I am no kind of hero, and though people who know me might disagree, for the most part I’m relatively sane and mentally stable. But there have been times and places in my life when things happened that that gave me the heebie-jeebies and made my skin crawl. Let me tell you about one of them.
Toward the end of the 1970s I moved to Aberdeen, Washington, where I started my first newspaper. Located at the bottom of the Olympic Peninsula, Aberdeen is on Grays Harbor, the biggest natural harbor north of San Francisco. While things aren’t quite as busy as they were back in the old days, it is still an important shipping port. Surrounded by beautiful, heavily timbered country and only a few miles from the Pacific Ocean, ships from all over the world stopped in Aberdeen to unload cargo destined for places further inland, and to take on loads of milled lumber or freshly cut logs.
As with any busy port, Grays Harbor attracted all manner of people, some hard-working folks who decided to stay and helped the twin towns of Aberdeen and Hoquiam grow, as well as plenty of shady characters. Gamblers, pimps, prostitutes, and thugs were attracted by the lure of easy money to be made or taken from sailors who were looking for a good time before their ship set up to sea again. Some of those seamen never made it back to their ships.
At one time, back in the early 1900s, Aberdeen was known as the Port of Missing Men, due to a serial killer named Billy Gohl. Billy had wandered around the country causing mayhem wherever he went before he finally settled in Grays Harbor, where he found a position as an official from the Seamen’s Union. He also opened a saloon, complete with prostitute cribs on the second floor. When a ship would come into port the sailors would head for the union hall to pick up their mail, send money home, or possibly inquire about signing on to a different ship if they didn’t like the one they had been on. By all accounts Billy was an affable fellow who enjoyed chatting with the sailors. And he always suggested that they have a few drinks, or maybe visit one of the ladies working upstairs.
But his friendly greetings hid a much darker side of Billy. If he learned that a sailor didn’t have any family waiting for him at home, or just that he had a pocket full of money, Billy would sometime shoot them or knock them in the head and drop their bodies through a trapdoor to a tunnel that ran to the nearby Wishkah River. The river, in turn, emptied into the harbor no more than 100 yards away.
Nobody knows for sure how many men Billy did away with in that manner, but estimates have run to well over 100, and some as high as 200. His crimes were eventually discovered and he was brought to justice in 1910, sentenced to life in prison. He died in a facility for the criminally insane in 1927.
Back in the late 1970s, I purchased the building that was once Billy Gohl’s saloon and ran my newspaper from there. You know that old saying, “if these walls could talk”? I’m not a person who fears things that go bump in the night, but there were times when I was working there late at night that things gave me goosebumps.
More than once I was there long past midnight getting a new issue of the paper ready to go to press and heard strange sounds even though I knew I was alone. It was also not uncommon to hear footsteps from upstairs, which was unoccupied. Once a police officer friend of mine was there and heard them, too. With guns drawn, we went upstairs together to investigate, but there was nobody there. Were those sounds real or something just imagined? To this day, I do not know.
The fabled trap door which supposedly led to a tunnel connected to the river, which was just across a side street, was still in the floor. Local lore said that was how the bodies were disposed of, dropped in the river on an outgoing tide. Once my cop friend and I opened the trap door and there was a crude wooden ladder with rotted steps nailed to one side. That’s all I needed to see and I had no interest in exploring further. Now I wonder what we might have found.
Here is a Wikipedia article about Billy Gohl with more of his backstory https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Billy_Gohl and a link to a second story about his crimes http://weekinweird.com/…/02/ghosts-ghoul-grays-harbor/…
Today is your last chance to enter our Free Drawing for an audiobook of Badge Bunny, the third book in my John Lee Quarrels mystery series. To enter, click on this Free Drawing link or the tab at the top of this page and enter your name (first and last) in the comments section at the bottom of that page (not this one). Only one entry per person per drawing please, and you must enter with your real name. To prevent spam or multiple entries, the names of cartoon or movie characters are not allowed. The winner will be drawn this evening.
Thought For The Day – Since my diet is not working out, I’m going to try to get taller.