this day in crime history: november 11, 1919

AmLeg

On this date 1919, four members of the American Legion were shot and killed during an Armistice Day parade in Centralia, WA. The men were shot by members of the Industrial Workers of the World, also known as the Wobblies.

The incident started when members of a local Legion post passed in front of the Wobblies’ union hall in Centralia. Legion post commander Warren Grimm was shot in the chest by a Wobbly sniper. Legionnaire Arthur McElfresh was next, shot in head by a rifle from long distance. At that point, Legionnaires stormed the Wobbly building. Legionnaires Ben Cassagranda and Dale Hubbard were killed by armed Wobblies after they moved on the union hall. Five more Legionnaires were injured. A number of Wobblies inside the building were captured and turned over to law enforcement.

That night, a crowd stormed the local jail and took IWW member Wesley Everest from his cell. They brought him to the Chehalis River Bridge and lynched him. This, and other actions by vigilantes, led to the governor sending the National Guard to Centralia to quell the unrest.

There are two versions of how the shooting started. The Legionnaires claimed that they stormed the Wobbly hall after Grimm and McElfresh were shot in the street. The Wobblies claimed they did not open fire until after the Legionnaires stormed the hall. They had only armed themselves in self defense after multiple attacks on IWW members in the months leading up to the incident. But the first two men killed were shot at long range with rifles. The blood trails from both men indicated they were shot while standing in the street, over 100 feet from the Wobbly hall.

A trial was eventually held in Montesano, WA. Seven Wobblies were convicted of second degree murder. They received prison sentences of 25-40 years. Six of the men were paroled in 1931 and 1932. The seventh was paroled in 1939. No one was ever charged with the murder of Wesley Everest.

Further reading:

Wikipedia – Centralia Massacre (Washington)

University of Washington – Essay: The Centralia Massacre

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4 thoughts on “this day in crime history: november 11, 1919

  1. John D.:
    Now THAT is a really interesting story.
    And in Washington state, ni less…
    This is the kind of thing you’d most likely hear about on the east coast.

    Good post.

    Stay safe out there.

    Like

  2. During the early 1900s, there was a lot of labor unrest (usually IWW-inspired) in the West. The murder of former Idaho Governor Steunenberg in 1905 and the LA Times bombing in 1910 are the most prominent examples. Most of the unrest was in the mining and railroad industries.
    The 1919 Centralia killings were one of the catalysts of the Palmer raids (The main catalyst was when anarchists blew up Palmer’s house with him and his family in it.), which were orchestrated by a young J. Edgar Hoover. In fact, you could say that without the Wobblies and anarchists, Hoover might have stayed a star yes-man in the Justice Department and the FBI might have remained a corrupt political detective agency whose main job was supplying bootleg booze to Congress and the White House.
    Life is funny.

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    • Hoover knew how to get publicity and use it to his advantage. If the Palmer raids made him a star, Dillinger and the Depression-era public enemies made him a superstar. The man was a highly skilled opportunist.

      Like

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