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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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100 years ago today in Spokane: Elaborate hoax or drowning tragedy? Case of Newport man’s death a mystery

From the Jan. 15, 1919 Spokane Daily Chronicle (SR)
From the Jan. 15, 1919 Spokane Daily Chronicle (SR)

Did William Vane drown after falling out of a rowboat on the Pend Oreille River?

Or was it all an elaborate hoax designed to wriggle out of a larceny conviction and recover his $25,000 bond?

Vane, a wealthy Newport man, was free on bond, pending sentencing on several larceny charges. He allegedly tumbled out of a rowboat in the middle of the river after the boat hit a log. No corpse had been recovered.

Now, however, Howard Kessler, one of the men allegedly rowing the boat, confessed to federal authorities that the entire story was a hoax. He, Vane and another Newport man staged the incident. On shore, Vane “walked backward from the boat to the road,” making it look like he walked to the boat, but never returned. Then Vane “made his getaway” and disappeared.

Vane’s hope was that his “death” would enable the bondsman to recover the $25,000 bond and return most of it to Vane. Kessler said that Vane promised to give him a farm near Newport as payment for participating in the fraud.

No trace of Vane, alive or dead, had yet turned up.

From the labor beat: A Bolshevik-style council of “soldiers, sailors and workmen” was proposed in a meeting of several hundred socialists and Wobblies at Spokane’s Socialist Hall.

The proposal was “enthusiastically applauded, and probably would have carried, had not the proposal been ruled out of order.”

From the court beat: H.M. Delaney was formally charged with forging a bad check – but he was not charged with the strychnine murder of Rosa Kempf.

The latter charge was still a possibility, apparently, because the case was still being investigated, said authorities.

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