Looking back: Law enforcement in Snohomish County 74 years ago.

By Betty Lou Gaeng/For Lynnwood Today

In the late 1930s and early 1940s the incorporated town of Edmonds had its own police department, but a few miles to the east, the unincorporated communities of Lynnwood, Alderwood Manor, Cedar Valley, Seattle Heights and the surrounding neighborhoods depended on the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Department to provide most of the law enforcement. Unlike today with a multitude of deputies stationed at several precincts throughout the county, 74 years ago the sheriff’s department for the entire county consisted of the sheriff and 10 deputies, with the department’s base in Everett.

Snohomish County Sheriff's Officers.
Snohomish County Sheriff’s Officers.

This photo showing the staff of the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office in 1940 appeared in the Official Publication of the Washington State Sheriff’s Association for January-February, 1941. Shown in the front row are: Harry A. Deasy, Criminal Deputy; Walter A. Deebach, Identification Officer (my father); Wm. E. Davis, Jailer; Hazel E. Waite, Juvenile Deputy; Fred S. Plymale, Undersheriff, and Joseph E. Tuttle, Criminal Deputy.  The back row: Ellsworth R. Johnson, Chief Civil Deputy; Floyd Darling, Jailer; Ray Ryan, Sheriff; E. L. Weaver, Criminal Deputy, and Fred French, Deputy.

My father, shown in the front row, was the identification officer. This was a relatively new field for local law enforcement.  Fingerprint identification was still in its infancy as a tool in solving crime, and he was one of those to receive training in that field at the FBI headquarters in Seattle. The Seattle office had only reopened in March of 1938 on a permanent basis after its closure in 1932.

The sheriff and his deputies are shown standing in front of the mission-style building which formerly was the court house and jail in Everett. Today, this historic county building is almost lost amid the newer and larger government structures that surround it.

There were no official cars with the large “Sheriff” identification on the side, such as we have today. Instead the deputies usually used their own cars. Once in a while a car was furnished, possibly one that had been confiscated from a crime scene. My father often drove a 1935 Graham, a very fast, streamlined car for its day. It had been the car used by the leader of a local crime syndicate.  The vehicle even had bullet proof windows and slots in the interior to hold machine guns.

A young Henry Jackson.
A young Henry Jackson.

This was the time when a very young, newly-elected prosecuting attorney by the name of Henry Martin (Scoop) Jackson was becoming a well-known figure in Snohomish County. Following his election promise to clean up crime in the county, mainly liquor and gambling violations that had crept in with the opening of the night clubs, Prosecutor Jackson and the sheriff’s department spent a lot of their time in night raids on the numerous road houses—mainly those along the southern corridor of Highway 99.  One night club that received special attention from the sheriff’s office was The Ranch. Originally known as Doc Hamilton’s, this very popular establishment was located at about what is today 220th Street on the west side of Highway 99.  Later called the El Rancho and still the subject of occasional raids because of gambling activities, the building came to an end when it was completely destroyed by a spectacular fire early one Sunday morning in May of 1959. Seven fire trucks answered the call, but nothing could save the 30-year old structure.

In 1940, at the age of 27, Jackson prosecuted two high profile cases. Most publicized was the murder of two California men, Cyril Ables and Ralph Allinson. The murders took place in the Arlington area, and on trial was Edward Bouchard. The crime was actually solved by a private investigator from California, and the Portland police department. However, following a short one-sided trial in the Snohomish County Courthouse, the jury’s guilty verdict brought a lot of attention to the prosecutor’s handling of the trial. The newspapers focused on the young charismatic Henry Jackson, and the resulting publicity became a major influence in launching his long and outstanding career in national politics.

The newspapers coverage of the case also reflected a much different justice system than we have today. Approximately five months after the actual death of the two victims, in March of 1940, their bodies were found; the suspect was arrested by the end of the month; the trial was held in the latter part of June; went to the jury on July 1; on July 2, the jury returned a verdict of guilty with a recommendation for the death penalty; and the trial judge turned down an appeal for a new trial. On September 6, 1940, still proclaiming his innocence, and quiet and calm to the end, 46-year old Edward Bouchard met death by hanging at the Walla Walla State Penitentiary.  In 1940, we were still not far removed from the days of the Wild West and the hanging judges.

The homes of the deputies were scattered throughout the county, and they actually seemed to be on-call at all times, even when off-duty and at home. My father never failed to answer a call for help in an emergency. In 1942, at 3 one morning, an excited man called our home in Seattle Heights (a mile south of the crossroads at Lynnwood) — his wife was in labor, they had no car; he had not been able to get the services of an ambulance or any other emergency vehicle. She needed to get to the hospital at once. Dad was up, dressed and in his car and off to the aid of the family. With the lady settled in the back seat and siren blaring, they headed for Harborview Hospital in Seattle. As the newspaper reported, he opened the throttle and was at the steps of the hospital in record time. There was no time to spare. A little girl was born in the backseat of my father’s car — at least there was a doctor in attendance.

As with our fire protection noted in my “looking back” column last month, law enforcement has also improved and is now much more advanced and professional — maybe not as personal as it was three-quarters of a century ago, but certainly more accessible. Law enforcement has come a long way since those early days.

Snohomish County Court House in Everett.
Snohomish County Court House in Everett.

A long-time resident of Lynnwood, Betty Lou Gaeng is a genealogist, historian, researcher and writer who is active in volunteer work for Lynnwood’s Heritage Park Partners Advisory Committee and the Alderwood Manor Heritage Association at Heritage Park. She is also a member of the League of Snohomish County Heritage Organizations (LOSCHO) and the South County Historical Society and Museum.  Gaeng is the author of two books: “Etched in Stone,” which is the history of the Edmonds Museum memorial monument, and “Chirouse” about a Catholic missionary priest who came from France to Washington Territory in 1847 and became a father figure and friend to the Puget Sound area’s Native people.

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