A Look Back in Time: Teenager Caught in 1932 Plot to Extort an Elderly Neighbor Out of $75


Bruce Smith, 19, admitted to his attempted extortion of his elderly neighbor for the amount of $75 after his arrest on March 4, 1932.

Deputy Sheriffs Dave Mathes, J.D. Compton and A.E. Rowswell made the arrest, which resulted in Smith being held in Lewis County’s jail, pending action by the prosecuting attorney.

“Sheriff J.A. Blankenship and his deputies began their investigation of the alleged extortion plot after they had received a mysterious telephone call … asking them to be at a certain place in eastern Lewis County at a given hour during the evening,” The Daily Chronicle reported on March 5, 1932. “The officers complied with this request and received the information, which led to Smith’s arrest yesterday.”

Smith’s intended target for the extortion was W.A. Ferguson, a 90-year-old bachelor who lived next door to the youth. He’d been a resident of Randle since 1884.

Ferguson found the following note thrust under his door the previous Wednesday to Smith’s arrest:

“Please leave $75 on the northeast corner post of the lot you are now living in by Thursday night, as I need this money very bad. If it is not done I will be forced to set fire to your house, or if anything is said about it, I will be forced to do the same thing.

“I will try and pay you back soon, but at the present time I am forced to use these means. This money must be in cash. If it is not there by Thursday night, I will surely do as I say. Leave this note with the money and you will get it back with interest.”

Officers compared the handwriting on the note to that of Smith, which was the final clue to the teenager’s arrest, The Daily Chronicle reported.

March 5, 1932:

• Charles Edward York, 78, died at his home on Fords Prairie on March 4, 1932. York had been a resident in Centralia for 27 years.

• Extensive plans were made at a meeting of the retail committee of the Centralia Chamber of Commerce for the Rochester Grange’s annual strawberry festival the following Thursday. A caravan to the event was set to be helmed by Joe Robson, Wayne Blue and R.W. Dill. The caravan was set to leave at 6:45 p.m. the day of the event from the chamber’s office, which was located in the Lewis-Clark Hotel.

• It was announced that Harold Carpenter, 30, and Walter Dubuc, 17, were set to be executed on April 15, 1932 for the murder of Peter Jacobson, an aged Thurston County rancher. The order was signed off on by Superior Judge M. Wilson.

• Centralia High School competed in a one-act play contest with high schools in Longview and Kelso. Longview won the contest, which lauded the efforts of actors Tom Totts and Dorthes Wolcott.

• The Tenino quarry was in talks to be reopened to work on a project on the Columbia River jetty. The contract would have been for 750,000 tons of rock.

• A three-room furnished apartment complete with a bathroom, laundry trays and an electric washer machine was on the market for $3 a week, or $10 a month. The apartment was located at 401 S. Rock Street in Centralia.


March 5, 1942:

• John Raymond McKeller, 39, a 26-year resident of Centralia, died the prior Monday, following a lingering illness. McKeller was born in Rolette, North Dakota.

• After receiving word that the United States was considering “removing Japanese from the area,” the Onalaska Lumber Union voted to let its 16 Japanese members continue their work at the Carlisle Lumber Company until the day came for their removal, The Daily Chronicle reported.

• Fred H. Wlicox, 55, a resident of the area for 22 years, died suddenly on March 4, 1942, in his home. Wilcox attended Oregon State College before moving to Lewis County.

• Elmer Morgan and Betty Stevens filed an application for a marriage license with the Lewis County auditor.

• In a “help wanted” ad, something was looking for an “elderly man” to tend a furnace.


March 5, 1952

• A centennial celebration of Washington’s founding as a territory was set to come in the form of a technicolor movie, with all of Hollywood's bells and whistles, with part of the effort going to be filmed in Centralia.

• A Portland truck driver who “didn’t see a darned thing” drove his transport truck into a northbound Union Pacific freight train the Wednesday prior to The Daily Chronicle report on the matter. Charlie Price was identified as the unobservant trucker.

• The annual Rochester strawberry festival was again set to occur in the county, with “a delicious dinner topped off by huge dishes of strawberry shortcake,” as part of the offerings. As with two decades prior, a caravan was set to leave Centralia to go to the event.

• Police Chief Otto Rucker asked the then Centralia City Commision to pass an ordinance making the “drinking and possession of intoxicating liquor” by those under 21 years of age punishable in the city by a $100 fine, 30 days in jail or both. The city attorney was instructed to prepare the ordinance.

• The films, “Force of Arms” and “Tomorrow is Another Day” were set to hit the Fox Theatre, at 7:01 p.m. and 10:09 p.m. respectively.


A Look Back in Time is published every Saturday.