Murder convict charged with 1975 Selah killing

SELAH – Two weeks before a Yakima-area bar owner was shot to death, an informant told authorities two of the owner’s employees were going to kill him after closing time and make it look like a robbery.

On Wednesday, more than three decades later, FBI agents arrested Gary Charles Isaacs, 56, a murder convict and one of two men named by the informant in her unheeded warning before the death of Everett “Fritz” Fretland. Isaacs was taken into custody at his telemarketing job in Everett.

On Thursday, Isaacs was charged with first-degree murder in the 1975 killing.

The arrest of Isaacs was a byproduct of an investigation into the killing of Frank “Sharkey” Hinkley, a Seattle-area strip club owner, and his girlfriend, Barbara Rosenfield, also killed in 1975, under circumstances similar to the slaying of Fretland, Yakima County sheriff’s chief of detectives Stewart Graham said.

It turned out that the similarities were purely coincidental, but in reopening the case, investigators located witnesses who had not previously been interviewed, Seattle police detective Dan Dudik wrote in the probable cause statement. One of those witnesses, a friend of bar employee Richard Sanders, said he had heard Isaacs, Sanders and a third man discussing the killing before and after it happened.

Other witnesses corroborated the information, Dudik said, and added that Isaacs was to be paid $30,000 that he would find in a paper bag at the bar. Isaacs never found the money, one witness said.

Graham, who worked with FBI agents on the Fretland case, also said no organized-crime link could be established in that killing.

A Seattle newspaper reported Thursday, however, that an FBI task force is continuing to investigate unsolved killings dating from 1970s that may have been resulted from turf battles between bar and nightclub operators in King and Yakima counties.

James B. Braman Jr. was arrested for the Seattle-area killings and was charged with first-degree murder but died of a drug overdose before he could be tried. Before he died, Braman would not say whether he had been hired, telling investigators only, “they’ll kill me,” and refusing to elaborate, according to court papers.

Isaacs, released in 2003 after spending 25 years in prison for killing his brother-in-law in Yakima County, was arrested and booked into the King County Jail in Seattle for investigation of murder, authorities said.

Fretland, 43, a former Wapato High School teacher, was found dead on Sept. 6, 1975, in the Wagon Wheel in Selah, one of three watering holes he owned. He had been shot five times in the back at close range with a .32-caliber pistol.

There was no sign of forced entry, but the business had been robbed and Fretland’s watch and wallet were gone. Authorities said at the time Fretland may have known whoever killed him.

Two weeks earlier, a woman had told Yakima police of a plot by Isaacs, then a bartender, and Sanders, also employed by Fretland, to kill their employer, Graham said. A detective typed a report on the warning, apparently to send to Selah police, but nobody knows what happened to it.

When the report became known after Fretland was killed, investigators found Sanders had an apparently airtight alibi and there was no evidence linking Isaacs to the crime, Graham said.

Sanders became a drug dealer and was killed in 1989 in Clark County by associates, one of whom eventually bunked with Isaacs at the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla, Graham said

Fretland was killed at a time of what Graham, a 30-year veteran of the sheriff’s office, said were freewheeling, “wide open” bar and nightclub dealings in the Seattle-Tacoma area and Yakima.

Fretland was said to be linked to the owners of the Corral, a downtown Yakima go-go club that investigators believe was once owned partly by Frank Colacurcio Sr. of Seattle, a strip club owner and convicted racketeer.

A month before the shooting, the Strand Cafe, also owned by Fretland, was destroyed by an explosion and fire, the fourth nightclub arson in Yakima in five years. Mike Cecil, a Fretland employee and former Yakima police officer who was badly burned in the blast, was charged with arson but was acquitted by a jury.

According to subsequent published reports, some believed the fires were related to a Tacoma-area racketeering operation in which then-Pierce County Sheriff George Janovich was arrested, convicted and sent to prison.

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