On July 7, 1906, 21-year-old Chester Thompson (1885-1963) shoots and mortally wounds attorney George Meade Emory (1869-1906), a former judge on the King County Superior Court, at his home in Seattle. Thompson, the son of well-known attorney Will Thompson, is at the residence searching for Emory’s niece Charlotte Whittlesey (1887-1936), who has spurned his romantic interest in her. Emory dies on July 9, and Thompson is charged with his murder. Found not guilty by reason of insanity by a Pierce County jury seven months later, he will spend most of the rest of his life at Eastern State Hospital (Spokane County) in a ward for the criminally insane.
Thompson met Charlotte Whittlesey in the summer of 1901 or 1902, when their families were enjoying a summer vacation at Lake Cushman (Mason County). Though he was quickly attracted to her, she never considered him more than a friend. The two corresponded occasionally over the ensuing years as she attended school, first in Tacoma and then at Wells College in New York, and rarely saw each other. Thompson's interest increased when Whittlesey returned to Seattle and stayed with her family during the summer of 1905, but hers did not.
The two had little in common. Whittlesey, the daughter of Charles Whittlesey, a former King County treasurer, was a well-educated, affluent, vivacious young woman with social aspirations. Thompson also was well-educated and affluent, but the similarities he had with Whittlesey ended there. Where she was lively and extroverted, he was quiet and introverted. Where she had many friends, he had some. Where she had social aspirations, he had none. He was a short, small young man with a thatch of dark hair parted in the middle, and he looked younger than his age. He spent much of his time taking long walks, sometimes to the point of exhaustion. He also wrote poetry. He talked big dreams on occasion; for example, on the day before the shooting he purchased a ticket on a ship to Paris. He told friends he planned to pursue photography there, which had been a passion of his for several years.
Whittlesey came back to Seattle in the early summer of 1906. By this time she had lost interest in Thompson entirely, and said that he bored her. When he dropped by her house to visit, she often had her sister Laura, three years her junior, entertain him. Recognizing Charlotte's indifference, Thompson only increased his efforts. He began calling her more frequently and silently walking by and standing outside of the Whittlesey home for long stretches of time, which alarmed the family.
On Saturday, July 7, 1906, Thompson sent Whittlesey a basket of peas, then followed up with a phone call to her home that evening. But she was next door, having dinner with the Emory family. (Her mother, Louise, and Emory's wife, Josephine, were sisters, and the two families were close.) Thompson then called the Emory house, and Judge Emory answered. He offered the phone to Whittlesey, who told him she didn't want to talk to Thompson. Emory relayed the message to Thompson and added that he too wanted Thompson to stop contacting them.
Thompson had called from his family's residence at 3119 S Day Street. (The house still stands on the southern edge of Seattle's Leschi neighborhood near the Mt. Baker Tunnel on I-90, and is on the National Register of Historic Places.) He caught a streetcar downtown and went to a sporting goods store, where he bought a .38 caliber Smith & Wesson revolver, a leather holster, and a box of shells. He then walked to a vantage point about a half-block south of the Emory home at 229 Denny Way. He watched the house for a few minutes, but Whittlesey had left by then. A young man, Hickman Price, had dropped by the Emorys a few moments earlier and invited her to accompany him on a walk. Her acceptance may have saved her life.
As darkness approached, Emory and his wife stepped out on their porch. Another local attorney, Will Keith, and his wife happened by and joined them. About 9:15 p.m., they saw Thompson suddenly charge up the stairs, "hatless and coatless,"("Story of Murder ..."). Simultaneously, they saw him draw a gun. Emory asked him what he was doing. Thompson asked for Charlotte, but instead of stopping, ran into the house. Emory went after him and confronted him in the hall. Seconds later, Thompson fired three times. The first bullet missed, but the next two struck Emory. The first entered the upper left side of his body and passed through both of his lungs and his stomach. The second struck his lower left side, passed through muscles and damaged a vertebra, but this wound by itself would probably not have been fatal.
Emory groaned and fell to the floor as Thompson raced up the stairs. A maid was in one of the upstairs rooms, preparing two of Emory's six children for bed, and came out to see what the commotion was about. Thompson ran past her and into the bedroom where the two children, Nancy, age 2, and Tom, who was approaching his 4th birthday, were. Keith dashed up the stairs after him, but Thompson locked the door and barricaded it. He threatened to shoot anyone who tried to break in and asked for someone to telephone his father. The police came instead, but they were no more successful than Keith was in getting Thompson to come out. Thompson's father, Will (1848-1918), a well-known and respected attorney in Seattle, was called. He arrived in a hack (a small carriage, often pulled by a single horse, commonly used as a taxi before automobiles became common) nearly two hours later.
Thompson succeeded in getting his son to quickly leave the room and surrender. Inside, the two children were found asleep. The police had their man, but now they had a dilemma. A crowd of several hundred people had gathered outside in front of the house and knew what had happened. The Seattle Times said there were threats of a lynching among the crowd, while the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported there were no such threats. Whichever the case, the police thought twice about taking Thompson out of the house through the front door and into the waiting police wagon. Instead, he was led down the back stairs and hustled into an automobile for a ride to the city jail.
Thompson gave a detailed statement to police chief Charles Wappenstein (1853-1931), which was duly reprinted in The Seattle Times the next day. He blamed Emory for the shooting, saying that "he came at me rough" ("Emory Believed ...") and claimed he had meant Whittlesey no harm. "I went to Emory's house to ask Charlotte Whittlesey to marry me. If she refused I was going to leave her, go away and blow out my own brains ..." he said. "I was sure that if I could tell her how much I really loved her that she would change her mind" ("Boyish Criminal ..."). Despite widespread suspicions to the contrary, Thompson never said, then or later, that he intended to kill Whittlesey.
Emory's condition was uncertain enough immediately after the shooting that he remained at his house for several hours before being taken to Minor Hospital. For a few hopeful hours, his doctors said that he might recover. Emory sensed otherwise and said so to several of his friends. Nevertheless, he remained stable until about noon the next day, when he began hemorrhaging from his internal wounds. He declined so rapidly that doctors gave him stimulants, but this revived him for just a few hours. He died early on the morning of Monday, July 9.
The bizarre circumstances of the murder were enough to shock Seattle, but Emory's standing in the community magnified it. Known as Meade to his family and friends, he was still relatively young at 37. He moved to Seattle in 1890 after graduating from Cornell University and formed a law partnership with Daniel Kelleher, a friend from his younger years who had moved to Seattle shortly before Emory's arrival. A year later, Frederick Bausman joined the firm. In 1901 Emory was appointed by Governor John Rogers (1838-1901) as one of the judges of the King County Superior Court for a one-year term, and even after his term expired in the autumn of 1902, the "judge" title stuck. A tall man with blond hair and wire-rimmed glasses who looked every bit the legal scholar, he was "regarded by the lawyers of Seattle as one of the ablest men at the bar of King County and as one of the most promising men of the profession" ("Biographical Sketch ...").
Though the two papers didn't often agree, The Seattle Times and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer did concur on Thompson's reaction when he was told of the judge's death the following morning: "Is that so? Well, that's too bad" ("Slayer Learns ..."). He was subsequently taken to police headquarters to be photographed; as he strode handcuffed between two detectives on the walk from the jail, he made it a point to look directly at a Seattle Times photographer. "He appeared anxious to have a good likeness taken," observed the Times ("Thompson Shows ...").
Thompson was charged with first-degree murder the day after Emory's death. One of the most sensational criminal trials in the state's early history followed the following winter. After a proceeding that lasted nearly two months, Thompson was found not guilty by reason of insanity. He was sent to the insane ward at the state penitentiary in Walla Walla but declared sane a year later and released. However, his behavior was erratic, and he was accused of stalking at least two other women. He became depressed after Whittlesey married in 1911, and was accused of sending anonymous letters to both her mother and Emory's widow that said he was sorry for the shooting, but the letters only upset the women. He was committed to Eastern State Hospital in November 1911 and spent 46 years there before being freed at age 72, and lived for the next six years in Spokane before dying in 1963. His unrequited love, Charlotte Whittlesey, found her part in polite Seattle society before her unexpected death at age 48 in 1936.
Josephine Emory remarried in 1911 and had three children with her second husband, Charles Poe. She remained in Seattle until her death in 1953. Her son Tom (1902-1959) – the same son who Thompson held hostage the night of the shooting – went on to an estimable legal career. He changed his name to Thomas Emory DeWolfe as a young man to perpetuate his mother's maiden name. In 1934 he became special assistant to the U.S. Attorney General in Washington, D.C., and served in that post for more than 20 years. Judge Emory's first-born son, Frederick (1897-1950), also became an attorney. Known by his middle name, DeWolfe, he practiced law in Seattle and served in the state legislature from 1931 to 1935. His son, George Meade Emory (1931-2010) – known as Meade as his grandfather had been – enjoyed an illustrious legal career in the federal government and academia.