It’s dark, but City Marshall George Conniff can see three figures hunkered down behind the Newport Creamery. It’s a cool September evening in eastern Washington and Conniff knows that it’s late enough to be suspicious. All sorts have been passing through. After all, it’s the Great Depression. He calls out to the men in the darkness and they answer with gunfire. Conniff dies the next day.
Since that dark night, September 14 this murder has gone unsolved for 80 years. What the burglars were after is known — a rash of milk robberies had hit the area around Spokane. Washington.
Milk robberies? It sounds like something from the school cafeteria or a heist thought up by five-year-olds, wanting something wet to wash down cookies. But this was the Great Depression. Perhaps a destitute family? Hobos passing through on the rails?
Actually it’s more insidious than craving milk.
Last weekend, the Hub and I ventured around half of the Selkirk Loop to explore Metaline Falls. My adventure is posted for the theme of connection at Elmira Pond. After exploring, we stopped for 50s-style burgers and hand-packed milkshakes. The Hub knows most the town (population 238), including the Border Patrol officer with whom he chatted for 10 nerve-wracking (for me) minutes about — of all topics — sniper guns. I don’t care if the Hub is the delivery man to this region, law enforcement is suspicious of such things.
Once our burgers were served and Border Patrol left without making any arrests, a woman approached. She told the Hub, “You seem to know about this place. I’m looking for a tavern.”
Of course, I’m thinking she’s trying to find a current business, but then she mentions that she is researching a book she read about a sheriff who solved a cold case from 1935. The tavern features into the mystery. She had already visited the creamery in Newport where it happened. Yes, I was on red-alert, making a mental note to look up old murders in this region.
That’s how I learned about Conniff. And the sheriff who died mysteriously (fell from a bridge) in 1950 when he was close to unraveling a murder that led back to the Spokane police force and a restaurant called Mother’s Kitchen. It was not as innocent as milk. In fact, the rash of creamery robberies were to stock the pantry of Mother’s Kitchen where waitresses were also prostitutes.
Fast forward to 1980 and another local sheriff began a masters thesis to record historical men who shared his position. That’s when he discovered the near-solved murder. Remarkably, he was able to piece together earlier accounts, witness statements and recovered the alleged murder weapon.
The stuff of stories, right?
Well, Timothy Egan beat me to this one. He was intrigued by this tale, too and wrote Breaking Blue. He’s a regional author I can’t wait to read (my print copy is in the mail).
So we are going to explore the impact of old mysteries on today. Are they relevant? When I think about a story that features dedicated law officers and corrupt ones, I can’t help but think of current headlines in the US. Perhaps nothing is ever a new crime. Perhaps no one seeks to steal milk in the middle of the night, but certainly, thieves are still thieves.
May 20, 2015 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write about an old mystery in the current time. Is it a discovery? Is it solved? Does it no longer matter, or does it impact innocent generations in between?
Respond by May 26, 2015 to be included in the weekly compilation. Rules are here. All writers are welcome!
I’m on a wicked time crunch at the moment. My internet went down in the middle of posting today. I lost all my photos over at Elmira Pond (and I had two posts there today). Thus I had to restart in town at Starbucks and they close in 13 minutes! Yikes! I can’t write a 99-flash under that kind of constraint. So, like you, I’ll be posting mine later.
Tomorrow is my birthday, and inspired by Sarrah J. Woods’ flash last week, I’m going on a solo adventure. I’m taking a boat cruise on Lake Pend Oreille that is 3 hours of geology and history on the water. I’m excited! Not sure when the internet will be back up, so I might be spotty checking in over the weekend and if I do so with my phone, forgive the typos — it has words of its own (thou is its favorite replacement for you).