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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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100 years ago in Spokane: Public safety commissioner lays out motive theory in strychnine killing

The commissioner of public safety rolled out his theory of motive in the case of the strychnine death of Rosie Kempf, The Spokesman-Review reported on Jan. 4, 1919. (Spokesman-Review archives)
The commissioner of public safety rolled out his theory of motive in the case of the strychnine death of Rosie Kempf, The Spokesman-Review reported on Jan. 4, 1919. (Spokesman-Review archives)

Spokane’s commissioner of public safety John H. Tilsley laid out the case against H.M. Delaney – and now it was up the county prosecutor to make a decision about charges.

Tilsley’s typewritten report contained these points:

    Delaney tried hard to win over Rosie Kempf, but she was already engaged to U.S. Navy sailor Karl Reiniger. She refused to take Delaney seriously, and had plans to marry Reiniger on Jan. 2.

    Delaney forged a letter with her signature, intended to “make the dead girl’s family believe that she cared for him.”

    Delaney purchased a box of candy and gave it to Kempf. It was believed to be laced with strychnine.

    Delaney threw the box into the wood stove after her death. Later, he produced another box of candy, uncontaminated, which he claimed was the original box.

    A man fitting Delaney’s description tried to purchase a stomach pump after her death, but before her autopsy. Delaney, who had training as an undertaker, may have intended to pump her stomach and remove the evidence of poisoning.

Tilsley said Delaney knew that her sailor fiance was coming to Spokane for the wedding, and “it is our theory that rather than see the sailor win, Delaney put the girl out of the way.”

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