By Chris Winters Herald Writer
MONROE — Under gray clouds that threatened rain, a solemn ceremony was held Friday at the Monroe Correctional Complex to honor an employee who died in the line of duty.
The man was Benjamin Bert Marshall, a power plant engineer bludgeoned to death by two inmates during an escape attempt 63 years ago Saturday.
While Marshall’s death on April 26, 1951, and the subsequent murder trial of the two prisoners, was covered by the Everett Daily Herald at the time, his death was overlooked by the state Department of Corrections’ record keepers, and he was forgotten by those he worked with. Marshall was 62 when he died.
On Friday, that historical oversight was brought back into the light, and Marshall was given a memorial befitting of a man who worked in the face of danger and paid the ultimate price.
Seven Marshall family members, none of whom knew their lost relative, were there to receive the honors, which included a framed flag of the state of Washington.
Sandi Gruenberg, 62, of Chelan, said she didn’t know much about her grandfather before his story came to light last year, other than the fact that he was the grandfather who worked and died at the reformatory.
“He now seems like a real person instead of a legend,” she said.
Wally Marshall, 63, also of Chelan and who is Gruenberg’s brother, said their father, Blaine Marshall, was one of the three children Benjamin, and his wife, Hazel, had. Blaine saw combat in World War II, and didn’t talk much about the past, including about their grandfather.
“He was just somebody we lost and they didn’t speak about,” Wally Marshall said.
“What we don’t know is why Benjamin Marshall was never given recognition for his sacrifice in the line of duty,” Greg Miller, the emergency operations manager for the Department of Corrections, said during the ceremony.
What is known is how his story was rediscovered two years ago.
An instructor with the department, Myndi Svoboda, was reviewing the history of the department when she came across an article on HistoryLink.org about the escape attempt and Marshall’s murder.
Svoboda said she knew she’d never seen Marshall’s name on a plaque or on a Walk of Remembrance, and alerted other officials of the oversight.
Last year, Corrections Lt. Richard Samp made a phone call to Sandi Gruenberg.
“It was a shock,” Gruenberg said.
Samp asked if she was descended from Benjamin Marshall, and started asking about their family history. At first she thought the call was from a crank, but Samp had a lot of detail.
“I thought, ‘You know all the old stories, so you’ve got to be for real’,” she said.
On the night of April 26, 1951, two inmates, Robert R. Johnson and Luther J. Moore, got themselves assigned to a work detail in the reformatory’s power plant, where Marshall was employed as a night shift engineer.
The two knocked out Marshall with improvised saps and tried to escape over the jail’s 30-foot wall with a ladder jury-rigged out of steam piping.
Johnson made it to the top, but the ladder collapsed before Moore could make it. He fell back inside. Moore was apprehended shortly afterward, while Johnson fled.
Another inmate found Marshall at 9:15 p.m., lying in a pool of blood, loosely tied with electrical wire. He was taken to Monroe General Hospital, where he died 45 minutes later.
Meanwhile, a manhunt was under way. Johnson got lost in the dark and spent the night under a blackberry bush before deciding to turn himself in the next morning, unaware of Marshall’s death.
According to an Everett Daily Herald story published April 27, 1951, after Johnson was questioned, he told a prosecutor, “Write it out, I’ll sign it.”
In the end, both Moore and Johnson were found guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison after a jury refused to return a death sentence. Both served out their original sentences for other crimes in Monroe before being transferred to the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla.
Corrections spokeswoman Susan Biller was unable to confirm if Moore and Johnson ultimately died in the state prison or were released. They are not listed in the prison’s current inmate records, and Moore and Johnson would be 89 and 95, respectively, if they were still alive.
Marshall lived in Lowell, which his wife and their three children.
After Marshall’s death, the Department of Corrections gave his widow, Hazel, a job to help out her family. She is believed to have worked there for a number of years, but it isn’t clear in what capacity or for how long.
Marshall’s descendents received the honors due their grandfather Friday, including an honor guard, a display of the symbolic “Missing Man Table” for fallen officers, and the playing of “Taps” and “Amazing Grace.”
A black ribbon with Marshall’s name was tied to the staff of a memorial flag and he’ll be commemorated on the Monroe Correctional Complex’s Walk of Remembrance alongside corrections officer Jayme Biendlcq, who until now was thought to be the only employee at Monroe killed in the line of duty.
Now Benjamin Marshall’s family has his story back.
“I’ve got a grandpa I can pass on now,” Wally Marshall said.
Chris Winters: 425-374-4165 or firstname.lastname@example.org.