End of Watch: 10/19/1928
Agency: Starbuck P.D.
County: Columbia County
Marshal Smith was going about his duties on Friday, October 19, 1928 when two men got off the Walla Walla train and checked into a hotel. One of the men was Alonzo Hayden who had relatives in Starbuck and was known in the community. The other man registered at the hotel as James Smith, but was actually 25-year old Emil Pfaff, alias Frank White. The motivation for using the name of the local marshal is not known.
The behavior of the two men caught the attention of Marshal Smith who stated, “they appeared to be without asset to the community.” He noticed a bulge in Pfaff’s shirt. Thinking it was a liquor bottle, he demanded a search. A concealed weapon was discovered, and Smith charged him and took him to the local jail. There were no other prisoners at the time, so Smith did not confine him to one of the two cells. Rather, he left him in the larger area with access to the only toilet. Smith left the barred doors unlocked and locked only the steel door when he left. Small windows with bars provided the only lighting for the building. Alonzo Hayden, Paff’s accomplice, pried the bars apart far enough to slip through a revolver. It was a gun that he had purchased earlier that same day from a local Starbuck merchant. Because Hayden and his family were known in the community, no one questioned the purchase.
It was Friday evening and there was a fall bazaar and dinner at the church, with children playing in the street. Around 7pm, Marshal Smith went to the jail for the purpose of escorting the prisoner to the hotel for a meal. When he opened the door, Pfaff had a gun pointed at him. Smith tried to close the door, but Pfaff managed to get his foot in it. As Smith reached for his gun, Pfaff shot him in the back and then escaped on foot. Smith died instantly from his wound.
Hayden was standing on a rail platform nearby and he quickly ran to the home of a friend. He was later linked to the crime.
In less than an hour, all of Starbuck knew what happened, and law enforcement offices in Walla Walla, Columbia, and Garfield Counties were notified. All responded along with two night watchmen from Dayton and two special agents employed by the railroad. Over 100 men were part of the posse searching for Pfaff. Area farmers were called and asked to watch for the fugitive. A positive sighting was made by Frank Porter the following day, and later that day, he was seen by Carl Penner near a windmill as he was farming the old Whitehouse Ranch. Penner called in the sighting and the members of the posse regrouped at Christ List’s restaurant. With the new information, the posse broke into small groups and converged on the area from all directions. Pfaff tried to bury himself in a small depression to avoid detection. However, Sheriff McInroe of Walla Walla County and two other searchers discovered him.
Pfaff did not resist arrest or use the pistol still in his possession. When he spoke to his captors, he asked, “How badly is the old man hurt?”
Fearing that the irate townspeople might lynch Pfaff, he was transported to Dayton where he was charged with first-degree murder, and held in the county jail
Tuesday, October 23, a large crowd attended a funeral to say farewell of Jim Smith, husband, father, rail agent, deputy sheriff for Columbia County, and town marshal of Starbuck. The funeral was held in the Episcopal Church and was officiated by Arch Deacon Coffin of the Spokane Diocese. Music was provided by the choir.
As for Pfaff, a defense of insanity was planned, with the prosecutors planning to refute the claim. Judge Kuykendahl was committed to insuring this high-profile case was handled carefully and correctly. The trial was to begin in December, but the court was unable to find 12 objective jurors. Judge Kuykendahl took all parties to his chambers and Pfaff withdrew his insanity plea and pled guilty to Second Degree Murder, so a jury trial was not held. Judge Kuykendahl sentenced Emil Pfaff to serve a term of 30-50 years in Washington State Penitentiary, Walla Walla, Washington. Pleas for early release were denied. He served two-thirds of his minimum sentence, then was released in December 1948.
Marshal Smith is survived by his wife, and three children; Mary, James, and Arthur.