A Murder at Green Lake

Most people who jog or walk Green Lake Trail have no idea what happened on June 17, 1926, between Meridian Avenue and Orin Court. In the early hours of the morning, a carpenter who was walking to work noticed a pair of women's shoes on the bank. As he walked toward the shoes he was shocked to find a woman's naked, dead body. She was 22-year-old Sylvia Gaines.
From the moment her body was found, the Gaines murder case became one of the most sensational in Seattle's history. Sylvia, a graduate of Smith College in Massachusetts, happened to be the niece of William Gaines, the chair of the King County Board of Commissioners. After graduating, Sylvia came to Seattle to visit the father she barely knew. Her parents divorced in 1909 after Bob Gaines, leaving his wife and child behind in Boston, moved to Washington. Bob reported Sylvia missing on the 17th. After her body was found, he identified her at the morgue. When cops questioned him, he was drunk and made statements suggesting he knew who the murderer was. Also, several of Bob's neighbors and friends who saw him on the 16th, said he was “acting strange” after his daughter's disappearance. The press went wild. Anyone who had ever even seen Bob or Sylvia was paid for a story. What they turned up was very disturbing. According to several acquaintances, "unnatural relations" had evidently been going on for most of Sylvia's visit. She and her father hadn't seen each other since 1909, when she was five years old. Sylvia moved in with her father and his second wife, Elizabeth into a tiny one-bedroom house at 108 N 51st Street in the Phinney Ridge neighborhood. When Sylvia first arrived, she slept on the couch in the living room.
108 N. 51st Street
Eventually, she moved into the bedroom and her step-mother was banished to the couch. (Huh?) Neighbors heard the three arguing all the time and in November of 1925, Elizabeth tried to kill herself with a rifle. There were reports of Elizabeth and Sylvia screaming at each other in public. A Seattle patrolman rolled up on Bob and Sylvia late at night parked in his car at Woodland Park on the SW side of Green Lake. "I was just a step or two from the car when I heard a scramble inside,” Officer R.L. Davis said.
Former Wallingford Cop Shop
"I stepped to the left side and I saw a young lady in the left seat. She had her hand on the door. Bob Gaines was in the other seat." The officer asked Bob how old the girl was, and took them to the Wallingford Precinct at 4422 Densmore Ave. N. (It's now a health clinic) They were released when Bob showed that Sylvia was his daughter and convinced them he was doing nothing wrong. An employee of the Arctic Club Hotel at 700 3rd Avenue reported that he had seen Bob and Sylvia together in bed. All of the info the press digging up prompted Prosecutor Ewing Colvin to press charges against Bob Gaines for the murder of his daughter.
Arctic Club Hotel
The trial began on August 2, 1926. Colvin asked for the death penalty. Media and public attention was so intense that the judge ordered the jury sequestered at a Seattle hotel. (I believe it was The Gladstone Hotel at 415 Terrace Avenue just south of the court house. It's a parking lot now) Witnesses were called to testify about the events of the evening of June 16th. They reported seeing Bob at the lake shore around 9pm that evening, near where Sylvia's body was found. “He was bending down over someone or something.” Other witnesses said they'd seen Bob drive around the lake several times about the time of the murder. Sylvia was strangled and her head bashed with a blunt instrument. Authorities found a bloody rock near the murder site. Testimony established that she had been murdered in one spot and that her body had been dragged to another, several yards away. Bob testified that he and Sylvia had argued on the evening of the 16th. Sylvia was angry and left their house shortly after 8pm for a walk around the lake. Bob said he left at about 8:40pm in his car to look for her. He arrived at 9:30pm at the home of his friend and drinking buddy, Louis Stern who lived in a guest house behind 4217 2nd Ave NW. Stern's testimony was damning.
Guest House at 4217 2nd Ave
He said Bob came to his house to drink and all but confessed that he'd murdered his daughter. "Bob said, You know what I have always told you, that if anyone in my house told me when I should come and go and when I should drink and how much, I would kill em? Well, that's what happened." Colvin had established where, when, and how Sylvia had been killed, but he had to provide a motive. His theory was that Gaines and his daughter were having a sexual relationship. Bob knew Sylvia wanted to leave the home. She had even made plans to go stay with her uncle. Colvin said Bob killed Sylvia to keep her from leaving him or revealing the incestuous affair. In his closing statement, Colvin argued that Bob had been sexually involved with his daughter for some months, and that she was fed up and about to leave. On the evening of June 16, they argued and Sylvia left the house to get away from him. Bob went after her, found her walking along Green Lake and killed her. Probably while he was severely intoxicated. Then, to make it look like she'd also been raped, he tore her clothes, dragged her body away from the path and arranged her limbs in a manner to suggest a sexual attack. Colvin reminded the jury that Bob pretty much confessed to the murder at Louis Stern's house. The jury deliberated a little over three hours and found Bob Gaines guilty. A Times reporter described Bob as “icy calm” when the sentence was read, though his brother crumpled onto the press table and sobbed. During sentencing, Elizabeth, seated next to Bob, stayed calm and squeezed her husband’s hand. He was sentenced to die. He appealed his case but was unsuccessful. He was the 25th person executed in Washington on August 31, 1928, in Walla Walla.
Bob Gaines on Death Row
He was buried with full military honors at Evergreen-Washelli Memorial Park in North Seattle. (Veterans who commit heinous crimes are no longer given military burials thanks to Tim McVeigh) Sylvia was cremated and Butterworth Mortuary sent her ashes to her mother in South Lynnfield, Massachusetts. The area where Sylvia's body was found is now called Gaines Point. 30 Cottonwood trees were planted in her honor. By 1999 the trees had grown too big and branches kept falling off.
Gaines Point Green Lake
They were uprooted and replaced with Poplar's. I think there should be a plaque in the area but there isn't. People sitting on the bench or feeding the ducks have no idea that the area is even called Gaines Point. It's kind of a shame. RIP Sylvia.