Some of the more unusual events handled by the Cowlitz County Sheriff's Office include a volcanic eruption, a skyjacker and a rampaging elephant.
But the year 1921 was all about murder, a manhunt and moonshine stills.
In February 1921, the Cowlitz County Advocate reported that Sheriff John Hoggatt, his son, Deputy Glenn Hoggatt, and two other deputies raided "The Tucker House" still in Castle Rock, where they discovered "a quart bottle that sparkled in the lamp light" and arrested two men. Hoggatt would go on to seize dozens of stills during his four years in office. His successor, Clark Studebaker, destroyed dozens more.
But two major crimes in 1921 overshadowed the bootlegging and brought national attention to Cowlitz County, said Deputy Darren Ullmann, who is researching the history of local law enforcement. Ullman is writing a piece about the cases for an upcoming issue of the Cowlitz Historical Quarterly.
What fascinates Ullmann is how Sheriff Hoggatt managed to handle both wide-ranging investigations — one which had connections to Australia — without the benefit of radio systems, the Internet or any other modern innovations. All Hoggatt had was the telegraph, surface mail and "good old-fashioned legwork," Ullmann said.
The first crime was the murder of Michael Whalen of Woodland in March 1921. Suspicion focused on Whalen's now-vanished hired man, Frank Dalton, who had come from Australia and had numerous aliases. Hoggatt discovered that although Dalton served in the Australian army in World War I (and went AWOL), he actually came from Massachusetts.
Dalton was finally arrested in 1931 in Los Angeles and was convicted of the brutal murder of his wife in Seattle, but was never tried for any of the other crimes for which he was accused.
"He changes names so often, he goes halfway around world - the fact they caught him amazes me," Ullmann said.
In June, during the hunt for Dalton, train robber Roy Gardner, while being transported to McNeil Island Penitentiary, overcame his guards and escaped in Castle Rock. Hoggatt formed a posse, including Castle Rock Town Marshal Clarence "Humpy" Dunbar, to join the largest manhunt in Pacific Northwest history. The posse searched as far as Ostrander but never caught Gardner, despite coming close several times.
A Centralia policeman captured him June 18 in Centralia, a week after Gardner's big escape.
"I love following the evolution of the sheriff's office," said Ullmann, who has created a display for the Hall of Justice lobby. "The same crimes are happening now as then, but we've got more forensic science backing us up. ... That's my project right now, trying to talk about the technological advances from 1921 to today."
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He's also re-creating, as best he can, the earliest years of the sheriff's office. This involves numerous trips to the state archives in Olympia, where he's discovered sheriff's names on receipts and other odd places. The actual years they served are uncertain.
"I absolutely love going up to the archives but the records from our county are horrible," he said. "The originals were sent up there but many were lost in transit," and the microfiche copies are nearly all unreadable.
His diligence has uncovered 10 names between the first known sheriff, James S. Huntington Sr., and James E. Stone, who has the oldest photo on the wall of the sheriff's office.
One of the sheriffs, Ambrose Patton, is identified as such only on receipts for tax collection.
"I never found anything showing he was elected sheriff," Ullmann said.
Patton also interests him because he was murdered in 1882. His body was found in the Cowlitz River, but there was never an inquest and the cause of death is unknown.
"A lot of people didn't like Ambrose Patton, and his son-in-law was one," Ullmann said. Without any evidence beyond public opinion, the son-in-law was arrested, tried and convicted. The case was overturned on appeal, but the son-in-law was retried for manslaughter and convicted again.
Some of Ullmann's discoveries are chronicled on his blog. The most recent entry is the 1979 sheriff's investigation of the death of elephant trainer Morgan Berry of Kalama, who was trampled by one of his elephants. The event was immortalized by world-famous photographer Joel Sternfeld.
On the Net:
Cowlitz County Law Enforcement History: http://cclehistory.blogspot.com/