Washingtonian — 100 years ago

Editor’s note: The following accounts from the Washingtonian have been condensed from the originals.

April 17, 1913


Fiend may also have fallen in battle

Fiend of the woods is murderer of six

Tornow’s victims

Sept. 2, 1911 — John and Will Baer, hermits twin nephews.

March, 1912 — Deputy Sheriff Colin McKenzie and Deputy Sheriff A. V. Elmer.

April 16, 1913 — Deputy Sheriff Louis Blair and Deputy Sheriff Charles Lathrop.

Six murders in two years are now charged to John Tornow, mad hermit of the Wynoochee and Satsop valleys, the terror of the wilds of Chehalis County, and for nearly two years pursued by officers of the law to answer for the greatest crime — the taking of human life. These six murders occurred in pairs and the entire Northwest stands aghast at the fearful death toll of this terrible mad man.

For more than three years Tornow has made his home in the woods north of Grays Harbor, than which there is little wilder country to be found. He went into the woods after he had escaped from a sanitarium in Portland, where he had been placed by relatives for treatment for mental affection. He had made his way all the way from Portland to the Tornow home on the Satsop River, on foot, covering the distance in an incredibly short time. In the woods he subsisted as best he could, coming out only once in a great while and stopping then at the ranch of a sister and her husband, Mr. and Mrs. Will Baer, about 10 miles north of Satsop. He went to the woods to live, he declared, because he wanted to be away from people.

September 2, 1911, John and Will Bauer, 18-year-old nephews of Tornow, went bear hunting. When they did not return at night a posse was organized, the officers were notified and search for the missing youths was begun. Late the next day their bodies were found about one and a half miles from their home, buried under a few inches of dirt, leaves and sticks. Both had been shot as they stood on a log but a few yards from a shack Tornow had been occupying and near which he had been smoking the meat of a cow he had killed, apparently to prepare his winter’s supply of food.

One of the twins had been shot through the body and apparently almost instantly killed. The other had apparently been shot as he turned in the direction of the first shot. The murderer’s first bullet in his second victim did not kill, for a second had been fired into his body at close range.

Immediately two posses were organized by Sheriff Ed. Payette, one being headed by Deputy Colin McKenzie. For months the woods were searched for traces of the fugitive mad man. Occasionally an old abandoned camp would be found, but Tornow could not be located. So the fall passed. The heavy snows of the winter drove the men out of the woods and Tornow was left to roam the wilds alone.

Finally, in March, 1912, Louis Blair and John Larson, who were trapping on the upper Wynoochee, having their camp in the Oxbow, found where an elk had been killed by someone, and a large part of the meat striped from the bones of the animal. Believing the hunter must be Tornow, the two men hurried to Montesano and notified Sheriff Payette. At once Deputies McKenzie and Elmer, who had been the most persistent men in the hunt for Tornow, left for the Oxbow, being accompanied by Blair.

The two officers made their headquarters in the Blair cabin. They found the carcass of the elk and soon located the only hard wood in the vicinity, and decided Tornow had taken the meat there to smoke it. One morning they started out to scout this patch of hard wood. They left their bloodhound shut up at camp and took only a small package of raisins as food. When they did not return when expected, Blair became worried. Late in the day the hound, uneasy for several hours, broke away and ran off on the trail of the officers. After being gone a short time he returned, apparently satisfied. Believing from the action of the dog and the fact that the two men were long overdue that they had fallen victims of Tornow, Blair hurried to Montesano and notified Payette. A posse was organized and after arriving at Blair’s cabin had no difficulty in finding the spot where McKenzie and Elmer met their deaths, and where their bodies were buried, almost at the place where they fell, under a few inches of dirt and laid in the form of a “T”. Elmer, evidently slain first, had been fatally shot through the body. McKenzie, whose face showed terrible suffering, probably caused by torture or the tormenting of the devil who had done for him, was shot twice, the first bullet apparently breaking his right shoulder. The other bullet, apparently from the officer’s own rifle, had been fired into his back and ranged downward to his right side.

Again a posse took up the hunt for the mad hermit, now with the blood of four men on his hands, and this time one of the men in the pursuit was Blair. In every posse on the trail of Tornow since that time Blair was to be found. He was a splendid woodsman, knew the country thoroughly, was fearless and had an ever-foremost desire to help to capture the then four times murderer. He sought the hermit high and low, hither and yon, often crossing the trail of his quarry but always just a little time too late. Finally — yesterday morning — he came upon the man he sought, only to lose his own life in the test.



Dead body found near those of victims

Terror of Woods is shot twice; instantly killed

John Tornow, the terror of the forests and hills of Chehalis county, is no more, and a great sigh of relief will go up from the people of Southwest Washington.

As foreshadowed in The Washingtonian yesterday morning, it was a bullet from the rifle of Deputy Sheriff Quimby which laid the outlaw low, but not until he had taken another fearful toll and added two more men to his list of victims.

The sheriff’s posse, which Wednesday night took the trail at the call of Quimby, yesterday found the dead body of Tornow at the foot of a hemlock tree, near the Oxbow, which has been the scene of two awful tragedies in which five men lost their lives. Tornow had been shot twice through the head and either one of the wounds was sufficient to have killed an ordinary man instantly, and that two shots were required to kill him proves the wonderful vitality possessed by the man.

Within ten feet of the dead outlaw lay the bodies of Louis Blair and Charles Lathrop, cold in death. Blair had been shot three times and Lathrop twice.

After the finding of the bodies at noon yesterday, three of the posse immediately started on the ten-mile walk to Simpson’s Logging Camp No. 5, and at 9 o’clock last night they telephoned the grewsome facts to the sheriff’s office at Montesano.

The bodies lie in a wild and rugged spot, so inacessible that a trail will have to be constructed in order to bring them out. Simpson’s Camp 5 has been shut down and every man employed there is now at work cutting a trail to the scene of the tragedy, in order that the bodies may be brought to the camp, where automobiles are in waiting. This is a task of such magnitude that it is not likely the remains of the men will be out before late tonight or early tomorrow morning.

All three bodies will be conveyed to Montesano, and from there the remains of Blair will be taken to Centralia, where his parents live, and those of Lathrop to his former home in Shelton. The county will probably bury the body of Tornow at Montesano, or it may be taken by his sister and buried at Satsop, where he lived before he started upon his lurid career of crime.

The news of the tragedy is given by Quimby, the brave deputy who shot Tornow, and the sole survivor, and is sensational in the extreme. He had been left in charge of the county camp by Sheriff Mathews, who had been compelled to return to Montesano. Blair and Lathrop were not regularly enlisted in the sheriff’s party, but when he left he employed and deputized them.

Quimby and the two men were out scouting when late Wednesday afternoon they stumbled across the carcass of an elk. The animal had evidently been killed about a week ago. At once their suspicions were excited, said Quimby, and they began to press on the trail. They finally came to the shore of a small lake. There in the snow they saw the imprint of a calked boot. A glance around the place showed a rude log wickiup about 30 rods away.

Quimby at once advised caution. He proposed that the three scatter and approach the hut from as many different directions. He said that Blair and Lathrop did not believe there was any danger and declined to follow this advice. They started to walk boldly toward the hut, holding their guns loosely in their hands. Quimby started around the cabin. He had gone but a little distance when he heard the crack of a pistol. Glancing quickly around, he saw Blair fall, while behind a hemlock tree not more than eight feet away from the dying man, he saw the head of a man. Again the pistol cracked while Quimby watched, and this time Lathrop fell. Neither had an opportunity to utter a cry.

Quimby threw his rifle to his shoulder and watched the tree. Every now and then he could see a man’s head emerge from behind the tree, while again the deadly pistol cracked. Tornow was pouring shot after shot into the prostrate figures on the ground before him and almost at his feet.

After the first shot Quimby threw his rifle to his shoulder and opened fire on the head. He fired every time the man’s head emerged. At the seventh shot, the last in his rifle magazine, Quimby says he saw Tornow’s head drop to one side. Then there were no more shots from behind the tree. Quimby could not tell whether Tornow had been hit and waited for 15 minutes. There were no signs of life from the tree and Blair and Lathrop did not stir. He was convinced they were dead.

Their dogs came up sniffed around the bodies and at the tree and set up a dismal howling. Quimby began to back away from the scene, not being sure but that Tornow was employing some ruse. He took the trail for Camp No. 5 and made all possible speed.

From Camp 5 Quimby telephoned the dire news to Sheriff Mathews at Montesano, who, after notifyihng Coroner Hunter of Hoquiam, immediately organized a posse and started for the woods and to meet Quimby. The sheriff had a look of grim determination on his face and said he would bring back Tornow or he would never return alive himself.

Included in the posse were Deputies Quimby, A. L. Fitzgerald, Con Elliott, Frank Cole, Fred Robinson, Fred Brotherson, a Hoquiam policeman, and accompanying was Dan Cloud, Montesano correspondent of The Washingtonian.

Elliott, Fitzgerald and Joe Searles of Aberdeen left at 10:30 Wednesday night, and at the same time Coroner R. F. Hunter, Gene McGillicuddy, Officer Brotherson and Undertaker Whiteside left in an automobile. With this party was C. H. Packard of The Washingtonian staff. Most of these men are expected to return to the Harbor some time today.

This brings to an end the most exciting chapter in the history of Chehalis county and, with the exception of the Tracy episode of a dozen years ago, the most sensational in the annals of Washington. Everybody is glad that Tornow is dead and that he met his just deserts, while a wave of sympathy and sorrow goes forth at the fate of the brave men whose lives were sacrificed on the altar of the outlaw’s inhumanity and ferocity.