Republished from October 2014.
While a Clallam County medical examiner from the 40’s claims there may be as many as 100 bodies at the bottom of Lake Crescent; 17 miles west of Port Angeles; we know–with reasonable certainty–of a few.
Lake Crescent is rich with enigma from its unfathomable depths to its ice blue color. The surface is beguiling–drawing tourist, fishermen, and adventurers; like any alpine lake in such pristine surroundings.
Its depths seems to draw corpses like a modern Norse funeral grounds.
Legends of the Klallam Tribe describe many who lost their lives therein adding “the lake never gives up her dead”?
That may have been true until the saponified body of Hallie Latham Illingworth floated to the surface in June of 1940.
Hallie; just out of her second failed marriage moved to Washington and found work at the Crescent Lake Tavern, then a tourist lodge on Lake Crescent. There she met a beer truck driver named Montgomery “Monty” J. Illingworth.
Their’s was a whirlwind courtship leading to marriage shortly after meeting. The marriage was more like a tornado. Co-workers recounted stories of Hallie showing up for work with bruises on her neck and, often with black and swollen eyes. They were known for their tumultuous relationship by neighbors who spoke of police often being called to intervene in the stormy relationship.
Hallie failed to show up for work on December 22, 1937. She was last seen by her sister a few days before. After she disappeared she was never heard from again. Monty claimed she ran away with a sailor to Alaska.
Five months later he petitioned the Clallam County court for a divorce claiming “incompatibility”? instead of desertion.
Monty then took up with a rich timber heiress; Elinore Pearson and they moved together to Long Beach, CA. It was there; in 1940, while driving a truck, Monty was arrested and extradited to Clallam County shortly after Hallie bubbled up from the deep.
She was wrapped in blankets tied snugly with a rope. Two brothers fishing on Crescent Lake were aghast when they found her floating in the lake on July 6, 1940.
Later describing their find they said a rip in the blanket exposed an “alabaster shoulder”? a thatch of auburn hair, a garter hanging loosely on the body; still dressed in a green wool dress from J. C. Penny’s.
An autopsy determined the woman had been strangled. Perhaps the hyoid bone was crushed. Her body lay at the morgue 2 months awaiting identification. Finally she was buried in Clallam County cemetery in a pauper’s grave. Only to be dug up twice for further examination and attempts at identification.
Even in its infancy forensic science was all over this one. The Clallam County medical examiner testified at Monty’s trial. His explanation of the process of “saponification”? mesmerized the jury. Concluding his testimony Dr. Charles P. Lawson (Larson) took a bit of flesh from the body and dropped it into a glass of water. It sunk to the bottom immediately. Then, like Ivory soap, it floated back to the top. Saponification is the same process by which soap is made from fats and other chemicals. All present in alkaline-rich depths of Lake Crescent.
Monty’s defense denied this hideous corpse was that of his wife. The final link in the evidence against Monty was Hallie’s dental plate. It was an unusual design, for the times.
Hollis B. Fultz; criminologist with The Washington State Pathologist’s office took pictures of it and published them in regional dental magazines. Finally, a South Dakota dentist saw the dental bridge and recognized it as one he built for Hallie years earlier. The body was officially recognized.
A Clallam County jury deliberated only four hours and convicted Monty on May 4, 1942. He was sentenced to life at Walla Walla but was paroled nine years later returning to California where he lived another 20 years.
Another chilling tale is the one after which “Ambulance Point”? on Lake Crescent is named. The victim of this tragic tale is Ernest Monroe Dahlgren; born December 3, 1903. Dahlgren was a logger in Forks. On August 27, 1956 Dahlgren suffered a broken leg in a tree-felling accident. An ambulance was called out from Port Angeles. The two medics hurried out to Forks and picked up Dahlgren and strapped him to a gurney in the back. Perhaps they were hurrying back to the hospital when the ambulance left the road and plunged into the lake. The two medics were able to escape but Dahlgren; strapped to the gurney, died in the deep.
The Warren Saga
In early July, 1929 Blanch and Russell Warren both became victims of the blue vault. At the time of their disappearance the Warrens lived in a logging camp on the Bogachiel River. Blanch had been in the hospital in Port Angeles for an undisclosed illness. Russell left his two sons; aged 12 and 14 at home, promising to be back in time to celebrate July 4th.
Russell took the 1927 Chevy to pick up Blanch. Before picking her up at the hospital Russell paid off a grocery bill, made a car payment and; perhaps intending to surprise Blanch, Russell bought a new washing machine and loaded it in the car.
Returning home along the 101 –they disappeared. No one ever saw or heard from them again–for 72 years.
Cruel rumors reached the young boys. They were told their parents abandoned them and went off to live a life on their own; free of their dependents. No one could prove any different until April 3, 2002 when the Warren’s 1927 Chevy was found in 170 feet of water off Meldrin Point; near mile marker 223 on U. S. Highway 101.
At first this was not too stunning news to the locals. In the 30’s a band of car thieves were convicted of stealing cars, stripping them, and dumping them in the lake. The bottom is said to be strewn with cars and other accumulated waste such as an old steam shovel used to build the railroad on the north side of the lake.
Bob Caso is the “unsung hero”? who kept the Warren case in the foreground for many years. He said he was motivated because he was “thinking about the children.”? The two boys left home to celebrate the 4th alone.
When he brought the mystery to attention of the (then) new Olympic Park Ranger; Dan Pontbriand; Pontbriand was intrigued. Soon he arranged for an Advanced Dive Team to take up the challenge. The dive team mapped the area where it was presumed the Warren’s Chevy went off the road. Russell’s cap was found shortly after the disappearance. One of the boys identified it as his dad’s.
In 2002 the correct 1927 Chevy was found in 170 feet of water. It was laying on its side with the roof facing down slope. Later; in succeeding dives, human remains were found–matching femur bones. These were later matched with DNA of the grandchildren, showing this was indeed Russell Warren.
Most recent (known) case
The latest tale surrounding body dumps into Lake Crescent is recounted by a convicted serial killer in Alaska who once lived near Neah Bay. Israel Keyes claims to have buried three victims in Washington and submerging two others in lake(s). Keyes lived in Neah Bay prior to 2007, according to statements made in more than six hours of videotaped interviews released to the internet by the FBI. Probing further agents asked why he killed his victims Keyes replied, “Neah Bay’s a boring town”?
When questioned about bodies in lakes Keyes replied, “you guys know about Lake Crescent in Washington don’t you?”?
The interview occurred just hours before Keyes committed suicide in his cell. Authorities believe Keyes’ Neah Bay episode was in 2001; shortly after Keyes left the Army.
Research for this story comes from the book Lady of the Lake by Mavis Amundson. Raymond Chandler of Perry Mason fame also chronicled this story using the same title.
Additional information was gleaned from newspaper accounts appearing in Seattle Post Intelligencer, written by Kristin Dizon