The Murder of Buffalo Don Murphy

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

61 thoughts on “The Murder of Buffalo Don Murphy”

  1. 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

  2. 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.

      1. 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.

        1. 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.

    1. 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. 🙂

      1. 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

      2. 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.

        1. 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.

          1. Hi Diane. My current number is (360) 499-1164. Feel free to call anytime. Hope all is well—–Tom

        2. 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.


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

        4. 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!

        5. 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.

          1. 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.

        6. Cheryl Matthiesen

          Is Don Murphy buried in the Eatonville cemetery this Buffalo Don Murphy? Not sure, but see the stone often, and wonder. I believe the death year on this Eatonville tombstone is 1974.

          1. Cheryl Matthiesen

            The grave is up by those bins of materials the town has, up near the corner where the playground is in the park.

        7. Hi Tom, I am your older half sister, Donna. I would love to hear from you. I tried to call the number you posted but it must have been changed. I have often wondered how you are all doing and even tried to look you up online.
          I have many fond memories of your mother. And you kids as toddlers. General was always so kind to me. I hope you are well and look forward to hearing from you. Best, Donna

          1. Hi Donna. My current phone number is (360) 499-1164. Feel free to call anytime. I hope you are doing well——Tom

    2. Regan Humphreys

      That last child is my mom, she’s 50 now. And I’m 14. My mom has lots of fond memories with her mom. She was young when her Dad passed. But my Uncles, her brothers have horrible memories of her their Dad. He would beat them as-well as her Mom. He wasn’t just cruel to people either, a neighbor dog would come on to his property, he would shoot it. He was crazy.

      1. Fredericka J Graves

        A calf got loose and he pulled her thru the Barb wire fence and beat her with a rubber hose. Scared the crap out of me. He had a bowling league… dad had the bed he was shot in and other things …I think they should have went to the kids.

    1. Hi, Thanks for responding. I can only imagine the stories. I don’t know if my brother was in your class – Lincoln Mettler?

    2. I knew you in Saudi Arabia. I hope you are well and hope to hear from you. Hopefully this will include my email address.

    3. Hi Don, I am Donna, your older half sister. I have wondered how you and your siblings are doing over the years but have never found a way to contact you. I hope you are all doing well. I have fond memories of you kids as toddlers as well as of your mom who was always very kind to me. I managed to escape the ranch when I was 14 and was adopted by my step dad. I grew up in Southern California and have lived in Washington since 1978. I would love to have you contact me. Best, Donna

    4. Fredericka J Graves

      Fred Sutter was my dad. He was in charge of Dons will. My cousin is Mark Sutter. My mom Nancy.. I am Jody Sutter.

      Please email me. I was at your house alot.

  3. Kalli (Murphy) Cropper

    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.

    Kalli(Murphy)Cropper 928.303.9775/ [email protected]

  4. Kalli (Murphy) Cropper

    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.

  5. Beverly Neubauer

    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 ([email protected])

    1. 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.

      1. 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.

  6. 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.

      1. Don almost married my mother .Nancy. My dad Fred Sutter the dynamite guy got into a shootout at the ranch. I was at the ranch several times. Born 1961…I played with you kids. My dad executer of your dad’s will. My mom on the phone when Don was shot with your mom.

  7. I am 68 years old, but I remember in the late 50’s and throughout the 60’s we bought salvaged lumber and windows from Don Murphy for the cabin my dad was building for our family at Salmon Beach. Our family was stunned when we heard of his death, but after hearing of the circumstances surrounding his demise, we were all on your mother’s side! What an ordeal you must have survived as children!

  8. Patricia Humphrey

    I was probably a pre-teen… may have been an early teen at the time… am 65 years old now… Not really sure what summer it was that my mother (Emily (Lee) Curren, at that time), my older sister (Candy Ihara) and I (Patty Ihara) stayed at the Buffalo Murphy Ranch in Eatonville. I remember an Appaloosa gelding (horse) named “Jackson” that he would let us ride. There was also a couple of Arab horses, a white one and a darker one but the darker one not really a kids horse. Also a pony mare that I got to ride as well. All I remember is that the wife had left him with a couple of small boys… but came back… also another daughter from a former wife… I do remember sleeping in the game room under that big buffalo head. I think there was a line of apartments or perhaps the beginning of the hotel at that time on the property. Yes… his house did seem to go on and on… He warned us to stay away from the buffalo as they were pretty unpredictable. I have maintained a “distance” respect for all buffalo throughout my life. As I recall our stay was pretty brief… probably not worth mentioning…


  9. Jody Sutter Graves

    My mother almost married Don. A pistol fight between my would be father and Don over my mother at the ranch witnessed by my cousin. The police were called. Mom did not marry Don.
    I was told as a child that “lucky for you that you did not have red hair”. I visited the ranch many times as a child. He was HUGE but was nice to me and let me play with an old cash register. I played with the kids till one day I saw him beat his wife! A baby buffalo had got thru a hole in the bobbed wire fence and he pulled her through the hole and beat her with a rubber hose. I never went back.
    My mother was on the phone at the bowling alley when his wife shot Don in his bed she told me the story over and over. My father was the executor of Don’s will and my father had many things of Don’s at his home in Oregon. I had no clue till I was in my 20’s that I had slept in the bed at dads home that Don had been shot in.

  10. jennifer black

    I remember an incident regarding Mr. Murphy i witnessed when I was a child. I do not remember what year it was, I was with my father at a junk yard with a tall wooden fence. Mr. Murphy was a very big man, he was holding one of his sons by the arm and was beating him with a rubber bike inner tube outside the fence of the junk yard. It terrified me.

    1. Fredericka J Sutter Graves

      She was on the phone with my mother when she shot him. I went to the ranch many times as a kid. My father and Don had a shoot out over my mother. My cousin witnessed the adults acting like idiots, and she did not marry Don. My father was executer of Dons will and when is was 12 I slept in that bed at my dad’s house….did not know at the time.

    2. Fredericka J Sutter Graves

      Somehow a buffalo calf got thru the barbed wire fence and I saw Don drag his wife thru the fence and beat her. I was in grade school and got to the house and grabbed my mom’s keys and we left. So sad..

  11. My parents house (in Eatonville) was built largely from lumber from Don Murphy’s salvage yard. My dad used to bring beams and lumber home tied to the top of the station wagon. When I was young, we used to sneak people into the rock festival up through the woods (maybe 7th or 8th grade?). Me and my best friend used to go up there and skip school there on a regular basis. They had a pool table there and I loved to play pool so I was always ready to go up there to play pool. One day we were up there playing pool. I had always heard that Don was a difficult person but always thought that he couldn’t be that bad…. So one day as we are there playing pool with Tommy, Donny, Marshal (the youngest) and Geneal all present, Geneal announces that their Dad is home (unexpectedly). Tom, Don and Geneal immediately exit the room, and at the same time I’m thinking again as I look out the window at his truck approaching that he can’ t be that bad (As my friend is telling me, “it’s time to go”.). Now on the floor there was one of those circular rugs that are woven together with different pieces of fabric about 4-5′ in diameter that were popular back then that was laying in front of an oil furnace. Marshal immediately laid down on that rug, pulled his legs up in a fetal position and wet himself. I immediately was like, Yeah, It’s time to go. No too long after that Geneal shot him. I went on to become a firefighter in the Puyallup, South Hill, Spanaway, Parkland, areas and on two occasions at public events Tom walked up to me and introduced himself to me and somehow remembered me from way back then. He seemed to be doing quite well which is impressive considering all he went through in his upbringing. The one thing I’ve always been curious about (after raising 7 children myself) is; What was Don’s parents like?

  12. Regan Humphreys

    The youngest child is my mom, she’s 50 now. And I’m 14. My mom has lots of fond memories with her mom. She was young when her Dad passed. But my Uncles, her brothers have horrible memories of her their Dad. He would beat them as-well as her Mom. He wasn’t just cruel to people either, a neighbor dog would come on to his property, he would shoot it. He was crazy.

    1. Regan Humphreys

      My moms name is Sybil, and my Uncles are Tom, Don, Brian, and Marshall, I never got to meet due to him passing before I was born. When I talk to my mom about this incident, she tells me that her mom was a kind lady. And her Dad could get violent over some of the smallest things.

  13. Regan Humphreys

    My Mom is Geneal and Don’s youngest child. She’s 50 now, and I’m 14. Talking to my mom about this, she tells me how her mom wasn’t a saint but she was a good woman. Reading this article was hard, it says how for years people talked of abuse in the Murphy home. And no one did a thing, Geneal tried to leave multiple times. But Don would find her. And you know what he would do when he found her? Take her home, and beat her, so hard. My mom was still young when this happened but has memories. She remembers how her Mom had gone to court with her Dad, but when they got home she was sent to her room. But she had crawled down the stairs because she heard her Mom crying. And she sees her Dad stomping on Geneal’s head, in his heavy brown cowboy boots, on the hardwood floor. He wouldn’t only take his anger out on Geneal (my grandmother) though, he would beat his sons as well. The smallest things could make him snap with his sons (My Uncles) Tom, Don, Marshall and Brian. My mom was told this one story, where Don took Marshall into the bathroom to pee. But he couldn’t do it, so Don threw him into an empty bath tub and started beating him. I wish I could’ve meant Marshall, he passed before I was born. But my mom says I would’ve loved him. Another story my mom told me, was how neighbor dogs would wander into their property. And he would just shoot them. He was a mad man.

    1. I’m sorry your family had to go through all this. It was definitely a different era, and someone like that hopefully wouldn’t be able to do these things today. Hope your family has been able to heal.

    2. Hey Regan, my name is Penny (Murphy) Kestner. I am Pat and Lyle’s eldest. My dad Lyle, was Donny’s older brother. There are several members of my extended family that would love to contact your uncles. Could you email me? Would really love to make contact with them. [email protected]. Thank you.

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