CAMANO ISLAND — It all started with newspaper clippings and a family secret.
Neil Bradley Hampson, a retired doctor and author of the true crime novel, “Serial Chase,” was cleaning out the upstairs storage of the Camano Island home that’s been in his family for three generations. He found a small bundle of newspaper clippings, worn thin and permanently creased after half a century, tucked in a box of his grandmother’s things.
They chronicled the trial of Harold Glenn Chase, who was convicted of strangling Hampson’s grandfather, Dr. Russell Bradley, in 1950.
Hampson, 59, was born five years after Bradley’s death. His mom told him his grandfather was shot and the killer never caught. His sister, wife and uncle also had heard stories about Bradley’s demise, but none of them matched. Their family history, it seemed, had gotten muddied somewhere along the way.
The mystery piqued Hampson’s curiosity.
“I started out not to write a book, but to learn what had happened to my grandfather,” Hampson said. “I never knew him.”
He started digging, flipping through history books, skimming through old newspaper articles and interviewing anyone who might know something about Hampson’s grandfather or his killer.
What he found, Hampson wrote in “Serial Chase,” was chilling.
“The truth is that a serial killer and arsonist fooled psychiatrists, physicians and military and law enforcement officials long enough to commit crimes in at least three states, for which he served less than a decade in prison,” he wrote.
It’s a crazy, convoluted criminal tale that stretches from Everett to Darrington, touching a number of Snohomish County communities in between. Hampson spent three and a half years researching and writing “Serial Chase,” he said. He checked his mail and email daily, waiting on records from the U.S. military, Snohomish County courts and state prisons.
The more he learned, the weirder the story got.
“True crime books are pretty rare because people can write fictional crime and make it so exciting,” Hampson said. “But as I researched this, there were so many places where I just included the transcripts because I couldn’t make something up that was this exciting.”
According to Hampson’s research, Chase started setting fires as a teen. Unexplained blazes followed him while he served in the military from age 17 to 20. He was arrested for arson after returning to his childhood home in Everett, and spent some time at the Northern State Mental Hospital in Sedro-Woolley, where his roommate died in what looked like a suicide attempt. Chase later claimed he killed the man.
He never served time for the Everett fires. Instead, he apparently became a member of the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Posse.
In 1951, Chase – a convicted arsonist on parole at the time – got a job as Darrington’s police marshal. He missed his first day of work for a court hearing regarding a pornographic film he’d acted in.
Less than a week after starting as marshal, he set a fire that burned down a block of Darrington businesses. The Red Top Tavern is the only one that’s been rebuilt, Hampson said.
Chase fled to California before authorities could pin the fire on him. But his crimes caught up with him when he applied for a federal job. He landed back in police custody in Washington, where he confessed to multiple crimes, including the murder of Russell Bradley. He told police he met Bradley at a bar, offered to drive him home and strangled him, then passed the death off as a heart attack. The body was exhumed and autopsied after his confession. The results suggested Bradley had been strangled.
Chase claimed to have killed at least five people, though Bradley’s was his only conviction.
“I doubt that Everett knew, and certainly doesn’t know now, that they had a serial killer running around in 1950,” Hampson said. His book is “written to point out all the times the system didn’t work. It’s not a happy book to read because in the end you go away knowing that someone who was very generous, popular and well-liked in the community was murdered simply by the bad luck of meeting a serial killer.”
Though the tale is a sad one, Hampson said he and his family learned a lot about their ancestors. He traced the family’s path from Montana to Washington and learned about Bradley’s optometry career and entrepreneurial endeavors, including a tamale factory and a failed attempt at fish farming.
Hampson said he intends to continue writing, but he’d like to work on a fictional story next.
Mountain Loop Books and Coffee in Darrington plans to host a book signing with Hampson on Aug. 9.
Kari Bray: 425-339-3439, email@example.com