Friday, October 30, 2015

More of a Mystery Than Ever: The Werner Murder

By Polly Good, Historian

Murder, Investigation and Arrests

On the morning of March 2, 1904, Henry Werner was found brutally murdered in his barn. During the next few days, authorities questioned Henry’s wife, Magdalena, and his son, Wilheim, about the events of that fateful morning. Eight-year old Wilheim told Seattle deputies that he was standing on the porch and heard men arguing in the barn. He wanted to investigate, but his mother told him not to go to the barn since it was probably Henry yelling at a cow. She later told authorities that she thought Henry was discussing a land deal with the neighbors and was not overly concerned by the shouting. Wilheim heard more yelling and told his mother again about the disturbance in the barn.

At this point in the narrative, there is a discrepancy in the newspaper accounts. The Seattle Daily Times reports that Wilheim found his father’s body and ran to the house to tell his mother. The Seattle Star explained that Magdalena saw a man running out of the barn as she approached the building and when she entered the barn she found her husband’s body.

Magdalena’s comments immediately after she found her husband’s body are also inconsistent. She told neighbors at the scene that she was so distraught over her husband’s murder that she took poison in an attempt to commit suicide. When a doctor arrived, she told him that she had not taken poison but fainted from the shock. She remained fragile and shaky for weeks after the murder and was, in fact, too weak to attend her husband’s funeral.

Neighbors told investigators that Henry and Magdalena argued two weeks before the murder, each threatening to kill the other. Henry threatened Magdalena with a knife, and she declared that she would kill him if he ever did it again. Magdalena denied threatening her husband and said that they never had any serious problems despite evidence that she had left her husband twice to look for work in Seattle.

On March 6, Marshal Elmer Baxter arrested an Italian man, Henry Paulone (aka Henry Smith). Paulone was held in the Issaquah jail pending the results of the coroner’s inquest. The Seattle Daily Times suggested that Henry Paulone and Magdalena were having an affair while The Seattle Star reported that Henry Werner found lover letters between Magdalena and various suitors at his house and gave them to his brother, who made them public after the murder, for safe keeping.

The love letters raised questions about Magdalena’s character. It seems she was not popular with her neighbors, who suspected that she had killed a number of dogs. One neighbor told The Seattle Star that he had gone to the Werner farm to see Henry when he saw Magdalena running from the house with a rifle in her hand. Before he knew it, she fired the gun, killing a small dog, and shouting “I’ll teach them to chase my sheep!”

Shortly after her arrest, Magdalena told a Star reporter that she knew the man who killed her husband and that he had committed the murder to protect her. She hoped that he would escape punishment because he only killed Henry to end her torment and suffering at the hands of her husband. According to Magdalena, her life on the Werner farm was lonely and miserable. The farm was about nine miles outside Issaquah (near Beaver Lake), and Henry did not allow her to go anywhere. She claims to have asked him for a divorce, as long as she could keep their four children, but he refused to consider divorce. Adding to the isolation of farm life, Henry was 26 years older than Magdalena. The Seattle Star printed an article speculating that this age gap contributed to the turmoil in the Werner household.

After her arrest, Magdalena became increasingly despondent in jail. She wouldn’t eat or talk to anyone. Out of concern, the prison matron allowed her infant daughter, Agnes, to take up residence in her mother’s jail cell. Agnes, living with her mother in the jail, brightened Magdalena’s spirits. This living situation, however, was short lived as Agnes was sent to live in a juvenile detention center after a month.

On March 10, authorities announced a new suspect Frank Piconi (aka Roderigo Rocco) and offered a $500 reward for his capture. There were sightings of Frank near Centralia, and people all over Northwest Washington searched for Frank. He was finally captured and arrested in Cle Elum on March 13. Evidence against Frank was a blood-stained knife and handkerchief found in his cabin (although some reports said that these items were found on his person). One particularly damning piece of evidence was his conversation with Joe Frejelli, a Cle Elum shoemaker and former friend. According to Joe, Frank asked Joe for a place to lay-low because he wanted to hide from some trouble he had in King County. Joe refused to accommodate Frank and called the authorities. The primary evidence that led to Frank’s arrest was Magdalena’s confession that she paid Frank Piconi $100 to kill her husband.

While Frank denied any knowledge of the murder, the sheriff orchestrated a dramatic encounter between Frank and Magdalena for the purposes of positively identifying the man she hired to kill her husband. On March 14, the sheriff brought Magdalena to his office for questioning and positioned her chair so that her back was to the door. A deputy entered unnoticed with Frank. The sheriff was asking familiar questions but suddenly asked, “Do you know that man?” Magdalena turned toward the door and gasped at the sight of Frank. “That’s the man!” she cried. Frank went pale and leaned on the door for support. After this positive identification, the sheriff was confident of a conviction. On March 24, Frank and Magdalena were arraigned on charges of first-degree murder. They both entered pleas of not guilty a few days later on March 27.

Magdalena’s Trial and Postscript

On April 13, the county sheriff received a death threat against Magdalena. The note was pieced together from letters cut out of the newspapers and warned that Magdalena would be killed if she testified against Frank. The sheriff did not take the threat seriously and destroyed the letter.

During Magdalena’s trial, evidence included her written confession (read aloud in court), the bloody mattock (murder weapon), and photos of Henry Werner’s body (over the objection of the defense). There were six men and six women on the jury. When the prosecution presented the murder weapon as evidence, Magdalena closed her eyes and one of the women on the jury seemed faint but regained her composure. Several key witnesses failed to appear to the dismay of the prosecution.

The trial was a media sensation and the hottest ticket in town. The courtroom was filled to capacity and the bailiffs had difficulty maintaining control of the crowd, both in and out of the courtroom. On the last day of the trial, people lined up for admittance at 7 o’clock in the morning and fought for seats when the doors of the courtroom opened. One row of chairs collapsed under the weight of the spectators, injuring three young women. In the crush to obtain a seat, one man lost $25 to a pick-pocket.

On May 22, the jury acquitted Magdalena in two hours and 45 minutes. The verdict shocked the prosecution because they had obtained a confession and other evidence pointing toward Magdalena’s involvement in the murder. The papers report that jurors shook Magdalena’s hand after the verdict, suggesting maybe the defense was successful in portraying Magdalena as a lonely and abused woman and the sympathies of the jury trumped the confession and physical evidence. After her acquittal, Magdalena applied for custody of her children and began looking for a job in Seattle.

After her acquittal, Magdalena moved to Kitsap County to working in a logging camp. There she met Benjamin Miller. In mid-August, the couple applied for a marriage license, but Magdalena’s notoriety caused them some trouble. It seems she had difficulty finding someone to act as her witness and vouch for her. She asked one of the deputies, who had testified at her trial, but he refused, saying that she would have to find a witness outside of the sheriff’s office. The couple apparently found witnesses because their marriage was announced in The Seattle Daily Times on August 19, 1914. After her marriage, Magdalena disappears from the records.

Frank’s Trial and Postscript

Frank Piconi’s trial began on June 8, with Magdalena scheduled to testify. The star witness, however, was 8-year old Wilheim Werner, who testified for a little over an hour. In a dramatic fashion, he identified Frank as the man who was seen running from the barn the morning of his father’s murder. After the boy’s testimony, the judge questioned him and became increasingly concerned that someone had coached him on what to say in court. For his part, Wilheim stuck to his story.

In early April, Henry Paulone was cleared of any involvement in the murder but remained in custody as a witness. On the stand, he gave testimony implicating Frank Piconi as Magdalena’s suitor and had been given a letter by Magdalena to give to Frank. Through an interpreter, Frank claimed his innocence saying he had no reason to kill Henry Werner and that he left Issaquah to go to Cle Elum to get a better job. He said he was at the house of a friend, Nick Garrish, at the time of the murder. Nick could not be found to testify, but the prosecution had an affidavit from him denying Frank’s claims. Magdalena provided the most helpful testimony at Frank’s trial when she failed to identify him as the man running away from the barn.

At the conclusion of the trial, the jury asked the judge if they could present their verdict directly from the jury box, but the judge denied the request and required them to deliberate in the jury room. After about 20 minutes, the jury came back with a verdict of not guilty. The jury appears to have believed Magdalena’s testimony rather than her written confession, which implicated Frank Piconi. On June 13, The Seattle Star ran the following blurb: “Now the Henry Werner murder, after two trials, is just as much, if not more, of a mystery than ever.”

In October, Frank Piconi sued the Seattle Post-Intelligencer for libel, asking for damages of $25,000 (or $45,000, depending on the report). The newspaper tried unsuccessfully to have the case thrown out, and the case was set for trial. Unfortunately, the results of the suit are unknown. It may be that Frank settled out of court, and the settlement was not reported in the papers.

Frank Piconi died at age 63 in Seattle and was survived by his wife, Mary, and son, Angelo. An obituary for Frank Piconi appeared in the May 24, 1951 Seattle Times, matching the state death records for the same Frank Piconi of the Werner murder.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

St. Patrick's Day and Issaquah's Recent History

There is a tendency to think of history as "the stuff that happened before I was old enough to remember it." I often hear, from community members, "Oh, you really should have talked to my mother/grandmother/aunt/older brother, they knew/know ALL the history. I don't really know much." For some reason, we always value the information that has just been lost higher than the information we hold in our own memories.

I thought of this tendency recently, while I was perusing the Issaquah Press archives for stories about St. Patrick's Day or the Irish in Issaquah. Our blog has celebrated St. Patrick's day in the past, and I hoped to find something new and different to relate. I found myself leaning towards the newspaper articles dated in the 1910s and 1920s, and not finding anything new or exciting (or should that be "old and exciting"?). I was rewarded when I turned to Issaquah's more recent past.

In a June 9, 1982 issue of the Issaquah Press, I "met" a significant Irish character from Issaquah's past who I'd never "met" before -- but I'm sure that his name and face are familiar to many of Issaquahns who have been in the area since the late 1970s and early 1980s. 
Born in Roscommon, Ireland in 1919, Father Anthony McGirl was ordained as a priest in Ireland, and came to the Archdiocese of Seattle in 1945. After working in Marysville, and later Bothell, before his move to St. Joseph's Church in Issaquah. Father Anthony McGirl arrived in Issaquah in 1975 and served there until his death in 1982.

Although the church itself was not constructed until 1896, Catholic services were held regularly in the area starting in 1884. The first St. Joseph's church stood on today's Sunset Way (originally Mill Street). At that time, Issaquah was a mission of the Renton parish. Issaquah's Irish residents played a significant role in establishing the church; Pete McCloskey, Michael Donlan, and Pete Maloney (all Irish-born) pooled their resources to provide land and materials for the church's construction.

 It was not until the 1962 that Issaquah became its own parish. By that  time, Issaquah and grown and so had St. Joseph's congregation. A new church facility -- which still serves the parish today -- was constructed on Mountainside Drive.

According to the Issaquah Press article that serves as a public euology, Father Anthony McGirl was "a man who wanted nothing more out of life than to work with and care for the people of his parish." One of McGirl's colleagues, Father Stephan Rowan, recalled McGirl's "great personal warmth" and his tireless efforts to serve parishioners who were "sick, depressed, or losing faith in the church." Rowan also noted that, in addition to pictures of Christ, McGirl's bedroom was decorated with another banner that said, "God made the Irish number one!"

Rowan's eulogy also hinted at McGirl's sly sense of humor. He recalled telling McGirl once, "You know, Tony, I sometimes feel as if I've landed into the middle of a scene from 'Going My Way.' Here you are, the wise, old Irish pastor who taked in the collection and gives out so much practical advice."

"Yes, Steve," he replied, "and you sing and play the piano."

More than 600 people attended McGirl's funeral mass, including 120 priests and three bishops.

Go here to read the original Issaquah Press article from June 9, 1982.

Did you know Father Anthony McGirl? If you did, or if you have any photographs of him, please let us know!

Saturday, February 14, 2015

From the Digital Collections: Happy Valentine's Day


Postcard from unknown (Seattle, WA) to Mrs. Gust Berg (Preston, WA).
Postmarked February 14, 1917.
See other Valentine's Day records in our collection by following this link.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Top 10 Records in the Digital Collections from 2014

Last year was the first year we debuted our Top 10 records of the year. You can see that post here. So continuing in that tradition, here are the top 10 records of 2014.


Thursday, November 6, 2014

Ding Dong!

The Issaquah History Museums receive hundreds of research requests each year. Some of them are duplicates (“What does Issaquah mean?” is a common one) and some of them are unique and memorable (in 2000, someone called to ask if Issaquah’s gingko tree is a male or female). Some of them lead us down interesting paths to find answers, and some of them end up providing US with more information about something that we didn’t know.

This week, we received an information request from someone who had a question about Issaquah’s old Methodist Church and a bell. Boone D. described the bell’s size and its markings:
Buckeye Bell foundry 1895
The E. W. Vanduzen Co. Cincinnati

Issaquah M. E. Church
Nov. 28. 1895.

He wanted to know anything that could be found out about the church where the bell was originally used, and the significance of the date on the side. He also wanted to know when the bell left Issaquah. This left me with an even more fascinating question – where was Boone and how did the bell end up there today?

Fortunately, Harriet Fish wrote an article about bells (“Bells Integral part of early Town”, originally published by the Issaquah Press, also published in This Was Issaquah) that we’d used in the past to identify one of our own bells. The article seems to raise more bell questions than it answers in some instances, but in the case of the Methodist church, there are helpful clues. According to Fish, the bell “was used regularly until the building was razed in the early 1950s – bell, lumber and all being transported to Kelso, Washington.”

So that was where the bell ended up.

And it had obviously started out at the Buckeye Bell Foundry in Cincinnati. In this respect, the bell is in excellent company. The Buckeye Bell Foundry produced bells for nearly 100 years, and the results are distributed among bell towers all over the world (some have even been found in a tiny church in Sichuan, China, where they were lucky to survive that country’s Great Leap Forward).

Figuring out the significance of the date on the side was a little more complicated – and. Issaquah’s first church was a Methodist church, and it was built on a plot of land donated by Ingebright Wold. The church was located near the school on what became known as School House hill. In 2014, we know it as the hill where the Julius Boehm pool and Issaquah Middle School are located. Harriet Fish cited a book called “Glimpses in Pioneer Life on Puget Sound,” by Reverend A. Atwood, which described the origins of the Methodist Church in Issaquah. Wold donated the land in 1889, and construction of the church was completed in 1890. A parsonage was later built in 1898. However, Atwood notes that “During the pastorage of Brother Wadsworth a bell was purchased to call the people to worship.” It’s likely that the date on the bell represents either some symbolic anniversary (which I can’t guess) or the formal dedication of the bell itself in 1895.

I was a bit skeptical about the town name on the bell. As you might know, Issaquah was called Gilman from the time it was incorporated in 1892 until its official name change in 1899. The name “Issaquah” came into use before the official name change, but four years before? Atwood’s research answers this question as well, commenting that name Issaquah first appears in church records in 1895. Atwood recognizes the following people for making contributions to the founding and equipping of Issaquah's first church building, "Gen. George W. Tibbetts, James Bush, W. R. Bush, L.A. Wold, George Davis, John Friend, Peter Rippe [Reppe], Peter Smith and others rendered assistance either in money or work in the building of this church." 

I typed up my findings and sent them to Boone, now growing more and more curious about the bell’s current circumstances. This morning I heard back from him. The Issaquah Methodist-Episcopal Church’s former bell is not in Kelso, but hangs at a church camp in Port Orchard, WA, where it still gets regular use. The bell has been there since the camp was built in 1955. Boone shared pictures of the bell with me, although he noted, “Sorry the pictures aren’t very clear, the bell tower is a little cramped so it’s hard to get a good angle to show the whole bell.” If you look closely, you can see where the word Issaquah is engraved.

Click the pictures to see them in larger format. The custom engraving is much less visible than the bell’s maker markings.

Did the bell (and building) make it to Kelso? Did they decide not to re-construct Issaquah’s old church? Did they build it, but decide against the bell? Where was the bell between 1952 and 1955? We’ll let you know if we make any more progress on this history mystery.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Top 10 Records in the Digital Collections from 2013

At the end of every year we're able to see what the top records from our Digital Collections are - meaning which photo, document, letter, etc. was accessed by the most people. It always fascinates me to see what records make this list and it is never what I expect. The following are the top 10 records accessed during the year 2013.

10. Mary Pedegana, Mattie Tibbetts, and Ferol Tibbetts in Swimwear, 1910s

 Mary, Mattie, and Ferol (and an unknown young boy) are wearing swimwear of the day. A railroad trestle is able to seen from the background, but it's unknown where the photo was taken. This photo is from one of Ferol Tibbetts' photo albums. Clicking "Tibbetts Family" from the list of tags on the left will take you to more blog entries about the Tibbetts' family. Full Record

9. Friend of Josephine Cornick, 1915

An unknown woman stands in a field with overalls, straw hat, and a shovel. From the Josephine Cornick Ross Collection we featured a bit in our blog this year. Full Record


8. Ray Robertson, Town Marshal, 1949

Ray Robertson was Town Marshal in 1949. In this picture he's with his two oldest sons and perhaps Issaquah's first squad car, which he was instrumental in purchasing. Read more about Ray Robertson on our websiteFull Record

7. Lew on Lewbea and Bojo on Rusty, 1964

Bojo the horse-riding dog. There isn't much more to be said. Full Record

6. ”Finding the Site of the Attack on Chinese Laborers in Squak Valley”

A document prepared by Tim Greyhavens where he worked to find the exact location of where the 1885 attack on Chinese laborers occurred. The document, available in our Digital Collections, contains photos, transcripts, and is a fascinating read. Full Record

5. Halmar Foldvik Mine Training Certificate, 1924

A new addition to our collections in 2013 - this is a "Certificate of Mine Rescue and First-Aid Training" for Halmar Foldvik. A fascinating piece and great addition to our collection of mine information. Full Record

4. Letter from Fran Pope to Rita Perstac, Jan. 5, 1989 - Greater Issaquah Coalition

 This is one of those records that surprises me. Our Greater Issaquah Coalition collection is important, but I'm always surprised when it's letters that get a lot of traffic and not photos. This letter and accompanying report outlines the importance of preserving Pickering Barn and ideas for connecting it, Gilman Village, and the Depot via train tracks. Full Record

3. Minnie Wilson Schomber Letter, August 31, 1916

Another surprise in the top 10. Having been the one to scan, read, and catalog the entirety of Minnie Wilson Schomber's letter collection (including hers and her husband's), I always groan a little when one pops up. Her sappy, sweet letters are always good for a laugh - especially when she writes "I would give anything if I had you and the big leather chair here tonight. I suppose you could guess what I would do."  Full Record

2. Friend of Josephine Cornick Modeling her Gym Bloomers, ca 1918

Another picture of a friend of Josephine Cornick - this time in her gym bloomers, standing in front of what appears to be Issaquah High School. Two gals behind her appear to be wearing the same outfit. At least they're pants and not skirts! Full Record

1. Opening of Vasa Hall in Upper Preston, ca 1950

We had a lot of requests for Preston photos this year and did a lot of work in making sure our Preston records were uploaded to our Digital Collections. This must have been the most popular of the bunch! A group photo of the "Order of Vasa" at the opening of the new Vasa Hall in Upper Preston. Unfortunately, no one in the photo is identified - send us any information you may have! Full Record

In-depth cataloging of letters, journals and other documents was made possible by a grant from 4Culture. Yet another grant from 4Culture, along with generous support from individual donors, makes it possible for us to scan these items and share them through our Digitial Archives.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Photo Mystery!

Unidentified image from the Anderson Collection
photo 2010.011.051
Downtown Issaquah, cars, people, and a man with a lottery style cage on a platform

We've had this image in our collections for a few years now, and it hasn't been added to our digital collections for the sole reason that we're not sure exactly what we're looking at. And so we can't properly date and catalog it.

I first assumed that it was part of the draft in World War II since it came with a collection with many other items related to the war. However, it could be something else completely.

I'd love to know more specifics of what's going on here. It's an obviously important event, with cars lining the streets and people filling the sidewalks. If it is draft related, what exactly am I looking at?