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.
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.
On 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.
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