Personally, I don’t like scary movies or haunted houses, but I do like an unsolved mystery. In 1939, the West End experienced several unexplained and unsolved events.
In April of 1939, William Walker was a 23-year-old California University student. Walker was staying at Lapoel Resort at Lake Crescent and had been there for a few weeks collecting specimens of small animal life in the forest and mountains around the lake. On a Sunday morning, Walker left his cabin and went for hike up Sourdough Ridge. He didn’t come back.
Lapoel Resort proprietor Ed Brooks became concerned when Walker did not return, so he called authorities. A major search was organized by the National Park Service, and 115 men began a systemic combing of Sourdough Ridge. As the search continued, the number of searchers grew to 170.
On Tuesday, two bloodhounds were brought in by King County deputy sheriffs but they were taken back at the end of the day, as they could find no sign of Walker. The dogs may have been hampered by the snow that still remained on the ground.
Walker’s uncle from Seattle and mother from California both traveled to the resort to await results that never came …
In August 1939, Miss Marion Frances Steffens — a 34-year-old Vassar graduate and botanist — arrived in Forks. She made the acquaintance of several local residents and made plans to head for the Mount Olympus area. Her goal was to collect botanical specimens.
Steffens borrowed a pair of “logger boots” from Forks resident Mickey Merchant and went into the mountains from the Jackson Guard Station.
About 12 days after Steffens began her hike, rangers found a neat bundle near the end of the Hoh River Trail on the west side of the mountain. It contained some of Steffens’ camping equipment and food, along with a note: “In emergency the following were offered and belong to these persons. Please see they are returned to the proper owners … sleeping bag … logger boots … pack board … ”
Fourteen rangers and fire guards, working from a base camp at Glacier Meadows, began their search for the missing woman. Charlie Lewis, Hoh River packer and woodsman, assisted the park service in the search.
Rangers reported from the scene of the search that the ice field on the mountains was very broken up, causing large crevasses — some as deep as 200 feet. Had Steffens fallen into one of these?
The search was finally given up. Despite a concerted effort by a great many people, including flights by the U.S. Coast Guard, there was no sign of Steffens.
In July of 1940 a woman’s body was found in Lake Crescent. The body was wrapped in a blanket and tied with ropes. Because of the clothing the woman was wearing authorities first believed the woman was Steffens. Due to a unique dental plate, however, the body was later identified as Hallie Illingworth.
Illingworth’s husband would later stand trial for her murder, and she was later known as, “The Lady of the Lake.”
To add insult to injury, Steffens’ father, who lived in Chicago, later received a bill from the park superintendent for $151.65 for groceries that were consumed by the searchers.
Steffens, the Vassar graduate, was never found.
In December of 1939, Hoh River News in the Forks Forum reported residents were hearing something that sounded like a crying child lost in the woods. Thinking it was a cougar, cougar dogs were taken out and no track or sign was ever found.
Was it a cougar, or wasn’t it?