Murder, conspiracy and a manhunt that led law enforcement all through the Olympic foothills. So goes the story of John Tornow, the renowned murderer and fugitive who died on this day 100 years ago. But this year the Tornow Memorial Committee isn’t memorializing the outlaw — they’re honoring his victims.
According to committee member Bill Lindstrom, Tornow’s six victims have never been memorialized. The committee has been working for about two years to put together a monument, which will be unveiled at Tornow’s former campsite on Saturday.
“Our mission is to let people know that we haven’t forgotten about these victims,” Lindstrom said.
Although Lindstrom is originally from California, he has a fascination with the local tale. He even wrote a chapter about Tornow for “On the Harbor,” a collection of stories about Gray’s Harbor edited by former Daily World editor and publisher John Hughes.
Lindstrom said Tornow lived much of his life as a outcast. He developed black measles as a child, which left him with a severe lisp. He lived off the land in the Olympic foothills, becoming an expert marksman, hunter and trapper.
His life as an outlaw began Sept. 3, 1911, when he shot and killed his twin nephews, William and John Bauer. The boys had been sent by their father to hunt a bear that had killed one of the family’s cows. The boys saw movement in the woods, and thinking it was the bear, fired their guns. Tornow, thinking someone was after him, shot and killed the twins.
Tornow buried the boys in a shallow grave and fled into the woods. A 19-month manhunt followed.
“There are stories that he was seen here, there and everywhere,” Lindstrom said. “One person said he was spotted near Port Angeles on the same day someone else said he was in Chehalis. So it’s hard to know where he was.”
Authorities went looking for him again in March of 1912 after the thaw. But, Tornow found Alvah Elmer, a game warden, and Colin McKenzie, a sheriff’s deputy first. He shot and killed the men, taking their clothing, watches and weapons. He took refuge in the woods near Matlock, where people offered him food and supplies in exchange for any game he could kill.
In April of 1913, Sheriff Schelle Mathews was on the train to Tacoma when a citizen claimed he knew Tornow’s whereabouts. Mathews contacted his deputy, Giles Quimby, and told him to wait to go after Tornow. But Quimby disobeyed Mathew’s orders. He took two other duputies, Charles Lathrop and Louis Blair, to kill the fugitive and collect the $4,000 bounty.
Lathrop and Blaire were quickly killed by Tornow while Quimby hid out of sight. Quimby fired upon Tornow several times before fatally hitting him in the throat.
Tornow lay in a grave marked only by a broken rock and a coffee can until 1988 when Aberdeen resident Marty Schmid funded a grave marker bearing the inscription, “From loner, to outcast, to fugitive.” Lindstrom said 300 people attended the dedication ceremony.
“It’s a wildly popular story,” Lindstrom said. “It’s a story that so many people have grown up with. It’s been passed down from generation to generation.”
And the story has generated a lot of conspiracy, Lindstrom said. He’s heard some people say that the Bauer twins’ father killed the boys himself because he was jealous that Tornow had taught them to hunt. Most people believe that Tornow wasn’t mean-spirited — he killed his nephews by mistake and killed the others in self-defense.
Justin Madanifard, chairman of the Tornow Memorial Committee, said the conspiracy is part of what fascinates him. Madanifard grew up in Olympia and first heard the Tornow story as a teenager.
“I’ve always been fascinated with history — especially local history,” Madanifard said. “The Tornow manhunt was a big to-do at the time, and there’s no solid evidence about who he actually killed. Especially the Bauer twins. He may not have killed them at all.”
He said the best part of the story is that no one will ever know what truly happened. The fun of telling and re-telling the story is in the ability to speculate.
Lindstrom said the comittee members feel Tornow has been memorialized enough — the story itself is a memorial. So in 2011, they started the process of creating a victims’ memorial.
Green Diamond Resource Company allowed the committee access to Tornow’s former campsite. ProBuild, a construction supply company in Shelton, dontated concrete for the project. Rudy Mackiewicz, a Shelton High School student, cleared a trail to the memorial as part of his Eagle Scout project. The final product is a stone and concrete structure fitted with plaques bearing the names of Tornow, the Bauer twins, Elmer, McKenzie, Blair and Lathrop.
Memorial attendees will meet in the Montesano High School parking lot at 12:30 p.m. to carpool to the site. The ceremony will take place at 2 p.m. For more information about the event, visit www.johntornowoutlaw.simplesite.com.