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Wood, Sheriff Lester
End of Watch:
Sunday, May 22, 1927
Clark County S.O.
Sheriff Lester Wood had been elected the Clark County Sheriff as a democrat in the November 1926 election. When he took office in January 1927, he became the only democrat to hold office in all of Clark County. He told a reporter that he was going to begin “conducting a ruthless war on liquor violators.”
Prohibition had been in effect in Washington since January 1, 1916 as a state law.
On Sunday, May 22, 1927, Sheriff Wood sent three of his deputies out to Dole Valley, near Yacolt, about 25 miles northeast of Vancouver to look for a still that he believed was operating at the head of the valley. Indeed, Luther Baker, his younger brother Ellis and Ellis’s 21 year-old son Ted Baker had set up a still in the densely wooded area near the south bank of Smith Creek.
At about 1000 hours, the deputies arrived at Huston’s camp, which was an old logging camp, to begin their search.
They walked down a trail where they soon located a 125 gallon still and three 500 gallon holding tanks. Ellis Baker suddenly appeared and aimed a rifle at the deputies and told them to leave. To ensure their departure, Ellis followed the deputies across a creek and told them to stay away before disappearing back in to the woods.
The deputies returned to Huston’s camp and telephoned for back-up. Sheriff Wood and an additional deputy drove from Vancouver to the camp and arrived at about noon. One of the other deputies remained at Huston’s camp while the two others converged on the still site, using a different route. The found the still unguarded and began to destroy it.
As the two deputies were destroying the still, Sheriff Wood and the two other deputies began their walk towards it. Meanwhile, the deputies completed destroying the still and as they did, they heard gunshots.
Luther Baker had heard the deputies destroying the still and he began stalking them. However, before he could reach the still, he was confronted by Sheriff Wood and the other deputies. From a distance of about 60 feet, Luther opened fire with a rifle and shot Sheriff Wood just above his hip and died within minutes.
Sheriff Wood fired at Luther, but he was only nicked by shotgun pellets in the leg. The other two deputies were not injured.
Luther and Ellis escaped from the shootout as word of Sheriff Wood’s death spread quickly. Officers from Oregon and Washington were posted on the interstate bridge at the Columbia River to prevent the killers from leaving the state. A posse was formed and the Bakers were located about a mile from the shooting in a farmhouse where they were arrested without incident. By the end of the day, seven people were under arrest in the investigation.
At trial, Luther Baker claimed that he shot Sheriff Wood in self defense because he claimed the sheriff didn’t identify himself. After the ten-day trial, Luther, Ellis and Ted Baker were all convicted in the murder of Sheriff Wood. Luther was sentenced to death while Ellis and Ted were sentenced to life in prison. The three appealed their convictions. In November 1928, the Washington Supreme Court affirmed the death sentence of Luther and Ellis’s life sentence. However, Ted’s conviction was dismissed as it was determined that even though Ted brought the rifle that killed Sheriff Wood to the still, he brought it there without criminal intent and he was in Vancouver when the shootout occurred. Ted was released from custody, but died from tuberculosis in September 1929.
Luther Baker was hanged at the Washington State Penitentiary on March 29, 1929. Ellis Baker served another 30 years at the Washington State Penitentiary before being paroled at age 81.