My life and bylines: Stories of a lifetime in news
Justin Best/ Herald file photo
Herald reporter Jim Haley attends the Change of Command at Naval Station Everett on Aug. 18, 2001.
Dan Bates / Herald file photo
Jim Haley walks with snowshoes in hand inside the Mount St. Helens devastation area in 1985 for a story on the fifth anniversary of the volcano's eruption and subsequent regrowth of vegetation and return of wildlife.
We’ve laughed and cried together. We were shocked and sometimes surprised by the news of the day.
I hope you have been informed or entertained.
I use the word “we,” because my job has been to be in places, see things and listen on your behalf. At least that’s how I see it. I hope we’ve made that connection. I hope at least some of you have come along for part of my long ride. Retirement is ahead, so the ride, for me, has now come to an end.
Thanks for letting me accompany you. And thanks to many of you for putting up with the thousands of silly questions I posed while trying to pin down facts or learn something new.
We have seen the good and bad. We talked with heroes one day, comforted victims the next and have seen criminals go off to prison.
Together we have met characters of all kinds, witnessed the ravages of nature and watched our governments change. And, as the county’s population has more than tripled in the last 42 years, you and I have met and endured gridlock on the roads.
Our adventures have taken us to Mexico to explore a murder mystery. We landed on aircraft carriers, flew with the Blue Angels in a gut-tightening climb to 10,000 feet and cruised below the surface of Hood Canal in a Trident nuclear submarine.
It has been a few days more than 42 years since I started down this path with you. I sat down in front of a clunky Underwood typewriter in 1966 and wrote my first story for this newspaper.
1974: The unsolved killing of Sheriff Donald Jennings
I was alone in the newsroom one evening in 1974 keeping tabs on rising river waters as a January flood threatened. There was a call from somebody in the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office. There was a report that then-Sheriff Donald Jennings had been shot dead in Mexico. What did I know? Was it true?
It was. Jennings, his wife and her mother had been murdered while camped in their motor home in a clearing next to a Mexican highway in the mountains some 60 miles outside of Mazatlan.
Sgt. Don Nelson and detective Doug Englebretson made plans immediately to fly to Mazatlan to investigate. They let me accompany them.
It was a bizarre trip, starting out with a man from Seattle we encountered on the plane who insisted he knew who shot the sheriff — the Mexican Mafia. His notions soon were discounted, but the U.S. consul in Mazatlan warned the deputies that the locals might try to deceive them.
During the visit, we were accompanied by a federal Mexican police officer who walked around with a cocked .45-caliber pistol in his waistband and avoided paying for meals at restaurants by flashing his gun. The Snohomish County detectives sarcastically dubbed him 007, after the James Bond character.
Deputies took hikes into the canyons near the shooting site, accompanied by Mexican federal police who carried rifles equipped with rear-view mirrors. Nobody was going to sneak up behind them. The deputies were happy nobody tried.
The detectives had the motor home towed from Mazatlan back to the murder site and took measurements, checked bullet angles and swept the area for spent cartridges.
It turns out that the Jennings family had parked in a region rife with heroin and marijuana running, and bandits aplenty.
The Snohomish County investigators were surprised that money and jewelry had been left untouched by the killers. They were also surprised by the amateur investigation by the Mexican authorities at the shooting site before the deputies arrived.
The whodunit riddle remains unsolved.
1976: Corruption scandals in county government
The 1970s were a busy time for questions about corruption and how our county government operates.
In early 1976, the theft of a county generator by a county employee set off a series of investigations that mushroomed into a full-scale grand jury probe, only the second in county history.
Then-Prosecuting Attorney Robert Schillberg asked the Snohomish County Superior Court judges to convene a grand jury to examine possible corruption. Over the months, 29 people, most either current or former county workers, were charged with crimes ranging from theft to bribery.
The most notable person charged was sitting Snohomish County Commissioner Earl Torgeson, a former major league baseball hero from Snohomish.
Only a handful were convicted of any crime. Schillberg went on to a lopsided defeat at the next election, in part because he had irritated the county’s political establishment by pursuing the investigation.
There was a tense moment for me when I telephoned a man who was a subject of the probe. You have to understand that I regularly use a greeting stemming from the 1960s: “How’s your bod?” In my estimation, it’s like saying, “How the heck are you?”
I have colleagues who will swear that I called him, addressing him by his name and leaped into irreverent behavior when I asked: “How’s your bod? Do you know you’ve just been indicted by the grand jury?”
The guy was on a mobile car phone cruising down I-5 at the time. The long hesitation before his answer made me wonder if he had driven off the road. He hung up, gathered some poise and, to my relief, called me back a few minutes later.
Torgeson, whose charges were still pending at his next election, was defeated at the polls. He then beat the charges in court and later was appointed to head the county’s Department of Emergency Management.
What the grand jury didn’t accomplish in the number of convictions was made up for by pointing out the pitfalls of the old commissioner form of government in what was fast becoming an urban county.
The county soon adopted a charter, expanding the number of legislators to five and putting an executive in charge of running many of the departments.
1980: The eruption of Mount St. Helens
On a Friday, just two days before Mount St. Helens erupted in 1980, former Herald photographer Rich Frishman and I roamed the hills and valleys a short distance from the volcano’s slope. We stopped into a little restaurant in a place they called Kid Valley and ate what were billed as Volcano Burgers. They sold for $2.35.
Our mission was to get a feel for the volcano hype fueled by tourists coming to view the then gently smoking mountain. We also wanted to learn about the reaction of the locals and to become familiar with the area in case the experts were right about a major eruption.
On a Sunday morning, May 18, it blew.
Frishman and I headed for Paine Field and a chartered airplane to fly us around the spewing mountain. An ominous plume, with angry currents and lightning within, rose thousands of feet. I later wrote that it looked like the sky, indeed, had fallen.
Other reporters fanned out to Eastern Washington to follow the thick layers of ash that paralyzed many communities.
From high in the air, we saw brown mud and what looked like toothpicks — actually logs and trees — being swept down the churning Toutle River toward the I-5 bridge at Castle Rock.
Whole areas where we had been days beforehand were not recognizable. Mud or ash covered a 15-square-mile area that once been a beautiful forest. A 10-square-mile swath of timber was blown down. The death toll was nearly five dozen. Most of the fatalities were outside the five-mile “red zone” that was set up to protect the public.
The blast to the north was unexpected, and more severe than predicted.
Military helicopter pilots who had seen combat said they had never seen so much devastation, as they flew rescue missions and pulled survivors out of the ravaged area.
Some of those killed were caught in tents, seemingly a safe distance away. Others floated in the quick-rising and now warm, muddy river waters. Some of the victims’ bodies were never found.
In the aftermath, farmers near Kelso showed their resiliency. One family sought aid of friends in building a bridge of salvaged corrugated metal roofing material to pass over several feet of oozing mud swept down from the mountain, with the consistency of wet cement.
A daylong effort ensued just to rescue a single surviving heifer stranded in a barn 100 yards away.
It wasn’t much, but at the time it was all they could do.
1983-94: Bringing the U.S. Navy to Everett
In the early 1980s, Sen. Henry M. Jackson invited Navy Secretary John Lehman to attend a Fourth of July parade in Everett. He suggested putting a naval station on the Everett waterfront.
In March 1983, the senator took Everett Mayor Bill Moore aside and made the same pitch.
It was an idea that had legs in town, as well as in the higher ranks of the Navy. The powerful senator died in September of that year, but Lehman continued to seek new places to park ships under his plan for an expanded Navy. The mayor flew the Navy banner at home, fulfilling a pledge to Jackson.
The road to building Naval Station Everett was long and convoluted. Congress debated the wisdom and value of expanding the number of home ports. It also had to appropriate money. In state and federal courts, lawsuits were filed to stop construction.
Environmental regulators grappled with plans that included the deposit of tons of dredged soils contaminated by an old Everett shipyard.
In Everett, environmentalists and those who simply didn’t want the Navy as a neighbor joined forces to object by marching on City Hall. The city put the question on an advisory ballot, and voters’ overwhelming approval put a damper on local anti-Navy movement.
Following the Navy’s ups and downs over a decade, I accumulated a 33-page single-spaced source list with contacts around the country.
I went to Washington, D.C., for a critical military construction subcommittee hearing where funding for the base was being debated. Then-Sen. Slade Gorton, R-Wash., testified. He continued talking as the meeting broke up.
Sen. Strom Thurmond, R-S.C., the powerful and crusty Senate Armed Services Committee member, told Gorton to quiet down “because you’ll get your Navy base.” Gorton took the advice.
It was then time to educate myself, and the community, about life in the Navy.
Herald photographer Dan Bates and I visited Norfolk, Va., and the USS Nimitz, the aircraft carrier originally scheduled to come to Everett. We made friends with a sailor and his family, and found out that a lot of the crew was anxious to move to the West Coast.
Another time, we went to San Diego and landed aboard the Nimitz in a transport plane called a Grayhound, for the heart-thumping up-front and personal experience of Navy flight operations. I learned how intricate and disciplined crew activities on the flight deck keeps accidents from happening and sailors alive.
Efforts to scuttle the naval station in base-closing efforts also failed. The first Navy ships in Everett arrived in 1994, capped by the centerpiece warship, the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln, three years later. The Nimitz is still in service, but calls San Diego home.
The community adopted the Lincoln, which since has sailed in combat and in humanitarian missions. The ship and the naval station remain sources of community pride.
Haunting stories: Senseless, tragic crimes
The newspaper has tried to connect readers with the life-and-death dramas, and events that touch the heart, in our courts.
Off and on over the years, I’ve walked down Snohomish County Courthouse hallways, haunting courtrooms and talking about cases with lawyers and judges. I’ve seen the pain caused by drunken drivers and murderers. There have been young men, full of their manhood, who carry guns that injure or kill.
It’s the senseless crimes that leave me shaking my head.
Last year I wrote about a young man who went to a party in Brier and was shot dead by someone who fired into a crowd. Last month there was a sentencing for a killer who shot a young man to death while the victim slept; a crime of jealousy. Twenty years ago, I was writing about a man arrested for drunken driving who pulled a hidden handgun and killed two Island County sheriff’s deputies at the jail in Coupeville.
Then there was the woman who recruited a group of teenagers, including her own daughter, to kill an Everett man to get his money. I’ll never forget the heartbreak caused by a spoiled Mountlake Terrace man who helped murder his mail-order bride from Kyrgyzstan.
The tragedies abound, but the worst of the worst come to my mind in the killing of Rachel Burkheimer and the slaughter of two women and a girl by Charles Rodman Campbell.
Rachel Burkheimer, 18, of Marysville, was gunned down execution-style while kneeling in a shallow grave dug in the Cascade foothills in September 2002. John “Diggy” Anderson, of Everett, killed her because he fancied himself a gangster, and, as jurors were told, he suspected Rachel of associating with rival gang members.
Altogether, eight people were convicted of crimes related to Rachel’s kidnapping and killing. Two wound up with life prison terms. Most of the rest are serving decades behind bars.
The tragedy was that so many people had a chance to help Rachel and did nothing.
Because there were repetitive trials with identical evidence and witnesses, we came up with a different way of reporting the final trial — that of John Whitaker, who got a sentence of life without possibility of release.
Two colleagues and an editor fashioned the idea of breaking down the actual trial activity to the bare essentials while focusing the stories on the thoughts and emotions of the three remaining members of the traumatized Burkheimer family: parents Bill Burkheimer and Denise Webber and sister Meghan Burkheimer.
We tried to give readers a perspective on the tragedy from the viewpoint of the victim’s family, one day at a time.
Readers were split: the series was praised by some who saw it as showing the bigger impact of murder; others criticized it as too much about one case.
Charles Rodman Campbell raped a Clearview woman in 1974 and was convicted of the crime.
Campbell went to prison, but was released in 1982 to a state work-release facility in Everett.
In a crime of revenge, Campbell returned to Clearview and killed Renae Wicklund and her neighbor, Barbara Hendrickson, who both testified against him. He slit their throats and did the same to Wicklund’s 7-year-old daughter, Shannah, when she came home from school that day.
The crime raised questions of how Campbell had his mandatory prison sentence of 7 1⁄2 years waived and became eligible for work release In prison he’d been far from a model prisoner: He tried to assault a nurse, got into fights and used drugs.
A friend of mine who was close to law enforcement shared information on how officials at the Washington State Reformatory misinterpreted a memorandum from the state parole board. For three years, prisoners’ infractions were not sent to the board. That meant board members had incomplete information about prisoners being considered for release, including Campbell.
The story about that was composed on deadline the next morning, after parole board chairman William Henry confirmed there had been a screw-up — Campbell still should have been behind bars.
Campbell’s case became a watershed, leading to legislation requiring notification of victims upon release of criminals who had harmed them. It spurred efforts to reform the state’s parole system. It led to solidifying victim-advocate groups, and pressured state officials in charge of releasing prisoners to examine records more closely.
Campbell was condemned to die. He fought to delay his execution for 12 years. As the day neared, reporter Scott North and I reviewed evidence from the trial. Photos, especially of the little girl, were shocking.
In May 1994, I found myself outside the penitentiary at Walla Walla at midnight talking with those gathered to light candles protesting state-sponsored executions and those who ghoulishly howled for Campbell’s blood.
Behind the walls, the state was hanging Campbell. All human life is precious, but I did not weep that night.
Odds and ends: It’s been a good ride
I’ve had my fun. I’ve enjoyed time spent with my colleagues and people in the community.
Some of it has been unusual.
For example, I spent a couple of decades following a quirky quasi-religious band called the Love Israel Family, which lived on a 300-acre spread near Arlington. When financial disaster forced the group to move to Eastern Washington, photographer Bates and I went for a look. And in 2006, I followed the now much-smaller group back to a middle-class neighborhood in Bothell.
I resisted recruitment.
In the courts, I’ve seen justice doled out many times. It’s not perfect. But it generally works. I’ve come to respect our judges and court system.
I tried to stay out of trouble, but the law caught up with me in 2003. I crossed the street while the “Don’t Walk” sign was blinking. It was the day Everett police were conducting a jaywalking sting. Yep. The officer gave me a ticket.
I didn’t fight it. I read the rules and learned that you’re not supposed to enter a crosswalk when the light starts blinking. Instead I asked Everett Municipal Court Judge Tim Odell for mercy.
It might have helped that a dozen or more of my colleagues showed up at court with “Free Haley” T-shirts. The judge said he was intimidated, but he really wasn’t. He let me off, as long as I walked the straight and narrow for the next six months, with the walk signs.
As you would expect, some judges have their quirks.
There was a judge once who insisted on proper attire for attorneys — and sometimes for people who chose to represent themselves in court.
In 1979, Snohomish County Superior Court Judge John Wilson was on the bench hearing a civil lawsuit involving a Lynnwood man, the late Tom Bly.
Bly, a member of the anti-Semitic Posse Comitatus and someone who was openly suspicious of the legal system, frequently appeared in court to argue on his behalf. He always wore an open shirt collar.
Wilson ordered Bly to wear a coat and tie the next time he came to court. Bly didn’t.
The judge found him in contempt and threw him in the slammer for 12 days for contempt.
Bly appealed, but the state Court of Appeals upheld Wilson’s decision.
In the early 1970s, Sheriff Jennings assigned a deputy to investigate who in his office was leaking information to me about an internal investigation over missing property. What the sheriff didn’t know was that his assignee also was the leak.
The investigator never ratted himself out, taking the secret to his grave.
I recall that I irritated then-County Executive Willis Tucker with a story about how much the new carpet in his county office cost during a time when the county was cutting services.
Tucker was a former editor from The Herald, and had been my boss before he went into politics. I think he forgave me for the story because he allowed me to interview him again. He died in 2000. He was a good man.
I always tried to be fair and accurate in my stories. You can agree or disagree.
It has been a good ride. Varied. Heartbreaking at times. No two days were the same.
Thanks, again, for helping.
Reporter Jim Haley: 425-339-3447 or email@example.com.
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