Self-defense or murder?

A scandalous murder trial in turn-of-the-century Medical Lake

Josephine Barth claimed that she shot her husband when he advanced on her with a poker. Her twelve-year-old daughter told a different story.

In Medical Lake Washington on March 26, 1906, Josephine Baruth shot her husband C.L. Baruth. The two were at home with their twelve-year-old daughter when according to Josephine, her husband advanced upon her with a poker in his hand, as if to strike her. As an act of what one could call reflex, she shot him with a revolver which was somehow already in her hand. At first, his injuries were not considered dangerous but died four days later.

Early newspaper reports suggested a sordid cause of the conflict. "As a result of finding a curly little blond hair, supposed to be from the head of a woman, on the coat of C. L. Baruth, one of Medical Lake's most prominent citizens, Baruth lies in a critical condition, suffering from two bullet wounds, and his wife is under arrest," the story read. The newspaper also referred to the "stormy matrimony" of the couple.

Josephine Barth refused to plead when she was charged with the murder of her late husband, who was a prominent businessman and in fact a city councilman for the growing community. Because Josephine Baruth refused to plead, a plea of not guilty was put in place for a hearing.

The turning point in the trial was when the couple's twelve-year-old daughter was put on the stand. The girl contradicted her mother's testimony saying that her father was not in possession of a poker when he was shot.

After four and a half hours in Judge Haneke's’ court, the jury rendered a verdict of guilty: “That said defendant as follows: Baruth on the 26th day of March 1906, in the county of Spokane and state of Washington, then and there being, did then and there purposely and maliciously kill C.L. Baruth by then and there purposely and maliciously shooting and mortally wounding said C.L. Baruth with a revolver which she, said defendant, then and there held in her hand”. Josephine Baruth was guilty of second-degree murder.

Josephine Baruth had five brothers who had employed lawyers and would try to secure Josephine’s liberty. She served 10 years in the penitentiary and had to pay a fine of $1000. She was released after her 10-year sentence and died on May 10, 1947, at the age of 76.