Uncover the dark side of Issaquah: The tree-lined suburb of today evolved from a frontier town of sinister secrets
Ever wonder what your hometown’s deepest, darkest secrets are? I did, and I pitched and wrote this story for The Issaquah Press’ biannual living magazine. The story won first place for News of the Weird from the Washington Newspaper Publisher’s Association in 2011.
Welcome to Issaquah!
On your left, you’ll see the Triple XXX Rootbeer Drive-In!
On your right, you’ll find the Village Theatre!
Oh look, over there is the beloved Issaquah Salmon Hatchery!
A typical tour of town might go something like that, detailing the proud past of a historic city.
What about the strange, seedy and sinister history of this former frontier town? What about the ominous undertones? Not many tours take you down the alleys of the city or expose what had been its underbelly.
But this one does, and it will tell you about some of the most notable incidents that occurred here in the decades after white settlers arrived in the 1850s. Murders. Bombings. Fires. Explosions. Abductions. Plus, plenty of other mayhem.
Get in your DeLorean and prepare to tickle your morbid curiosity, because we’re headed straight to the past and into the dark side of Issaquah.
Lethal harvest at Wold farm
Event: Townsfolk attack Chinese workers
The first stop on our tour takes us to 1885, prior to Issaquah’s incorporation.
Local brothers Ingebright and Lars Wold operated a hops farm in the area at the time, employing American Indians as their workers until finding out Chinese men would do the job for less.
Unfortunately, the brothers would soon find out that cutting corners wouldn’t pay off.
On Sept. 5, 37 Chinese workers arrived in town to start work on the Wold farm, and they traveled straight to the farm, pitching their tents in the orchard. This upset several white and American Indian men, and they gathered their weapons and paid a visit to the farm that night, seeking
to drive the new workers out of town. White workers at the farm persuaded the crowd to take up the matter with the Wold brothers, who were able to turn the crowd away for the evening.
However, the crowd said it would be back to drive the Chinese out if they did not leave.
Two days later, 30 more Chinese workers arrived in the Squak Valley en route to the Wold farm, but locals met the group at George W. Tibbetts’ store and intimidated them to the point of leaving the area.
Tibbetts was a Civil War veteran and prominent merchant, as well as the justice of the peace in the area.
That night, a group of white locals and several American Indians — who may have been intimidated into joining the group — gathered at Tibbetts’ store, armed with Winchester rifles and Colt revolvers, determined to drive the Chinese workers out of town. One member of the group later testified that Tibbetts had supplied the group with ammunition.
However, members of the group said they did not intend to hurt the Chinese if they didn’t need to, and they had armed themselves if they needed to defend themselves against armed white workers guarding the camp, according to the governor of the territory’s 1886 report to the federal secretary of the interior.
The group — which may have consisted of as few as seven or as many as 20 people — arrived just before 10 p.m. at the camp, where all of the Chinese workers, except for a lookout, were asleep.
The group of locals said a shot had been fired at them, so they opened fire, spraying 20 to 30 bullets at the sleeping Chinese men, instantly waking them and causing them to flee in terror.
Six workers were shot in the attack, three of them fatally. Two of the fatally wounded died within 20 minutes, and the third died the next morning.
Was the group fired upon? No one knows.
This much is known: Two of the fatally wounded workers were shot while lying in their tents, each struck by at least two bullets from above at short range, according to the governor’s report. The third man killed was shot while running away.
One tent had also caught fire, which may have been the result of the group pulling a tent down while a candle burned inside it.
Seven men stood trial for murder, but were acquitted based on an alleged self-defense.
After being acquitted, they stood trial for rioting, and each was found guilty and fined $500. The case was appealed to the Territorial Supreme Court, and the fines were ultimately thrown out because the convicting jury included women, who were not allowed to vote.
Mob leaves man out to dry
Event: Squabble leads to downtown lynching
The second stop on our tour takes us near the Julius Boehm Pool on Clark Street.
Long before the site played host to swim meets and pool parties, it hosted a large maple tree and the city’s only recorded hanging, done by a mob of angry citizens in 1889.
There are several different accounts of the execution, each with slight variations, but both tell the story of a feud that led a man to blow up a local building with the hopes of killing his adversary inside. The man who triggered the explosion was arrested, but later, while the sheriff was away, an angry mob seized him and hanged him from the tree.
One newspaper account of the hanging tells the story of a feud that originated in Chicago between two men: Albert Schaeffer and George Bodala.
Bodala fled to Chicago and then moved to the Issaquah area to avoid Schaeffer’s harassment, but Schaeffer followed Bodala and blew up his Issaquah house, killing the entire Bodala family.
The next day, an agitated mob took Schaeffer while the sheriff was at lunch, and demanded Schaeffer confess to the killings. Schaeffer refused, and the mob strung him from the tree for 30 seconds. Again, the angry people demanded a confession, and again he refused, and they responded by stringing him up for 45 seconds.
They demanded a confession one last time, but when Schaeffer again refused, they hanged him until he died.
The other account, from a local man, tells the story of an unnamed man using dynamite to blow up a boarding house — on the site of modern-day Issaquah Middle School — in an attempt to kill his former girlfriend and her new lover inside.
The blast destroyed the building and killed a miner, but not the man’s girlfriend or her lover.
The man stood trial for the crime, but while the sheriff was away having dinner the night of the trial, the mob took the man, stole a clothesline from the boarding house where the sheriff was dining, and used the clothesline to hang the man from the tree.
After the man was dead, the lynch mob did not return the clothesline to its rightful owner, forcing those at the boarding house to find a new way to dry their clothes.
Prohibition spawns hooch and hoods
Event: Ku Klux Klan rallies in Issaquah
Next, we fast forward to 1924 and the age of Prohibition.
While Issaquah played host to a fair number of bootleggers, it also hosted Washington’s largest-ever Ku Klux Klan rally at the site of the current Issaquah Transit Center, at the corner of modern-day Newport Way and state Route 900.
On July 26, the KKK took the site by storm and created a massive spectacle, treating 13,000 attendees to “stirring, patriotic music” from a 32-piece band, a play by schoolchildren and speeches about “Americanism,” so citizens could form firsthand opinions of the kind and tolerant organization, according to contemporary accounts.
Oh, by the way, there was a 40-foot tall and 27-foot wide “fiery” electric cross looming over the rally, and a $1,000 fireworks show that capped off the night.
The enormous event was nonetheless peaceful. The secret society initiated 250 new Klansmen, and sheriff’s deputies maintained order over the masses. Later, hooded Klansmen directed traffic and managed the two-hour traffic jam that followed.
The KKK first organized in Issaquah in April 1924 on the top floor of the still-standing Mercantile Building along Front Street North, and among those subject to harassment were local Catholics. Klansmen were known to pay midnight visits to Catholics’ homes.
By the 1930s, the Klan had died out in the region.
Mysterious plunge into the abyss
Event: D.B. Cooper airliner hijacking
We now ascend into the murky skies of November 1971.
On a Boeing 727 flight from Portland, Ore., to Seattle on Nov. 24 — the day before Thanksgiving — a well-dressed man going by the name D.B. Cooper handed a note to a flight attendant.
“I have a bomb in my briefcase. I will use it if necessary. I want you to sit next to me. You are being hijacked,” the note read.
Cooper demanded $200,000 in $20 bills and four civilian parachutes when the flight landed.
For parachutes, the FBI turned to the Issaquah Skyport — an airport that offered skydiving, gliding and hot air ballooning — where Costco now stands.
(On a related note, the Skyport also led to deadly plane accidents and skydiving misfortunes. On one occasion, former Issaquah police investigator Ed Mott said a plane carrying seven or eight skydivers crashed during takeoff, killing everybody aboard.)
Mott and a Washington state trooper delivered the parachutes. They made the usual 30-minute commute from Issaquah to the airport in less than 15 minutes.
The trip fried the police car’s engine, Mott recalled.
Cooper collected the money and the parachutes and, with a small flight crew, he directed the plane back in the air, heading south.
He then parachuted from the plane about 10,000 feet over southwest Washington. The jump occurred at night and in a rainstorm
Cooper was never seen again; whether he survived the jump is still a mystery.
Abductions cast shadow on sunny day
Event: Notorious serial killer claims Issaquah victims
The next stop on our tour takes us to the shores of Lake Sammamish in the hot summer sunshine of 1974.
The day was Sunday, July 14, and 40,000 people flocked to the park to bask in the sun, cool off in the water and quench their thirsts with cold beer at Rainier Brewery’s annual Beer Bust.
Among the crowd was a 5-foot-10-inch, 160-pound man with light brown hair and his arm in a sling. He approached at least five women at the park, asking for help putting a sailboat atop his car.
Just before noon, one agreed to help the seemingly injured man do so, but when they arrived at his brown Volkswagen Beetle in a lot adjacent to the beach, there was no boat. He apologized to the woman for misleading her and said the boat was still at his parents’ house “up the hill.”
The woman backed out, and the man returned to the beach. At about 12:30 p.m., he approached Janice Ott, a blond, 23-year-old King County youth services probation caseworker.
Ott looked younger than her age and was at the park alone. Her husband was working in California, so she had ridden her yellow 10-speed bike to the park from her Front Street home just two doors south of The Issaquah Press building.
When the man approached Ott and asked for help with his boat, she agreed, and they walked to his car. After that, she vanished.
The man returned to the beach later that afternoon and asked the same favor of 18-year-old Denise Naslund, who was studying to be a computer programmer and was working as an office helper to pay her way through night school.
Naslund, who had long black hair, was with her boyfriend and another couple.
The man in the sling stopped her at about 4:30 p.m. as she walked back to her friends from the restroom, and she agreed to help. Like Ott, Naslund vanished.
Police and volunteers quickly launched a search for the missing girls, scouring the park, and, thanks to witnesses, police soon had a sketch of the suspect.
They also had his first name: Ted.
It was not until later that the man’s full name emerged: Ted Bundy.
Nearly two months later, on Sept. 7, 1974, a grouse hunter discovered what had happened to Ott and Naslund.
“I think I found two shallow graves,” the hunter told police. “And there’s one with long, black hair.”
The hunter found bones from what he believed to be two people north of Interstate 90, just northeast of a former railroad trestle, now the Sunset Way Interchange.
They also found teeth, and, tellingly, black hair, which Mott said looked like a wig left on the ground.
While most of the remains were those of Ott and Naslund, one of the leg bones had been from a victim not abducted in Issaquah.
They were the first remains to be found from a Bundy murder. The notorious serial killer went on to kill more than 30 women.
Authorities were eventually able to use credit card receipts to place Bundy in Issaquah when Ott and Naslund were abducted. He filled up his Beetle at a gas station at the northwest corner of the intersection of Front Street and Sunset Way, where the Issaquah Library now stands.
Bundy may have also stopped at The Issaquah Press. After his mug shot was released, The Press’ then-bookkeeper insisted he had been there and she had sold him a copy of the newspaper.
Remains of other Bundy victims were found at Taylor Mountain, southeast of Tiger Mountain.
The state of Florida executed Bundy by electric chair in January 1989.
Explosion of passion
Event: Waterhole Tavern blows up under shady circumstances
For the last stop on our tour, we travel ahead to 1980.
The destination is set back from the Kentucky Fried Chicken on Northwest Gilman Boulevard, where the Waterhole Tavern stood.
The joint was a dive, and a frequent site of drunken brawls. When fights erupted, police waited until the fighting subsided before entering, arresting those still standing and hospitalizing those who weren’t.
The tavern shut down in June 1980. Owner Dave Brumpton planned to reopen the bar that September as a topless club, even though city code outlawed such an establishment. But Brumpton charged ahead, figuring the city didn’t have enough money to sue him and shut down the club.
Suspected Seattle mobster and strip club granddaddy Frank Colacurcio Sr. also allegedly had a problem with Brumpton planning to open a club in Issaquah.
Colacurcio demanded Brumpton hire his women, install his soda and cigarette machines, and give him a cut of the profit.
Brumpton said no, and the building mysteriously exploded at 11:30 p.m. Aug. 28. The blast sent a massive fireball hundreds of feet in the air and brought 70 firefighters to the scene.