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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

100 years ago in Spokane: Santa delivers a gift for police – a serial safe-cracker

Dec. 26, 2021 Updated Sun., Dec. 26, 2021 at 4:23 p.m.

By Jim Kershner For The Spokesman-Review

A “rosy-faced youth” named William Short was arrested on Christmas Day, on suspicion of being the elusive “eel” who had gone on an unprecedented safe-cracking spree in Spokane.

Police said he had cracked 27 safes in Spokane during the previous five weeks. His luck ran out with the last one.

A detective spotted him at work at the B.G. Ewing warehouse, “leisurely knocking the knob from the safe.” Police surrounded the building. When they entered, Short went into hiding. Police had to search for an hour before they found Short lying prone on a beam, high above the second floor.

Short told police he did it because he “had to eat.” But he admitted he “shouldn’t have worked Christmas.”

Back at headquarters, Short told them the whole story. He said he got the idea from a movie. He was at the Unique Theater and saw “a man knocking a knob off a safe and decided to try it.” He acquired a small sledgehammer, an ax, and two bolts and soon became an expert.

He seemed unconcerned by his arrest, yawning repeatedly and at one point asking for a cigarette. He later he led officers to a shack at Calispel and Washington streets, where he had been “batching,” and turned over much of the plunder he had taken.

He told officers that he was 16 and a native of Spokane. Police believed he was actually older, and booked him as a 21-year-old adult.

The detective who caught him had been frustrated for weeks by the spate of safe burglaries. He told reporters that William Short was “the best thing that Santa Claus put in my stocking.”

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