November 20, 1907 (Wednesday):


Steele Hangs Himself in Montesano Jail

Montesano, Washington, Nov. 16

Herbert Normal, alias Ralph W. Steele, who was in jail here charged with the murder of Frank Todd, of Hoquiam, committed suicide by hanging himself. The body was discovered just after dinner. A doctor was called and pronounced him dead.

Steele was confined in one of the steel cages, and there was a small stool inside. By standing on this and tearing his bedclothes into strips, he fastened them to the top of the cage. Then tying his hands some way under his knees, he kicked the chair away. He had been dead about 20 minutes when found.

On Saturday, Sept. 28, Andrew Strong, who had also confessed to be the murderer of Todd, committed suicide by hanging himself at about the same hour.

Steele was almost a giant in stature, standing over 6 feet and weighing over 200 pounds. 



Hoqiuma, Wash., Nov. 16--News of the suicide of Ralph W. Steele reached here at noon today and was received with expressions of joy. The self-destruction of Steele came as no surprise, as many had said he did not have the "nerve" to stand trial. One of the last letters written by Steele, and found under the carpet in his room, was made public tonight. It is also remarked openly that had not Mrs. Todd become suspicious that Steele only wanted her money, she would not have gone away with him. Following is a portion of the letter:

"Now I want to say here and now and for all time that I will never, never give you up and live. If ever the time comes that I make up my mind that I must give you up, then life will be very short. I love you to madness, to insanity, I suppose, but I can't help it. I love you just the same with all the heart and soul that is in me. I known that I have said and written some awful mean things to you, but the truth is that I love you so and want you so bad that when I get to worrying about you it drives me mad."

Steele had contemplated suicide for some time, and when Marshall McKenney took his shoes and clothes to Portland several weeks ago for examination, he told his attorney that he was going to kill himself.

W. H. Able, attorney for Steele, who refused to conduct his case this morning, which was the immediate cause of his suicide, said to a correspondent tonight:

"Frank Todd was chloroformed, dragged out to the woodshed and there foully murdered, and Steele did not do the deed alone. The crime was one of the most diabolical ever known in the history of this county, and some very damaging evidence will be brought out in the near future. I spent two hours with Steele yesterday and listened to his confession with horror. It unnerved me, as I had never heard such a tale. Some time soon I will make a statement in Steele's behalf, but not now."

The story that Todd was chloroformed and dragged out of the house and murdered does not seem possible, as the closet door was bespattered with blood, and from the position in which Todd's body lay, the blood could never have reached there. It is still the opinion that Steele struck Todd as he came out of the door, and the implement he used was his large revolver.

Mrs. Todd could not be seen tonight. A man known in this city as Van Dyne was arrested on the street this afternoon for threatening the life of Marshal McKenney. Van Dyne, who is a large man, walked up to a crowd who were discussing the Steele suicide and began to threaten the life of the marshall and said:

(This portion is unreadable).

HOQUIAM, NOV. 17--A portion of the statement made by Mrs. Frank Todd to the officials, which led to the arrest of Ralph W. Steele, who committed suicide in the county jail yesterday, has been given out and it developed that Mrs. Todd saw Steele immediately after he struck the blows which crushed out the life of her husband and the father of her children. The statement is in her own writing, and the gist of it is as follows.

She had been very friendly with Steele while he had been living at her home for several months, and Todd became suspicious, and after a talk she told him of Steele's attentions. This enraged the husband, who ordered Steele out of the house, and then began the bad blood between the two men. Todd came home from camp a short time afterwards, but Steele had left the house, leaving his effects there.

The night of the tragedy, Mrs. Todd went to bed about 9:30 and left Todd reading. She read for awhile and Todd went out. She heard a scuffle and three blows struck, and thinking something was wrong went to the back door, opened it and saw the massive form of Steele bending over the prostrate form of her husband, who was weltering in his life blood. A small electric light shed a glimmer over the scene of Steele standing ready to strike another blow with his heavy revolver should Todd show signs of moving.

The shock was too great for her, and she fainted. Steele then turned his attention to the prostrate woman. He immediately picked her up in his arms, carried her to bed and waited for her to regain consciousness. She soon revived, and it was then 10:20 p.m.

He drilled Mrs. Todd in what she must say, and spent nearly the balance of the night rehersing her part to him. He then went about to cover up any suspicions of his deed. He went to the shed, robbed the body and left the rifled pockets turned wrong side out. After this he turned off the electric light and threw the switch into a bucket of feathers lying close by, and made Mrs. Todd tell the authorities that Todd missed the button the night before.

For two months she stood up under the strain, but it proved too great for her and the breakdown came at last when she received a note from Steele that he might kill her and then himself. She confided in Marshall McKenney, who got her to play the part of a detective, and thus she wrung the story of the murder from his lips.

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