Eatonville Hospital – 1921
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Here’s an old envelope from 1921 to Julie Dougher c/o of the the Eatonville Hospital. Don’t know anything about Julie — whether she was a nurse or a patient. (If you have any information, please …

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The Murder of Buffalo Don Murphy

Submitted by on April 29, 2013 – 4:27 pm29 Comments
Buffalo Don Murphy

Buffalo Don Murphy

In 1977, after 13 years of abuse, battered housewife Francine Hughes set fire to the bed her husband was sleeping in, killing him and destroying the home.

After Francine committed the murder, she packed up the kids and drove to the local police station to confess. She was found not guilty by a jury of her peers by reason of temporary insanity.

If this story sounds a little familiar, this case and the “battered wife syndrome” got national attention, and Farrah Fawcett even played the role of Francine in a 1980s TV movie.

Why am I bringing all this up? Because two years earlier, this case had already played out in Eatonville.

A bit of background
For years the community had heard stories of domestic violence at the Murphy home, which included Don (Buffalo) Murphy, his wife Lea Geneal and their five children.

For those that didn’t know Don, he was a colorful individual. He was at one time an amateur middleweight boxing champion, a uranium-mining prospector, and later ran a lumber salvage yard on Waller Road. He was more wildly known for the activities on his ranch, including raising American bison and holding a rock festival.

In 1970, Don was also convicted on two counts of second-degree assault after being accused of threatening two agents of the Puget Sound Air Pollution Control Agency with a pistol at his salvage yard. He was sentenced to a 10-year prison term on each count, and then appealed.

Eatonville Rock FestivalOn a side note, it turns out he did have good reason to chase the Air Pollution guys away. They later found 1,000 drums of industrial waste stored on his 5-acre property, some of which had leaked and/or spilled. The Waller Road site was then ranked “1” on the Hazardous Sites list — the highest level of contamination.

Shot While Sleeping
As colorful as Don was, in 1975 it was Geneal who would in take center stage.

On June 20, the violence ended in the Murphy home — as violence often does —violently. Eatonville Police Chief James Benton was the first to the Murphy home. He found Don shot five times in the chest with a .38 caliber revolver and the weapon was sitting on the television in the bedroom. Don had been in bed, presumably sleeping.

Geneal was taken into custody. Bail was going to be set low, but was raised to $75,000 when the argument was made (somewhat ironically) that she and the children had tried to flee several times before.

Men posing beside the Murphy Logging's tree on Mashell Ave.

Men posing beside the Murphy Logging’s tree on Mashell Ave.

The response from the town was immediate — and probably not predicable to those living outside.  A fund was started at the Eatonville bank to help pay her court costs and many stood by Geneal throughout the ordeal. On the day of her sentencing a crowd came to support her. She was given a five-year sentence, but Judge Donald Thompson deferred the sentence provided that General spend six months at the Woman’s Community Center in Seattle.

Later when the “burning bed” case made headlines and then a television movie, it all felt a little deja vu. Geneal passed away in the 1980s

29 Comments »

  • Dick Logston says:

    I remember Don Murphy from the fifties. He drove a big Lincoln, wore a cowboy hat, cowboy boots and smoked cigars. He was always cordual to us kids asking how we were doing and inguage in small talk. Of course we had no idea of his personal life, only that he was known as a high roller.Dick Logston

  • Geoff says:

    I worked for Murphy in the early 70’s, and my wife worked at the house as live in baby sitter/housekeeper. He beat his wife on a regular basis, including the night before she gave birth to their last child. After taking his wife to the hospital he came back and attacked my wife. When I came out to visit her later that day, seeing the bruises on her neck I told her to pack her things – we were leaving that madman! We went back to my apatrment in Tacoma, packed my things and we left Back to Ohio.

    • dimettler says:

      I’m so sorry you had to go through all that.

      • Geoff says:

        Thank you. I had heard that Geneal had gotten tired of the beatings, but heard so many different versions of it I didn’t really know what happened. The ones I really feel sorry for are the kids.

        • Diane says:

          Yes, sad story all the way around.

        • Teresa King says:

          My mother and father were friends (my mother much closer to Geneal than my father to Don). I remember playing with the kids on the land and the inside of their house so vividly. I can still remember Don (he was bigger than life)spitting his chewing tobacco on the floor. We mostly gathered in their kitchen.
          Geneal tried many times to leave, but Don would always track her down. My mother took us kids to see her at one of thedeouts on Camano Island. A fellow female friend of Don’s, who herself was once a professional wrestler/boxer took pity on Geneal and secretly hid her away. The day we were there, I remember my mother whisking us kids to the house from the beach where the boxer lived because they heard a helicopter above. They knew it was Don looking for her and sure enough, it was indeed him.
          I also worked with one of Don’s cousins who stated that Don’s sister even testified against his character to help Geneal through the murder trial.
          Geneal was always a kind lady to us and her children did not deserve the hell he put them through.

    • Shanan says:

      Hello my son is doing a report on buffalo don Murphy was wondering if your wife remembers the kids names we can’t find a lot of info on him. We are also looking for his birth date but I’m sure you don’t know that but any info will help. Thank you Shanan from Eatonville. 🙂

      • dimettler says:

        Hi,
        He was an Eatonville graduate and I think those annuals are on file at the library. Might give him some info. Since I have your email, I can email you the articles I scanned from the Dispatch. Diane

      • Tom Murphy says:

        I am Don Murphy’s eldest son, 49 years old. I live in Puyallup and would be glad to discuss my Father. My phone number is 253-881-8440.

        • dimettler says:

          Hi, I would love to talk to you. We actually met years ago when we were kids, (I’m 50) but I don’t think either if us would probably recognize each other now. Let me know if there is a good time to call.
          Diane

        • Patricia says:

          Hi Tom, when your dad was killed my mother was totally on your Mpm’s side. didn’t know any of you but just what we read in the paper. But my dad was the same way so we knew exactly what you went through. Hope you and your siblings are doing well.

          Trish

        • Ken Kerzie says:

          Knew your Dad and Barney when I was a kid! Get back to me if you still want to talk about things.
          Ken

        • Teresa King says:

          Hi Tom,

          I am sure you don’t remember me, but I am sure you remember my older siblings. We spent a lot of time with you all back in the day. I still remember riding a bike in your house and recalling your dad’s game room. To me back then seemed like your house went on forever. Hope you are doing well!

        • Jodie Sutter says:

          My cousin Mark Sutter worked with your dad on Waller Rd. My dad was Fred Sutter and I hear there is a park being built on our old property. I used to come and hang out with all you kids and play, my mom was Nancy and she was on the phone with your mom when she shot Mr. Don. For some reason beyond me, my dad had Don’s bed, large Bison head and some other stuff.I was born in 1961. Sorry about the whole situation.

          • Jodie Sutter says:

            Today I found out that my mom dated Don and my dad Fred Sutter liked her. They got into a huge fight and fired pistols at each other. No one was hurt. My dad was EXECUTOR of Dons will and that is why he had his bed. My cousin slept in that bed and so did I. I am 57 and had no idea about this. My mom was on the phone with his wife when she shot him. Please someone check to see if this is true. I am sure my mom would have been called to testify.
            Nancy Smith or Healy. My dad Fred Sutter. Blessings to all that loved his family.

  • Don A Murphy says:

    I’m Don Murphy’s son Don and 1 of the 5 kids Geneal had…could tell u a lot of stories.

  • Maleahia says:

    Wow, what a horrible story (not story, life events)…. Sympathies Don.

  • Kalli (Murphy) Cropper says:

    I am the oldest biological grandchild of the notorious, Buffalo Don Murphy. Out of 8 children, my father, was his first born and his mom was his first of five tragic marriages. The details depicted in the true story, ‘The Burning Bed’ seemed mild compared to the details my dad and grandma shared with me. The incident of the ‘Burning Bed’ happened in 1977 but it was the incident that took place two years prior in 1975 in which, Don Murphy’s last wife won the first case in the nation for ‘battered wife syndrome’ and pleading ‘temporary insanity’. My dad has a razor sharp memory and he is starting to now open up even more about his childhood. My grandma left and divorced Don Murphy in 1943 when she was pregnant with her second child but the custody order demanded that both boys spend the summers with their father. The true story of the Burning Bed seemed like a PG version of what my dad and my uncle endured those summers. Don Murphy was a sociopath and was deservingly shot and killed 5 times by his last wife. Geneal was a hero on our side of the family. We would very much like to reconnect with the 5 children that my dad, mom and grandparents reached out to save. It was through efforts were made to pick up Geneal and the 5 kids and move them 2 states away in a ‘safe house’ a short time before that fateful day in June 1975. I was almost 5 and I am 45 now. One of the first things I remember my dad teaching me besides how to make a farting sound with my armpit is “The wisest people in life learn from other people’s mistakes”. My dad was and still is wise. He had an almost indescribable childhood but he grew up to be an amazing father that is taking care of my 96 year old grandma, Don Murphy’s first wife. I would love to get to know the 5 children that are all close to my age. We visit my husband’s side of the his family in the Puyallup/Edgewater/Tacoma area about very other year.

    Sincerely,
    Kalli(Murphy)Cropper 928.303.9775/ kallicropper@yahoo.com

  • Kalli (Murphy) Cropper says:

    Typo…shot 5 times and killed

  • Kalli (Murphy) Cropper says:

    Correction: My grandma was Don Murphy’s second wife. My grandma gave me a heart locket Don Murphy gave her when they were dating engraved with their names and the year 1939. The only nice thing I can say about him is that I inherited his red hair. You can’t tell from his black and white pictures, but Don Murphy had dark red hair and 2 generations later…2 of his great granchildren have dark red hair and blue eyes.

  • Beverly Neubauer says:

    I am also a grandchild to Don Murphy, my grandma was his 3rd wife, married in the early 50’s. Last weekend I took my kids and husband to see the “Flying M” ranch and foundation to the house, and tell them the more PG stories that my Mom had told me of her childhood there. It was a little odd to see people out hiking the area for pleasure, with no idea of the history of the property – but it was also nice to see it return to nature, somewhat.
    My Mom always speaks fondly of Geneal, who she knew as her stepmom when she was a young girl. I have all the respect in the world for her, it must have been a terrible decision to make.

    Strange that so many of us have this common history, but haven’t even met each other.
    -Beverly (neverlyb@yahoo.com)

    • dimettler says:

      Hi,
      Sorry for getting back to you so late on this. Thank you for sharing. Would love to talk for a few minutes if you get the chance. Love collection the stories — especially since I’m doing the documentary. I’ll have to go up and see if I can find the foundation.

      • Jodie Sutter says:

        My father and Mr. Don worked together and my cousin worked with Mr. Don at an antique place. I will let my cousin know I found this site. I would come and play with the kids all the time and my favorite thing was an old push button typewriter. My father is Fred Sutter and our old milking farm in Spannay is being turned into a park. My mom’s name is Nancy and she was on the phone with your mom when Mr. Don got shot. For some reason, my dad had pieces of the bed, a big buffalo head. I don’t remember but my mom told me that one time when we were there and a calf had got its head stuck in a barbed wire fence and Mr. Don took a rubber hose and beat the general with it. Mom would not take me back to visit. I do remember it was before the hotel was built (if it ever was built). I have things to say in private so please email me.

  • Nancy Archibeque says:

    I was a live in babysitter in summer of 1972. Took care of the 5 children. Your mother was always nice to me. Your dad was mean I remember. I remember learning to cook Buffalo meat. Dont know if any of you boys remember me.

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