I discovered Herr Dames by complete accident in April of 2011 while researching the microfilmed archives of the old Bellingham Herald. What had started out as a quest to develop a walking tour about the turn of the century red light district that had operated legally in my weird little northwest town, evolved into a general fascination with all minutiae of odd and obscure figures and facts about the place I had come to call home. A micro-historian. That’s what they call it. I can tell you dates and names and stories with great detail about long dead hookers and scoundrels from Bellingham, Washington. But ask me about the Prussian war or the former emperor of Mexico and his impact on that country’s, revolution and I will probably say something like “His name was Xavier or Ferdinand or something and he was a puppet from... a European country and most of Mexico didn’t like that...?”
(And this is when I would look at you searchingly with a "please-don’t-yell-at-me" smile.)
Fred stared past me through a fuzzy negative of a newspaper that I was painfully squinting at for information about the 1910 closure of the red light district brought on by a discontent citizenry. The article claimed that after 5 years, a mystery had been solved, the man who had killed the Elk street butcher and German immigrant had been caught in connection with another murder and hung. With piqued interest, but only precious little brain space, I quickly pressed the print button and filed the article in a little section of my research binder I had developed for things to look into another day.
When It came time to research a scary themed history tour for October, I leafed through my tucked away articles and found him again. My business/research partner Sara and I had been hoping to find some creepy murders to talk about and we did. We totally did.
Dames was bludgeoned to death in his butcher shop in 1905. His thirteen year old delivery boy discovered him the following morning, his skull pinned to the ground with a screwdriver and the top of his head chopped off. No one had been arrested. For a while, it was assumed that some robbers had killed him. That was until a Maple Falls man was tried in Stevens County, Washington. He had killed a woman he was engaged to for her money and was discovered to have likely murdered at least 3 other people. After reviewing the evidence, a local detective figured out that this murderer had lived in Bellingham at the time of Dame’s death, and that witnesses had seen the two arguing the week before Dame’s death.
I went to the Center for Pacific Northwest Studies to look at their collection of hard copies of local newspapers and discovered so much more. Sara, two other Good Time Girls and I recently took a trip to the State Archives in Olympia to find out more about Dames and his murderer. In the two years since I first read the story of the Elk Street Butcher in the dry and crumbling leafs that recorded his tragic death, I have imagined, researched and re-imagined his life countless times. Each uncovering of more information lead me on a new path and it only seemed fitting to start to record what has grown into a story much too large to be told in dim street light to groups of chilly tourists. The other Good time Girls and I will continue to research this fascinating subject and to record it here to share with you.