‘Roving eye’ helped jury convict killer
The grisly hatchet murders in a tiny home on East Sprague Avenue in 1944 led to a young man’s death on the gallows in Walla Walla.
More than 60 years later, Woodrow Wilson “Whitey” Clark remains the 10th and last convicted Spokane killer to be executed in Washington.
Clark was 30 when he died for the murders of T.P. Dillon, 38, owner of a sign shop, his wife, Flora Gertrude Dillon, and Jane Staples, 26. Frank Stanish Winnett received nine skull fractures but survived.
Police first focused on Staples’ husband, Charles Staples, 55, who was described by authorities as a known communist who may have been angry at his wife’s marital indiscretions.
But Clark, a drifter from Maine who hung around seedy East Sprague taverns, soon was arrested and signed a confession, although he said it was forced during an all-night interrogation.
“The stood over me and showed how the bodies lay on the bed and how I had hacked them and then hacked Winnett in the chair,” Clark told jurors. “I kept denying it, but they kept telling me I was lying.”
He told jurors he’d left the small shack in back of the Dillon Sign Shop before the hatchet-toting slayer arrived on Jan. 15, 1944. But two Spokesman-Review paperboys said they saw Clark wearing a bloody sweatshirt walking east on Riverside Avenue at Crestline Street on the night of the murders. Prosecutors said that same sweatshirt was found rolled up in blood-stained clothes on the bed where the bodies were found. They believed Clark had returned to the scene to remove the shirt after talking to the boys.
Jurors acknowledged doubts in the prosecution’s case but said Clark’s own testimony and demeanor convinced them that he went on a murderous rampage after Dillon thwarted his attempted rape of Staples.
“The jury noticed Clark’s roving eye when a pretty woman entered the courtroom,” one juror said.
Clark was convicted of the Dillon murders but never tried for Staples’ death.
He appeared “almost stunned” by the verdict, according to a March 20, 1944, article.
He was hanged at the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla on Feb. 4, 1946.