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Eatonville Manhunt (1960)

Submitted by on November 19, 2012 – 6:00 pmNo Comment

Sheriff Tim McCullough, right, examined a map of the Mount Rainier area with W. H. Smith, Eatonville town marshal, as a search continued for Joseph Self.

Sheriff Tim McCullough, right, examined a map of the Mount Rainier area with W. H. Smith, Eatonville town marshal, as a search continued for Joseph Self.

It was March, 1960, and Eatonville resident, Mrs. Kenneth Trummert, was about to start one of the largest manhunts ever conducted in Washington.

The Dispatch reports that, “. . . she identified a stranger in the Eatonville area as Joseph Charles Self, 29, accused of slaying a Seattle taxicab driver, Ralph Gemmill, Jr., in Southern King County, Wednesday (March 16).”

Gemmill’s body had been found in an empty field on S. 369th Place near Military Road, with two bullet wounds.

Manhunt begins
“Mrs. Trummert noticed Self on the Mountain Highway on a trip in and out of Tacoma on Friday and was suspicious when the man attempted to hide his face from view. The third time she spotted the man was later Friday afternoon on the Scott Turner Road, where the Trummert home is located. She locked the car doors before stopping and she felt him trying to open the car door as he informed her he was attempting to get to Elbe. It was the last move that caused her to contact law officers.”

Deputy Sheriff Roy Lucksinger and Town Marshall Bill Smith went up and found “a fire at the Henry Nightengale place” as well as some coffee they assumed Self had made, but the man was nowhere around.

Search picks up
That night the Pirece County deputies kept a watch on Scott Turner road, and the next morning things really kicked into gear. The King

County Sheriff, Tim McCullough and a large group of officers arrived. “The King County sheriff, his crew and Smith were deputized en masse at about 7:30 Saturday morning by a Pierce County sergeant.”  They were joined by off-duty police officers from Tacoma, Puyallup, Sumner and other surrounding towns.

When a report came in that a couple of rifles, food and blankets were stolen from Sylvia Purdy’s place in Alder the enormous search team moved its efforts to the Alder area.

Self is Caught & Confesses
For three days Self eluded officers and on Sunday afternoon the Pierce County sheriff’s office got a call from Self. He said that if an unarmed officer came to the George Battle home in Alder he would surrender. Sheriff Stojack got to the home and found it locked, then drove out to the barn he found Self unshaven and unarmed.

Self confessed to the murder, but said he had only wanted to rob him. When Gemmill (the cabdriver) grabbed for his gun, it went off.  The jury didn’t believe his story and found Self guilty of first-degree murder. He was hanged three years later at the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla.

Quotes were taken from the Eatonville Dispatch.

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