It was Thursday afternoon, June 26, 1913, when Andrew Reinikka, a 27-year old Finnish logger, arrived in Aberdeen from the Warren Brothers logging camp with a check for $105.61 in his pocket and a plan to celebrate Independence Day in big-city style. At that time, logging camps were shut down for the week of Christmas and the week of July 4th to allow the men a chance to spend their hard-earned pay in the stores, saloons and brothels of Grays Harbor — resulting in a twice-a-year cash influx of more than $300,000 to the local economy.
Reinikka’s first stop was Huotari & Company, a Finnish-owned dry goods store on South F Street that cashed checks for millworkers and loggers. Reinikka next went to the neighboring North Pole Saloon where he retrieved the fine suit of clothes he had left for safe keeping, a general practice of the time. The man spiffed himself up and set out to see what Aberdeen had to offer.
Reinikka spent most of the afternoon at the North Pole, buying drinks for himself and others. About 5 p.m. he found himself in The Club saloon and asked the bartender for directions to Mrs. Mary Ranta’s boarding house. John Puro, a fellow logger and Reinikka’s close friend, had recommended that he take a room at Mrs. Ranta’s on Marion Street in South Aberdeen. The bartender called over another Finn, Hjalmar Kuitunen, and asked that he show Reinikka the way. The two had a few more drinks, then bought two bottles of Aberdeen beer and set off toward the Oregon-Washington Railway & Navigation (O-WR&N) bridge that crossed the Chehalis River near the foot of H Street.
The jovial duo arrived at the boarding house shortly after 6 p.m. Kuitunen remained in the kitchen to talk with “Sailor Jack” Axon, a driver at the Aberdeen Lumber & Shingle Co., while Reinikka went into the dining room with Mrs. Ranta to transact their business. Reinikka left $90 with the landlady for safekeeping, pocketing about $20 for the evening’s festivities. He and Kuitunen then headed back across the railroad bridge to continue their evening of carousing in the Saloon District — an area of nearly two dozen saloons located within a one block radius of F and Hume (now State) Streets.
As the evening progressed, the pickled pair made the rounds before ending up at the Royal Saloon at the foot of Heron Street (present-day Zelasko Park) where they found themselves in the company of two Finnish sailors; one, named “Yanka,” was intent on perfecting a perpetual motion machine. The fraternal foursome continued to imbibe, with Reinikka doing most of the buying. As the liquor poured, he bragged loudly of having a large amount of cash.
At about 12:30 a.m., Reinikka bade his companions a good evening and staggered off toward the O-WR&N Bridge and Mrs. Ranta’s boarding house. Kuitunen spent time talking with some off-duty bartenders in the saloon district before retiring to his room above the Huotari & Company store at about 1:15 a.m.
What happened to Reinikka after he left the saloon district on his walk back to the Marion Street boarding house remains a mystery.
It was shortly after 5 a.m. Friday when Joseph Kesy, night watchman at the Donovan Mill No. 2 in South Aberdeen (located in the area of the south ramp of the present Chehalis River Bridge), was making his hourly rounds through the vast alleys of lumber stacked on the dock. Coming around a corner, he could make out a shadowy figure lying prone on the dock. The man was of average height, well-groomed and dressed in a clean suit. He lay with one leg caught under the ankle of the other and one arm under his back. Despite the early hour, the watchman could also see the man was quite dead — his shock of auburn hair speckled with blood. An empty beer bottle lay near the body. Kesy sought out Aberdeen Police Officer S.B. McCracken and a general alarm was issued.
Reinikka’s pockets were emptied of cash, and nothing but a dollar pocket watch and a time book were found on him. County Sheriff Mathews soon arrived with deputies Fitzgerald and Quimby, and a pair of bloodhounds. The dogs were able to track only a short distance south along the railroad right-of-way before losing the scent. Undertaker W.R. Whiteside arrived and took possession of the body at 9:30.
Coroner R.F. Hunter’s autopsy showed that Reinikka had suffered two blows, either of which could have been fatal: one to the back of the right ear at the base of the brain, leaving a three-inch long abrasion, and the other in front of the left ear, nearly on the temple.
Reinikka’s funeral was held at 10 a.m. at the Whiteside chapel on Sunday, June 29, with the Rev. Chas. McDermoth officiating. Interment took place at Fern Hill cemetery. No lodges or close friends of the murdered man were present. The $90 he left with Mrs. Ranta for safekeeping paid for his funeral.
In the months following, numerous theories were floated and leads checked out, but they went nowhere.
A number of sailors were questioned the following day but all were exonerated of involvement.
Suspicion fell on the “foreigners” who lived in shacks along the south waterfront near the railroad bridge but there was no evidence suggesting they were involved.
Aberdeen Police Chief Seaman was under the belief that the murder had occurred elsewhere in the yard and the body moved to the lumber alley.
Perhaps the most sensational supposition came in December from Madame Pearl Tangley, an infamous “seeress” who was making a week-long appearance the Bijou Theater on Heron Street. Mme. Tangley described the murderer of Andrew Reinikka as a “stoop-shouldered, dark complexioned, evil-faced Finn, declared once to have been in business in this city.” No names were mentioned and that lead also went nowhere.
One hundred years later the murder remains an unsolved case with very little, if any, possibility of ever being solved. It can only be assumed that Andrew Reinikka, a relative stranger who had been in town for a very short time, had spoken too openly among strangers about having money, and paid for it with his life.
Roy Vataja is the son of Finnish immigrants and the Grand Lodge Historian for the United Finnish Kaleva Brothers and Sisters.