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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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100 years ago in Spokane: ‘Drowned’ man located hiding out in remote cabin

William Vane, a wanted man, was arrested in a remote cabin, putting the lie to the “desperate hoax” that he had drowned. (Spokesman-Review archives)
William Vane, a wanted man, was arrested in a remote cabin, putting the lie to the “desperate hoax” that he had drowned. (Spokesman-Review archives)

William Vane was arrested in a remote cabin at Bead Lake – which once and for all proved that his “drowning” in the Pend Oreille River had been a desperate hoax.

Vane had disappeared nine days earlier while he was out on bond, pending an appeal of a federal court conviction for robbing a stagecoach. Two Newport men claimed that they had been rowing him across the Pend Oreille River when the boat hit a log and Vane fell out and drowned. One of the men later confessed that it was all a hoax dreamed up by Vane.

Federal officers launched a massive search of the area around Newport. They learned that one of Vane’s friends, Percy Ellis, had a cabin near Bead Lake. As they approached the cabin, they found Ellis standing guard in the woods with a rifle.

The officers overpowered Ellis and ordered him to take them to the cabin. When Ellis unlocked the door, officers found Vane asleep on the bed. Vane had a rifle “at full cock” and a pistol with him on the bed, but he was apprehended before he had time to grab them.

Vane had shaved off his mustache, “darkened his skin and donned a wig to appear like an Indian.” Vane later told officers that he had been wandering in the woods and “subsisting as best he could” since the faked drowning, but the “weather was against him.” He became exhausted and made his way to the Ellis cabin not long before the officers arrived. Officers described the site as “a long ride by sleigh through wilderness.”

Vane was taken to the Newport City Jail and arrested on a charge of attempting to defraud the government of $25,000 in bond money. This was added to the other charges against him. A federal prosecutor said that he was also suspected of robbing Great Northern boxcars and establishing a “red light community” across the state border from Newport.

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