Spokane's First Legal Hanging, Greenwood Cemetery

Spokane's First Legal Hanging, Greenwood Cemetery

Where lays Charles Brooks? Who was he? Why is he in an unmarked grave? Mr. Brooks has the unfortunate fame of being the first legally hanged man in Spokane.

The 1891 Brooks case was quite the scandal for Spokane. Brooks, 62, was charged with the murder of his wife, Christine Dohlman, a 27-year-old immigrant from Sweden. The tale of their relationship, as reported in the newspapers of the day, was full of speculations. One suspicion was that Brooks, for reasons unknown, specifically wanted to marry an immigrant. Another is that Dohlman was in search of a rich American to marry. As was common in that era, men on the frontier sometimes resorted to paying for immigrant brides, so it is quite possible that both hypotheses were true. What is known, for certain, is that they were married. Yet, their marriage led to another suspicion: that Dohlman left Brooks when she discovered he was a janitor and not a mining tycoon, and began cheating on him. Brooks, then, supposedly stalked her, and when she refused to return to him, he shot her on Havermale Island.

The hanging turned out to be quite the affair. Before 1900, executions took place at the local level and were conducted by the county sheriff. Because this was the first lawful hanging in the county, approximately 150 formal, engraved, invitations to the event were sent out ... but over 1,000 people were in attendance for the occasion that took place on the Spokane County Courthouse grounds, 06 September 1892.

After Brooks, there were 2 other hangings in Spokane before state law required that all executions had to be conducted at the state penitentiary in Walla Walla. Gin Pong, an immigrant from China, was executed in 1897 for killing another immigrant. Local farmer, George Webster, was also executed in 1897 for killing his wife's boss.

Of course there were several other extracurricular executions in Spokane. Namely, those of Chief Qualchan of the Yakamas and 5-20 others who were hanged by Colonel George Wright in his campaign against the Indians in retribution for the battle at Steptoe Butte in 1858 ... and before the days of law in Spokane.

Charles Brooks was buried at Greenwood Memorial Terrace without a grave marker for the plain and simple fact that nobody volunteered to pay for one. His grave is somewhere west of the main office, between the hillside and the row of upright headstones - near the memorial for Spokane's Greatest Human Tragedy. In 2010, Duane Broyles, president of the Fairmount Memorial Association which oversees Greenwood, said the grave will remain unmarked to avoid vandalism and disrespect.



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