Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Washington State: Lady of the Lake

Lake Crescent
Lake Crescent, located within Olympic National Park, has a reputation for “rarely giving up its dead.”

The following ghost story is an exception to this rule. Olympic Peninsula citizens often share this gruesome, tragic tale about a murder and a body that turned to soap.

The Discovery

One summer morning in 1940 two fishermen boating on Lake Crescent spotted a large object floating on the surface. When they drew near, they realized it was a human body wrapped in blankets and hogtied with rope.

The coroner who then took charge of the body discovered a corpse in an unusual condition.

The body had not decomposed or decayed, and it had no apparent odor. The flesh was hard and waxy. It was found the body had gone through a process known as saponification--this is where fatty acids convert to soap.

The cold deep waters of the lake had preserved the body, and the salt and calcium had slowly converted the tissue into a material similar to Ivory soap called adipocere.

The coroner noted this 36-year old female victim had been murdered for she had discoloration and bruises on her neck and evidence of an extensive hemorrhage on her chest. She had been beaten and strangled.

Her Identity

Despite the well-preserved state of the corpse, the authorities had a hard time determining who this woman was. The body was missing a face, fingertips, and toes.

The preserved corpse.
The locals quickly dubbed the mystery corpse--Lady of the Lake.

Her dental records were sent to over 5,000 dentists. Finally, a dentist in South Dakota came forward in 1941 stating the upper dental plate belonged to a former patient of his--Hallie Latham.

Hallie Latham Illingworth

Hallie Lathan Illingworth
Hallie was born to a hard-working farm couple in Greenville, Kentucky in 1901. As a young adult, she had moved slowly across the west in search of a better life.

By the time she reached Port Angeles in Washington in 1936 she had ended her second marriage and was working at the Lake Crescent Tavern --today the Lake Crescent Lodge--as a barmaid.

She met and married her third husband Montgomery “Monty” J. Illingworth, a beer-truck driver and known ladies man in Port Angeles on January 16, 1936.

The marriage was a turbulent one. Hallie often would show up to work with bruises on her arms and face. At one point the police were called in to break up a pre-dawn fierce fight between the two only five months into their marriage.

The Disappearance

After almost one year of marriage, Hallie suddenly went missing shortly before Christmas in December of 1937. Monty told her family and friends that she had run off with a fisherman from Alaska.

Hallie’s close-knit family though became alarmed when she did not contact them over the holidays.

In the meantime, Monty seemingly unconcerned about his missing wife moved to Long Beach, California with a woman he had been romantically connected to in Port Angeles before Hallie’s disappearance.

By 1938 Monty was granted a divorce from Hallie.

Three years after her disappearance on July 6, 1940, Hallie reappeared as the Lady of the Lake sending the citizens of the Peninsula Coast into shock.

Apprehending a Killer

In October of 1941, Monty Illingworth was arrested in Long Beach. He was brought back to Port Angeles and was put on trial for Hallie’s murder in Clallam County Superior Court in February of 1941.

Monty Illingworth during the trial.
This 9-day trial’s sensationalized headlines competed with news about the Second World War around the U.S.

Throughout the trial, Monty maintained his innocence. Stating that the body that was found was not his ex-wife. He even said that she was still “gallivanting around with her lover.”

But the evidence against him was overwhelming. The Dentist from South Dakota was a very credible witness--he insisted the dental plate belonged to Hallie.

A friend of Hallie's who testified identified the clothing found with the corpse as belonging to her.

The critical evidence turned out to be the heavy rope the corpse was hogtied with. Monty had borrowed 50 feet of rope from the storekeeper at the lake. The store still had remnants from this rope--the fibers matched precisely.

After four hours of deliberation the jurors found Monty guilty of second-degree murder * he was sentenced to life imprisonment at the Washington State Penitentiary at Walla Walla.

Illingworth served nine years of this sentence and then was paroled in 1951. He died in 1974, in Los Alamitos, California.

* The murder was not considered premeditated -- it was believed instead to be just one more of the couple’s violent fights-- but this time it had escalated out of control.

The Haunting

Since this murder, a legend has grown about Hallie's spirit still haunting the area where she worked and died.

Lake Crescent Tavern
The Mid-1930s.
Tourists that stay at the lodge have seen her ghost. She is spotted sitting at a table smoking a cigarette. Some unsuspecting visitors have reported she spoke to them.

Staff at the lodge report hearing her clatter up and down the stairs in the early hours of the morning.

Other reports include lights flickering, doors slamming, and music playing loudly in the lounge. Some state this makes sense since Hallie liked to drink while alive.

She is also seen walking along the lake’s shore. She is described as a dark, pale translucent figure. More legendary reports mention she is sometimes seen gliding across the water.

One first-person account mentions seeing Monty in a rowboat and him carelessly dropping Hallie’s weighted body into Lake Crescent. 

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