With more than 5,000 surface acres, Lake Crescent, on Washington state’s Olympic Peninsula, is a body of deep blue water that has always been popular with campers, fishermen, and boaters. The lake’s water is exceptionally clear, caused by a lack of nitrogen, which inhibits the growth of algae.
Before highways were built in the area in the early 1920s, Lake Crescent was used as a route from Port Townsend into the northwestern part of the Olympic Peninsula, and ferries and steamboats were used to transport passengers and freight. Several lodges and campgrounds at the lake welcome visitors from around the world. But the lake’s beauty can also be mysterious and deadly.
Way back on July 3, 1929, a local couple named Russell and Blanch Warren disappeared while driving near the lake. Blanch Warren had just been released from the hospital in Port Angeles, and the couple was on their way home to a logging camp on the Bogachiel River near Forks. Earlier in the day, they had purchased a new washing machine and loaded it into their 1927 Chevrolet.
They never arrived home, and speculation at the time was that the Warrens had missed a curve on the winding road around the lake and drowned. The only clues searchers could find were a cap identified as Russell’s and a visor from a Chevrolet.
The Warrens left behind two sons, Charles, who was 11 at the time, and Frank, who was 13. Both have since died. Ironically, Charles Warren drowned in 1964 in a fishing accident off the California coast, and his body was never recovered. In another eerie twist, Blanch Warren’s father, John Francis “Frank” Rhone, had also vanished in the summer of 1905, at the age of 34, never to be seen or heard from again.
Years after the Warrens disappeared, local historian Bob Caso brought the long forgotten mystery to light, and in 2002, a team of volunteers using high tech underwater search equipment located the Warrens’ car at a depth of over 170 feet below the surface of the lake, about four miles west of Barnes Point, near Milepost 223 on U.S. Highway 101. They reported that the car was resting on its left side and tilting downward on a steep slope, and was remarkably intact.
No human remains were recovered, but family members said that they were comforted just knowing the young couple’s fate. “Blanch and Russell Warren have been resting here comfortably in the lake for the last 72 years, and I almost feel like we’re disturbing them by going down there. This is a gravesite, a special place,” Park Ranger Dan Pontbriand told a Seattle television station at the time the car was found.
Another deadly story associated with Lake Crescent started in 1940 when the body of a woman named Hallie Latham Illingworth, of nearby Port Angeles, popped to the surface. Mrs. Illingworth had gone missing shortly before Christmas, in 1937.
Suspicion had immediately fallen on her husband Monty, a known womanizer who was reported to have abused his wife in the past. Police had responded to the couple’s home for domestic violence complaints, and coworkers recalled that Hallie Illingworth sometimes showed up for work with noticeable bruises and black eyes. Monty told everyone his wife had left him and moved away, and with no body or other evidence to back up their suspicions, police could not do anything.
Hallie’s body had been hogtied and wrapped in blankets, and an autopsy revealed that she had been strangled. To add an even more bizarre twist to the story, newspapers reported that instead of decomposing in the lake’s cold, highly mineralized deep water, the woman’s body had undergone a strange chemical transformation known as saponification and turned into a soap-like substance. She was identified through a dental plate, and the police immediately began searching for her husband.
He was located in Long Beach, California and extradited back to Washington, where he was tried for Hallie’s murder. It took a jury just four hours to convict him, and he was sentenced to life in prison. After just nine years, Monty Illingworth was paroled in 1951. He returned to southern California, where he died in Los Alamitos in 1974.
Driving past Lake Crescent on U.S. Highway 101, with its many twists and turns as it hugs the shoreline, one cannot help but wonder what other mysteries might still be hidden beneath all of that beautiful blue water, just waiting to be discovered.
Be sure to enter our latest Free Drawing. This week’s prize is an audiobook of Birdsongs, the first book in my friend Jason Deas’ excellent Benny James mystery series. To enter, all you have to do is click on this Free Drawing link or the tab at the top of this page and enter your name 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 Sunday evening.
Thought For The Day – Me: “Alexa what’s the weather this weekend?” Alexa: “It doesn’t matter, you’re not going anywhere.”