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Opinion >  Column

100 years ago in Spokane: A doctor’s dangerous radium was still missing after he thought the disappearance had been solved

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

The Mystery of the Missing Radium was not yet solved.

A day earlier, Spokane radium-treatment pioneer Dr. L.L. Stevens had seemingly put an end to the mystery by saying, “I have all of my instruments,” referring to his radium needles.

He later discovered one of his radium needles had been emptied of this expensive and dangerous element.

The needle had been loaned out to Alfred Hubbard, “the inventor of the Hubbard electric generator,” several days earlier. Hubbard was at a loss to explain what happened. He had borrowed several radium needles for experiments in his laboratory and had returned most of them. But he still had one left to return.

“Tuesday night, I hid it under my hunting case,” Hubbard said. “Wednesday, I returned it to Dr. Stevens and he discovered that the needle was empty.”

He said he had been trying, ever since, to figure out how the loss occurred. It had never left his home laboratory, he said.

The loss was estimated at $2,000. The monetary loss was only part of the problem. Today, we know that radium exposure can cause serious medical problems.

From the court beat: Federal Prohibition agent William C. Vest was asked on the stand whether he had killed Ernest Emley, a Keller man whom he believed (apparently mistakenly) to be a bootlegger.

“I may have killed him,” Vest replied. “I do not know. I shot two times at the car.”

The shooting outraged Keller residents, who believed the gunfire was unprovoked. Another officer at the scene reported that after the shooting there was “much murmuring among people at Keller of mobbing and lynching.”

Vest had already been tried once on manslaughter charges, but that trial ended in a hung jury. The prosecution produced several new witnesses for the second trial.

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