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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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100 years ago in Spokane: Decade-old murder mystery solved when convict who escaped two federal prisons shot by Spokane fire captain

The shooting of Walter Layman at the hands of a jealous husband in Spokane set in motion an investigation revealed a far deeper mystery – one that “would make a blood-curdling movie thriller look like a mild juvenile play,” said the Spokane Daily Chronicle.

Here’s what investigators discovered after they began looking into the death of Layman, shot in the street by angry fire captain Fred Grant.

In 1907, a gang of “yeggmen” – safe crackers and petty criminals – came into Spokane. Walter Layman, only about 16, was one of them. The gang sent another boy out to beg in the streets, but when he came back, he refused to share the earnings. Members of the gang beat him to death and threw his body in the river. Layman and five or six other gang members were arrested, but for some reason none were convicted.

In 1912, Layman was convicted of counterfeiting, and sentenced to three years in the federal penitentiary at McNeil Island. He escaped from the prison. Three days later a McNeil Island farmer found his hiding place. Despite Layman’s pleas and threats, the farmer turned him in.

Then Layman was sent to the more-secure penitentiary at Leavenworth, Kansas. He escaped again.

He managed to elude a nationwide dragnet. Meanwhile, an odd package arrived at the home of the McNeil Island farmer. It appeared to be a book, but the farmer became suspicious and threw the package into a tub of water. He later discovered the book had been hollowed out and filled with dynamite and dynamite caps.

Suspicion pointed to Layman, but nobody knew where he was — until fire captain Grant confronted Layman in the middle of Washington Street and shot Layman in the back, paralyzing him.

Federal investigators converged on to Spokane to arrest Layman. However, a few days later, the Grim Reaper beat them to the prize.

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