End of Watch: 03/17/1922
Agency: Seattle Police Department
County: King County
On Thursday, March 16, 1922 at 11:00 p.m., Officer Charles O. Legate, 50, was observed at the police call box at 12 Ave. S. and Jackson St. He was with Officer C. L. Bryant, and Sgt. Ed W. Pielow. The last person known to have seen Legate alive was Officer Tom Walsh. He and Legate had been at the call box to “ring in” at 1:00 a.m. on March 17. Walsh and Legate agreed to meet at 2:00 a.m. at the call box. Legate never arrived at 2:00 a.m. A check with Police Headquarters revealed Legate was not there. A search of Officer Legate’s beat began. Around 3:00 a.m., and at the suggestion of Sgt. Pielow, officers checked the Main Street Garage at 1242 Main St. The garage was locked, and officers made forced entry. Officer Legate was found dead in a car inside the garage. He had been beaten about the head and shot twice in the head. His revolver was at his side. Two shots had been fired from it. The case was treated as a homicide at first, but then some very strange things started to occur.
An inquest was held. Only a select few witnesses were allowed to testify, and limited evidence was allowed to be introduced. Legate’s widow testified that, not too long before his death, her husband had told her that Sgt. Pielow had done things which, if known, would shake the SPD to its core. Officer Legate never told her what those things were because, if he did, “it would be the end of him”. She believed her husband was in fear for his life. The inquest ruled that Officer Legate’s death was a suicide. With his death ruled a suicide, Officer Legate’s widow would not receive a police pension.
Thus began a series of events which generated more questions than answers. There were charges of corruption and cover-ups made back and forth between Seattle, state, and federal officials. A King County Superior Court grand jury was tasked with investigating the death of Officer Legate and corruption within the Seattle Police Department. Many witnesses testified in front of the grand jury. Figures from the Seattle underworld testified that some officers, including Sgt. Pielow, were taking payoffs and were involved with smuggling and selling illegal liquor and narcotics. There was no evidence proving that Officer Legate was involved in wrongdoing or just knew about it and never told anybody besides his wife. There was speculation that Legate was killed to keep him from talking.
The grand jury was given evidence that one of the bullets fired into Legate’s head came from his own revolver. The other bullet was fired from a different weapon. It appeared there were people who did not want Officer Legate’s death to be investigated as a murder, but, in December 1922, the grand jury ruled that Officer Legate’s death was a homicide, committed by person(s) unknown.
The Police Pension Board at first refused to reconsider Mrs. Legate’s request for a police pension. After receiving a legal opinion from the City’s Corporation Counsel, the Pension Board reversed itself, and gave the widow a pension.
Four years after the murder, Chief of Police William Severyns wrote a series of articles in the Seattle Union Record. In one article, he stated, “One of two men, or both, did the shooting. One of these men was a policeman. The other was an underworld character, a dealer in liquor and dope”. Nobody was ever charged with the murder of Officer Legate.
Side Note: In 1923, Sgt. Ed Pielow was arrested for smuggling liquor. He was fired from the Seattle Police Department, and he was convicted in 1924. Following the murder of Officer Robert Litsey on 9-25-1924, one of the three murder suspects in his death was arrested in Sumner. The car he was in belonged to Ed Pielow who claimed it had been stolen.
Charles Omer Legate was born on September 10, 1872 in Jersey County, Illinois. On December 24, 1896, he married Mary Howes. The couple lived in Nebraska until 1899 when Mary died at the age of 29. Charles remained in Nebraska until coming to Seattle around 1904 He worked as a motorman until he was commissioned as a Seattle police officer on March 1, 1907. His funeral was held at the Elks Temple on March 22, 1922. He was buried at Washelli Cemetery
Officer Charles Legate served the Seattle Police Department for 25 years. He is survived by his widow, Annie, his daughters, Florence and Agnes, and a stepson, Charles.