Historic Wallace, Idaho, and My Unforeseen Ties
by Tony Bamonte
Wallace, Idaho, now on the Register of Historic Places, was founded by Col. William R. Wallace. Like many other Civil War veterans, he followed the western mining booms and joined the 1883 gold rush in what became the world-renowned Coeur d’Alene Mining District ("The Coeur d’Alenes" as it was referenced in mining circles around the world or the "Silver Valley" as it is known locally). On May 1, 1884, recognizing the mineral wealth across the divide to the south, Wallace filed a plat for the first town in the heart of the silver mining district. His new town, first called Placer Center – later renamed Wallace, was nestled in a beautiful valley at the confluence of three creeks and the South Fork of the Coeur d’Alene River. Despite the town’s charm and tranquil setting, Wallace was typical of early mining towns. Alcohol flowed as freely as the wealth from the mines. Miners and loggers had long-standing reputations for their liberal consumption of alcohol, and those in the Coeur d’Alenes did their best to uphold that tradition. Land and mining claims were jumped with wild abandon. Gambling and prostitution blatantly disregarded the laws.
In an unforeseen series of events, during the author’s 26-year career in law enforcement in Washington State, three of his most serious cases, all of which made front-page news, tied back to Wallace, the place of his birth. Two of these cases resulted in criminal miscarriages of justice. The first of these was a murder, in 1935, involving the killing of a Newport, Washington, marshal by a Spokane police detective who was in the process of committing the burglary of a creamery. The case was exposed when Bamonte, then sheriff of Pend Oreille County, was working on his Master's Thesis at Gonzaga University about the major cases each sheriff of the county had dealt with. When Timothy Egan, a writer for the New York Times, learned of the case, he wrote a front-page article for that paper and subsequently a book, titled Breaking Blue. That case, which turned out to be the oldest active murder case in the United States, had been covered up for 54 years by three different law enforcement agencies. (In 1991, Egan wrote another article about 150 FBI agents raiding the little community of Wallace. The raid was the biggest single Federal law-enforcement raid ever conducted in the Rocky Mountain region.)
In his New York Times article, and subsequent book, Egan exposed Spokane police Chief Terry Mangan as a liar and a person contemptuous of anyone who would dare question his authority. As a result of Mangan’s orchestrated lies and deceit, an innocent man spent 19 years in prison until he died there. Even worse, the actions Chief Mangan later took, as a pay back, were corrupt and criminal. Numerous people in high positions of power were complicit. The attorney general of Washington State, who later ran for governor (and lost) and wanting the support and backing of the police chief from the second largest city in Washington, was willing to lie, and did, to get the police chief to back him when he ran for governor. The pathologist who performed the autopsies was also willing to publicly lie, and did, to help the Spokane police chief accomplish his goal. Later, the pathologist was charged with two felonies involving stealing from the dead. Even the Spokane prosecutor became part of this lie, making a public statement that there were no similarities in any of these murders, when in fact there were at least six unique and highly perverted similarities. (The suspect also carried his perversion into the brothels of Wallace, with his modus operandi being similar to how he brutalized his murder victims in Spokane and Pend Oreille County. He was eventually banned from the brothels as a result.) Because of the high level of the people involved in this cover-up, even the local newspapers went along with the story. Though Bamonte firmly believes that 90% of law enforcement officers are honorable, that case reflected horribly on his chosen profession and greatly hurts the public and law enforcement. Nearly 30 years later, the fact that justice was subverted still haunts him.
An unusual opportunity arose in early 2017 that was the catalyst for writing this book. Injustices had also been visited on Col. Wallace in life and in death, including the loss of the Wallace townsite and the desecration of his gravesite in California. In 2017, a dedication celebration was being planned in Wallace to install Col. Wallace’s long-lost headstone in a place of honor. Bamonte was urged to write this book and seized the opportunity to help restore Col. Wallace’s reputation and, at the same time, to write a Wallace-related account of a failure in the justice system that imprisoned an innocent man until his death while a suspected serial murderer continued to roam free.
"It’s often been stated that a particular truth can be worse than a vicious lie. Some of the misconceptions about Wallace’s roots might well fit into a similar scenario. Wallace native Tony Bamonte and his wife, Suzanne, have spent countless hours doing an exhaustive research and careful analysis of the facts. Together they have brought this information from the darkness of obscurity to what is now a historical masterpiece. This book reveals information that simply can’t be found in any other single document. It will remain a “must read” literary treasure for generations. Thanks to them, we can finally learn 'the rest of the story'!"
John Amonson, historian,
and former executive director,
Wallace District Mining Museum