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Opinion >  Column

100 years ago in Spokane: A well-digger had a sad encounter with ‘the mystery man of the woods’ south of town

 (Spokane Daily Chronicle archives)
(Spokane Daily Chronicle archives)

W.H. Collins related a bizarre story about his “weird” encounter with Gottfried Jenne, “the mystery man of the woods.”

Jenne was a hermit who lived in a rude camp about 7 miles south of Spokane. This “brush man” had been an object of conjecture for years.

Collins said he was digging a well in the vicinity when the “mystery man” suddenly appeared on the rim of the well above him and started talking urgently to him in German and broken English.

“I finally made out that he wanted me to kill him,” Collins said. “It sounded funny.”

Collins decided he should play along. He followed Jenne to his squalid camp, which consisted of little more than a pup tent, washtub and motley assortment of pots and pans.

“He appeared very downhearted,” Collins said. “He sat down on the edge of his bed and told me again that he wanted me to kill him. He didn’t have any weapons. As payment for my killing him, he was going to give a little book (that) had the appearance of a pocket Testament. … I asked him to let me see the book, but he wouldn’t give it to me. He wanted me to kill him first.”

By this time, Collins was thoroughly spooked and figured the wisest option was to just “beat it.” He ran out of the camp and didn’t stop for a long while.

Collins contacted police several days later, after Jenne crept up near the well and ran off with Collins’ lunch.

Collins led police to the hermit’s camp, where they arrested him and took him to the county jail. Police noted that Jenne had apparently occupied his time uprooting small dead pine trees and piling them in stacks two feet high. There was one such stack every 10 yards over an area of several hundred acres.

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