more men," he rationalized.

By this time, Mr. Johnson had returned home to find a killer chatting with his wife, while handyman Anderson sat silently in a chair. After introducing himself, Tracy took the two men into one of the bedrooms, where he picked out another new set of clothing. He swiped all the gold pocket watches in the house, as well as some provisions. As he pinched a few blankets, he remarked that sleeping in the woods without bedding, "wasn't what it was cracked up to be."

Another Hot Meal

But now it was time for the evening meal, and Mrs. Johnson spread the table again for Mr. Tracy. He pointed out that everyone needed to be fed, and that they should all sit at the table. When Mr. Johnson pointed out that he needed to milk the cow, Tracy let him go to the barn, but told him not to sound an alarm, lest he kill his wife and son.

The family and uninvited guest feasted on eggs, potatoes, fried ham, brown beans, and stew, as well as some preserves. Tracy questioned Mr. Johnson about the Hood Canal region and told the family that he would leave after dark.

He forced Anderson to bind the family, but told him not to tie the mother and daughter too tightly. Tracy then bound Anderson, and then took the hot water off the stove. He wanted to shave before his trip.

His tonsorial task completed, he unbound Anderson, telling him that he would be accompanying him. Anderson was told he would be bound to the oars of a rowboat owned by the Johnsons, so that he could not escape or fight back. The two men left the house.

Boats That Pass in the Night

Within an hour, Mrs. Johnson was able to release her bonds, and untie the rest of the family. Mr. Johnson ran to the home of the local deputy sheriff, who in turn secured a boat to get word to the posse in Seattle.

The next day, King County Sheriff Edward Cudihee chartered the tug Sea Lion and brought his men over to Bainbridge Island. The next few days were spent patrolling the waters of Puget Sound, looking for any clues as to Tracy's whereabouts.

Unbeknownst to the posse, Tracy had slipped right through their fingers again. While policemen and bounty hunters were searching as far north as Deception Pass, Tracy and his kidnap victim landed once again in King County.


"Tracy Breaks Down Sound," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, July 7, 1902, pp. 1, 2; "Trail of Tracy Vanishes in Air," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, July 8, 1902, pp. 1, 3; "Johnsons in Seattle," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, July 8, 1902, p. 7.

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