Whatcom County’s twisted history comes to life in new book

by Steve Guntli

Edward Gaultier was a mild-mannered shoemaker, until his wife’s constant infidelity drove him to murder. Samuel Thomson killed his wife and a hired hand while a mortified telephone operator was forced to listen. Pete Hannesson was found dead in his driveway, with a bullet wound in the back of his head and a pistol tucked between his knees. The police declared it a suicide.

There are some dark chapters in Whatcom County’s long history, and that’s what Todd Warger explores in his new book, “Murder in the Fourth Corner: True stories of Whatcom County’s earliest homicides.”

Warger, an author and filmmaker based out of Bellingham, has always been fascinated by the Pacific Northwest’s rich history, particularly that of Gaultier-copy-2Whatcom County. Warger previously published a history of Mt. Baker for the Images of America series, and co-directed the Emmy-nominated 2012 documentary, “The Mountain Runners,” which detailed the grueling Mt. Baker marathon of 1911. With his new true-crime anthology, Warger is turning his attention to the seedier side of Whatcom County history.

Warger originally took an interest in the subject while working at the Whatcom Museum in Bellingham. “I would go through these old newspapers, and I was really struck by the flamboyant journalism of the day,” he said. “They had all these bizarre stories and headlines, but no one had really written a history about this really ghoulish past.”

Warger spent more than a year researching the book, using files from the Washington State archives, old newspapers and court and prison records from the archive in Olympia. In the end, Warger had 13 tales of murder and mayhem, most of which were assembled from primary sources.

The book covers a wide swath of county crimes, from “The Maple Falls Monster” to “The Barber of Bellingham.” Warger wanted to be sure that the stories weren’t all localized in Bellingham so it would have something of interest for everyone.

“I really made a conscious effort to balance it out,” he said. “It would have been boring if it was just a bunch of Bellingham stories.”

Even Blaine is not immune to grisly crime. Gaultier and Thomson each committed their murders in Blaine in the 1910s. Hannesson was found dead at his property in Point Whitehorn in 1927. Incidentally, on the afternoon that his suspicious death was deemed a suicide, three or four people immediately turned up to claim his property.

The murders depicted in the book took place between 1880 and 1933. Warger intentionally steered away from more recent murders out of respect for any families that may still be living in the area. Since the cases predate most modern forensic techniques, several of them remain unsolved to this day.

“It was a lot like detective work,” Warger said. “A lot of these crimes have never been solved, and there’s a lot of conflicting information in these stories. In those cases, I tried to leave it up to the reader to draw their own conclusions.”

Warger hopes the book will be the first volume in a three- or four-volume series about Whatcom County crime. He has already started work on the second book which includes crimes from Skagit and Island counties as well.

Warger has scheduled appearances at multiple locations in Bellingham, starting with a debut party on Wednesday, October 29 at the Redlight Bar at 1017 N. State Street, which is also the site of the Frederick Dames murder of 1905, one of the stories in Warger’s book. Warger hopes to eventually add more appearances in Blaine and other locations around the county.

The book will be available at Village Books in Fairhaven on Tuesday, October 21, and is being published by Chuckanut Editions, Village Books’ in-house publishing company.

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